Before The MCU: IRON MAN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Before The MCU: IRON MAN

Tom Cruise as Tony Stark? Quentin Tarantino behind the camera?? A Joss Whedon script??? A crossover with The Incredible Hulk TV series???? It all could've happened...

Unlike all the other Marvel Cinematic Universe characters we have looked at in our previous Before The MCU articles, a live-action Iron Man had not appeared on screen before 2008 when the first of the Robert Downey Jr. starring films was released. But that wasn't for lack of trying, as we're about to discover, because long before before RDJ's Tony Stark was captured by the Ten Rings terrorist group plans had been afoot for Iron Man to make his live-action debut.

We begin all the way back in 1989, when The Incredible Hulk TV show was enjoying something of a revival thanks to a pair of very successful made-for-TV movies. The first had featured Thor, the second Daredevil, the third was in development and the intention was for it introduce She-Hulk. Ultimately that storyline was abandoned, but the planned fourth installment, due to pick up straight after the events of The Death Of The Incredible Hulk was to include Iron Man and was tentatively scheduled to air in the Fall of 1990.

At the time it was rumoured that Bill Bixby's battle with cancer was the reason for the delay of the fourth Hulk film, but in actuality it was cancelled because of the disappointing reception and ratings for the third film.

The following year, in April 1990, Universal Studios bought the rights to develop Iron Man for the big screen, with Stuart Gordon, writer/director of Re-Animator and co-writer of Honey I Shrunk The Kids, signed to write and direct a low-budget film based on the character. The project faltered early on with Gordon moving on to The Pit And The Pendulum.

By February 1996, 20th Century Fox had acquired the rights from Universal, although there was no word of a potential production until January 1997 when Nicolas Cage expressed interest in portraying Iron Man on screen. However, the closest an Iron Man film came to going into active production was when Tom Cruise became attached as both star and producer in the Fall of 1998.

Jeff Vintar and Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee co-wrote a story for Fox, which Vintar adapted into a screenplay. It included a new science-fiction origin for the character, and featured MODOK as the villain. Tom Rothman, President of Production at Fox, credited the screenplay with finally making him understand the character, but it seems as if Fox's choice for Tony Stark didn't feel the same way. Here's what Tom Cruise had to say about the project when he spoke with IGN back in 2005.
"They came to me at a certain point and, when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it's gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn't feel to me like it was gonna work. I need to be able to make decisions and make the film as great as it can be, and it just didn't go down that road that way."
Fox didn't give up though, and in May 1999 Jeffrey Caine, who'd penned the screenplay for Goldeneye, was hired to rewrite Vintar and Lee's script. It's unknown if Cruise was still attached at that point but either way Caine's rewrite didn't aid the development. A final stab from Fox in the October of that year saw them approach Quentin Tarantino to write and direct an Iron Man film.

Unable to get the project off the ground, Fox sold the rights to New Line Cinema the following December, reasoning that although they still felt the Vintar/Lee script was strong, the studio were already filming the first X-Men movie and, as they told the trade papers at the time, "we can't make them all."

By July 2000, an Iron Man film was being written for New Line by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who together co-wrote Aladdin, Shrek and The Pirates Of The Caribbean film series. At the time, Elliot told Eon Magazine,
"Obviously, everyone is interested in seeing what happens with X-Men, but the only real similarity between the two projects is: they are based on Marvel Comics properties. I think New Line feels pretty confident, based on their success with Blade, that they're capable of doing a good movie based on a superhero character -- even if other studios can't."
As for his and Rossio's take on Iron Man?
"It's funny, in many ways Tony Stark is one of the most generic alter-egos in the Marvel Comics universe. It is the ways that Tony Stark is different from that model that best define the character. Specifically he is an engineering genius. Confronted with a problem, he will work relentlessly until he solves it; which means first understanding completely the nature of the problem, and then seeking the most efficient, effective and elegant solution.
Taking our cue from some of the other elements intrinsic to Iron Man -- high-tech manufacturing, ties to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the U.S. Government, international businessman -- and some of the stories from the books, we're going to throw Tony into a very gray world, one which his money and his personality have isolated him from for the most part. It will be a Gordian knot of motives, actions and events which forces Tony to solve the most fundamental question about himself: 'What kind of man am I?'"
Stark never managed to answer that question because by September of that year the duo were off the project and Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant) was bought in. McCanlies' script doesn't sound a million miles away from the film which eventually launched the MCU in 2008. It was reported to be an origin story and included a Nick Fury cameo to set up his own film. There was to be no super-powered villain but would have instead pitted Tony Stark against corporate villains who are after his advanced technology so they can exploit it "to the detriment of mankind."

In June 2001, New Line entered talks with Joss Whedon, a fan of the character, to direct. It was reported that if he did come on board he'd start with a fresh script of his own. Although Whedon's name was associated with the project for over a year, nothing came of this, and by the end of 2002 McCanlies' script was still the one New Line were considering.

However, by December 2004 it was back to square one when the studio attached director Nick Cassavetes to the project for a target 2006 release. Fresh off success with The Notebook, Cassavetes was said to be working from a screenplay written by Spiderman 2's Alfred Gough & Miles Millar, with X-Men's David Hayter.

It seems the development process was a long, drawn out one, as if Gough explained to If Magazine later in 2007,
"We worked on it for years and ultimately New Line dragged their feet. As movies tend to go, you get a head of steam behind them, but if some of the other elements don’t click in, it goes away. That was really disheartening.

But we really love the guys at Marvel. It was very cool. Mandarin was the villain, we had Pepper Potts, we had Tony Stark.We worked with Michael Crichton’s researchers to find a grounded realistic way to deal with the suit. The idea was he needed the suit to stay alive. [Crichton's] the same guy we used with Spider-Man 2 to come up with Dock Ock’s inhibitor chips and what the arms are made of and how they work. The thing about Michael Crichton is, it’s real, real, real and then fantasy. So he tries to keep the bridge between reality and fantasy, you only get one buy. I think with Iron Man, we had a really good way to do the suit and a very modern way to tell the story. Madarin was an Indonesian terrorist who masqueraded as a rich playboy who Tony knew.

I think we had a really good contemporary take on the material."
The story was also said to have included Tony's father Howard Stark, who would become War Machine, but after two years of unsuccessful development the deal with Cassavetes fell through and New Line Cinema returned the film rights to Marvel.

In November 2005, Marvel Studios announced Iron Man as their first independent feature. The reasons for the character's choice to lead of their Marvel Cinematic Universe were two-fold - one, they owned the screen rights (unlike many of their other superheroes at the time), and two goes back to the opening line of this article. As Iron Man had not appeared in a live-action feature before the character would have no baggage for the vast majority of the audience.

The rest of the story is MCU history.

Previous Before The MCU Articles
Black Widow
Captain America
Doctor Strange
Nick Fury

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