Have you ever thought about the complete Iron Man MCU timeline? As the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first superhero, as well as its indisputably most important character, Tony Stark has a pretty packed chronology. There is no MCU without the success of 2008's Iron Man - and where would Hollywood be today if everyone weren't chasing the runaway prosperity of Marvel Studios?
Though another actor may eventually outpace Robert Downey Jr. as the most prolific actor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is no question of who the most important actor will always be. From his own trilogy to the Avengers films and beyond, Iron Man went from an also-ran superhero in Marvel Comics to one of the best-known characters on the face of the planet in a matter of a few years. So, without any further pontification, let's go through Iron Man's MCU timeline, beat by beat.
1992: Tony Takes Over Stark Industries
Though Obadiah Stane took the reins as interim CEO of Stark Industries immediately following the demise of Howard and Maria, Tony would eventually become the new CEO of the major Fortune 500 company his father built. While you'd think this move would force Tony into growing up rather quickly, it seemingly helped convince the young genius he didn't really need to grow up at all.
After all, when you're a super-rich CEO who also happens to be one of the smartest people on the planet at the age of 21, who can really tell you to act your age? If a bearded Jeff Bridges isn't getting that particular job done, no one is.
New Year's Eve 1999: Tony Blows Off Several Genius Scientists To Hook Up With Maya HansenPhoto: Iron Man 3 / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
At the turn of the millennium, Stark attended a non-descript science conference in Bern, Switzerland, where he met a young Maya Hansen. He first learned of Hansen's Extremis research during this encounter, but only after he blew off the gifted yet socially awkward Aldrich Killian. Stark would go on to have a one-night stand with Hansen (something very much in character for him) and create a lifelong enemy in Killian. Because Tony Stark really used to be a serious jerk.
The funniest thing about all of this is that Tony Stark is supposed to be 29 here. Does Robert Downey Jr. look 29 to you? Well, he was 48 by the time Iron Man 3 came out, so... yeah. Marvel Studios clearly hadn't gotten into the art of de-aging actors via CGI yet.
February-March 2009: Tony Is Taken Prisoner After Demonstrating The Jericho Prototype, Eventually Escaping After Creating A Makeshift Battle Suit
At the start of Iron Man, we see Tony Stark showing off Stark Industries' newest moneymaker, the Jericho missile system, to the United States military. He gives a confident sales pitch, and the Jericho is clearly quite effective at causing untold amounts of mayhem, but it is not the demonstration that makes this trip memorable for Stark. No, it is his turbulent capture that makes it significant - as well as the shrapnel permanently lodged in his chest.
As a hostage, he teams up with the also-captured Ho Yinsen (a man he met and subsequently blew off at that Switzerland science conference) to create a miniature Arc Reactor that stops the shrapnel from killing Stark and powers the very first Iron Man suit. The pair plans to use the Iron Man suit to escape, though Yinsen sadly doesn't live to see the film's end.
April 2009: Tony Fights His Business Mentor To Protect His Arc Reactor Technology
After spending some time perfecting the Iron Man armor and superheroing a bit, Stark learned his old pal Obadiah Stane was actually a bad guy this whole time! It was a twist every person who is familiar with traditional superhero storytelling saw coming. Alas, Stane took the Arc Reactor from Tony's chest and left him to perish. Of course, this didn't work out, and the Iron Monger-versus-Iron Man climax was on.
The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe couldn't end with the titular hero dying and/or losing, so Stark of course defeated Stane in a vicious fight. And then Stark proclaimed to the world that he was, in fact, Iron Man at a press conference.