Iron Man’s movie rights were rejected by New Line Cinema, who had bought them from Fox in 2000, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially debuted in 2008 with the release of the film.
A source for the Hollywood Reporter claims that New Line decided against pursuing Tony Stark’s story because then-studio head Bob Shaye claimed “that it didn’t make sense because Iron Man was too heavy to fly.” Even though the project was already in its development, New Line let the rights to expire. Since Marvel regained ownership of them in 2005, the MCU has earned $27.4 billion at the box office.
In a 2018 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, David Hayter, a screenwriter who New Line hired to develop Iron Man in the middle of the 2000s, provided more information about the abandoned project.
“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.”