Which Iron Man movie is the best? Tony Stark has been with the Marvel Cinematic Universe since its inception, having heralded in the shared universe with the first Iron Man in 2008. Since then, Robert Downey Jr.'s depiction of the billionaire playboy philanthropist has become as iconic as the franchise itself, with his long-serving supporting cast of Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan and Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts.
Coming up to Avengers: Endgame, the all-encompassing climax to the MCU as we know it, the days of Tony Stark solo films now seem ages old. It's been six years since Iron Man 3, and eleven since the first. Although he's been around, still kicking ass as an Avenger and serving as a character foil for the likes of Captain America, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, it's been a while since we spent some quality time with just Tony.
Before what may well be Tony Stark's last MCU appearance, here's a look back at the solo adventures of the man that started it all – the first hero in the MCU to earn a billion dollars at the box office on his own, whose money and ingenuity has been a backbone of the Avengers initiative and without whom the Marvel movies might not exist at all. This is the Iron Man trilogy, from worst to best.
3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Back when Marvel Studios were just finding their legs with home-grown Marvel movies, their release schedule was much more conservative. After Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008 did well enough to make more, Marvel played coy, skipping 2009 and only putting out Iron Man 2 in 2010, with Kevin Feige serving as the sole producer following Avi Arad's departure. This was the first of a four-picture deal for Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau returned as director for the sequel, which brought in new characters and solidified the supporting cast for other franchise appearances.
What lets Iron Man 2 down is that it's mostly about just laying groundwork for the MCU and doesn't do much for its namesake. The villains, Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer and Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko, are cookie-cutter rival scientists whose presence retreads the military-industrial-complex-is-bad idea from the first without any real development. Stark facing his own mortality with the arc reactors poisoning him is a nice idea that doesn't get enough air among all the armored suit action.
The addition of Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow and Don Cheadle's Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes becoming War Machine are neat and the explosive, AC/DC-soundtracked opening is great, but it's not enough to save this from being the worst Iron Man movie.
2. Iron Man (2008)
The film that started it all. It was obvious from the get-go there was something special in Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark, with Iron Man drawing $585 million at the box office, the third highest of Phase 1 behind Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Sometimes a movie just has a little bit of magic to it, a little something where all the right forces are at work, and Iron Man is one of those movies.
From the opening of the arrogant Stark demonstrating his goods to an eager audience in Afghanistan before being captured by the Ten Rings terrorist group using weaponry he designed right up to the final moment where Tony tells the world he is Iron Man, this just works. It's a big-budget action flick that doesn't lose sight of being a nuanced character study about a man having a crisis of faith with who he is and who he wants to be. The post-9/11 backdrop of the cycle of bloodshed in the Middle-East through private arms deals is an ideal framing device for Tony's newfound moral compass, something that remains unfortunately relevant.
The visuals are sincere and vibrant, capturing the zest and feel of the comic books they were inspired by. Downey Jr. is joyful to watch as Stark, moving from eccentric and cartoon-y to introverted and emotive as needed, and the post-credits scene with Nick Fury asking him if he's interested in the Avengers Initiative is still spine-tingling. Still, as great as it is, it's not quite the best Iron Man movie...
Page 2 of 2: Why Iron Man 3 Is The Best Movie Of The Trilogy
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019