Many names have stepped into the red and gold armor over the years, including the most recent run with fifteen-year-old MIT student Riri Williams, but to most readers, Iron Man will forever be the billionaire Tony Stark. The business magnate and ingenious engineer has created over 100 versions of his famed suit since his introduction in 1963, and it would be just a few years later that the character would make it onto television sets everywhere with his first adaptation.
Since the ‘60s, multiple actors have stepped up to play Stark, all to varying levels of success. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is responsible for the most recent uptick in adaptations, he’s long been a fan favorite among Marvel fans. Severely flawed, Tony is arrogant, egotistical, impulsive and overflowing with confidence, yet he appears as one of the most human comic characters to date, coping with bouts of alcoholism and haunted by the accomplishments of his father.
Whether he’s tweaking his latest suits or kicking it with the Avengers, Tony remains a staple of the Marvel brand. For that, we’re counting down all of his most memorable on-screen iterations. So here they are, Every Adaptation of Iron Man, Ranked Worst to Best.
17. Heroes United (2013 – 2014)
With two back to back releases, Marvel Animation had high hopes of capturing some of the spotlight from the MCU. Things wouldn’t work out that way. Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United hit shelves in December 2013, where it was promptly panned for its use of a new animation process called 2-D wrapping. Intended to emphasize the facial features of Tony Stark and his big green ally, the characters looked blocky, moving awkwardly as they investigated a new plot from Hydra.
Despite the negative response of the first film, Marvel already had a follow-up in the pipeline. As one could’ve predicted, Iron Man and Captain America was much of the same. Together, Tony and Steve Rogers fought against Red Skull’s plan to create an army of super-soldiers while also rescuing one of the Iron Man suits from Taskmaster.
For someone who’s easily distracted, we’re sure the low-grade animation and lack of exciting plots would’ve been fine, but for such a large studio as Marvel, it felt like a lack of effort. While a five-year-old child is likely to get some amusement out of it, this version of Iron Man falls short of the others on our list.
16. Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel (2013)
Of all the places you would expect to see the Avengers, Danville is probably the last on your list. With the purchase of Marvel Entertainment by Disney in 2009, the mega media conglomerate suddenly found itself rolling in more cash than it knew what to do with. A crossover episode with other Disney properties seemed imminent, and fans soon got one with Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel.
Landing in the small town, the Avengers show up to the house of the two step-brothers when their powers disappear. Believing the two may be responsible, they ask for their help in getting their abilities back. Iron Man is just one of the heroes to make an appearance, looking like the version of the character seen on the Avengers Assemble series. Stark’s persona meshes well with the intellects of the younger Phineas and Ferb, but his biggest laugh out loud moment comes when he seemingly acquires the ability to wield Thor’s hammer. Originally written to pick up Mjolnir, the writers later changed their minds about the idea, leaving Tony disappointed when he finds that even the powers of a God don’t make him a worthy replacement for the Norse hero.
15. Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes (2007)
When your primary source of power comes from a suit, one of the biggest flaws you’ll find is just how easy it is for someone to hack into the controls. In this case, that exact scenario served as the premise for an episode of Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes.
Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, and The Thing are working on installing a new security system in their headquarters when one of Stark’s suits flies in and destroys it. Soon, they find themselves surrounded by multiple suits with nobody inside. Identifying the tech, the team soon tracks down Tony, learning that Doctor Doom has taken over his machines.
Escaping to keep his identity a secret, Stark returns in the Iron Man armor to aid the rest of the group. As Tony, actor David Kaye’s voice is calm and smooth, boasting about his wealth and tropical island getaways. Once in the armor, his tone is masked, sounding more like a computer than a man. While the cameo is a pleasant surprise and the voice work is admirable, the sound effects of the suit are excessive, focusing on the machine rather than the man inside it.
14. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981 – 1983)
This summer, Peter Parker will receive a Homecoming from the Avengers squad when his duels against Vulture under the watchful eye of Tony Stark, but long before last year’s debut of Captain America: Civil War, the web-slinger had the chance to meet Iron Man. Voiced by William Marshall, best known for playing the first black Dracula, he would cameo in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends throughout its series run, featuring most prominently in “The Origin of the Spider-Friends.”
