Marvel Studios — which returns to Comic-Con this year for the first time since 2019 — is known for Hall H presentations that devolve into Beatlemania-esque hysteria. But 15 years ago, Marvel was an underdog with a lot to prove.
The company had just started making its own movies based on the so-called second-tier heroes it still had rights to, since characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men were spoken for by the major Hollywood studios. In 2006, at its first Comic-Con panel as a production company, Marvel had outlined a slate of movies with directors such as Jon Favreau, Edgar Wright and Louis Leterrier. The following year, its first movie, Iron Man, was in postproduction, so Marvel decided a Comic-Con showcase was in order, even though the film wouldn’t be released until May 2008.
“The only mentions of Iron Man in the mainstream press were the articles predicting the doom of Marvel Studios as it paraded out its B-list heroes,” recalled director Favreau in a special Comic-Con issue of The Hollywood Reporter that he guest edited in 2011. “I also knew that I had to make a splash because there was zero anticipation for the film at the time,” he added.
In the lead-up to the panel, Marvel delivered a massive, mysterious crate labeled “Stark Industries” on the convention floor. It remained unopened for several days, until a ceremony with Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man creator Stan Winston revealed a life-size replica of the hero’s armored suit.On July 27, Downey and co-stars Gwyneth Paltrow (who played Tony Stark’s assistant, Pepper Potts) and Terrence Howard (Stark’s buddy James Rhodes, recast with Don Cheadle for Iron Man 2) took the stage with Favreau.
The trailer was such a hit that the audience demanded it be played again. Downey “was connecting as Tony” and “people were coming out of their seats,” recalls Mark Fergus, an Iron Man screenwriter who was in the audience for the presentation. “We felt like we split the atom,” Fergus says of the energy unleashed that day. “We were caught off guard. We walked out of there shell-shocked and with grins on our faces.”
The buzz paid off, as Iron Man opened the following May to $98.6 million domestically and went on to earn $585.4 million worldwide, charting a course for the subsequent 27 (and counting) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.