The movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are considered (for the most part) hit films. And at the center of it all are stars Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. Now that they are each out of the MCU (as far as we know), let’s determine which has had the more successful career. (Note: A “hit” in this case is classified as a film that made back its budget at the box office. Not all budget numbers were available, so this list may contain errors — however, we took educated guesses where necessary.)
Of course, we have to start with the MCU. Downey Jr. kicked things off with Iron Man in 2008. He then starred in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. (Cameo appearances aren’t counted for this list. Black Widow is TBD.)
As for Evans, he starred in his three character films: Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Solider, and Civil War. And like Downey Jr., he had a major role in each of the four Avengers films. Everything else (Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, Captain Marvel) is considered a cameo. So Downey Jr. wins this round, nine to seven.
Downey Jr.’s early hits
Weird Science was Downey Jr.’s first hit film, bringing in $38.9 million against a budget of $7.5 million. As far as the rest of his films from the ’80s, only Back to School is likely to be considered a “hit,” though a few others, such as Less Than Zero and Chances Are, just brought in over their budgets.
The ’90s started off well for Downey Jr. He had hits Air America, Soapdish, Short Cuts, Natural Born Killers, Only You, U.S. Marshals, and Bow Finger. Meanwhile, films like Chaplin, Richard III, and Restoration received a positive response, but don’t technically qualify as hits given this criteria. For the purpose of this list, there are seven more added to Downey Jr.’s count, pushing him further into the lead with 16 total hits.
Evans’ last two decades
Given that he is quite a bit younger (and not from a show business family), Evans didn’t enter the game until the turn of the century. But he began racking up hits immediately. The first few years of his career brought Not Another Teen Movie, Cellular, and, of course his first set of Marvel films: Fantastic Four and its sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer.
TMNT, The Nanny Diaries, Street Kings, and Push closed out the decade. The Losers was, technically successful, while sleeper hit Scoot Pilgrim vs. the World fails to qualify. What’s Your Number and Snowpiercer benefited from his rise in the MCU. Finally, both Gifted and last year’s Knives Out were hits. That brings Evans’ total up to 20, surpassing Downey Jr.
Downey Jr. takes the crown
Even with Downey Jr.’s less than prosperous years, his significantly longer career was always going to win him this battle. After Gothika, there was his comeback in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which only just qualifies for this list. Then came Good Night, and Good Luck, The Shaggy Dog, and Zodiac, all before Iron Man.
Downey Jr. also had hits with Tropic Thunder, the Sherlock Holmes movies, Due Date, Chef, and The Judge. (Though Doolittle made back its budget, the film’s extensive marketing put it over the edge.) While it ended up being a fairly close race, the veteran actor surpassed his co-star by seven hits.