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)

Josh Trank Wouldn't Mind Erasing Fantastic Four From Film History

Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It’s not every day that you hear a director talking about wanting to completely erase one of their projects from film history. But when the topic of the 2015 box office bomb Fantastic Four comes up, director Josh Trank isn't mincing words. The director tweeted that he would “gladly” donate to a GoFundMe page to have his failed adaptation erased from the cinematic history books.

It's no secret that Fantastic Four is a sore subject for Trank. The production was plagued with rumors that there was a bit of friction on set, particularly between the director and star Miles Teller. Even once the film had wrapped, reports about the troubled production plagued Trank, and eventually led to him parting ways with Disney, for whom he was supposedly developing a standalone Boba Fett movie. (It didn't help that Fantastic Four tanked at the box office and even won a Razzie for Worst Picture).

The topic of starting a GoFundMe page for the film started after Trank responded to fans rallying for a page to get the rat at the end of Martin Scorsese's The Departed digitally erased. When asked if he would support a page to get rid of Fantastic Four, Trank seemed to oblige (though he has since deleted the tweet).


It’s no secret the previous Fantastic Four movies have had little success, but now that Disney and Fox are joining forces, the series could be entering into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe now these superheroes will finally get the movie they deserve.

Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The theater owners and exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in February 1989 had a lot to look forward to. In an attempt to stir their interest in upcoming studio releases, major distributors were showing off stars and footage: Paramount led with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Columbia had Ghostbusters II. But it was Warner Bros. that caused the biggest stir.

In addition to Lethal Weapon 2, the studio had Tim Burton’s Batman, a straight-faced adaptation of the comic, and Michael Keaton—who slipped into a screening of some early footage—was no longer being derided as a poor casting choice. Then, in the midst of all this star power, the studio brought out a 35-year-old actor-writer-director with a shock of orange hair and an Australian accent.

The man had never appeared in a feature film before, much less starred in one, but Warner was gambling that his forthcoming comedy about a Tasmanian Albert Einstein who invents rock music and runs into Thomas Edison would be a hit. It had already become the sixth highest-grossing film in Australia's history, besting both E.T. and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The man’s real name was Greg Pead, but Warner Bros. introduced him as Yahoo Serious, Hollywood’s next big comedy attraction.

 

To understand Warner’s appetite for an unproven commodity like Yahoo Serious, it helps to recall the peculiar preoccupation American popular culture had with Australians in the 1980s. Energizer had created a hit ad campaign with Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a pro football player who aggressively promoted their batteries in a series of ads; meanwhile, Paul Hogan parlayed his fish-out-of-water comedy, Crocodile Dundee, into the second highest-grossing film of 1986. (Serious would later bristle at comparisons to Hogan, whom he referred to as a “marketing guy” who sold cigarettes on Australian television.)

Born in Cardiff, Australia on July 27, 1953, Serious grew up in rural bush country and mounted car tires at a garage in order to pay his way through the National Art School. When he was expelled for illustrating the school's facade with satirical jokes that the faculty didn’t find particularly funny, Serious moved on to direct Coaltown, a documentary about the coal mining industry, and pursued painting.

Serious would later recall that the desire for a larger audience led him away from art and into feature filmmaking. ''It hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” Serious told The New York Times in 1989. “I remember having a cup of coffee and I went, 'Well, look, there is a giant canvas in every little town everywhere around the world. And on this giant canvas there are 24 frames of image on that screen every second and it's the most wonderful living art form.'” It was around this same time, in 1980, that Serious changed his name.

To get a feel for the language of film, Serious sat through repeated viewings of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; he aspired to have the kind of total autonomy over his movies that directors like Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed.

In 1983, Serious was traveling along the Amazon River when he spotted someone wearing a T-shirt depicting Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. The image is now pervasive, appearing on posters and other merchandise, but it seemed unique to the performer, who was struck by the idea that Einstein was once young and never took himself too seriously. And the concept for Young Einstein was born.

 

Serious's idea, which transplanted Einstein to Tasmania and imagined encounters with Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and the atomic bomb, took years to assemble. He borrowed camera equipment and sold his car to help finance the film; he shot an eight-minute trailer that convinced investors he was capable of making a feature. His mother even cooked meals for the crew on set.

In order to maintain creative control, Serious gave up profit participation in Young Einstein, which he starred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and directed. When the film was released in Australia in 1988, it made an impressive $1.6 million at the box office and drew the attention of Warner Bros., which likely had visions of a Crocodile Dundee-esque hit. American press had a field day with Serious, who appeared on the cover of TIME and was given airtime on MTV.

Critics and audiences weren’t quite as enamored. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that "Tedious Oddball" would be a more appropriate name for the film's creator. In his one-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, "Young Einstein is a one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." In the U.S., Young Einstein grossed just over $11 million, a fairly weak showing for a summer comedy. It was bested in its opening weekend by both Ron Howard’s Parenthood and the Sylvester Stallone action-grunter Lock Up.

 

Although American distributors quickly cooled on Serious, Australia's enthusiasm for the filmmaker didn’t dampen. When Serious released 1993’s Reckless Kelly, a fictionalized account of outlaw Ned Kelly, it made $5.4 million in Australia—three times as much as Young Einstein. Serious took a seven-year sabbatical, then returned with 2000’s Mr. Accident, a slapstick comedy about an injury-prone man who tries to thwart a scheme to inject nicotine into eggs. Meeting a tepid critical and financial reception, it would be his third and (likely) final film.

At roughly the same time Mr. Accident was released, Serious took issue with upstart search engine Yahoo!, alleging the site was piggybacking on his popularity. He filed a lawsuit, which was quickly dropped when he failed to prove the URL had damaged him in any way.

Yahoo Serious attends an event
Paul McConnell, Getty Images

The amused headlines stemming from that incident were the last examples of Serious capturing attention in America. Having completed just three films, no other projects have come to fruition; Serious launched a website detailing some of his background and to air some of his Yahoo!-related grievances.

Now 65, Serious currently serves as founding director of the Kokoda Track Foundation, an Australian aid organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Papua New Guineans. The board’s website lists him as Yahoo Serious, which is the name he claims that all of his family and friends have called him since he changed it in 1980.

“You can choose every aspect of your life,” Serious once said. “Why not your name?”

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