12 Super Facts About Iron Man

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

On May 2, 2008, Marvel Studios launched its inaugural feature film with Iron Man, and in the process launched one of the most successful film franchises ever. Today, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is stronger than ever thanks to the massive box office success of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It all began, though, with a B-list superhero other studios weren’t sure would work, a focus group made up of children, a post-credits scene no one saw coming, and an actor on the rebound who ended up becoming the biggest movie star on the planet. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, here are 12 facts about the making of Iron Man.

1. IT WAS IN DEVELOPMENT FOR YEARS.

Robert Downey Jr. stars in 'Iron Man' (2008)
Marvel Studios

Though he was first in line by the time Marvel Studios embarked on its now-famous mission to create a shared universe of heroes, Iron Man was actually in development for many years at more than one studio before he made his debut. In the 1990s, the character was optioned by Fox (which would go on to make films based on Marvel heroes The X-Men and The Fantastic Four), and by 2000 it had landed at New Line Pictures. There, it bounced around from writer to writer and the studio even had a director in mind (Nick Cassavetes, fresh off his success with The Notebook in 2004).

Unfortunately, New Line executive Bob Shaye was not a fan of the concept. He argued that it made no sense that a heavy steel suit could make a man fly and was skeptical of the character’s box office potential. Marvel executives, believing they could do a better job with the character when they launched their new studio plan, let New Line’s option on the character expire in 2005 (something New Line was apparently quite upset by, as they had planned to renew it), and began developing their own take on what would become Iron Man.

2. IT WAS THE FIRST MARVEL STUDIOS FILM BECAUSE OF KIDS.

One of the main goals of Marvel convening its own movie studio in the first place was to sell toys based on its characters, even more so than selling the movies themselves. The initial plan was to kick the slate of films off with Captain America, but by the time Marvel got the rights to both Iron Man and Hulk (whose previous film had been made at Universal Pictures), the team had more options. That meant the company was able to assemble its own very particular kind of focus group—one made up of children. The kids were given a crash course in the characters Marvel had movie rights to, including their images and powers, and the winner was Iron Man. That put Tony Stark over the top in the race to be the first Marvel Cinematic Universe star.

3. TOM CRUISE WAS ONCE CONSIDERED FOR TONY STARK, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY ONE.

Before Robert Downey Jr. donned the famous suit of the Armored Avenger, several other stars were in contention for the role. The most famous of these was Tom Cruise, who took an interest in Tony Stark back when the project was still at New Line. Another contender from those pre-Marvel Studios days was Nicolas Cage (a lifelong comics fan who almost played Superman for Tim Burton in the 1990s), but he too ultimately fell by the wayside.

By the time the character made it back home to Marvel, the studio considered Colin Farrell and Patrick Dempsey for the part, but both director Jon Favreau and producer Kevin Feige believed Robert Downey Jr. was the right man for the role. Downey ultimately got the part, but Favreau later revealed he had a backup idea in mind if his first choice fell through: Sam Rockwell, who went on to play fellow billionaire industrialist and Iron Man nemesis Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2 (2010).

4. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. SHOWED UP FOR HIS SCREEN TEST WEARING A TUXEDO.

Before Iron Man hit, Robert Downey Jr. was an acclaimed film and television actor whose career had dropped off considerably after very public struggles with addiction. Feige and Favreau both fought for Downey to get a shot at the character of Tony Stark, both because of his talent and because his personal demons could mirror those of Stark himself (who, in the comics, is an alcoholic). For the studio, Downey’s relatively cool career meant that he could be cast for what was essentially a bargain compared to any of the megastars of the day, but his addiction issues also meant it could be difficult to get the Oscar nominee insured for the film.

Downey, eager to land the role, agreed to do a screen test (something major stars with years of experience often get to skip in the casting process) and showed up in true Tony Stark style, wearing a tuxedo. Downey impressed Marvel executives and he was hired for $2.5 million plus a potential bonus if the film did well. That sounds like a massive sum, but it’s peanuts compared to what Downey earned when he renegotiated his contract with Marvel after Iron Man’s success (an estimated $50 million for The Avengers alone).

