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Let’s be honest, until the first Iron Man film was released, the character did not have such a large fan base. Fandom for comic book superheroes was more apparent for the likes of more popular superheroes such as Wolverine from the X-Men, Spider-man, and those from DC comics. We also cannot deny that the success of this fandom was amplified largely because of live action films that featured these characters. Enter Marvel Studios’ Iron Man. The first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and probably the biggest gamble that Marvel Studios ever took.
The idea of having an Iron Man movie was out as early as the 1990s, and FOX was presented the opportunity to produce it. However, they decided not to pursue it and went on to produce the X-Men and Fantastic 4 movies, while the prospect was then given to New Line Pictures in the year 2000. They bounced the idea of a few writers, but New Line Pictures boss Bob Shaye eventually decided that he wasn’t a big enough fan of the idea, and that he was not certain that a man flying in an iron suit would make the box office. Marvel Studios got wind of the situation at New Line Pictures, and decided that they would be able to do something with the character. Hence, they waited for the New Line Pictures’ option to expire in 2005, and jumped right in. Thus, the development of the armoured Avenger began.
Not only was Marvel Studios late to the party, RDJ was too. An array of superstars was considered for the role of Tony Stark, including Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Colin Farrell, and Patrick Dampsey. In a lightbulb moment, assumed producer and director Kevin Feige and Jon Favreau decided that they wanted to give it a shot with bringing in RDJ, because of the fact that RDJ was at the time recovering from his infamous public drug abuse, and they knew that they would be able to recruit the actor at a fraction of a superstar’s salary. What convinced them even more that RDJ was right for the role was that Tony Stark had a similarity in character - having to fight his own inner demons. RDJ eventually agreed to the roll, despite the contingencies that the studio had to agree with such as not being able to insure the actor.
Remember when we said that Iron Man was one of the biggest gambles that Marvel Studios ever proceeded with? This was one of the reasons why. They were running on a really tight budget, and even the actors were paid pretty low (more on that later). Even worse, they started production with incomplete scripts. However, the wizarding actor that he is, RDJ managed to improvise a lot during the shoots, and Favreau encouraged it. They had a certain chemistry that allowed Favreau to trust RDJ’s ability to improvise against incomplete scripts, and as it turned out, that contributed to Iron Man becoming a blockbuster hit.
The best way for a production house to make money after a big hit is through merchandise sales. However, Iron Man wasn’t a hit yet, and Marvel Studios wasn’t exactly a super successful production studio. So, toy companies were reluctant on closing a deal with Marvel Studios to sell Iron Man merchandise and figurines, because they were not convinced that it was going to be a hit, and whether Iron Man had a fan base, even less, kids. By the time Iron Man 2 was released, Iron Man was already available in all stores, in all shapes and sizes.
When he was first invited to take the role of Iron Man, he was hired for $2.5 million, and he wasn’t in any position to refuse such an offer. In fact, he wasn’t even the first actor to be recruited, nor was he the highest paid one despite being casted for the leading role. Terrence Howard was the first big name to be hired for the role of James Rhodes (who would later become War Machine) for $3.5 million – making him the highest paid actor for the film. The idea was to let RDJ run lead with an Oscar winner supporting him, and it worked. RDJ instantly became a fan favorite and went on to act in many more more MCU films. In the most recent installation of the MCU, Avengers: Endgame, his earnings were recorded at at least $70 million. That’s almost 30 times of what his salary was in his debut with the MCU. As fans, we can all agree that it was definitely money well spent.