These days, it’s hard to find a hero as iconic as Iron Man. Though Tony Stark may have sat on Marvel Comics’ B-team for years, the recent success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought the shell-head back into the spotlight. While the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist is definitely one of the best parts of any good Iron Man story, Tony Stark wouldn’t be a hero without his armor.
With over five decades of comics and nearly ten years of movies, it should come as no surprise that Tony Stark’s arsenal of armor clocks in at well over 100 different suits: everything from standard sets to specialized climate variants to magic-enhanced suits of armor have popped up over the years.
That being said, not all suits are created equal, and some have stood the test of time better than others - Mr. Stark has some incredibly powerful armor at his disposal, and here are the absolute best of the best:
18 Mark I
The original Iron Man armor might not be all that advanced compared to most of Tony Stark’s newer suits, but at the time, it was still one of the most advanced pieces of technology ever invented. Not only that, but Stark was able to build the Mark I while captured in Afghanistan and trying to keep a piece of shrapnel from piercing his heart. To say that he was working under pressure is a bit of an understatement.
The Mark I is no slouch when it comes to power, either: in the comics, the suit was able to fly (whereas the film version never quite did) and featured such weapons as a high-powered flamethrower, tear gas grenades and a primitive version of the iconic Unibeam. Even if the Mark I can’t stand toe-to-toe with the more recent incarnations of Iron Man, it remains the most important weapon that Tony Stark has ever created.
17 Mark III
The red-and-gold color palette. The iconic mask. The repulsor ray hand-cannons. All of these tropes - which are now an intrinsic part of Iron Man’s character - began with the Mark III armor.
When it was decided that the clunky, overly-cumbersome Mark II armor would be getting an upgrade, the suit was dropped in favor of something that was faster, more agile and easier to use. As a result, the Mark III would go on to become one of the most iconic Iron Man suits ever created - and, for the past several decades, the armor has served as the jumping-off point for almost every suit that followed.
Most impressively, the repulsor rays that have come to define Iron Man’s arsenal made their debut with the Mark III. Every time a new suit debuts, the repulsor rays are the one thing that fans can always count on seeing - and that started all the way back in 1965.
16 Mark VIII: Silver Centurion
After nearly twenty years of red and gold armor, Marvel Comics decided that Tony Stark was long overdue for a costume change. Enter the ‘Silver Centurion’ Armor: with the vibrant gold hues replaced by colder, sleeker shades of silver, the new version of Tony Stark’s classic armor helped usher in a new era of Iron Man stories.
The most notable of these stories was ‘Armor Wars’, in which Tony Stark discovers that his Iron Man technology made its way into the hands of his deadliest antagonists. The plot served not only as a basis for the 2010 film Iron Man 2, but did a fantastic job of showing off what the Silver Centurion suit could do.
Compared to most of Stark’s other suits, the Silver Centurion was chock-full of weapons: enhanced repulsor rays, a new Unibeam, several different laser weapons, a tractor beam and even an energy blade were all stored in the updated armor. Calling the Silver Centurion a walking armory is definitely an understatement.
15 Mark V (Iron Man 2)
Back in the earliest days of Iron Man comics, readers were supposed to believe that Tony Stark was able to fold up his armor and stash it away in a briefcase. Granted, this was back in the 1960s, when cheesy science fiction was the norm... but that didn’t make it any less ridiculous.
Then, in 2010, Marvel Studios took the idea of ‘Iron Man in a briefcase’ and turned it into something amazing.
Say what you will about Iron Man 2, but the Mark V’s debut appearance is easily one of the best parts of the movie. It may not have all of the different weapon systems or defensive measures of Tony’s other, fully-featured armors, but the Mark V ensured that Iron Man wasn’t tied down to a single location. Plus, with that shiny silver finish, Iron Man 2 gave fans a better Silver Centurion reference than any other film in the franchise.
