Dir. Jon Favreau ($585.1 million)
The MCU began on risks. Jon Favreau hadn’t made a studio blockbuster, with more family films and indie films on his resume. Robert Downey Jr.’s star didn’t shine like it once had before his substance abuse became public and he certainly showed no signs of bankability after doing a little time for violating probation. Marvel Studios got Downey at bargain price, and the actor didn’t fail at his opportunity to seize his career and make it greater than ever before. No studio’s got Downey at bargain price ever since as the actor turned himself into a savvy businessman in addition to acting. The success and good fortune of the MCU all dates back to its first installment—a captivating blockbuster made with a smaller budget. The lead simply had fun playing Tony Stark and the audience received that warmly, having just as much watching Downey as Iron Man.
Favreau put Marvel Comics in the modern age. Tony Stark begins as a weapons merchant, dealing nukes in the Middle East who finds himself abducted by terrorists. Middle East terror conflict certainly featured heavily in the news in 2008 and the audience could relate better to this than Iron Man’s Vietnam War origins. Stark had no super powers—just his brains and his dollars. The strategy of easing the entire world into making sense of the MCU was no simple task, but starting with a realism-grounded character akin to Bruce Wayne/ Batman like Tony Stark/ Iron Man, then slowly working from the less realistic Hulk into the alien Thor and finally into the soldier frozen in time looked to be the best route. Everything hinged on starting with a bang. Nobody would care to catch any spin-offs if the first lacked merit. Despite a rather abrupt climax, the origin of Tony Stark and the MCU proved to be the studio’s most exciting, relatable adventure until the most recent installment came out.