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Why Did Marvel Start With Iron Man

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Reading: Why Did Marvel Start With Iron Man

Focus groups of schoolchildren picked Iron Man to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first movie. It's hard to imagine now, but until 2008, Iron Man was largely seen as one of Marvel's second-tier characters – or even third-tier. In fact, at the time, even the comics had relegated Tony Stark to a pseudo-villain position in the aftermath of the "Civil War" event, and writers were gradually figuring out how to redeem him.

And yet, in spite of that, Marvel chose Iron Man to launch the MCU. It proved a wise decision, with Iron Man grossing over $500 million in the global box office, and putting Marvel Studios on the map. Over the last decade, both Iron Man and actor Robert Downey, Jr. have become household names. The Iron Man franchise is now viewed as one of Marvel's most valuable, and Tony Stark's sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame has gone down in cinema history as one of the key moments in film. But why did Marvel choose Iron Man in the first place?

Related: Avengers: Endgame Failed To Resolve One Key Iron Man Storyline

According to film historian Ben Fritz, Marvel originally intended to kick things off with Captain America, who would literally have been the "First Avenger". But plans changed, as Fritz explains in his book The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies.

To decide which film to make first, Marvel convened focus groups. But they weren't convened in order to ask a random cross-section of people which story lines and characters they would most like to see onscreen. Instead, Marvel brought together groups of children, showed them pictures of superheroes, and described their abilities and weapons. Then they asked the kids which ones they would most like to play with as a toy. The overwhelming answer, to the surprise of many at Marvel, was Iron Man.

"That's what brought Iron Man to the front of the line," said a person who helped to decide which movie Marvel would self-produce first.

why did marvel start with iron man

Marvel's reclusive (and controversial) CEO Ike Perlmutter hailed from Toy Biz, and he was keen to establish a synergy between a film's release and a wave of merchandise. In fact, there's a sense in which this was probably the driving force behind Marvel's decision to self-produce its movies, at least as far as Perlmutter was concerned. Back in 2000, Marvel had planned a wave of action figures to accompany the release of Fox's X-Men, but the studio had changed the release date. According to Fritz, that rankled Perlmutter, and he never forgot what he considered to be a major missed opportunity.

Perlmutter disliked Hollywood, and he retained the focus on merchandise over the years. Toy sales even drove changes to the script of 2013's Iron Man 3, where Rebecca Hall's Maya Hansen was originally written as the main villain. Unfortunately Shane Black received instructions from Marvel saying the script had to be adjusted. "We had finished the script and we were given a no-holds-barred memo saying that cannot stand and we’ve changed our minds because, after consulting, we’ve decided that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female," he recalled years later. It's generally believed this instruction came from Perlmutter, and the same flawed logic likely sat behind his resistance to make Captain Marvel. In the end, Perlmutter lost his influence in 2015, when behind-the-scenes drama at Marvel escalated to the point Disney intervened and forced a corporate restructure.

More: Endgame Theory: How Iron Man Really Solved Time Travel


Key Release Dates
  • Black Widow (2021)Release date: Jul 09, 2021
  • Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Release date: Sep 03, 2021
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever/Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022
  • The Marvels/Captain Marvel 2 (2023)Release date: Jul 28, 2023

Why Wanda Doesn't Look for [SPOILER] In Doctor Strange 2


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