Iron Man (2008) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

“A $200 million student film”

The story may seem solid now, but during production reportedly much of the original script—first version by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, with a new version written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby—had been tossed out. The story about rewriting while filming proceeded gets muddled. Bridges groused both during the original press junket and in recent interviews that new lines were being written every day. It certainly took a village.


“It drove me absolutely crazy until I made a slight adjustment in my brain,” Bridges told Vanity Fair last year, “and that adjustment was, ‘Jeff, just relax. You’re making a $200 million student film. Just relax and have fun.’ And that kind of did the trick because here I get to play with these two incredible artists and just jam, and that’s what we ended up doing.”

Favreau, Downey, and co-star Gwenyth Paltrow (playing Stark’s personal assistant and love interest Pepper Potts) have acknowledged that some improvisation occurred on set. There was a lot of scripted material as well. But let’s face it, Downey’s biggest improv line of the film—when Stark admits at the end that “I am Iron Man”—completely changed the trajectory of the series and the MCU.


In terms of Bridges’ “student film” comment, Feige acknowledged to Vanity Fair in 2017 that “Marvel didn’t have money on the line. They would have lost the film rights to some of the characters, but it was sort of a great experiment. People forget Iron Man was an independent movie. I had to do a lot. I pitched that movie dozens of times to foreign buyers because we had to get, I don’t remember exactly what the percentage was, but a large percentage of financing it from selling it, pre-selling the foreign. We had a completion bond company.” (They also landed Paramount as the distributor.)

The gamble paid off. Focusing on Southern California locales as opposed to the common New York spots in many other Marvel adaptations, Iron Man was hipper than many other superhero films had been and at times more layered. Tony Stark was a complicated and contradictory character: brilliant and visionary yet also cocky and narcissistic. He listened to Suicidal Tendencies, Ghostface Killah, and AC/DC (who had a big comeback that year which would soon be mirrored by Downey). He treated women as playthings but cared deeply for Pepper Potts. He liked to party it up but could also quote Machiavelli. He claimed to create WMDs to ensure peace, then when he decided that Stark Industries should stop making them he turned himself into a high-powered weapon. (The politics of the film itself are contradictory to many as well, but that’s a whole other discussion.)


Iron Man was also loaded with Easter eggs. There were references to James Bond’s Goldfinger, specific Jackson Pollock art, future Iron Man ally War Machine, a cameo from Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and the first of many Stan Lee cameos to come. Favreau surreptitiously played Stark’s head of security Happy Hogan, taking on a bigger role in later films. Plus, there was the post-credits Nick Fury stinger that let audiences know Marvel had plans to build up to something greater with the Avengers Initiative.

Jeff Bridges on the Difficulties of Shooting ‘Iron Man’

Fan-first filmmaking

During the film’s NYC junket in April 2008, it was clear that Favreau and Downey were the driving creative forces here and were passionate about the material. When one reporter had brought in the Iron Man issue with the famous “Demon In A Bottle” cover, Downey teased, “You must be loving that.” Then during that roundtable, he began to thumb through that copy while answering someone else’s question. It should be noted that the star said he had a palette of Iron Man comics delivered to him during the making of the first movie to better learn the character and mythos.


Downey also told journalists that day that he battled with some suits over their ideas by saying, “Tony Stark faithful to the fans is the best Tony Stark there will ever be. I just like this idea where there’s so much reference, and then you get new people involved, and they go, ‘We don’t need to look at those comic books. The action sequence with the F-22s ...’ I’m like, ‘Wait! Whoa! Hi guys, really smart people and talented artists spent 45 years on this. Don’t you think we can give this 45 minutes? Don’t we have to?’ Artistic license sometimes is the license to not realize that what you need is already there.”

When Favreau saw the “Demon In A Bottle” issue at the junket, he endearingly remarked, “That’s awesome. Oddly, if you sign that, the value goes down. I had Stan Lee sign one. You’re not supposed to sign those things. I did it anyway. I don’t care. I’m going to sell it. Can I see it? Can I pull it out of here? My hands are clean!”


The enthusiastic reception to press screenings and the junket easily stoked the creative talent behind the film. When asked if alcoholism might play a factor in the next Iron Man movie, Downey replied, “Seeing as I will be entirely calling the shots for the storyline for Iron Man 2, 3, and 7 … I don’t know. I think an interesting way to address it would not be an obvious way.” Someone was cocky about Iron Man’s success. But it wasn’t unwarranted.

“We ended up landing a tone with Iron Man that became the formula moving forward,” Favreau told Vanity Fair in 2017. “You want to mix great casting, stay true to the characters, a combined universe that would allow cross-pollination. And having humor and adherence to canon.”


The blockbuster success also revitalized both Robert Downey Jr.’s and Jeff Bridges’ careers. (The latter had been doing acclaimed but not necessarily high-grossing work then.) Over the next decade, Downey would portray Iron Man onscreen nine more times, including his Hulk movie cameo. He also found success in two movies with his brainy and brawling version of Sherlock Holmes. Over the next three years, Bridges would go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor for the musical drama Crazy Heart, head up the big-budget sequel Tron: Legacy, and blast his way to another Best Actor nom and big box office in the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit. And Bridges’ self-titled country solo album went Top 30 and sold around 350,000 copies.

Favreau’s star also rose. He would go on to direct Iron Man 2, live-action remakes of The Lion King and The Jungle Book, executive produce numerous Marvel movies, and create the Star Wars series The Mandalorian and The Book Of Boba Fett. The movie was also a nice blockbuster boost for Paltrow as Pepper would appear in six more MCU films. On the flip side, Terrence Howard was edged out of the MCU after he made larger salary demands that Marvel rejected.


Thanks to the success of Iron Man, nearly all of the subsequent Marvel movies would not only grow the franchise but continue to grow their box office. The 20-movie arc of the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe led up to the epic Infinity War and Endgame movies for the Avengers. Tragically and yet fittingly, this would lead to the death of Tony Stark and Iron Man. But it makes sense that after playing that hero for a decade the accomplished actor would want to go on to other roles.

Even for those who don’t like superhero movies, Iron Man still resonates because it finds the right balance between fantasy and a sense of connection to the modern world. It’s witty and smart escapism. Fifteen years later, it remains one of the crown jewels of Marvel Studios. Not bad for a $200 million “independent movie.”