14 Mark XVI: Sentient Armor
Iron Man, like any good superhero, has a long line of villains all desperately trying to knock him out of the game for good. However, whereas most supervillains are external forces, Iron Man has had the rare privilege of creating one of his greatest villains.
Movie fans may immediately think of Ultron from the last Avengers movie, but the deranged, emotionally unstable A.I. never really lived up to his potential. Not only that, but Ultron wasn’t even the first of Tony Stark’s projects with daddy issues: when the Mark XVI armor gained sentience, it became completely obsessed with its pilot. In fact, the Mark XVI became so infatuated with Stark that it eventually confessed its love for him... while trying to murder him.
True, the story wasn’t handled in the best fashion, and the flip-flop ending felt forced - but few villains have ever come so close to truly destroying both Iron Man and Tony Stark at once.
13 Mark XL: Shotgun (Iron Man 3)
The Iron Man armor has always been known for its various weapons systems. The respuslor rays are easily the most recognizable, and there’s the extremely powerful chest-mounted laser beam known as the Unibeam, along with some more traditional armaments - but, when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the original suit was never really designed as a purely offensive machine.
That’s where the Mark XL armor comes in. Despite only appearing for a few moments during the finale of Iron Man 3, the ‘Shotgun’ Armor is notable for its use of rapid-fire repulsor rays - something that’s never been seen in any of Tony Stark’s other suits. Better yet, the Shotgun Armor is the perfect quick-response weapon, with a top speed in excess of Mach 5 to match its excessive firepower.
Sadly, the Shotgun Armor never really got much time in the limelight, and was ripped apart during the battle with Aldrich Killian before fans could see what the suit could really do.
12 Mark XLIII: Stealth Suit v.3
For all of his technological skill, few would ever consider Tony Stark to be a subtle individual. The Iron Man suits reflect this perfectly: there’s a whole lot of style, without much in the way of subtlety.
That being said, there are situations that require a more delicate, thoughtful touch - when it comes to being Iron Man, there are some fights that just can’t be won with sheer brute force.
Tony Stark has developed a number of stealthy suits over the years, but the third iteration is easily the most powerful out of the lot. Not only was the armor built with numerous cloaking systems, it also provided its wearer with holographic disguises, reflective armor and several non-lethal weapons systems. Much like the other stealth-based suits, the Mark XLIII doesn’t feature much in the way of traditional weaponry, and its repulsors are noticeably weaker than normal - but the Stealth Suit v.3 is hard to beat when it comes to keeping things quiet.
11 Mark XXIX: Extremis
Many people think that Iron Man is ‘just some guy in a suit’...but anyone who reads the comics knows that the Mark XXIX armor, otherwise known as ‘Extremis’ is where things really started to get complicated.
Long story short, Tony Stark was forced to use an experimental version of a virus called Extremis in order to save his own life. In a stroke of good luck, Extremis also helped Stark further connect with his armor on a neurological level, amplifying the suit’s capabilities further than ever before. After fighting off the villainous Mallen, Stark was able to build a suit with the Extremis abilities in mind, making the Mark XXIX the most powerful set of armor by far (at the time, at least).
As if that wasn’t enough, some versions of the armor included abilities such as cloaking, omni-directional repuslor rays and even time travel - because, in the world of comics, there’s no such thing as 'jumping the shark’.
10 Mark XLI: Bones (Iron Man 3)
Looking back, most of the Iron Man suits seen throughout the comics have been modular in some way, shape or form. It may be as simple as attaching a new weapon to a gauntlet, or something as complex an entire suit fitting into a larger shell - on the other hand, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the modular nature of Tony Stark’s various armors have been somewhat downplayed.
Except for the Mark XVI, that is: code-named ‘Bones’, the suit was designed with modular attachments in mind. Pieces from other suits can easily attach to the Mark XVI as needed, giving it more flexibility than just about any other set of armor, seemingly without sacrificing weaponry or overall power - sadly, the suit was relegated to a short cameo in Iron Man 3. Much like the Shotgun armor, fans never really got a good look at what the Mark XLI was capable of.
