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Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008:
#3: Iron Man Rocks

By David Mumpower

January 14, 2009

The armor is actually more of a titanium alloy.

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"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." – Tom Cruise in 2005, speaking about Marvel's Iron Man project

For the better part of ten years, the biggest star in the world, Tom Cruise, was rumored to do an Iron Man movie. His interest in the project was the only thing that legitimized the movie concept. After all, the character was a relatively arcane one lacking the ubiquity of characters such as Batman, Superman and Wolverine. A person unfamiliar with comic books just a few years ago was unlikely to know who Iron Man was. 2008 changed all of that as the tandem of John Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. changed the scope of the character's celebrity in dramatic fashion.




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Some of the above is probably blasphemous to comic book readers. I apologize for speaking the truth here, folks, but while Brian Michael Bendis has done a phenomenal job in upgrading the profile of the character through the major Marvel comic book events of Civil War, World War Hulk and Secret Invasion, you would still have to read a comic book to know these things. Sure, USA Today has just indicated that the six best selling individual comics of 2008 were all Secret Invasion titles, but this recent success does not change the fact that Iron Man has never been a part of pop culture zeitgeist the way that a few have. Shaquille O'Neal never would have considered getting an Iron Man tattoo back in the day. Much has changed and the people we have to thank for that are the guy who left that humiliating voicemail in Swingers and a drug addict famously fired from Ally McBeal due to his dependency.

Prior to Iron Man, John Favreau's resume of successful direction had one name on it: Elf. He had made his directorial debut with an obscure release called Made, featuring Vince Vaughn in a role where his main goal was to annoy everyone else in the movie including the viewer. Made earned only $5.3 million domestically although I consider that to be a rather impressive total for such a dislikable movie. Favreau also helmed Zathura, a delightful movie in the same vein as Jumanji, which is understandable since both films were based on children's books by Chris Van Allsburg. Alas, Zathura cost $65 million to produce, but it earned only $28.0 million domestically, making it a huge financial disappointment for Sony and Vaughn. The movie he did in between Made and Zathura, however, was a blockbuster. The aforementioned Elf (featuring Will Ferrell yelling a lot) cost only $32 million to make, but earned $173.4 million domestically. A revenue to cost ratio of five always gets the attention of Hollywood, and it helps that Elf is considered an instant holiday classic. Effectively, Favreau's directorial career prior to Iron Man had consisted of three films, two of them good, one of them successful. Hiring him to helm a $186 million production was a huge gamble for Marvel Pictures in this, their first attempt at self-financing a movie. It proved to be one of the savviest moves in recent box office history.


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