Iron Man is a 2008 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures, it is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Directed by Jon Favreau from a screenplay by the writing teams of Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, and Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, the film stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man alongside Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, and Shaun Toub. In the film, following his escape from captivity by a terrorist group, world-famous industrialist and master engineer Tony Stark builds a mechanized suit of armor and becomes the superhero Iron Man.
A film featuring the character was in development at Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and New Line Cinema at various times since 1990, before Marvel Studios reacquired the rights in 2005. Marvel put the project in production as its first self-financed film, with Paramount Pictures distributing. Favreau signed on as director in April 2006, and faced opposition from Marvel when trying to cast Downey in the title role; the actor was signed in September. Filming took place from March to June 2007, primarily in California to differentiate the film from numerous other superhero stories that are set in New York City-esque environments. During filming, the actors were free to create their own dialogue because pre-production was focused on the story and action. Rubber and metal versions of the armor, created by Stan Winston’s company, were mixed with computer-generated imagery to create the title character.
Iron Man premiered in Sydney on April 14, 2008, and was released in the United States on May 2, being the first film in Phase One of the MCU. It grossed over $585 million, becoming the eighth-highest grossing film of 2008. The film received praise from critics, especially for Downey’s performance, as well as Favreau’s direction, visual effects, action sequences, and writing. It was selected by the American Film Institute as one of the ten best films of 2008, received two nominations at the 81st Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects. In 2022, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Two sequels have been released: Iron Man 2 (2010) and Iron Man 3 (2013).
In April 1990, Universal Studios bought the rights to develop Iron Man for the big screen, with Stuart Gordon to direct a low-budget film based on the property. By February 1996, 20th Century Fox had acquired the rights from Universal. In January 1997, Nicolas Cage expressed interest in portraying the character, while in September 1998, Tom Cruise expressed interest in producing as well as starring in an Iron Man film. Jeff Vintar and Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee co-wrote a story for Fox, which Vintar adapted into a screenplay. It included a new science-fiction origin for the character, and featured MODOK as the villain. Tom Rothman, President of Production at Fox, credited the screenplay with finally making him understand the character. In May 1999, Jeffrey Caine was hired to rewrite Vintar and Lee’s script. That October, Quentin Tarantino was approached to write and direct the film. Fox sold the rights to New Line Cinema the following December, reasoning that although the Vintar/Lee script was strong, the studio had too many Marvel superheroes in development, and “we can’t make them all.”
By July 2000, the film was being written for New Line by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and Tim McCanlies. McCanlies’ script used the idea of a Nick Fury cameo to set up his own film. In June 2001, New Line entered talks with Joss Whedon, a fan of the character, to direct, and in December 2002, McCanlies had turned in a completed script. New Line took a “unique” approach to writing the film’s script, hiring David Hayter, David S. Goyer, and Mark Protosevich to “sit in a room and simply talk on camera about Iron Man for a few days”. After this, Hayter was hired in 2004 to write a script. He reworked scripts that had been written by Jeff Vintar and Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, which had included the villain the Mandarin and Pepper Potts as a love interest. Hayter removed the Mandarin and instead chose to pit Iron Man against his father Howard Stark, who becomes War Machine. Hayter said “you want to try to mirror your hero with your villain as much as possible” for his reasoning behind making Howard the villain. He also made Bethany Cabe the film’s love interest over Potts. In December 2004, the studio attached director Nick Cassavetes to the project for a target 2006 release. However, this deal ultimately fell through, and Iron Man’s film rights returned to Marvel.
