Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, the movie rights for the character were turned down by New Line Cinema, which had acquired the rights from Fox in 2000.
According to a Hollywood Reporter source, New Line opted not to pursue Tony Stark’s story because Bob Shaye, who ran the studio at the time, argued “that it didn’t make sense because Iron Man was too heavy to fly.” Although the project was already in the early stages of development, New Line let the rights expire. Marvel reacquired them in 2005, and today the MCU has banked $27.4 billion at the box office.
David Hayter, a screenwriter whom New Line enlisted to develop Iron Man in the mid-2000s, shed more light on the shelved project during a 2018 interview with the Hollywood Reporter.
“It was very unusual, and it kind of felt like they were developing the screenplay for a lot less than it would cost them typically to develop a screenplay,” explained Hayter, who wrote the first two X-Men films in 2000 and 2003, as well as Watchmen in ’09. “But they paid us and then they hired me at the end of it to write the script, so it was great. It was very cool.”
“It was very much the corporate reshuffling that kept the New Line version from being made, but I think New Line recognized as well as anybody the value of this character,” the writer (and prolific Metal Gear Solid voice actor) said. “X-Men helped break open the door for heroes that weren’t Superman or Batman. And Iron Man just seemed to be the next logical step. It’s just so fun and action-packed. It perfectly fit where CG effects were at the time. And it just made a lot of sense.”