9 Mark XXXVII: Bleeding Edge
For many, the idea of a bulky suit fitting into a briefcase sounds silly. Even the idea of an huge mechanical rig can be a bit hard to swallow...but what if the suit assembled itself from thousands of microscopic robots?
As unrealistic as a set of armor made of nanomachines might seem, the ‘Bleeding Edge’ armor is arguably one of the best suits that Tony Stark has ever worn. Not only does it bring the benefits of an improved Extremis to the table, the nanotechnology that powers it basically ensures that Iron Man is ready to fight whenever, wherever: the suit itself is stored within Stark’s own body, then forms into armor with a single mental command.
The Bleeding Edge armor also happens to be one of Stark’s most popular suits, becoming the hero’s default look for several years, as well as the main inspiration for Tony’s suit in Iron Man 3. Considering how quickly Iron Man can switch out suits, three years for a single set of armor is saying something.
8 Mark VII (The Avengers)
Tony Stark may have kicked off the first Avengers film with the Mark VI suit, but as it turns out, flying directly into a giant turbine while trying to stop a massive helicarrier from crashing has adverse effects on technology - even when it’s something as resilient as Iron Man’s armor.
Thankfully, Stark already had an upgrade waiting in the wings. The Mark VII armor was designed to replace the aging Mark VI, both in terms of firepower and usability. Instead of requiring a mobile disassembly station, the Mark VII is able to remotely deploy and construct itself around the wearer’s body - even if that body is falling from the top of a Manhattan skyscraper.
It’s not just ease-of-use, either: the Mark VII’s thrusters were able to redirect a nuclear warhead through a portal and into deep space, and its payload of mini-missiles were powerful enough to rip a Chitauri Leviathan apart from the inside. Needless to say, the Mark VII quickly became one of the biggest guns in Tony Stark’s ever-growing arsenal.
7 Mark IX (w/ Excalibur)
Iron Man has always been a symbol for technology. While other aspects of the Marvel Universe delve into the supernatural, Iron Man has been about using technology for the betterment of mankind.
...except for that one time where the Mark IX armor was bonded with Excalibur.
Yes, for a time, all of Iron Man’s weapons and tech were replaced with magical implements of war. To be fair, it didn’t really change all that much: Tony Stark’s magically-enhanced armor still had all of its standard gadgets, though they used magic instead of repulsor technology. As an added bonus, Excalibur granted the Mark IX armor the power of invulnerability - which, when it comes to fighting off bad guys, comes in pretty handy.
Sadly, Iron Man’s time with Excalibur was short-lived, and the Mark IX went back to being a relatively standard suit of armor once the wizard Merlin retrieved his ancient sword. Thankfully, the ponytail went with it.
6 Mark XXII: Thorbuster
It’s no secret that Tony Stark doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with his Avengers brethren. The most popular of these bouts belong to Stark’s battles with Captain America and the Incredible Hulk, though Iron Man and Thor, the God of Thunder have also gotten into their fair share of fights over the years.
By utilizing Asgardian artifacts, Tony Stark was able to create the Mark XXII armor - otherwise known as the Thorbuster Armor. Modeled after the Destroyer, one of Thor’s oldest and most dangerous foes, the Thorbuster Armor was strong enough to withstand a beating from a god... for a time, at least.
Despite being one of Tony Stark’s most powerful weapons, the Thorbuster Armor loses some points for... well, losing. Once Thor was tired of dealing with Iron Man, the Son of Odin simply tore the armor apart. Thankfully, Stark himself wasn’t inside when it happened - and, eventually, the other anti-Avengers suits would find a bit more success...
5 Mark XLIV: Hulkbuster (Age of Ultron)
What’s better than the Thorbuster Armor? Why, the Hulkbuster Armor, of course!