In the episode, The Beetle steals a supercomputer and Power Booster which Stark created. Learning of the Beetle’s intentions to strengthen his powers, he decides to help Spider-Man by giving him and his companions the crime detection tools they use throughout the series. Although appearing in the third season, the episode shows how Spidey joined forces with Firestar and Iceman, serving as the first episode chronologically. Though not shown in his armor until the end of the episode, Stark does play a vital role as a contributor to the team. He shows gratitude towards Spidey for rescuing him from the Beetle, and in return, the wall-crawler and his pals are able to reap all the benefits.
13. Marvel’s Super Hero Adventures: Frost Fight! (2015)
Riding high off the success of the MCU, Marvel Studios has been quick to release as many straight-to-video movies as possible. Frost Fight! is one such movie, intended for the younger viewer but with just enough entertainment to keep their parents pleasantly entertained as well.
Landing on earth just in time for the holiday season, Loki comes bearing gifts for his Avenger friends. Alongside his frost giant ally, he plans to steal the powers of Santa Claus and ruin Christmas for all the kiddies. Luckily for us, the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, and a newcomer named Reptil are here to save the day.
As the voice of Iron Man, Mick Wingert delivers the usual quips alongside his heroic brethren, but where he really stands out is how remarkably similar he sounds to Robert Downey Jr. Likely due to the fact that they couldn’t get the real RDJ to voice the role, they instead sought the best impersonator available. The role is all good fun though, as the movie is noticeably lighthearted with just enough holiday cheer to get you in the mood for all that gift shopping you’re going to be doing during the season.
12. Iron Man: Armored Adventures (2009 – 2012)
The first Iron Man series since the animated version of the ‘90s would come courtesy of Christopher Yost (whose name will pop up again later) after the box office success of the live-action movie. Following a 16-year-old version of the character, Tony Stark comes face to face with Obadiah Stane, an employee of his father’s who seeks to gain control over Stark Industries. When news arrives that Howard Stark has disappeared in a plane crash after refusing to weaponize a device known as the Earth Mover for Obadiah, Tony takes matters into his own hands, suiting up as Iron Man to avenge his father’s death.
As the teenage Tony, Adrian Petriw does a commendable job in the role. Outside of the suit, he sounds like your typical young boy discovering his adulthood. He works through his struggles alongside his friends James Rhodes and Pepper Potts. It’s when he steps into the armor, however, that Petriw’s performance is truly improved upon. He becomes instantly more charming underneath the suit and his voice becomes distinctly deeper, showing the kind of confidence that grows when he has his trusted armor to protect him.
11. The Super Hero Squad Show (2009 – 2011)
Traditionally speaking, the voice of SpongeBob shouldn’t work as the suave, tech genius Tony Stark. But as a cartoonish, kid-friendly version of the character, he does surprisingly well. Based on the Hasbro toy line, The Super Hero Squad Show takes all the qualities of the Marvel characters we know and stretches them into comedic moments of hyperbole. Every character’s known skills or personalities immediately become their most talked about trait, and with Tony Stark, there’s no exception.
With his inflated ego and knack for inventing things, this version of Iron Man takes a leadership role among the members of Super Hero City. Obsessed with finding solutions to every sticky situation, he’s prone to coming up with high-tech answers to even the most mundane issues. Whether he’s stopping Doctor Doom from conquering the universe with the powers of the infinity sword or just lounging around the house, no task is too tall for him to overcome. Played with a farcical self-seriousness that’s light in tone and playfully accepting of the show’s childlike banter, Tom Kenny provides a fresh take on the helmet-headed hero, even if he’s not the most faithful depiction on our list.
10. LEGO Iron Man
LEGO and superheroes go together like peas in a pod. The little mini building blocks have come a long way since their days as toys to keep the kids entertained. The colored pieces of plastic have covered every major franchise from Marvel to Star Wars, and it’s paid off handsomely.
Introduced in the LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and LEGO Marvel’s Avengers video games, the animated toy version of Iron Man has all the properties of the original Tony Stark compressed into his tiniest form. Voiced by Adrian Pasdar, Tony is his usual playboy self, operating alongside the Avengers from his Stark Tower high-rise.
Often shown suited up, Tony can be seen wearing at least eight different variations of the Iron Man armor in the video games as well as the mini-movies Avengers Reassembled and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload. As a natural leader, this version of Tony is surprisingly relaxed in even the most detrimental of situations, rarely breaking away from his comical wit with the bad guys. It’s an ideal take on Tony that shows off the more family-friendly side of his personality while never taking away too much from the character.
