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)

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

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