The Road to ‘Endgame’ Part 1: How ‘Iron Man’ Changed Superhero Films Forever

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In the lead-up to the highly anticipated conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s epic “Infinity Saga”: Avengers: Endgame, we’re taking a look back at the decade-long road it took to get to this point. Each day up until the film’s release, we’ll take one or two installments of the franchise and examine their role in making it what it is today.

First up is, of course, 2008’s Iron Man. The importance of this film to the franchise at large pretty much goes without saying; it was the first installment of the franchise, and the one that introduced audiences to the character who would quickly prove to be the center of the entire universe (well, the Marvel Cinematic one at least) Tony Stark.

It may be hard for those who don’t remember what life was like before Marvel dominated the movie screens, but this was actually quite the risk. Having sold most of the film rights of their big name properties like X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man to other companies, Marvel Studios was left to work with characters who were B-list at best. While Iron Man wasn’t a total no-name, he certainly didn’t have the clout of a hero like DC’s Batman, who also had a film released the very same summer.

On top of this, the filmmakers decided to go even more of a risky route by casting Robert Downey Jr. as the lead. Much like his character, he wasn’t exactly on top of the pack either, being a recovering drug addict who had his struggles documented in the public eye over the years.

But, as we know, it all worked out in the end. While the plot of the movie is fairly basic – it’s a superhero origin story, and a pretty standard one at that – the genre wasn’t as prevalent as it is today so it didn’t feel nearly as tired. The fact that it has a fantastic supporting cast (Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaun Toub, and of course, director Jon Favreau himself) and that it takes a bit of a deeper look than usual for the genre into real-world issues – in this case, war profiteering – certainly plays no small part in why this has become one of the most beloved superhero films of the millennium, if not all time.

But for all the tropes the story uses, Iron Man is mainly remembered for the one that it decidedly breaks. The film as a whole is great, but in a way, the lasting impact its had on audiences and superhero movies in general boils down to just four simple words: “I am Iron Man.”

This line – which, as hard as it is to imagine the original script of the movie without it, was later revealed to have actually been improvised by Robert Downey Jr. – was a huge game-changer. While comics form are used to their favorite heroes varying between fighting crime out in the open and keeping their identities a secret, the vast majority of movie-only fans were so used to seeing the latter, the idea hero admitting his true identity was a novelty. And for it to be the very last line of the film was Marvel sending a clear message: This wasn’t going to be your typical superhero franchise.

Of course, even the head honchos at Marvel Studios couldn’t have known at that time how true that message would prove to be. But back in 2008, it was still enough to create buzz, have a movie that managed to stand on its own in the same summer that gave us The Dark Knight, and get audiences hungry for more. If only they knew just how much more they were going to get…

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