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Recipe for a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist

They say Robert Downey, Jr. made $75 million for his swan song appearance as Tony Stark/Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame.


I don’t know that I needed to know that, and I’m not sure I care one way or another, but I do know the fact that it’s out there in the universe now is a bad thing. It’s a siren’s call to every person with more attitude than brains, just the people we all try and limit our exposure to. Let’s see, I can imagine people saying:

  • That’s crazy, no one should make that much money for anything, ever!
  • Yeah, sure, like he needed that money. What about all the people without jobs?
  • Endgame was a money-grab anyway, the movie stank!

Let’s start with the last one first: To anyone who would like to argue that a movie that was awaited as rabidly as this one and that made $2.8 billion worldwide (I’m rounding up from the actual, which was something like $2.769 billion) was a lousy movie, well OK you hipster moron. You’re entitled to your opinions, and I’m sorry you’re still living at home with your parents.

With that appropriately dismissed, let’s look at the first two:

1) Should anyone be allowed to make that much money, ever, for anything?

My answer: Why not? I would be far more salty if the shareholders of a company profited miraculously on the backs of those who created the art that millions and millions of people shelled out their shekels to see again and again. And yes, this is true to a degree. Thousands of people busted their backs on this movie and the 20 that preceded it, the legacy that drove pent up demand for Endgame to be a 3 hour love letter to the fans. And they were compensated at market rates, not at galactic ones.

But they were compensated at market rates. They worked, and got paid for it. Disney invested, and got rewarded for it, along with its shareholders. And Robert Downey, Jr. got paid what he successfully negotiated. Believing, correctly, that Phase Three of the MCU was built in large part on his personal charisma and some truly inspired storytelling.

RDJ negotiated his terms, got his terms, did his work – 100% on point with what was expected – and collected his payday. What, exactly, is wrong with that? It’s the most American thing I can imagine. If he had negotiated the same deal and the film had tanked, big-time, I can see how people would be sour on the actor. Or can I?

Because RDJ made $55 of that $75 million on the back end; he negotiated a percentage of the take which was, as our president would say, “YUUUGE, really tremendous.” If the movie had tanked, it would have just been another $20 million payday for Tony Stark.

And that brings me to #2: Like he needed that money – what about the people without jobs?

Firstly, Endgame was filmed years ago and released a year ago yesterday, when the economy was going gangbusters and “coronavirus” was a thing you got from Spring Break in Cabo. Second, think about every corporate executive who makes more than a million dollars each year. Did they earn it? How about the ones that make $10 million a year? Did they earn it? $50 million a year?

Don’t bother looking for the Rubicon. I would suggest that each of those men and women (but mostly men) would have to be examined quantitatively and qualitatively against some kind of universally accepted rubric to answer the question, “Did he deserve that much?” I would further suggest that the most heavily weighted metrics to be considered should revolve around how many people that guy benefited during the year, and how much.

Did he make money for his shareholders? Great, what else? Did he operate the company with integrity? Jeez, I hope so. Did he support his employees and families with fair wages and employment practices? Does his company do something influential, something that advances the human condition? And last, does he make it a point to give back in some way so that those not immediately in his orbit nonetheless are helped by his success?

Applying that rubric to RDJ, I feel pretty good about his 1099. He employs a lot of people and enables employment of a REAL lot of people. He helps create entertainment content that people crave, anticipate, reach into their own pockets to gain access to. He is active in multiple charities. Enough charities? Is it enough of a commitment?

And here’s where we stop. Because it’s no one’s business how much anyone else makes, or how much they give away. You can have an opinion, sure, but you know the old parable about opinions being like a**holes: if yours stinks you can keep it to yourself, thanks. How about we celebrate people who improve our lot in life, even when it’s through something silly and superficial like a movie franchise. How about we conduct ourselves the way we would like others to see us rather than judge others?

I enjoyed Endgame. A lot. I enjoyed every MCU movie that preceded it (except the second Thor movie, which I never saw and still don’t feel like I missed anything crucial). I enjoyed Robert Downey, Jr.’s creation, along with multiple directors and screenwriters, of the Tony Stark character. What does it say, for example, that the character’s final words in an 11-year arc were a callback to an RDJ ad-libbed line from the first movie?

Robert Downey, Jr. IS Iron Man. 

Yes, he made $75 million putting a flourish at the end of this particular chapter of his long, very colorful (and not always spectacular) career. But you know what? We all paid him that money. We shelled it out. One ticket at a time, one DVD at a time. Sometimes two and three and five times! Do you regret any of the money or time you spent sitting in a dark room watching the good guys win?

Not me. Not today. Not then, either.

I’m cool with it.


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