While the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn't kick off the rise of superhero movies in Hollywood, it most definitely changed the game for the genre. Before 2008, superheroes were contained to their own film series, but Iron Man ushered in a shared world that is not only still around 10 years later, but has become one of the most popular cinematic franchises of all time, making over $14.8 billion worldwide. It's doubtful anyone at Marvel Studios could have predicted this level of success, but Kevin Feige, the man running this show, noted in a recent interview that there were two main goals with the Iron Man movie: making the eponymous hero popular and building a universe like the one from the comics. Feige explained:
I would say we dreamed of this. I would say while we were doing the first Iron Man film, there were two thoughts in our heads. One was, 'Get it done and get it in theatres.' The other goal was, 'Make Tony Stark a household name. We wanted to get people who didn't read the comics or see him in the cartoon series to realize he's one of the coolest superheroes that's ever existed. The secondary goals that we dreamed about was to bring the interconnected universe from the comic books up on to the big screen. At that point, Avengers 1 was a far-off distant dream, but this has always been in the back of our heads.
With heavy hitters like the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man all belonging to different studios, Marvel Studios turned to its lesser-known heroes to launch the MCU. Granted, Iron Man has been around since 1963 and had already appeared in various animated shows and video games, but he certainly wasn't a household name among people unfamiliar with the comics. So first and foremost, Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man had to appeal to audiences, and looking back, he definitely did that and then some. Iron Man was a critical and commercial success, and Downey's version of Tony Stark has become the MCU's anchoring character.
From there, Marvel Studios was able to accomplish its secondary Iron Man goal: building a shared universe. This was clear when Samuel L. Jackson cameoed as Nick Fury at the end of the movie, and then a few months later, Robert Downey Jr. reprised Tony Stark for The Incredible Hulk. Thinking of an ever-expanding universe also affected certain creative decisions for the franchise. Continuing in his interview with The Toronto Sun, Feige offered the following as an example:
When we were casting Guardians of the Galaxy and looking for Star-Lord, we were saying things like, 'You know, if things go right, we have to find a great actor to play Peter Quill because someday that actor might have to do scenes with the Avengers.'
Which brings us to 2018, with Marvel releasing Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp this year. Infinity War in particular was a huge testament to what Marvel has accomplished, as it saw the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and other superheroes coming together to fight Thanos and his forces. It was the biggest crossover event yet, and all this started with Marvel Studios deciding it wanted to kick off this ambitious initiative with Iron Man, who was a B-list hero at best at that time. That's no longer the case.