2008's Iron Man changed the entire landscape of superhero filmmaking, as it told a slightly more "grounded" story than its Marvel predecessors and successfully launched the biggest entertainment franchise in history, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's hard to think about what the state of Marvel would be today had Iron Man failed, but the film was actually undergoing a bit of a crisis ahead of its production start. Iron Man originally had a different villain, which led to multiple story and budget issues.
In the new book The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans get a little more information about the making of films like Iron Man. In the section about that first MCU film, associate producer Jeremy Latcham revealed that the first movie was supposed to feature Mandarin as the villain, and that his evil plan involved digging a tunnel beneath Stark Industries to steal Tony's secrets.
The script was apparently terrible, and the creative team was struggling to find a way to make Mandarin actually work. The villain was also the only role that hadn't been cast already, and the budget was really tight. Finding someone to play Mandarin and actually giving him a good story was going to be a chore.
"The character previously known as Mandarin was the bad guy the whole time and the script was not great," said Latcham. "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," he continued.
It was ultimately suggested that Mandarin could be cut from the movie entirely. That would save money and present them with a fresh script direction, but there wasn't a solid backup plan. That's when director Jon Favreau made the suggestion that would save the movie.
"Do we just make Jeff Bridges the bad guy," Favreau asked Kevin Feige and the rest of the creative team. "He puts on the suit and he's jealous of Tony, so we don't need the Mandarin?"
"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," Latcham explained. "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."
Obidiah Stane went on to become the first villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The rest, as the say, is history.