It’s long since gone down in Marvel Cinematic Universe folklore that the Mandarin was set to be the villain in Iron Man until very late in the day, when the decision was made to jettison Tony Stark’s arch-nemesis completely and reposition Jeff Bridge’s Obadiah Stane as the big bad instead, accelerating plans that were being held back for a potential sequel.
We did eventually get the Mandarin at the third time of asking, with Iron Man 3‘s Trevor Slattery twist being retconned in One-Shot All Hail the King, before Aldrich Killian’s patsy found himself imprisoned by the real thing when Tony Leung’s Wenwu arrived in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
The Iron Man franchise largely didn’t rely on fantastical trappings, favoring a heightened tech-based reality instead, which was definitely the smarter move. In new book The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe via ComicBook, it’s revealed that the Mandarin-centric draft of the script was apparently terrible.
In an excerpt, producer Jeremy Latcham reveals that the upstart Marvel Studios were effectively making things up as they went along, which turned out to be an intense learning curve.
“The character previously known as Mandarin was the bad guy the whole time and the script was not great. We’d cast Bridges, Gwyneth, Jon to play Happy, Clark Gregg as Coulson, Robert, we had cast Abu [Sayed Badreya] – everybody! But we hadn’t cast the Mandarin. We had to spend the money we raised over this and Hulk and still have some left so we could replenish the fund and make more movies.
Because of the way that movie came together, and because of the lack of expectations – because of the lack of corporate structure – it was just us making a movie by the seat of our pants. Those lessons became the lessons that underpinned the whole studio. That movie was forged in the fire, and that’s where the core and the heart of Marvel Studios was born, really.”
It was Jon Favreau who initially suggested substituting the Mandarin with Stane, and the end result turned out to be one of the most important and influential blockbusters ever made, which may not have been the case had they stuck to the original plan for Iron Man.