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)

10 Bold Breaking Bad Fan Theories

Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
Ben Leuner, AMC

It’s been nearly six years since Breaking Bad went out in a blaze of gunfire, but fans still haven’t stopped thinking about the award-winning crime drama. What really happened to Walter White in the series finale? What’s the backstory on Gus Fring? And what did Jesse Pinkman’s doodles mean?

While El Camino, Vince Gilligan's new Breaking Bad movie, offers definitive answers to at least one of these questions, these fan theories offer some alternative answers—even if they strain the limits of logic and sanity along the way. Read on to discover the surprising source of Walt’s cancer diagnosis, and why pink is always bad news.

1. Walter White picks up traits from the people he kills.

Walter White is an unpredictable guy, but he’s weirdly consistent on one thing: After he kills someone, he kind of copies them. Remember how Krazy-8 liked his sandwiches without the crust? After Walt murdered him, he started eating crustless PB&Js. Walt also lifted Mike Ehrmantraut’s drink order and Gus Fring’s car, leading many fans to wonder if Walt steals personal characteristics from the people he kills.

2. Gus Fring worked for the CIA.

Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda) in Breaking Bad
Giancarlo Esposito and Javier Grajeda in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Who was Gus Fring before he became the ruthless leader of a meth/fried chicken empire? Well, we know he’s from Chile. We also know that any records of his time there are gone. And we know that cartel kingpin Don Eladio refused to kill him when he had the chance. Since Don Eladio has no qualms about eliminating the competition, Gus must have some form of protection. Could it be from the U.S. government? A detailed Reddit theory suggests that Gus was once a Chilean aristocrat who helped the CIA install the dictator Augusto Pinochet in power. Once Pinochet became a liability, Gus went to Mexico at the CIA’s behest to infiltrate a drug cartel. His alliance with U.S. intelligence kept him alive even as his work got more violent, and helped him bypass the normal immigration issues you'd typically encounter when you’ve murdered a bunch of people.

3. Madrigal built defective air filters that gave Walter white cancer.

Madrigal Electromotive is a corporation with varied interests. The German parent company of Los Pollos Hermanos dabbles in shipping, fast food, and industrial equipment … including air filters. According to one fan theory, Gray Matter—the company Walter White co-founded with Elliott Schwartz—purchased defective air filters from Madrigal and installed them while Walt still worked at the company. The filters ultimately caused Walt’s lung cancer, pushing him into the illegal drug trade and, eventually, business with Madrigal.

4. Color is a crucial element in the series.

Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) and Hank Schrader (Dean Norris)
Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris as Marie and Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad.
Ben Leuner, AMC

Color is a code on Breaking Bad. When a character chooses drab tones, they’re usually going through something, like withdrawal (Jesse) or chemo (Walt). Their wardrobe might turn darker as their stories skew darker—like when Marie ditched her trademark purple for black while she was under protective custody. Also, pink signals death, whether it’s on a teddy bear or Saul Goodman’s button down shirt.

5. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead exist in the same universe.

Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead both aired on AMC, but according to fans, that’s not all they have in common. There’s an exhaustive body of evidence connecting the two shows—and one of the biggest links is Blue Sky. The distinctively-colored crystal meth is Walt and Jesse’s calling card on Breaking Bad, but it’s also Merle Dixon’s drug of choice on The Walking Dead. Coincidentally, his drug dealer (“a janky little white guy” who says “bitch”) sounds a lot like Jesse.

6. Walter white froze to death and hallucinated Breaking Bad's ending.

Bryan Cranston in the 'Breaking Bad' series finale
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In her review of the Breaking Bad series finale “Felina,” The New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum suggested an alternate ending in which Walt died an episode earlier, as the police surrounded his car in New Hampshire. He could’ve frozen to death “behind the wheel of a car he couldn’t start,” she theorized, and hallucinated the dramatic final shootout in “Felina” in his dying moments. This reading has gained traction with multiple fans, including SNL alum Norm Macdonald.

