Eight years after its release, Iron Man is still very much the defining movie of Marvel’s cinematic universe, representing everything Marvel stands for with its approach to superhero movies. But if Greg Berlanti, the man behind the Arrow, Flash and Supergirl TV series had his way, it would have been quite different. In an extensive interview with the producer for Vulture, Berlanti revealed that in 2005, in the earliest stages of Marvel’s work on an Iron Man movie project, Berlanti pitched his own take on the character, one that was a little bleaker than the snarky, charming Tony Stark we would eventually see:
What was your first superhero project? Was there something early on that never came to fruition?
I kept telling people in the industry that I loved comic books as a kid when Iron Man hadn’t been made yet. I pitched on that.
You pitched an Iron Man movie?
I did, yeah. Somewhere around 2005.
What was your pitch?
There was that movie with Nic Cage where he’s a gunrunner. Lord of War. Marvel wanted that feeling. Tony [Stark] was an alcoholic in it by then. My pitch certainly wasn’t as good as the eventual film. So everyone made the right choice.
It’s interesting to see that originally Marvel was going to portray Stark’s weapon-selling as apparently something a bit more morally bankrupt than what we see in the film, where Tony is just sort of an arsehole who happens to sell weapons, before very quickly discarding that part of himself to become Iron Man. Or that even Iron Man’s infamous problems with alcohol were going to play a much larger part than they ever did in any of the movies (even Iron Man 2, which briefly alluded to the plot line in the drunken party scene).
As Berlanti says, the pitch was passed on, and the film we got gave us a much softer Tony Stark — and an incredibly popular Tony Stark at that. Still, what might have been remains an interesting prospect, given how Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Avenger remains the arc reactor-ed heart of the wider Marvel movieverse.