Fans of comic book movies have been living in a golden age for two decades now. Following the dark ages of the 1990s (a decade that brought us abominations like Steel and Batman and Robin), the genre slowly began to turn things around. Blade and X-Men once again showed the world that superhero films didn’t have to suck. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogies showed us that superhero films could be amazing.. Then came the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which raised the bar even further and all but forced every other studio in the industry to build a shared universe of its own.
Since 2008, the MCU had grown by leaps and bounds to include 15 films, six shows (with three more on the way), short films, and comic tie-ins.
Now it’s time to go back to the beginning and re-visit the phase that started it all. How much was Robert Downey Jr. paid for his first outing as Tony Stark? Who was originally cast as Black Widow but had to cede the role to Scarlett Johansson? Which Avenger turned down his part several times before finally signing on?
Find out all this and more when we count down 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The MCU Phase 1.
15. Robert Downey Jr. received a 10,000% pay increase
Nowadays, Robert Downey Jr. is practically a national treasure. His take on the character of Tony Stark has been nothing short of brilliant and he is one of the most entertaining aspects of the MCU so far.
That being said, it hasn’t always been hunky-dory for the A-lister. During the tail end of the 1990s, Downey was arrested several times while in possession of controlled substances and his career was on a downward spiral. He cleaned himself up in 2001 and was in the midst of a comeback when he landed the role of Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man.
Since Downey was nowhere near the star he is today, he was offered just $500,000 for the role. This may seem like a lot of money to some (and it is), but it’s pennies compared to the $585 million the film made at the worldwide box office, largely due to Downey’s incredible performance. Because of this, he received $10 million to return for the sequel, and another $50 million to appear in 2012’s The Avengers. That is a 10,000% increase.
14. Terrence Howard dropped out of Iron Man 2 because of a pay cut
Following critically acclaimed performances in 2004’s Crash and 2005’s Hustle and Flow (the latter earning him a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards), Terrence Howard was a star on the rise when he was cast as Col. James Rhodes in Iron Man. For this reason, he was the highest-paid actor on the film (allegedly receiving $3.5 million for the role, roughly 7 times as much as the aforementioned Robert Downey Jr.). When it came time for him to return for the sequel, however, Howard claims Marvel asked him to take a pay cut.
According to Howard, he and Marvel Studios discussed a salary increase of $5 million between films if a sequel were greenlit, which would have brought his salary to approximately $8.5 million for Iron Man 2. Howard alleges that once the sequel was announced, Marvel offered him only $1 million to return (with the difference apparently going to Downey). Howard declined and so Marvel offered it to Don Cheadle instead, who gladly accepted.
13. Edward Norton’s departure was… complicated
Terrence Howard left the MCU because of money (or, more specifically, lack thereof). Edward Norton, however, left for more artistic reasons. Norton was the only Avenger re-cast before 2012’s The Avengers because he and Marvel had a number of creative differences during the filming of The Incredible Hulk.
The main issue stemmed from the fact that Norton was allegedly promised tremendous involvement in the making of the film after he was first brought in to help re-write the script. Norton and the film’s director Louis Leterrier allegedly wanted the film to be longer and to focus on character, whereas Marvel preferred a sleeker, more streamlined cut.
This led to Marvel editing the film without much input from Norton. Much of Bruce Banner’s character development was either cut or pushed into the film’s opening montage. Norton was eventually replaced with Mark Ruffalo.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige said the change was “rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members.” Norton, however, would say he left the franchise to pursue other roles.
12. Disney paid $4 billion for Marvel Entertainment in 2009
The powers that be at Marvel Studios deserve immense credit for the foresight and patience they displayed in setting up the MCU. The idea of introducing characters in a series of loosely-connected standalone films in order to establish a shared universe before bringing said characters together was truly ahead of its time (and has inspired a number of copycats).
The only company to rival Marvel in terms of foresight was Disney when it decided to purchase Marvel Entertainment in 2009.
That’s right, the MCU was still in its infancy (having only produced two films) when Disney saw the writing on the wall and decided to purchase Marvel and everything that came with it for $4.24 billion dollars.
To put this figure into perspective, the MCU films have grossed over $10 billion worldwide since then. Granted, Disney doesn’t collect all of this money, but it does receive a large portion, and that’s before factoring in merchandising sales. Basically, it was a huge gamble by Disney, and eight years later, it seems to be paying off.
