In 2008 the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t the ultimate universe of superhero movies and TV shows it is today; it was, as Nick Fury put it in The Avengers, simply an idea. Making Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges, was a risk. Bridges has even said the process of making the film drove him a little “crazy” because of how much reworking everyone had to do on the film come time for production.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Bridges, who played Tony Stark’s business-partner-turned-villain Obadiah Stane, spoke about how in pre-production he worked with director Jon Favreau and Downey to rework and rehearse the Iron Man script and they wanted to “fix this,” “fix that.” By the first day of shooting the studio scrapped their ideas and made them go back to the old script, causing the cast and crew to scramble when they began shooting.
Needless to say, this caused a lot of “confusion.” In the interview Bridges spoke about how he reevaluated his mindset on the chaotic production to have a more positive outlook on the experience. After that he had a blast making the film and considers it the “best Marvel movie.”
This film had a lot of hurdles in its way, to put it lightly. Marvel had never made its own film, up until 2008 it sold its properties to other studios (see X-Men at Fox and Spider-Man at Sony). According to Marvel Studios CEO Kevin Feige one of the biggest risks was casting Downey in the title role because he was in the midst of a comeback and had only appeared in a few movies leading into him taking on Tony Stark.
Despite the struggle to make it, the film went on to not only be a successful movie itself but kickstart a slew of projects that became some of the most popular films of all time.
Iron Man ended up grossing over $580 million dollars world wide and has remained one of the most loved and critically acclaimed films in the MCU, boasting a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film elevated Downey back into the spotlight, where his portrayal of Tony Stark was at the forefront of the MCU until his character’s death in Avengers: Endgame. Downey has spoken about his personal connection to the character and how much it meant to him. While many have said Downey’s casting was genius and he is the only person who could have played him, Favreau had to battle to get the studio to agree to Downey’s casting.
Favreau has also become one of the directors at the forefront of technological advancement in television and film. He helped pioneer the usage of LED sets to film instead of greenscreen on one of Disney+’s best original shows The Mandalorian and directed the CGI remakes of Disney classics The Jungle Book and The Lion King.
Having Favreau at the helm of the first MCU film started a lineage of smaller, but critically acclaimed directors helming MCU films like Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, Chloé Zhao the woman behind Nomadland, and Taika Waititi the director of irreverent indie comedies like What We Do In the Shadows.
Iron Man also set the bar high for casting. Bridges, Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow started a legacy of iconic actors taking on roles in these projects. The list includes, but is not limited to: Academy Award winners Tommy Lee Jones, Sam Rockwell, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett and Lupita Nyong’o.
So, while the creation of Iron Man may have drove those making it a bit bonkers it was well worth the stress because it started the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a superhero juggernaut, that just announced its fifth phase lineup of films and tv shows, that is constantly evolving and challenging the genre, just like the film that started it all.
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