7. Jesse’s superheroes are a peek into his inner psyche.

In season 2 of Breaking Bad, we discover that Jesse Pinkman is a part-time artist. He sketches his own superheroes, including Backwardo/Rewindo (who can run backwards so fast he rewinds time), Hoverman (who floats above the ground), and Kanga-Man (who has a sidekick in his “pouch”). The characters are goofy, just like Jesse, but they may also reveal what’s going on in his head. Backwardo represents Jesse’s tendency to run from conflict. Hoverman reflects his lack of direction or purpose, while Kanga-Man hints at his codependency.

8. Madrigal was founded by Nazi war criminals.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) in 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston and Michael Bowen in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote, AMC

This might be one of the wilder Breaking Bad theories, but before you write it off, consider Werner Heisenberg: The German physicist, who helped pioneer Hitler’s nuclear weapons program, is the obvious inspiration for Walt’s meth kingpin moniker. While Heisenberg only appears in name, there are plenty of literal Nazis on the show. Look no further than Uncle Jack and the Aryan Brotherhood, who served as the Big Bad of season 5. At least one Redditor thinks all these Nazi references are hinting at something bigger, a conspiracy that goes straight to the top. The theory starts in South America, where many Nazis fled after World War II. A group of them supposedly formed a new company, Madrigal, through their existing connections back in Germany. Eventually, a young Chilean named Gus Fring worked his way into the growing business, and the rest is (fake) history.

9. Walter white survived, but paid the price.

Lots of Breaking Bad theories concern Walt’s death, or lack thereof. But if Walt actually lived through his seemingly fatal gunshot wound in “Felina,” what would the rest of his life look like? According to one Reddit theory, it wouldn’t be pretty. The infamous Heisenberg would almost certainly stand trial and go to prison. Although he tries to leave Skyler White with information to cut a deal with the cops, she could also easily go to jail—or lose custody of her children. The kids wouldn’t necessarily get that money Walt left with Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, either, as they could take his threats to the police and surrender the cash to them. Basically it amounts to a whole lot of misery, making Walt’s death an oddly optimistic ending. (This is one theory El Camino addresses directly.)

10. Breaking Bad is a prequel to Malcolm in the Middle.

Bryan Cranston in the series premiere of 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston in the series premiere of Breaking Bad.
Doug Hyun, AMC

Alright, let’s say Walt survived the series finale and didn’t stand trial. Maybe he started over as a new man with a new family. Three boys, perhaps? This fan-favorite theory claims that Walter White assumed a new identity as Malcolm in the Middle patriarch Hal after the events of Breaking Bad, making the show a prequel to Bryan Cranston’s beloved sitcom. The Breaking Bad crew actually liked this idea so much they included an “alternate ending” on the DVD boxed set, where Hal wakes up from a bad dream where "There was a guy who never spoke! He just rang a bell the whole time! And then there was another guy who was a policeman or a DEA agent, and I think it was my brother or something. He looked like the guy from The Shield."

Fan Notices Hilarious Connection Between Joaquin Phoenix's Joker and Superbad's McLovin

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

There seems to be exactly one funny thing about Todd Phillips's latest film, Joker.

As reported by Geek.com, someone on Twitter by the name of @minalopezavina brilliantly pointed out that Arthur Fleck from Joker and McLovin from Superbad are pretty much in the same costume.

This meme is a nice moment of comic relief in an otherwise very serious movie. In fact, Joker is so dark that the United States Army had issued warnings about possible shootings at theaters playing the film. The warnings coincided with criticisms that the film might be too violent, with fears that the villain-led storyline would result in copycat events in real life.

Both Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have weighed in on the controversy, with the director explaining to The Wrap, "It wasn’t, ‘We want to glorify this behavior.’ It was literally like ‘Let’s make a real movie with a real budget and we’ll call it f**king Joker’. That’s what it was.”

All we can say is the amount of chatter behind Joker certainly led to both packed theaters, and endless memes online.

[h/t Geek.com]

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