11. The Mandarin was originally the main villain in Iron Man
Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is one of the most polarizing figures in the MCU so far. Some applauded Marvel for the comedic reveal of Kingsley’s character as a bumbling actor named Trevor Slattery posing as the Mandarin. Others felt cheated, and wanted to see Kingsley’s version of the character go toe-to-toe with Downey’s Tony Stark.
As it turns out, Iron Man director Jon Favreau actually wanted the character to be the main villain of the first Iron Man. Favreau had the Mandarin penciled in as the original film’s main antagonist, but shifted focus to Obadiah Stane once Jeff Bridges took the role.
Favreau believed that introducing the Mandarin “seemed too ambitious in the first one,” and thought the more fantastic elements of the character would be better off introduced in a sequel. Favreau decided the Mandarin would be similar to Sauron in The Lord of the Rings or Palpatine in Star Wars: the ultimate villain pulling strings behind the scenes. It sounds good in theory, but was somewhat clunky in its delivery.
10. The Avengers is the Only Phase 1 Film Distributed by Disney
Despite Disney buying Marvel Entertainment shortly before the release of Iron Man 2, the media conglomerate wouldn’t distribute its first MCU film until 2012’s The Avengers. The reason for this was based on Marvel Studios’ existing contracts with Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures regarding the distribution of its films. Universal distributed The Incredible Hulk and Paramount was set to distribute the rest of Phase 1 after it signed a 6-picture deal with Marvel.
The slate of films distributed by Paramount would have included the Iron Man trilogy, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers. Disney, however, bought out the final two films of Paramount’s contract and distributed The Avengers and Iron Man 3 on its own.
9. Daniel Craig was originally considered for the role of Thor
If you look at the careers of The Avengers in Phase 1, you would notice that each had a number of starring roles before they joined the MCU. Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, and Edward Norton were already well-established stars (though Downey had just gotten over his aforementioned demons). Chris Hemsworth, however, had made his on-screen debut just two years prior to Thor in 2009’s Star Trek.
Looking back, it’s interesting to note that Marvel was willing to trust its third MCU franchise with a relative newcomer. The original plan, however, was to have a more-established star in the role.
Following his performance as James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale, Daniel Craig was one of the biggest stars in the world, which was why he was considered for the role of the God of Thunder. Craig claims he was offered the part but had to pass due to his contractual obligations to the James Bond franchise.
Hemsworth has been great in the role, and it’s hard to imagine any one else playing the part, but it’s a bit of a shame that we’ll never see the blooper reel featuring the character introducing himself as “Odinson, Thor Odinson.”
10. Universal owns the distribution rights to Hulk solo films
The reason why Universal Pictures distributed 2008’s The Incredible Hulk was because they had a pre-existing contract with Marvel that granted them distribution rights to Hulk solo films. The exact details of this contract are unknown but seem to only affect Hulk solo films, since Disney distributed The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and is set to distribute Thor: Ragnarok, which each feature the green giant.
Universal’s ownership of the Hulk’s distribution rights means it has the option to distribute any solo Hulk films, which would also entitle it to a percentage of the profits generated by those films.
Since Disney can continue to use the character in other MCU films without it necessarily being a Hulk film (and thus distribute on its own and keep the profits), a solo Hulk film isn’t likely to happen as long as Universal is in the picture. It isn’t out of the question entirely, though. Marvel has shown a willingness to work with Sony to get Spider-Man into the MCU, and a similar deal with Universal is always a possibility.
7. Emily Blunt almost played Black Widow
In terms of casting, Marvel’s choices so far have been top-notch. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth is the living embodiment of Thor, Tom Hiddleston is an incredible Loki, and Scarlett Johansson seems tailor-made for the role of Black Widow. Johansson’s performances as Natasha Romanoff have been so good that’s it’s hard to imagine she wasn’t Marvel’s first choice for the role.
Before Johansson was brought in, the role was originally offered to Emily Blunt. Unlike the aforementioned Daniel Craig (who turned down the role immediately), Blunt accepted the role but was forced to cede it to Johansson due to scheduling conflicts with her other film, Gulliver’s Travels.
6. Chris Evans turned down the role of Captain America several times
Building a shared cinematic universe takes lots of time and energy. You need a brain trust to oversee the entire project, capable filmmakers willing to work within the larger framework of the universe, and actors undaunted by the prospect of signing on to play a character set to appear in films over the course of several years.
