“I am Iron Man”: The MCU’s Historic Influence on Pop Culture

Solomon Kenworthy

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     A pop culture icon is recognizable to all generations and usable as a form of communication. The original Star Wars trilogy is by far the recognizable current cinematic pop culture icon. Everyone from all generations understands what the Force is, and thousands know the fictional characters of Darth Vader and R2D2 even after forty years. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the most influential pop culture icon since Star Wars. 

     Before the release of Star Wars, everyone highly doubted that it would be a success, including its creator, George Lucas. The only one who openly admitted his faith in the project was one of Lucas’ old film friends, Steven Spielberg. Spielberg didn’t just think it would make some money, he thought it would be the biggest movie of all time.  

     Lucas was wrong, Spielberg was right. Star Wars went on to make $1.5 million in its opening weekend, an unbelievable number at the time. After its release, many tried to recreate Star Wars’ success, and failed. As proof, attempt to list any science fiction franchise from the 1980s that is still relevant today. The only other movie franchise to come close to this would be the MCU, which was initiated thirty years later.

Kevin Feige at the Premiere of Avengers: Infinity War. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

     Marvel has done a great job of making previously unknown characters become mainstream, like Iron Man or Black Panther. Similar to Star Wars, at the time, no one thought an idea of multiple seemingly unrelated character movies connected by a fictional universe could work. The man in charge of the MCU, Kevin Feige, only knew his risk had paid off after the release of the universe’s first meeting The Avengers, when it grossed $1.5 billion worldwide.  

     The MCU did more than just inspire it’s audiences, it also inspired it’s competition. Many studios tried copying Marvel’s success including Warner Bros, Paramount, Sony, and Universal, and all failed. In fact, Universal’s “Dark Universe” failed so badly that it was cancelled after its star studded film debut, or in other words, it flopped. 

     Star Wars did more than just set the bar, it now defines it, but according to thenumbers.com, of the MCU’s 23 films, (worldwide) 7 of them have passed $1 billion, 2 have passed $2 billion, 1 of those 2 has become the highest grossing film of all time, and overall the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made $22 billion dollars at the box office. By this measure, more people have seen the films of The MCU, than the Star Wars saga. 

Captain America’s round shield was introduced in, Captain America Comics #2, in April, 1941. Photo courtesy of Flickr

     To add fuel to the fire, the most recent journey in a galaxy far, far away’s finale, copied the ending of Avengers: Endgame. At the end of Endgame Thanos says, referring to an earlier scene, “I am inevitable.” Iron Man responds with, “I am Iron Man.” The end of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker sees Emperor Palpatine say, “I am all the Sith,” Rey strikes back saying “And I, am all the Jedi.” Star Wars went from a franchise that inspired filmmakers all across the galaxy to being Jawa picking up scraps.

     Now, Captain America’s shield has become as recognizable as a lightsaber. In just ten years, Marvel have made their characters and worlds just as memorable in the minds of everyone as Star Wars did forty years earlier. Audiences were just as shocked and inspired forty years ago when Luke Skywalker used the Force to aim his torpedo at the Death Star, as when Tony Stark threw down his notes in 2008 and announced, “I am Iron Man.”