Robert Downey Jr. is feeling superhero fatigue -- are you?

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Oct 13, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT

Even though Iron Man made him a superstar, Robert Downey Jr. is hinting that the whole superhero genre might be running its course.

In a new interview with England's Telegraph to promote his just-opened film The Judge, Downey was asked about Iron Man 4, to which he gave the same kind of cryptic, contradictory answer he's given in other recent interviews, replying, "Not that I'm aware of" when asked about both the possibility of his doing a fourth Iron Man film and the franchise coming to an end.

Asked if this meant that Tony Stark would only appear in Avengers movies from now on, Downey said, "Avengers was another opportunity, but they’re not talking about Iron Man 4. I was kind of bombed out to tell the truth, but maybe they’ve got bigger fish to fry and I trust their overall vision. The funny thing about these genre movies is you’d think they were national secrets.”

But then Downey took it further, suggesting that audiences may, in fact, be getting tired of the entire genre: "Honestly, the whole thing is just showing the beginning signs of fraying around the edges. It’s a little bit old ... last summer there were five or seven different [superhero films] out. I feel that they are critiqued by a different metric to any other movie. Right, [that metric is box office], but also they are more forgiven because they operate on a different frequency. It’s like a bunch of really good dancers and you’re looking for the one who keeps changing her leg warmers. They make a lot of money.”

OK ... I'm not quite sure about the "leg warmers" comment, but if you've ever heard Downey speak in person, that's sort of typical of the moving-target way he answers questions. His first point, however, was clear -- he believes that superhero fatigue may be setting in. 

Could that really be the case, though? The biggest domestic box-office success of 2014 was Guardians of the Galaxybased on an obscure Marvel comic book, while Captain America: The Winter Soldier did superb business and the X-Men franchise had its highest-grossing entry yet. Even the relatively disappointing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still took in more than $700 million worldwide. And next May's The Avengers: Age of Ultron is as sure a bet as a movie studio could have.

Is Downey really talking about himself? He's played Tony Stark five times now (including Age of Ultron), and while he's quite aware of what the role has meant to his career and life, he remains a brilliant actor who no doubt wants to do other things with his craft.

Sadly (or not, because frankly it's not a very good film), The Judge opened this past weekend to a very lukewarm response (just $13 million at the domestic box office), making it the second straight non-franchise movie starring Downey, after The Soloist, to fail to draw a large audience. It would be ironic if Downey's only major success comes from his superhero movies just as he is perhaps edging away from them.

There are 30-plus superhero or comics-based movies coming out in the next five or six years. Do you think fatigue is setting in? Are you getting tired of the genre? Or is Downey just looking for his escape hatch?

(via The Playlist)