It’s hard to think of a time when Marvel wasn’t a movie-making goliath. Since their unification with Disney, the comic book empire has been pumping out multiple money-making movies annually. Someday, in the very far future, when the superhero movie bubble finally bursts, they might fall flat on their faces…but it almost happened at the very beginning.
Way back in 2008, one of biggest gambles took place behind the scenes in a small film called Iron Man. Marvel Studios was still in its infancy, so it relied on Paramount Studios for distribution. Troubled Hollywood star Robert Downey Jr was set to lead the project, but he was going to be able to play off other quality actors like Terrance Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow and the legendary Jeff Bridges. While everything appeared to be set for a nice, smooth production, it turns out it was anything but.
Trying to figure out how Iron Man could lead to more Marvel films, the studio was constantly clamping down on director Jon Favreau, causing script changes on the fly. For Bridges, he told Variety that he didn’t prefer to work that way.
“I like to be prepared. I like to know my lines. It turned out that many times — 10, 12, 15 times — we would show up for the day’s work, not knowing what we were gonna shoot. All the guys in the studio are sitting there tapping their foot, looking at their watch, and we’re sitting in my trailer trying to figure out my lines.”
The studio interference caused chaos on the set, and none of the actors knew what scenes they were going to shoot from day to day. Essentially, the crew had no script to work from and were winging it. Favreau adapted to the situation by letting the actors improvise their lines and predicaments. We all know that’s something Downy Jr. excels at, but for Bridges, it was a mess compared to some of the other, more refined projects he had experience with. Thankfully, and because he’s a cool, cool cat, Bridges let his hair down (if Obadiah Stane had any hair) and had fun with the movie that kick-started The Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“I made a little adjustment in my head. That adjustment was – Jeff, just relax, you are in a $200 million student film, have fun, just relax.”
Boy, did that little student film work out. Iron Man would go on to gross $585-million at the box office and was universally praised. It wasn’t just RDJ’s charisma, or Favreau’s storytelling; Bridges is still regarded as one of the better villains the MCU has to offer (although he’s not really up against stiff competition). Perhaps if the movie was more structured, it wouldn’t have been as fun, which is what set it apart from other superhero movies.
As the old saying goes, “From chaos comes order.” The disarray that plagued Iron Man bore an exciting and unique film which successfully laid the groundwork for today’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not bad for some “$200 million student film!”