What Are Artsy Film Actors Doing in a Comic Book Movie?

"Iron Man" comes with a surprisingly accomplished cast of stars.

ByABC News
May 1, 2008, 4:14 PM

May 2, 2008— -- What are Robert Downey Jr., Gwynneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges, all actors familiar to the art-house crowd, doing in a Hollywood big-budget, comic-book superhero movie?

Besides collecting a hefty paycheck, the cast of "Iron Man," which hits screens nationwide today, appears to be revamping a well-worn genre that has critics cheering and box-office watchers predicting a lucrative opening weekend.

"There's no question, this will be the No. 1 movie this weekend," said Paul Dergarabedian, the founder of Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking and analysis firm in Los Angeles. He predicts the film will rake in more than $75 million.

"It has indy sensibility, and it's still highly entertaining," added Dergarabedian, who has seen the film. "I think there's going to be a lot of crossover. A lot of the audience that wouldn't be interested in this type of movie will come out to see Gwynneth Paltrow, Robert Downey Jr. and Terrance Howard. The film is more sophisticated but still fun enough and comic-book enough to appeal to the true fanboys of these comic-book movies."

Paltrow has an Oscar, and Downey, Howard and Bridges have each been nominated for an Academy Award.

"It's not your run-of-the-mill superhero movie," Paltrow said. "The talent is so incredible."

Even the film's director, Jon Favreau, who wrote and starred in "Swingers" and directed the movie "Elf," is better known on the independent film circuit.

Perhaps most surprising was the casting of 43-year-old Downey as the superhero Iron Man and his alter ego Tony Stark, a middle-aged boozing billionaire weapons manufacturer. Favreau knew immediately that Downey was his superhero.

"Sitting across from him, the light bulb just went off over my head," he said. "I realized that this is the guy who could bring me home. This is the No. 1 draft pick that's gonna take me to the Super Bowl."

The only problem was that Marvel, the comic book company that publishes Iron Man and produced the film, didn't share Favreau's vision -- at first.

"There was an unequivocal, resounding 'No' when I presented him," Favreau said, "and they were people who were fans of his."