The Avengers: Endgame director — who also helmed Infinity War and the last two Captain America movies with his brother, Anthony — told The Washington Post that he believes Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., deserves an Academy Award for his performances across the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“His cumulative body of work from these movies is staggering,” Russo said. “If you look at the work over just even the last four [Marvel] films he’s done, it’s phenomenal… He deserves an Oscar perhaps more than anyone in the last 40 years because of the way that he has motivated popular culture.”
With Black Panther breaking the superhero mold at the Oscars thanks to its seven nominations and three wins, it’s not unfathomable that Downey Jr. could get a big campaign push from Marvel/Disney. He does arguably give one of his best performance as Tony Stark in Endgame, which has been almost hysterically received by both critics and tearful audiences. The movie gives Downey Jr. a chance to play the character at both his highest and his lowest, his most defeated and most heroic.
But the key to Russo’s statement may be in that last sentence, about how Downey Jr. and Stark have “motivated popular culture.” Downey Jr. has been nominated for an Academy Award twice before, once for playing the title role in 1992’s Chaplin and once for his incredibly tricky blackface work in 2008’s Tropic Thunder. Whether Stark truly digs into those levels of acting chops may be up for critical debate, but you can’t argue with the fact that his role as Iron Man irrevocably altered cinema.
With the rare exception, the Academy has mostly ignored the response of popular culture when it came to nominations. But when you have something as landmark as the MCU, can they really afford to turn the cheek? As Russo put it later in his talk with WaPo,
“I go back and look at past Oscar winners like Ben-Hur, West Side Story, Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, Godfather 2, The Sting, Rocky — we’re talking about some of the most popular films ever made. It feels like there’s now a prejudice against popular cinema. In a way, that’s somewhat sad.”
We’ll see if Downey Jr. and Endgame can shake the trend when nomination campaigns begin in earnest come the late-fall.