9. The Marvel Super Heroes (1966)
In 1966, comic book characters were sparse in Hollywood, to say the least. With the exception of the Adam West-starring Batman series, there were almost no superheroes. Then came The Marvel Super Heroes, an umbrella series featuring five segments, each seven minutes in length, starring the likes of Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, and the Invincible Iron Man. The show would run for less than a year, but would use the illustrations from previous Marvel storylines to create an accurate version of the characters.
As far as the voice of Iron Man is concerned, actor John Vernon took over the role, but he doesn’t land in our top ten because of his suave voice and characteristic cleverness. In fact, Vernon’s performance is far from nuanced. He makes the cut because he is the epitome of a superhero of the time. Sounding otherworldly and unwilling to back down from a confrontation, he jumps off the screen in the way many viewers of the ‘60s would’ve expected. What may be perceived as the stereotypical voice of a hero today is what kickstarted it all, and it deserves a rightful place among the best depictions despite everything that’s come after.
8. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008)
Sometime between the creation of Ultron and the desolation of earth, Tony Stark took the children of his fellow Avengers to a faraway island in the arctic. It’s there that he raised the five kids as his own, preparing them for the day that Ultron might return. Believing he is the only surviving member of the once great hero group, he soon encounters a damaged Vision, setting off a chain of events which pits the children against the robot responsible for their parents’ supposed deaths.
The direct-to-video release of Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow offers an alternative timeline to the Avengers story which sees our heroes removed from the world with their kids inheriting the role of the saviors. A much older Tony Stark appears wise underneath his white head of hair and long beard. At this point in his life, this version of Tony has lost his cynicism and spends his remaining years making up for his mistakes. He eventually dons his suit of armor one last time, taking on Ultron as the children escape. In his maturation, he becomes the father figure the kids need while never losing sight of his heroism.
7. Marvel Animation Universe (2012 – Present)
Following months of speculation that the Avengers-themed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would be canceled, Disney announced Avengers Assemble would debut in 2013. The show would parallel the MCU as a way to capitalize on the successful release of The Avengers, which had set an impossibly high bar for other comic book movies at the box office the summer before.
Working out of Stark Tower, Iron Man resumes his role as a leader among the rest of the crew, which includes Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Falcon. The first season would see Tony initiating the Avengers protocol and getting the band back together after he believes Captain America has been killed by Red Skull and MODOK.
While considered to be self-absorbed, Tony proves to be a caring leader. He’s quick to use his intellect and high-power gadgetry to compensate for his lack of powers, and has no problem insulting even the biggest of foes. Adrian Pasdar would take over the role for the Marvel Animation Universe, putting a hint of gruffly manliness in Tony’s voice. He reprised the part in Ultimate Spider-Man as well as Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., solidifying him as the most recurring contributor on this list.
6. Marvel Anime Universe (2010 – 2014)
From the United States to Japan, Tony Stark makes waves wherever he goes. Teaming up with the Japanese animation company Madhouse, Marvel jumped at the opportunity to produce an Iron Man series that would reach viewers on a global scale.
The 12-episode long show was highlighted by its insanely detailed animation, which covered everything from the snarled look of an angry Tony to the shimmering glow of his armored suit. Moving to Japan with plans to retire, he trains a group of pilots to operate the Iron Man Dio Armor as his replacement. When the armor is stolen by an organization known as the Zodiac, he must defend the country from his own creation.
Dubbed in the U.S., Adrian Pasdar grew into the part as a more mature version of the character dealing with the political consequences of his actions. Though not directly connected to the series, Madhouse would go on to produce several direct-to-video Marvel releases, like Iron Man: Rise of Technovore and Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher. Matthew Mercer would take over voice duties on those films, colorfully portraying Stark’s wise guy attitude and his more manic depressive state, giving viewers a version of the character unlike any other.
5. The Invincible Iron Man (2007)
Based on the Eisner-award winning comic books series, The Invincible Iron Man follows Tony as he attempts to revive an ancient Chinese city with resources from Stark Industries. Plans go awry when an order known as the Jade Dragons kidnap James Rhodes. Traveling to rescue his friend, Stark is rewarded with a piece of shrapnel in his chest, narrowly escaping with his life. After learning of the Jade Dragons’ true purpose to prevent the Mandarin from rising from the dead, Tony builds a suit of armor to combat the great peril that will befall the city.
