Every Iron Man Movie Ranked (From Worst to Best)
No matter who your favorite MCU character is, when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one thing’s for sure — Iron Man started it all! The year 2008 can be considered a real breakthrough year for the superhero genre due to two important films that were released that year; DC’s The Dark Knight, which is still considered one of the best superhero movies ever made, and Marvel’s Iron Man, which was the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Robert Downey Jr. suffered a serious career slump due to countless drug-related arrests and other legal problems. Fortunately for him, he rehabilitated himself and got his career back on track. Although his films were mostly critically acclaimed back then, he did not star in a blockbuster film until September 2006, when he was cast as Tony Stark/Iron Man at the insistence of director Jon Favreau. It’s hard to believe that a celebrity with such a troubled history would be cast in such a role today, but in the 11 years of playing the character, Iron Man has basically become a symbol of Robert Downey Jr’s career and his story an inspiring one; because he didn’t let his past determine his future.
In the next few paragraphs, we’ll rank all the Iron Man movies from best to worst. Remember that we’ll only stick to the standalone movies, so don’t expect to see The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, and other non-Iron Man movies in which Tony Stark appeared.
3. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3 was the opener of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the first crossover movie, The Avengers, concluded Phase 1. This threequel deals with two major themes; Tony Stark dealing with his life after the events of The Avengers and his grudge against the mysterious Mandarin who declared a terrorist campaign on the United States.
This movie was widely anticipated, not only because Iron Man became a worldwide popular superhero at the time, but also because it was set to introduce the Mandarin, who is known as one of the biggest archenemies of Iron Man in comic books. Unfortunately, even though this movie is generally decent thanks to its action sequences and RDJ’s charisma, it was hard to swallow that Marvel Studios announced the Mandarin as the main villain just to turn him into a punchline and totally unfunny and unnecessary twist at the end.
The studios’ redemption came later in 2021 when the real Mandarin was featured as the main villain in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in which Ben Kingsley, the fake Mandarin from Iron Man 3, reprised his role as well. Unlike his role in Iron Man 3, Kingsley’s comedic role in the Shang-Chi movie has sat a lot better with the fans.
After directing the first two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau didn’t return to a director’s chair, but he reprised his role as Happy Hogan. The director’s duties were taken over by Shane Black, who did a good job. But still, when we put it all together, despite some of its pros, this movie feels forgettable compared to other Iron Man movies, and even more when you add all the other MCU movies in which Robert Downey Jr played Tony Stark.
2. Iron Man 2 (2010)
After the success of the original Iron Man movie, of course, it didn’t take long to start the development of the sequel. Remember that this movie was released before the MCU became the gigantic franchise it is today. Set six months after the events of the original movie, the sequel follows Tony Stark, who is fighting to keep his technology out of the hands of the US government while he struggles with bad side effects his arc reactor is leaving on his health. And on top of it all, a new villain, Ivan Vanko, has arrived to plot his scheme against Stark.
This movie gathered positive reviews from critics and audiences, and the main problem is that it is generally inferior to the first film. Still, this movie proved to be important in MCU’s Phase 1 since Samuel L. Jackson reprised the role of Nick Fury, and Scarlett Johansson debuted in this movie as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, who Johansson will continue to play for the next 11 years after this movie. Also, this movie introduced Don Cheadle, who replaced Terrence Howard, as James Rhodes, whose character development eventually turned him into a superhero known as the War Machine.
This movie featured two villains. Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, whose father used to work with Tony’s father, Howard Stark, and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, Tony Stark’s business rival who owns a company Hammer Industries. By the way, did you know that Rockwell almost got the role of Tony Stark in the original movie before Downey Jr was cast in the role?
Although inferior to the first movie, Iron Man 2 showed us another chapter of Tony Stark’s life well. It introduced Black Widow, the leading female superhero of the MCU, and, we’ll say it again, when you put it all together, the only problem with this sequel is that the original movie is just better.
1. Iron Man (2008)
Personally, I always like to say that we have outgrown the famous saying: “the first is always the best,” but this undoubtedly still applies when we talk about the Iron Man trilogy. This was Marvel Studios’ first self-financed movie, and we would never have had the Marvel Cinematic Universe today if it wasn’t for this movie and its success.
The Iron Man movie was developing at various studios since the early ’90s until Marvel Studios brought back the rights in 2005. Jon Favreau was hired to direct in April 2006, and he faced opposition from the studio when we wanted to cast Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark. On Favreau’s insistence, Downey Jr was officially cast in the role in September 2006.
The best thing about this movie isn’t only that it was the first MCU movie; it’s the fact that, although it seems like some regular origin story from a distance, it works so well. Favreau’s direction and Downey Jr’s performance proved to be a winning combination, and one thing I always like to highlight — everything in the movie looks so real!
The original Iron Man movie wasn’t filmed the way MCU movies are being made these days. The Iron Man suit was realized on the screen using the combination of metal and rubber armor, while CGI was added only when it was needed. Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing wrong with CGI movies, but when you look at the movies like Iron Man, those movies today look just as good as on the day they were released.
In 2022, the original Iron Man movie was officially named “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. Therefore, the movie is now preserved in the United States National Film Registry. Even with 30+ movies in the MCU these days, while it may not be as epic as The Avengers movies, Iron Man is probably the best origin story we’re seen in the MCU, and it’s definitely a movie that every MCU fan rewatches every now and then.
Robert Downey Jr played Tony Stark for the last time in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. After that, he retired from the role, but he is and will always be remembered as the definitive Tony Stark and Iron Man.