Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
People tend to forget that, before Blade and X-Men, Marvel had never had any success on the big screen. Their only big theatrical release before those films was Howard the Duck, which is still known as one of the most notorious bombs of all time. Since then, they’d seen straight to video releases like Captain America and The Punisher. Or even a Fantastic Four movie produced by Roger Corman that was never intended for release—though that was not what the cast and crew were told.
It was in this climate that Stuart Gordon became involved with an Iron Man film. This period in the early ‘90s was the genesis of hope for Marvel. It was the first time they saw a glimmer of the success they would have in the next decade. They’d begun discussions for big budget versions of some of their most well known properties. James Cameron had come in for a meeting on X-Men and wound up involved with Spider-Man instead. Wes Craven was already involved with an attempt to bring Doctor Strange to the big screen.
When Gordon was approached for Iron Man, Marvel had already hired Ed Neumeier to write the script. That’s kind of a genius decision, given that Neumeier had pretty much perfected this kind of movie when he wrote Robocop. Luckily, the story was going to be something much more complicated than simply being Marvel’s version of Robocop.
Apparently, Gordon’s film was set to center on an older, retired Tony Stark living a reclusive life directly paralleling the later days of infamous aviator Howard Hughes. During the first act, there would be some kind of cataclysmic disaster that would cause Stark to dig out the old armor and spring into action once again. As far as I know, it’s never been revealed who the villain would have been in this version. It’s easy to imagine that Gordon would have gone the route of the Mandarin and taken things into more supernatural territory.
It’s also unclear what actors were up for the role while Gordon was working on the project. It’s easy to imagine his frequent collaborator Jeffrey Combs as Tony Stark, but it’s possible that the studio wanted someone more high profile. Gordon very badly wanted Johnny Depp for the lead role in American Psycho when he was working on that film, so he could have also suggested the actor for this project as well. It’s easy to imagine Depp as a Howard Hughes, slightly off-kilter version of Stark.
Both Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise were up for the role in the ‘90s, though it’s unclear if either of them were up for it while Gordon was still attached to the project.
Because of Gordon’s past with low-budget horror and because of the very low-budget films that Marvel was making at the time, it’s assumed by many that this would have been a low budget production as well. That’s not the case, though. People tend to forget that Gordon had at least worked in that world, co-writing Honey I Shrunk the Kids for Disney. This would have been a very high profile, big budget studio film for Universal that could have completely changed the path of Gordon’s career.
Ultimately, though, it just didn’t come together. He and the studio likely never saw eye to eye on the direction the story should ultimately take. After Gordon left the project, several other filmmakers became attached throughout the ‘90s and into the early 2000s. Quentin Tarantino was attached for a time, as were Smallville showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Miller. Joss Whedon was nearly hired to write and direct it, but backed down due to commitments to his TV shows, which were then canceled virtually back-to-back.
Finally, Jon Favreau came in and pitched the project in a way that the studio loved. It became the first film produced by Marvel Studios, the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and wound up changing the face of superhero movies forever.
It’s still hard not to think about what could have been, though. What would Iron Man have looked like in Gordon’s hands? What would any Stuart Gordon movie look like with that kind of budget? Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know.