Iron Man 2 finally coming along today! A few notes on its troubled production history, if only to jab at Marvel for pinching pennies on what’s about to be a mammoth payday. The first installment made $318 million domestically and near $600 million worldwide, with only The Dark Knight keeping it from being the year’s biggest film. In short, it seems unlikely that Marvel or anyone else would ever have thought it a stretch to guarantee the sequel (which is already up to $133 million in the overseas market) would be another bonanza, and yet Marvel went about putting together the pieces for Iron Man 2 in the most parsimonious of manners.
Director Jon Favreau nearly didn’t return. Not long after Iron Man’s May 2008 release, Marvel announced an April 2010 release date for IM2. Favreau expressed some concern on his Myspace page, and mentioned that negotiations with Marvel were on hold, not having heard from them in five weeks. Not long after, IESB reported that a source at Marvel admitted money was the issue, that Favreau expected a bump from his Iron Man fee, but that Marvel didn’t feel Favreau’s presence was integral to Iron Man 2’s success and was considering replacing him with someone less expensive.
Despite the modern iteration of the character being designed after him in the comics, Samuel L. Jackson was almost lowballed out of returning as Nick Fury, a role that would be relevant not only in Iron Man 2, but the upcoming Captain America and The Avengers films as well. Jackson told the L.A. Times that contract talks had broken down: “There seems to be an economic crisis in the Marvel Comics world, so [they're saying to me], ‘We’re not making that deal.’”
Mickey Rourke, fresh off his comeback role in The Wrestler and the best critical goodwill of his career, was offered a rather meager-for-this-sort-of-thing $250,000, low enough that he told New York magazine that he was off the project.
In the highest-profile of these cases, co-star Terrence Howard was scrapped as Jim Rhodes, replaced by Don Cheadle. Stories differ on this one, but Howard had been the first actor signed to the Iron Man, and improbably enough had the highest salary — higher than Robert Downey, Jr. — so when it came time for part 2, Howard’s salary was the first thing that they looked at; reportedly, Marvel wanted to cut his pay by 50 to 80 percent. Howard told NPR that he found out he’d lost the job through the trades. Other sources say that Favreau and the producers weren’t happy with Howard’s performance, and when Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux started trimming Howard’s role (with Jim Rhodes set to become War Machine in the second installment, the role should have been expanded from the first), Marvel took the opportunity to offer a proportionately lower cut.
It’s easy to play armchair exec. Truth is, I wouldn’t want to be in Marvel’s payroll department, cutting checks for Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Edward Norton, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and company when budget time for The Avengers rolls around. Times are tough all over, and it’s hard to fault Marvel for trying to cut some corners on a film they knew would come in at a minimum budget around $150 million. Still, when you run into public tiffs with four of the major players in your production, it may be wise to reconsider your tactics.
We can probably chalk some of it up to posturing in the press as a way of negotiating — Jackson probably expected to be asked back, and Rourke’s quarter-mil was an opening offer — but the fact that Terrence Howard didn’t end up returning may say something about Marvel’s bottom line. Let’s hope they find a good way to do right by the creative types and still keep the coffers where they need to be. Nobody wants to see this:
Tags: iron man, marvel, the avengers
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