Taking an alternative approach to the Iron Man origin story, this direct-to-video release is a breath of fresh air. Sophisticated and easily entertaining to adult viewers, the story’s deep Chinese mythology makes for an intriguing backdrop. The true star of the feature, however, is Marc Worden (who will be mentioned again). Voicing the playboy like a tech-genius with money to spare, Worden makes the interesting choice to deepen his voice inside the suit. Amplified by sound effects that make him sound mechanical, the difference provides a stark contrast between Tony and Iron Man, effectively concealing his identity to the world.
4. Ultimate Avengers Universe (2006)
When we first meet the Tony Stark of the Ultimate Avengers films, he’s an arrogant ladies’ man usually shown with a drink in his hand at social gatherings. He avoids Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., believing the secret government organization would be nowhere if it wasn’t for him. Secretly, he manages to hide his superhero antics from the world, with only his butler Jarvis knowing the truth. It isn’t until the seductive allure of Natasha Romanov catches him by surprise that Fury is finally able to make an offer for Stark to join the Avengers Initiative.
After joining, he aids the group in defeating the Chitauri when the alien race invades Earth. Afterwards, he’s forced to stop the Hulk from wreaking further havoc, helping to ease him down and later accepting his role as a member of the team. Showing the selflessness and sacrifice that comes with being a hero, he chooses guts over the glory of being revered. With Marc Worden providing the voice, the Ultimate Avengers Tony is a dual-sided character, at once hard to get along with while managing to save face by being stoic and persevering in times of great stress.
3. Marvel Animated Universe (1992 – 2000)
The longest running animated universe on our list featured many iconic Marvel characters throughout its years of televised superhero action. With Robert Hays providing the voice work, the yellow and red armored Stark starred as the leading man in the Iron Man series, going head to head with the Mandarin and his group of villainous foes, which included such notable names as Dreadknight, Blacklash, MODOK, and Justin Hammer.
Hays would continue to voice the character in other series after Iron Man’s end. He was featured in the 1994 Spider-Man series during the Secret Wars arc, while also showing up in The Incredible Hulk when Bruce Banner seeks his help to relieve him of his alter-ego. During his stint as the Golden Avenger, Hays balanced Stark’s more serious side with his knack for one-liners. Although Hays is mostly known for playing the lead in Airplane!, he would bring true charisma to the voice of Tony, providing enough heft in his voice without sounding too deep, giving just enough humanity to the persona to make him a convincing fit for the part.
2. Christopher Yost Universe (2008 – 2012)
If you’ve read our rankings on the adaptations of Thor, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk, then you know we have a fondness for writer Christopher Yost. For a long time, he’s been the most capable writer for Marvel Animation, giving us the so-called Christopher Yost Universe and its finest series: The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In that series, Tony Stark is the de facto leader, a master tactician who can not only instruct, but who can provide the necessary funds to pay for all the leftover damages.
When we’re first introduced to Tony, he’s already making headlines as Iron Man. When he learns HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. have been using StarkTech in their fight against each other, he’s thrust into the Avengers. After joining, he becomes a passionate combatant. Outside of his cocky, bad boy attitude, the importance of his actions are evident in the way he carries himself. From the slightest smirk to the spirited directions called out to the rest of the Avengers, you can sense the devotion through the character. It’s all thanks to the stellar voice work of Eric Loomis, an actor who sounds not only striking similar to RDJ from the MCU, but who quite possibly brings more intensity to the role.
1. Robert Downey Jr. – MCU (2008 – Present)
In a year that saw the revival of Robert Downey Jr.’s career, the superhero movie was drastically changed forever. A strong argument could be made that if Downey had never stepped into the armored suit back in 2007, the Marvel Cinematic Universe would look completely different today. (Hell, it might not exist at all.) With a massive budget and a lead star that hadn’t made a splash in years, there was a lot riding on Iron Man, but it all came together with a bang.
Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist – Robert Downey Jr.’s version of Stark has nothing handed to him, yet even when he’s standing next to a Norse God or giant green rage machine, he somehow manages to be the largest persona of them all. That’s because he exudes confidence with a grin that says he can fight with the best of them, but he also adds a nuanced humanity to his performance. As a member of the Avengers, he was the first on board, willing to put his ego aside for the common good. He wasn’t given any abilities, rather, he took what he knew and sought out his role as a hero. Much like his final line in the 2008 film, we’re left to agree that he is indeed Iron Man.
What do you think of our rankings? Will RDJ’s take on the character ever be topped? Sound off in the comments.
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