In November 2005, Marvel Studios worked to start development from scratch, and announced Iron Man as their first independent feature, because the character was their only major one not already depicted in live action. According to associate producer Jeremy Latcham, “we went after about 30 writers and they all passed,” saying they were uninterested in the project due to both the relative obscurity of the character and the fact that it was solely a Marvel production. When the film did have a script, even the requests for rewrites met with many refusals. Early scripts for the film also directly referenced Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man 2 (2004) by identifying Stark as the creator of Otto Octavius’s bionic arms. In order to build the general public’s awareness of Iron Man and elevate him to the same level of popularity as Spider-Man or Hulk, Marvel conducted focus groups, trying to find a way to remove the general perception that the character is a robot. The information Marvel received from the focus groups was used to formulate an awareness-building plan, which included releasing three animated short films ahead of the film’s release. The shorts were called “Iron Man Advertorials”, and were produced by Tim Miller and Blur Studio.
- Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man:
An industrialist, genius inventor, and consummate playboy, he is CEO of Stark Industries and chief weapons manufacturer for the U.S. military. Director Jon Favreau felt that Downey’s past made him an appropriate choice for the part and that the actor could not only make Stark a “likable asshole,” but also portray an authentic emotional journey, once he had won over the audience. Favreau was also attracted to Downey because of his performance in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Downey frequently spoke with that film’s director, Shane Black, about the script and dialogue in Iron Man. Downey had an office next to Favreau during pre-production, which allowed him greater involvement in the screenwriting process, especially when it came to adding humor to the film. Downey explained, “What I usually hate about these [superhero] movies [is] when suddenly the guy that you were digging turns into Dudley Do-Right, and then you’re supposed to buy into all his ‘Let’s go do some good!’ That Eliot Ness-in-a-cape-type thing. What was really important to me was to not have him change so much that he’s unrecognizable. When someone used to be a schmuck and they’re not anymore, hopefully they still have a sense of humor.” To get into shape, Downey spent five days a week weight training and practiced martial arts, which he said benefited him because “it’s hard not to have a personality meltdown … after about several hours in that suit. I’m calling up every therapeutic moment I can think of to just get through the day.”
- Terrence Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes:
A friend of Stark’s and the liaison between Stark Industries and the United States Air Force in the department of acquisitions, specifically weapons development. Favreau cast Howard because he felt he could play War Machine in a sequel. Howard prepared for the role by visiting Nellis Air Force Base on March 16, 2007, where he ate with the pilots and observed HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and F-22 Raptors. While Rhodes is roguish in the comics after he meets Stark, his previous role as a disciplinarian creates a dynamic tension with Stark’s character. He is unsure whether Stark’s actions are acceptable. “Rhodey is completely disgusted with the way Tony has lived his life, but at a certain point he realizes that perhaps there is a different way,” Howard said. “Whose life is the right way: Is it the strict military life, or the life of an independent?” Howard and his father are Iron Man fans, partly because Rhodes was one of the few black superheroes when Howard was a child. He has been a Downey fan since he saw him in Weird Science; the two competed physically on set.
- Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane:
Stark’s business second-in-command, mentor, and friend, who turns on him to take over the company, eventually building a giant exosuit to fight Stark. Bridges read the comics as a boy and liked Favreau’s modern, realistic approach. He shaved his head, something he had wanted to do for some time, and grew a beard for the role. Bridges researched the Book of Obadiah, and was surprised to learn retribution is a major theme in that book of the Bible, something that Stane represents. Many of Stane’s scenes were cut to focus more on Stark, but the writers felt Bridges’s performance allowed the application of “less is more” when editing the film.
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Virginia “Pepper” Potts:
Stark’s personal assistant and budding love interest. Paltrow asked Marvel to send her any comics they would consider relevant to her understanding of the character, whom she considered to be very smart, level-headed, and grounded. She said she liked “the fact that there’s a sexuality that’s not blatant.” Favreau wanted Potts’ and Stark’s relationship to be reminiscent of a 1940s comedy, something which Paltrow considered to be fun in an “innocent yet sexy” way.
- Leslie Bibb as Christine Everhart: A reporter for Vanity Fair.
- Shaun Toub as Ho Yinsen: Stark’s fellow captive, who grafts an electromagnet to Stark’s chest “to keep the shrapnel shell shards that wounded him from reaching his heart and killing him” and helps Stark build the first Iron Man suit.
May 2, 2008
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