In only two months time (though we wish it was sooner!), Robert Downey Jr. will be making a triumphant return to his most famous role when he steps into the Iron Man suit once more for a guest spot in the hotly-anticipated Spider-Man: Homecoming.
But do you remember when RDJ made his debut as Tony Stark? In the first of our series looking back at every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), we remember the movie that started it all...
It’s strange to recall now what a risk Iron Man was when it became the first movie out of the Marvel Studios stable in 2008. While the X-Men and Spider-Man flicks had already smashed records at the box office, it was other studios that were popping the corks on those successes (Fox and Sony respectively). This was Marvel striking out on its own, and with a character whose name was a lot less familiar than some of the company’s starrier, front-bench superheroes.
Also, Robert Downey Jr? Today, he’s one of the most bankable stars in the world, but in 2008 his career was, ahem, not in a great place. It was director Jon Favreau who fought for the one-time Brat Packer, whose career had taken an epic stumble in the 1990s amid a flurry of drink and drugs headlines. The gamble paid off, so much so that’s it’s hard to see anyone else now as the self-styled “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist”.
Even in their craziest dreams, the nascent Marvel Studios couldn’t have predicted the rapturous reaction to Iron Man. A third-division Marvel character starring a washed-up actor who, only eight years before, had been in jail? But nobody had counted on the creative genius of Favreau and that maybe – just maybe – Downey Jr. still had some star quality somewhere in him. The movie itself won rave reviews and went on to gross a whopping $585 million. The MCU had arrived.
Robert Downey Jr, hands down. Although this movie is busting with great performances, it really belongs to RDJ. Played by another actor, Tony Stark could have been insufferable. In fact, he isn’t even that likeable on paper, but RDJ makes him into a real, three-dimensional person and one of the funniest, more quotable characters in the MCU. We’ll probably shed a bucketload of tears when he finally goes.
It’s a damn shame that Terrence Howard was dropped from the series after this one (at the time of filming he was the bigger star and earned more on the movie than even Downey Jr) as the one-time Oscar-winner gives an irresistibly commanding performance as Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes. As much as we love Don Cheadle (the Ocean’s Eleven star replaced Howard for Iron Man 2), he just doesn’t look as formidably soldier-like as the hulking Howard.
It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but nothing beats that shot of Tony Stark standing, cool-as-Christmas, in front of a massive explosion. Dude doesn’t even break a sweat. What a guy.
Tony Stark: [when Pepper catches him in the Iron Man suit] "Let's face it, this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing!"
The first suit that Tony Stark makes, while a prisoner in Afghanistan, is modelled closely on the original Iron Man outfit from his comic book debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (cover dated March 1963).
Stan Lee cameo
Stan Lee’s first MCU cameo (he had popped up in the X-Men and Spidey movies before this but they don’t really count) has him either as Playboy owner Hugh Hefner or someone who LOOKS like Playboy owner Hugh Hefner. Anyhoo, it’s one of the funniest Stan the Man moments.
Marvel’s first ever post-credits sequence sets the scene for what was to come. Samuel L Jackson makes his MCU debut as Nick Fury, Head of SHIELD, who turns up at Tony Stark’s pad to inform him about something called “the Avengers Initiative”. Boom.
Did you know?
Although Paul Bettany voices Stark's AI butler JARVIS (standing for "Just A Rather Very Intelligent System"), he only did two hours of work on the film.
Originally, Universal Pictures was to produce an Iron Man movie in 1990. They later sold the rights to 20th Century Fox who later sold the rights to New Line Cinema. Finally, Marvel Studios acquired the rights and made Iron Man their debut feature.
Jon Favreau celebrated getting the job as director by going on a diet, losing 70lb.
Favreau also plays Tony Stark’s long-suffering bodyguard, Happy Hogan, in the film. He went on to reprise the role in Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3 and the forthcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Most of the scenes set in Afghanistan were lensed in Olancha Sand Dunes in California.
Jon Favreau voiced Iron Man in the 2009 Robot Chicken episode, "Two Weeks Without Food".
What the critics said
“Jon Favreau's summer blockbuster, Iron Man, is a canny piece of work that has been made with the full co-operation of the US air force and yet could be acceptable fare for an audience at a peace rally.” The Guardian
“A supremely confident, well-tooled entertainment.” CNN
“Snapping off lines as crisply as Bugs Bunny might bite into a carrot, the sculpture-bearded Downey invigorates the entire proceedings in a way no other actor ever has in this field.” Variety
“Iron Man manages to be both a lot of fun, and quite possibly the most effective commentary on the war on terror that Hollywood has produced so far.” The Independent
You can see Robert Downey Jr return as Iron Man when Spider-Man: Homecoming opens on 7th July. Don't forget to check out our Mixtape of some of the greatest Marvel movie scores!