X-Men, Not Iron Man: The Real Beginning of Marvel Phase 1 Movies
Many, myself included, have praised Iron Man as the birthplace of the MCU. It was Iron Man that marked the beginning of Marvel Phase 1. I’ve said that without Iron Man, the MCU would never have gotten off the ground. But now I question this. Did Iron Man actually mark the beginning of Marvel phase 1?
In short, no.
Upon its release, Iron Man was a scary thought for Marvel. The idea of taking, in complete accuracy, a “B-List” character and charging it with launching an entire world seemed ludicrous. Even today, knowing the success that the movie had, the thought is still ludicrous.
But Marvel had no other choice. At the time, they sold the movie rights to their most popular characters to the competition. They had to. The company was recouping from a financial disaster that left them crippled. Comic sales were down and the world didn’t care or know what Marvel was.
Iron Man paid off and paid off in a very big way. The movie went on to net the company just shy of $400,000,000. After it, Marvel phase 1 seemed like only a formality. Looking back it’s easy to say that they made the right choice by launching with Iron Man. After all, hindsight is 20/20. But does Iron Man deserve as much credit as they receive?
No. No they don’t.
By the time Iron Man flew into theatres the world already knew that comic book movies could and would work. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men had already proven this. Spider-Man was a box office hit and Spider-Man 2 is still being heralded as one of the best superhero movies of all time.
As for X-Men…
I remember the release of X-Men as vividly as I remember anything. The X-Men characters were my go-to growing up. The toys, television shows, video and card games, and the comics. But one thing was always missing. The movies.
My childhood was filled with imaginings of who would play each of the X-Men if a movie was ever made. I don’t remember every actor that was hand selected but I do remember that Arnold Schwarzenegger was meant to play Colossus. He was big. Colossus was big. He had an accent. Colossus had an accent. It just seemed right.
For years I dreamt what it would be like to see my favorite team in a movie. The X-Men, larger than life on a screen reserved for overpriced tickets. It became so bad that I started to lose sleep over it. Then, like a magical fairy granting a wish, it finally happened.
The year 2000 was filled with many things. Corruption, deceit, and an overwhelming fear that the Y2K bug would reset the world back to the Stone Age. For me, however, the year 2000 brought nothing more important than the X-Men. Wolverine. Jean Grey. Rogue. Iceman. Professor X. Storm. Cyclops. Minus Arnold as Colossus, they were all there. And they looked great.
X-Men revolutionized what a comic book adaptation could be. It threw away what years of subpar Batman movies had done and ushered in a new age of cinema. It was as flashy and over the top as comic book movies have become and it did it without worry of how it would be received. X-Men was an experiment, a trial if you will. It sought out to see if superhero movies could be lucrative.
The answer was a resounding yes.
On a modest budget of $75 Million, X-Men brought in just shy of $300 Million. Fox had a hit on their hands and they knew it. The immediately ordered what would become the best movie in the franchise, it’s sequel, X2.
And others followed suit.
Sony ordered up Spider-Man. Universal Pictures ordered The Incredible Hulk. Artisan Entertainment brought The Punisher to life. And Fox double dipped with the much-maligned Daredevil.
X-Men introduced the world to the notion that comic books and their heroes were loved by more than just comic book readers. If the decade’s long rumor of an X-Men movie opened the door, the actual movie kicked the door right in. X-Men had begun to lay the groundwork for Marvel phase 1.
By no means was X-Men perfect. In fact, it was far from it. It had plot holes, special effects that left a lot to be desired, and heroes who look like they were torn from the pages of Readers Digest. But it didn’t matter. X-Men managed to captivate the imagination of an entire planet.
The story was, at its heart, a basic comic book story. It followed the traditional good vs evil script, not ever deviating from it. I’ve questioned why they didn’t do something more extravagant for their first entry. After all, the world knows that the X-Men, more than many other franchises, has a rich history of stories to choose from. The answer was simple. They didn’t have to.
X-Men, as long as it met a small fan-based criteria and expectations, was destined to succeed. Even the inclusion of Shawn Ashmore, Tyler Mane, and Rebecca Romijn couldn’t stop it. X-Men didn’t just meet the fan-based criteria and expectations, it exceeded them.
A career defining move
X-Men was the starting point for what would become the most perfect actor/character relationship in history. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Certainly, there have been others who continually play the same character, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, however, neither are looked at in the same way Jackman is to Wolverine.
Jackman is Wolverine, albeit a little taller. His dedication to the character is world renowned. With each movie, he actively found ways to become more like his comic counterpart. What makes his rise to “Wolverine” stardom so incredible is that before taking the role, he had no idea who or what a Wolverine was.
He’s said this of the role, “Embarrassingly, I didn’t know what a wolverine was. I had never heard of such an animal and I presumed it was a made-up name for the comic book. I’d never read an X-Men comic, I’d never seen one in our zoos. We’ve got a lot of really crazy animals in our zoos in Australia. So I presumed it was a wolf and I did study wolves. I watched some documentaries, there was a big IMAX movie at the time, I went twice to go and see it.”
In fact, he took his education on wolves to the set. When rehearsing a fight scene he actually incorporated the way in which wolves fight. The director, Bryan Singer, immediately called into question what he was doing. After Jackman replied, he instructed him to go to a zoo to learn about the animal.
Over the course of 17 years, Hugh Jackman perfected who and what Wolverine was. He put on muscle, became rougher around the edges, and convinced the world that he was right for the part. This was so much that after his last outing as Wolverine concluded, I watched a theatre of people tear up knowing they’d never see him as the character again.
X-Men did this. Without X-Men, there would be no Wolverine. As far as I’m concerned, without X-Men, there would be no Marvel phase 1.
Marvel Phase 1
So I ask, did Iron Man really kick start the MCU in the way that it has been praised to have? I say no. Sure, it gave birth to Marvel Studios. And sure it showed that the world could and would accept lesser known characters. However, it was released at a time where superhero movies were becoming the norm.
Think of all the movies in the 8 years before it.
- Blade 2
- The Punisher
- Spider-Man 2
- Blade: Trinity
- Fantastic Four
- X-Men: The Last Stand
- Ghost Rider
- Spider-Man 3
- Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
And these don’t even include what DC was up to.
Iron Man will go down as one of the most important Superhero moves ever. But it won’t go down as the most important superhero movie ever. I say that X-Men will.
Little did it know but X-Men launched a superhero revolution that continues to grow at an unprecedented pace. From its humble beginnings to its now Hollywood Blockbuster treatment, X-Men transcended cinema. And it hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. Now that the franchise is firmly back with Marvel, who knows what is in store for it.
Each day that passes brings about more rumors as to when the X-Men will join the other Disney franchises on screen. And rightfully so. The world has waited a long time to see Wolverine stand beside Captain America. Make no mistake, when this happens the world will rejoice. I caution the world, however, to not forget where it came from. Don’t forget that X-Men came before the MCU and not after. Cherish and hold dear the fact that it launched Marvel phase 1.