Save for the classic red-and-gold, there’s nothing in Iron Man’s arsenal that’s quite as iconic as the Hulkbuster suit. Even the implications of Tony Stark building such a weapon are noteworthy: everyone knows that the Hulk is Marvel’s unstoppable force of nature, and the fact that the Hulkbuster exists means that someone is going to have to stand toe-to-toe with the Jade Giant.
In terms of actual confrontations, the fight between Iron Man and the Hulk from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron takes the cake. It’s the fight that everyone had wanted to see since the first Iron Man film debuted, and while the rest of the movie may not have lived up to expectations, the battle itself was amazing. Not only does it have the advantage of Marvel’s ridiculous CG effects budget, but the fact that Iron Man actually manages to win the fight proves that the Cinematic Universe version of the Hulkbuster is one of the most powerful weapons out there.
4 Mark XLVI (Captain America: Civil War)
If you’re going to go hunting after some of history’s greatest heroes, you’re going to need some seriously powerful tech.
As most have come to expect, the Mark XLVI comes stocked with all of the standard Iron Man armaments: repulsor rays, the Unibeam, miniature missile launchers, and even a few non-lethal weapons made it into the suit. What’s most impressive about the suit, however, is how quickly and efficiently it can be equipped.
What started as a slow, rather unwieldy assembly sequence has been reduced to a scant few seconds. The Mark XLVI basically acts as a second skin, wrapping itself around the wearer with the touch of a button. Plus, the suit is now light and compact enough that the assembly setup can be stored inside of moving vehicles - or, in the case of the gauntlets, small enough to fold out of a specially-designed watch.
Were it not for the two-on-one fight that concluded Captain America: Civil War, it’s easy to assume that the Mark XLVI would have had more than enough power to overwhelm Steve Rogers - and that fact alone makes it one of the most powerful Iron Man suits ever built.
3 Mark LI: Model-Prime
When it comes to sheer power, the Iron Man comics have always had a leg up on the movies. To be fair, the Marvel Cinematic Universe tries to keep things as grounded as possible - while that may make the comics a bit more unbelievable, it does open up quite a few opportunities for some amazingly ridiculous technology.
The Mark LI armor may not be wired directly to Tony Stark’s physiology, but it still boasts some amazing abilities: all of the standard Iron Man weapons are present, a new on-board cloaking system was installed and the suit can work autonomously if the pilot is injured. Most impressively, the suit can change shape at a moment’s notice - there’s hardly a need for a dedicated Hulkbuster suit when the Model-Prime armor can simply bulk up on command.
With Riri Williams getting ready to take on the mantle of Iron Man (well, under the name Ironheart), the Model-Prime armor may be the last Tony Stark suit that fans get to see for some time... but, at the very least, the original Iron Man is going out with a bang.
2 Honorable Mentions
With so many different armor variants, it’d be impossible to include everything on this list. That being said, there are definitely a few suits which missed the cut that are still worthy of mention.
First and foremost, the War Machine armor has proven to be one of Tony Stark’s greatest creations... even if he isn’t the pilot. Like the standard Iron Man suit, there are a bunch of different variants, but the Mark III version from Captain America: Civil War is easily the most powerful of the lot.
In the comics, the Iron Man Mark XL was built after Tony Stark had been captured by the Mandarin. The suit may not have boasted any revolutionary features, but the fact that Stark was able to recreate another, more advanced set of armor while in captivity is a testament to his incredible technological skill.
Sadly, the Mark L: Endo-Sym armor never got much in the way of screentime. Thanks to the recent re-merging of Marvel’s multiple comic book universes, Tony Stark upgraded to another set of armor relatively quickly - which is a shame, considering the Endo-Sym suit was partially based off of the alien symbiotes known as Venom and Carnage.
Finally, there’s the Mark LIII, which is basically a flying car. It’s the best kind of ridiculous: not only can Tony Stark’s hot rod sports car fly, but it can transform into an absolutely massive suit of armor.