5. DOWNEY WASN’T THE FIRST ACTOR TO JOIN THE CAST.

At the time of its production, Iron Man and Marvel Studios were both unproven commodities, and the plan within Marvel was to use the movies to earn money on toys rather than rely on the films themselves to generate major revenue. This meant that Iron Man was made on a somewhat tight budget for a film of its size and scope, and that led to certain key decisions that would maximize the exposure of the film while limiting the amount of money spent. Among these was the decision to make the first actor cast on the project Terrence Howard, who played Tony Stark’s best friend Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes.

Howard was riding high, fresh off an Oscar nod for his work on Hustle & Flow, and while he still wasn’t a megastar, that gave him prestige. If Marvel could leverage that prestige by putting Howard in a supporting role, they could get another big name on the film’s poster and save a little money at the same time. So Howard signed on as the film’s highest-paid actor, for a salary of $3.5 million. His time at Marvel didn’t last, though. After he demanded a pay increase for Iron Man 2, he was replaced by Don Cheadle, who remains a Marvel Cinematic Universe co-star eight years after making his debut.  

6. THE ORIGINAL INTENDED VILLAIN WAS THE MANDARIN.

When imagining what Marvel Comics villain Tony Stark could battle in his first adventure, the studio’s first idea was The Mandarin, a scientist and megalomaniac who wields 10 powerful rings made from alien technology. For a time, it seemed so certain that the character would be the nemesis of the first film that Favreau announced him as such when Marvel Studios began rolling out its slate at San Diego Comic-Con in 2006. Later, Favreau attributed this eagerness to the studio discussing its slate in more “general” than concrete terms.

By the time cameras rolled, the villain was instead Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), a character who in the comics was a rival arms dealer who tried to take over Stark Industries after Tony’s father Howard died. In the film, the character was reimagined as the corporate steward of Stark during Tony’s absence, who ultimately tried to take over the company from the inside as the comic book villain Iron Monger. The Mandarin ultimately appeared, reimagined in a major departure from the comics, in Iron Man 3.  

7. MUCH OF THE MOVIE WAS IMPROVISED.

Iron Man did more for Marvel Studios than generate a solid box office return and launch the ability to make sequel upon sequel. It also established a certain lighthearted tone that has continued through almost all of the company’s films, even the darkest ones. That’s thanks, in part, to the improvisation that took place on set. Downey in particular was apparently fond of interspersing comedy into the superhero drama, and Favreau encouraged it.

According to Bridges, reflecting on the film years later, this was in part due to the fact that the Iron Man script was never entirely complete. He, Downey, and Favreau would essentially conduct improvised rehearsals before shooting, something Bridges found troubling until he adjusted his way of thinking about the film.

“Jon dealt with it so well,” Bridges said. “It freaked me out. I was very anxious. I like to be prepared. I like to know my lines, man, that’s my school. Very prepared. That was very irritating, and then I just made this adjustment. It happens in movies a lot where something’s rubbing against your fur and it’s not feeling right, but it’s just the way it is. You can spend a lot of energy bitching about that or you can figure out how you’re going to do it, how you’re going to play this hand you’ve been dealt. What you can control is how you perceive things and your thinking about it. So I said, ‘Oh, what we’re doing here, we’re making a $200 million student film. We’re all just f*ckin’ around! We’re playin’. Oh, great!’ That took all the pressure off. ‘Oh, just jam, man, just play.’ And it turned out great!”  

8. TOY COMPANIES WERE HESITANT TO RELEASE MERCHANDISE.

One of the chief reasons for Iron Man ever existing in the first place was so that Marvel could use the film as a giant toy advertisement with movie stars in it. As the film headed toward release, though, that proved to be a bit of a problem. The company hoped to simply make back its money on the films, and then turn the real profit in toys, but Marvel Studios had not yet made a successful film (or any film under its new arrangement, for that matter), and toy companies were not convinced their flying man in an armored suit would sell (despite those previous focus groups that prompted Marvel to make the film in the first place).

