On May 2, 2008, Iron Man, the latest big-budget action film based on a Marvel Comics character, debuts in some 4,100 theaters in the United States and Canada, raking in an estimated $32.5 million on its opening day.
Co-created by Stan Lee, the legendary writer-editor behind Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, X-Men and the Incredible Hulk, among others, Iron Man made his first appearance in the pages of Marvel’s comic books in 1963. The super hero’s trek to the big screen began in 1990, when Universal Studios purchased the film rights from Marvel. The rights were later sold to 20th Century Fox and then New Line Cinema before Marvel Studios re-acquired them in 2006. The $150 million movie was the first to be financed completely by Marvel, which together with the distributor, Paramount Pictures, poured another $75 million into a wide-ranging marketing campaign.
Iron Man starred Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the billionaire owner of a company that manufactures and sells high-tech weapons. While in Afghanistan to demonstrate a new weapon of mass destruction, the so-called “Jericho” missile, Stark is violently seized as a hostage by a terrorist group who demand that he make one of the missiles for them. Instead, Stark manages to build a powerful suit of armor that allows him to escape; when he returns home and finds that his company is involved in illicit weapons trading with potentially devastating consequences, he refines his new high-tech armor in order to transform himself into Iron Man and defeat the nefarious scheme.
Downey was an Oscar nominee for his portrayal of the comedic actor Charlie Chaplin in the 1992 biopic Chaplin, but had more recently become better known for his struggles with drug addiction. A surprise choice for Iron Man, he unveiled a newly buff physique for the role, and critics almost universally hailed his suave, charismatic performance as the film’s central triumph. Terrence Howard co-starred as Stark’s Air Force officer friend, while Gwyneth Paltrow played his adoring assistant and Jeff Bridges was his business partner, Obadiah Stane. Iron Man’s director, Jon Favreau, first made his name in Hollywood as the screenwriter and star of Swingers (1996). Favreau previously co-starred in another (less successful) comic book adaptation, 2003’s Daredevil, with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. As a director, he helmed the high-profile comedy Elf (2003), starring Will Ferrell, and the fantasy film Zathura (2005).
After a $51 million opening weekend, Iron Man went on to gross more than $300 million at the domestic box office. Its release kicked off a summer packed with super-hero movies, including the big-screen returns of the Incredible Hulk, Batman and Hellboy.
Like Batman Begins (2005), Iron Man told the story of a super hero’s origins, and like the earlier film–which was itself a prequel to three previous modern Batman films–its ending segued easily into a sequel, Iron Man 2 (2010).