Iron Man ending explained: How it all began for the MCU

The Marvel Cinematic Universe began with Iron Man all the way back in 2008 and the ending of that film left fans in need of many answers (and sequels).
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man in Marvel Studios' IRON MAN.
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man in Marvel Studios' IRON MAN. /

We didn't know it then, but 2008's Iron Man would end up becoming one of the most important movies in the history of Hollywood. At the time, it was just a very cool superhero movie at a time when there weren't all that many of them, and one that relaunched the career of Robert Downey Jr. as one of the most charismatic actors of this generation. But that very cool superhero movie ended up changing the face of the genre.

With Iron Man's arrival came the debut of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise so larger-than-life and expansive that it is still ongoing to this day. Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as the infuriatingly lovable Tony Stark many, many times throughout that franchise, with his most recent coming in 2019's Avengers: Endgame.

But it all began with Iron Man, because as soon as the credits rolled on the film, history had been made. You might not have known that if you only just watched it for the first time, but even then, it's a very Tony Stark ending (a.k.a. as extra as they come), so you probably did. If you have just watched it and need to know what it all means (or you would just like a recap), let's discuss the ending of the 2008 movie.

I Am Iron Man

The infamous words that started a legacy: Iron Man closed with Tony Stark revealing to the world that he is indeed the Iron Man. It was a shocking moment, particularly because it was in a room full of press that got to their feet as soon as he made the announcement. Oh yeah, and also because he was given a statement to read out by Agent Coulson, which would have provided him with an alibi and cleared him of a direct connection to Iron Man's battle with Iron Monger.

This was an important moment that changed the course of the MCU, particularly because it meant that everyone knew Tony was Iron Man going forward. There was no putting those worms back in the can; the secret was out there for all of the world to know. And Tony didn't want to take it back either, because after truly seeing the legacy of Stark Industries as weapons manufacturers, he wanted to create a new legacy of hope. With just four short words, that's exactly what he did.

The moment is also a clear reminder of just how reckless and impulsive Tony can be. He had no intention of revealing the truth about who he was when he first got up there on that stage, but in a split second, he changed his mind and told the press the truth.

If you've already watched the whole MCU saga up to now, you'll know just how important those words ended up becoming for the franchise. But in all honesty, they were important right from the very beginning, because they changed the game both for the MCU and the superhero genre in and of itself.

Iron Man was born.

The set up for The Avengers started in the post-credits scene

Iron Man changed cinema in many ways, but one of the most important ways was the effective use of the post-credits scene. While some movies had used post-credits scenes prior to the 2008 film, the Marvel Studios franchise-starter used it to further the overall arc in play, giving fans a tease of what's to come and laying the groundwork for the future. It worked like a dream.

In the scene, Tony Stark cautiously makes his way through his house, knowing that something isn't right. J.A.R.V.I.S. tries to speak to him only to malfunction as Tony sees a figure standing before him. That figure is none other than Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who wants to speak to him about something called "The Avengers Initiative".

The Avengers, Iron Man
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Samuel L. Jackson in The Avengers (2012) ©Marvel 2012 /

This was the first appearance for Nick Fury, which makes him the longest-standing character in the MCU right now. It was also pretty pivotal in setting up future installments of the franchise. Yes, the long-term plan here was to prepare for The Avengers, which would continue to come into play in both post-credits scenes and subplots in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, but what might not be as well remembered is that this was actually a direct set up for one of the main plot points of Iron Man 2.

The 2010 sequel focuses on Tony's potential interest in joining Fury's team and protecting the world from, well, Avengers-level threats. Due to some of his actions in that movie, Fury begins to question whether he would be right for the team, and that drives much of the plot forward as the film lays more groundwork for 2012's The Avengers.

What happened to Iron Monger in the final battle?

The real villain of the first Iron Man movie was Obadiah Stane. Played phenomenally by the incomparable Jeff Bridges, Stane was the long-time friend of Tony's father Howard Stark, who took over the business after his death. He then welcomed Tony into the business when he just 21 years old, with Stark Industries benefitting immensely from the young Stark's creative mind and genius. However, it was eventually revealed in the movie that Obadiah had orchestrated Tony's kidnap by the Ten Rings and planned on having him killed. When it didn't go as planned, he called for the board to lock him out of the company.

Obadiah was immensely jealous of Tony's talent and his will do the right thing, particularly because it meant that he would be shutting down the very weapons division that Stane was using to trade weapons off the books. And when he found out that the Arc Reactor worked, he wanted that too. He got his hands on the original prototype suit that Tony created to escape from his captors and modified it, turning himself into the Iron Monger. After attempting to kill Tony again by stealing the Arc Reactor in his chest and leaving him for dead. Tony survived, using the older Arc Reactor that Pepper Potts gifted him as a souvenir.

Iron Man vs Iron Monger
Iron Man (2008) © 2008 Paramount Pictures /

When the two foes engaged in battle in downtown Los Angeles, Iron Monger had the upper hand simply due to the fact that he had a stronger Arc Reactor powering his suit. Tony's depleted Arc Reactor had to pull double duty of powering his suit and keeping him alive, which left him at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, he was able to rely on Pepper to help him get the job done.

Luring Stane onto the roof of Stark Industries, he had Pepper overload the prototype Arc Reactor in the building below, resulting in a huge electrical surge that beamed up into the sky, electrocuting Iron Monger in the process. He and the suit both then fell into the reactor itself, causing a massive explosion. Pepper had been reluctant to pull the lever as she feared Tony would die, but he managed to crawl out of harm's way and avoid both blasts.

The movie doesn't linger on it too much but Stane died of his injuries. Agent Couslon confirmed as much when he told Tony that they had an alternate story about how he died to release to public (which involved his small plane going down when on vacation). As for how he really died? That was undoubtedly down to the electrocution. It was then his body (and the suit) that fell into the reactor that caused the huge explosion.

What to watch after Iron Man

The Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America
Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans in The Avengers (2012) ©Marvel 2012 /

Picture this: You're sitting in your home after just watching Iron Man and you're now absolutely invested in the MCU franchise and need more Marvel goodness in your life. As this is the first film in that franchise, you have a heck of an adventure ahead of you. The question is whether you want to watch just the Iron Man movies, all of the movies that Iron Man makes an appearance in, or all of the MCU movies in general.

Iron Man is part of Phase One of the MCU, but it's in the unique position of being the only film to also have a direct sequel in that phase. Iron Man 2 is the next chapter in Tony Stark's story, but it doesn't come directly after this one. With that, let's dive into what comes next:

The Incredible Hulk: Chronologically, the next movie in the MCU franchise is The Incredible Hulk. It was released in the same year as Iron Man, coming out just one month after it. As the title suggests, it explores Bruce Banner's evolution into his meaner, greener alter-ego and features Edward Norton in the title role. Let's just say that if you're an Iron Man fan, you might want to give this one a watch.

Iron Man 2: If you'd rather skip The Incredible Hulk and just dive right back into Tony Stark's story, then you'd probably prefer to just jump straight on into Iron Man 2. Released in 2010, it sees Iron Man go up against Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and officially introduces one of the MCU's biggest players in Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow.

Any other Phase One movie: Iron Man is the only film in Phase One after which you can watch the rest of the Phase One movies in literally any order (outside of The Avengers). Whether that means diving straight on into Iron Man 2 or meeting a different future-Avenger for the first time, you can enjoy these outings at your leisure and view them in any order you'd prefer.

However, if you'd like to watch them in sequence, here are the rest of the Phase One movies in order:

dark. Next. Every MCU movie ranked from worst to best. Every MCU movie ranked from worst to best