Marvel hoped to solve this problem by pairing toy deals for Spider-Man 3 (a film Marvel didn’t produce but had some merchandising influence over), which would come out in 2007, with toy deals for Iron Man. Even then, some companies just weren’t interested. According to one Marvel executive, they “couldn’t give Iron Man away” to toy companies before the movie was released. By the time Iron Man 2 came around, though, the companies were very happy to put Tony Stark action figures on the shelves.

9. MARVEL WASN’T SURE ITS SHARED UNIVERSE LAUNCH WOULD WORK.

Marvel Studios has had many filmmakers come through its doors over the past decade-plus of movies, but there has been one constant force who fans have grown to know and love: Kevin Feige, the producer on every single film, who has long been credited as the architect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feige is the guy who shepherded the studio through the long and complex journey that took them to The Avengers and beyond, but at first even he wasn’t entirely sure if those lofty ambitions could be met. In fact, one of the reasons Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appears only in a teaser scene after the credits (which has since become a Marvel tradition) is Feige’s desire to downplay expectations over what may or may not come next.

“We put it at the end of the credits so that it wouldn’t distract from the movie,” he later told Vanity Fair. “People going, ‘What is Sam Jackson doing in this movie all of a sudden? What’s going on?’ I thought it would just begin the potential conversation of hardcore fans going, ‘Wait a minute, could that mean ...’ Instead, by that Monday, Entertainment Weekly was doing sidebars about Nick Fury and who he was and what that meant. That blew up much faster than I was anticipating.”

10. IT WAS A SURPRISE BOX OFFICE HIT.

As previously mentioned, movies like Iron Man were initially designed by Marvel as a way to promote its characters and generate revenue in other areas, like toy merchandising. The company wanted the films to be both good and under their control, but didn’t necessarily expect major box office success, particularly with Iron Man. Very early projections suggested the film would come in at only $100 million for its domestic box office run. Then the trailers started to hit, pleasing both hardcore comics fans and moviegoers eager to see a fun action spectacle. The film ended up nearly making its $100 million estimate domestically during its opening weekend alone, and cleared $585 million worldwide by the time it left theaters. In the end, Iron Man—a film executives hoped could just break even—ended up earning so much money that the famously frugal Marvel CEO (now Marvel chairman) Isaac Perlmutter let then-Marvel Studios president David Maisel (the financial architect of the studio) gift Downey and Favreau with a Bentley and a Mercedes, respectively.

11. ONE MARVEL EXECUTIVE SHOWED UP TO THE PREMIERE IN DISGUISE.

By the time it was set to premiere, Iron Man was looking like a real hit for Marvel Studios. Box office projections were climbing, fan excitement was high, and it seems the new studio endeavor might actually have a hit on its hands. That anticipation, plus the momentousness of the occasion of the first Marvel Studios film, led to an unusual occurrence for Isaac Perlmutter, who refused to either be interviewed or photographed in public. He still wanted to attend the premiere, though, so he apparently showed up to the TCL Chinese Theatre (as it’s now known) wearing a fake mustache and glasses, effectively giving himself his own secret identity.

12. IT’S PACKED WITH EASTER EGGS.

Stan Lee makes a cameo in 'Iron Man' (2008)
Marvel Studios

Like every Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Iron Man is full of Easter eggs and amusing references to Marvel continuity in comic books and beyond. Among the references in the film: The “Iron Man” theme from the 1966 Marvel Super Heroes animated TV series can be heard as Rhodey’s ringtone, the Ten Rings terrorist organization (headed in the comics and later in Iron Man 3 by The Mandarin) is the group that kidnaps Tony at the beginning of the film, a movie billboard features the Marvel Comics villain Fin Fang Foom, and the Marvel Comics’ Roxxon Corporation logo can be seen on a building in the background. And, of course, Marvel Comics legend and Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee makes his customary cameo, this time as a version of Hugh Hefner.

Additional Sources:

The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies by Ben Fritz (2018)

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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