Chris Evans had a bit of a problem with the latter, which led to him turning down the role of Captain America several times before he finally accepted it. According to Evans, he balked when Marvel asked him to commit to a nine-picture contract.
Regarding his original decision, he told Jimmy Kimmel: “doing movies one at a time, if all of a sudden you decide you don’t want to do them anymore, you’re afforded the opportunity to take a step back and re-calibrate. When you have a giant contract, if all of a sudden you’re not responding well, too bad, you gotta suit up again.”
5. Matthew Vaughn and Guillermo del Toro almost directed Thor
For those unfamiliar with Matthew Vaughn, he has directed some great movies in the last decade. These include hits like Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsmen: The Secret Service. (He was also a producer and allegedly heavily involved in the making of Fant4stic, but we’ll let that one slide.)
Before he signed on to direct First Class, Vaughn was set to helm Thor. He ultimately left the project, however, and it’s a shame because his crisp style and intense action scenes would have suited the MCU nicely.
With Vaughn no longer attached to direct, Marvel considered several other directors, including Guillermo del Toro (whose past works include Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim) and D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, I Am Number Four, and XXX: Return of Xander Cage). Ultimately, Kenneth Branagh stepped in and the rest is history.
4. Making Thanos the ultimate villain was Joss Whedon’s idea
Marvel’s Phase 1 ended with 2012’s The Avengers when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes finally joined forces to defeat Loki and his Chitauri army. Then the mid-credits sequence revealed Thanos as the one who supplied Loki with his scepter, and fans across the world lost their minds. This was the moment they learned the battle of New York was just the tip of the MCU iceberg, and that, while the Avengers may have won the battle, the war had just begun.
According to Avengers director Joss Whedon, Marvel Studios knew it wanted to continue the MCU after The Avengers, but wasn’t quite sure who the big baddie should be. It was Whedon who suggested Thanos. According to Whedon, “somebody had to be in control and had to be behind Loki’s work, and I was like ‘it’s got to be Thanos.’ And they said ‘okay.'”
The mad Titan has been seen several times since his debut, as he continues his quest for the infinity stones and gauntlet. His showdown with the Avengers in Infinity War should be nothing short of epic.
3. The Shawarma scene was shot a day after The Avengers premiered
The famous Shawarma scene that appears after the end credits of The Avengers wasn’t in the original cut of the film at its world premiere. Instead, it was shot in secrecy the following day. In fact, Robert Downey Jr. nearly ruined the surprise by almost announcing at a press conference that the cast was getting together that very night to shoot a scene. Kevin Feige and Joss Whedon both denied this when asked about it later that day.
The most interesting tidbit to come out of the filming of the scene has to do with Chris Evans, who had just begun filming Snowpiercer and had shaved his head and grown a beard for his role. For continuity sake, he was forced to wear a wig and a prosthetic jaw to cover up the hair on his face, and even went so far as to cover up his chin with his hand.
2. Phase 1 received 4 academy award nominations (and 0 wins)
It’s hard to believe that Phase 1 of the MCU, which has generated so much buzz around the world and has changed the way comic book movies are being made today, did not receive a single award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One would think a franchise with six films, which feature top-notch special effects, would garner at least one award.
It did receive four nominations, however. Iron Man received nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing, but lost to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Dark Knight, respectively. Iron Man 2 and The Avengers also received nominations for Best Visual Effects, but lost to Inception and Life of Pi. Phase 3’s Doctor Strange also nabbed a visual effect nomination, but failed to win.
1. It grossed $3.811 billion worldwide
Marvel Studios took a major risk when it decided to start producing its own films, and doubled down on that risk when it decided to set those films in the same cinematic universe. Sure, the studio hit the ground running due to the commercial and critical success of Iron Man, but they followed that up with the Incredible Hulk, which received a lukewarm reception, and an Iron Man sequel, which performed nicely at the box office but failed to live up to hype.
Still, Marvel stayed the course and reaped the benefits in a big way. Each of its films did better than $250 million at the worldwide box office and The Avengers currently sits at number 5 on the list of highest grossing films of all time with more than $1.5 billion. After just six films, the MCU has become one of the biggest franchises of all time and has grossed $3.811 billion.
How many of these facts about the MCU Phase 1 did you already know? Are there any other that we left out? Let us know in the comments below.