Released 15 years ago today, Iron Man was almost a VERY different movie
Both Tom Cruise AND Quentin Tarantino were attached the project.
Premiering on 30 May 2008, Iron Man was the first official outing for what we now know to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise that in terms of the all-time worldwide box office hits, holds the No.2 spot (Avengers: Endgame), the No.6 spot (Avengers: Infinity War), the No.7 spot (Spider-Man: No Way Home), and the No.10 spot (The Avengers), as well as loads more besides.
We have covered before that the entire original cast-list for The Avengers was very, very different, but practically every aspect of the Iron Man movie was vastly different to the end product that landed on the big screen a decade-and-a-half ago this week.
While the character first appeared in the comics in 1963, appearing in cartoons from 1966, it wasn't until 1990 that conversations about a movie adaption really started to gather momentum, off the popularity of Tim Burton's 1989 adaptation of Batman. Universal bought the rights first, asking director Stuart Gordon (writer of Honey I Shrunk The Kids) to come up a low-budget adaptation.
Six years later, with no film in sight, Universal sold the rights to 20th Century Fox, and soon afterwards both Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise expressed interest in take on the role, with Cruise also wanting to produce the project, as he'd done with the Mission: Impossible franchise.
Stan Lee himself and screenwriter Jeff Vintar (I, Robot) came up with the script, which leaned much harder into the sci-fi genre and featured MODOK as the villain (who wouldn't actually appear within the MCU until 2023's Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania).
By October 1999, Quentin Tarantino was approached to write and direct the movie, but just two months later, Fox sold the rights to New Line Cinema, stating that they already had too many Marvel movies in development - including X-Men, Fantastic Four and Daredevil - and they simply couldn't make them all. Plus, New Line Cinema had just had a major Marvel hit with their adaptation of Blade, so things might finally be working out for everyone...
Jump forward to December 2002, and the screenwriters Ted Elliott (Shrek), Terry Rossio (Aladdin) and Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant) handed in their finished script, with none other than Joss Whedon set to direct... and it also never materialised. New Line turned to David Hayter (X-Men) to write an adaptation, who pitted Tony Stark against his own father, Howard Stark, who would become War Machine in that version of the story. The studio approached Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) to direct this script, with an eye for a 2006 release date.
But that too fell apart, and the rights for Iron Man relapsed back to Marvel, which had created its own production company - Marvel Studios - in 1996. Initially packaging and licensing their own intellectual property for other production companies to develop - Blade, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Elektra - but in 2004, they began to actively pursue the idea of self-financing their own movies.
But at the time, Marvel was not in the financially lucrative position it is in today, and they had to take out a massive loan in order to create these self-financed movies. As reported by Fortune, Marvel entered into a debt structure with investment management company Merrill Lynch, who gave them $525 million to make a maximum of 10 movies based on the company's properties over eight years.
Out of their entire catalogue, Marvel decided to make Iron Man first as it was the only one never depicted in live-action, but if the movie failed, then Marvel would forever lose the movie rights to some of its biggest characters. Once development properly began, Marvel then couldn't land a screenwriter to work on the project due to it being a risky in-house production, and a poll revealed that the majority of public thought that Iron Man was actually a robot.
Director Jon Favreau - who, at the time, was best known for helming family comedies Elf and Zathura - was hired after working with producer Avi Arad on the Daredevil movie, who envisioned his Iron Man to be a megamix of James Bond, Tom Clancy and RoboCop. Favreau initially offered the role to Sam Rockwell (who would eventually appear as the villain in Iron Man 2), but changed his mind after watching Robert Downey, Jr.'s audition tape... and the rest is history.
On a budget of $140 million, Iron Man made over $585 million at the global box office, scored 94% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and was even nominated for two Academy Awards. We got two direct sequels, and as of May 2023's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3, the MCU now consists of 32 feature films and counting. So, yes, it was a long, difficult, winding road to the big screen, but it clearly paid off.
Iron Man (and the rest of the MCU) is available to watch on Disney+ right now.
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