Tony Stark became the founding father of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to a stellar debut in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008. His character arc was one of the main thematic through-lines in the franchise and came to an end this year in Avengers: Endgame. Stark’s whole journey of creating and fighting for a new age of humanity concluded with a sacrificial snap that broke audiences worldwide. This calls for a celebration of some of the greatest toys that he gifted to comic book films.
The MCU has debuted over 50 iron armors (over 30 were created off-screen before Iron Man 3). Stark’s personal library makes up for over a majority of this count. His innovations have also inspired others to don similar metal suits for various reasons. Robert Downey Jr. portrayed Iron Man for 11 years, leaving over 50 armors created and inspired by him. This makes for quite an impressive legacy. Here are what I believe to be the 10 absolute best armors that we have seen utilized in the MCU. These armors were chosen based on a combination of the impression they left on us, what they stood for and of course, technical specialties.
The Top 10
10. The Mark I
The Mark I, the armor that started it all 11 years ago in Iron Man. This may be Stark’s weakest suit, but it still manages to shake the world the one time it is worn. The Mark I is visually inspired by the first-ever Iron Man suit featured in the 1960’s comics. The armor is built as Stark’s last line of survival when being held hostage by terrorists. The Mark I is like Frankenstein’s monster — only if it was made up of a box of scraps instead of human parts. Created from junk and Stark’s old military weapons, the suit shows how the most innovative creations come from the most unlikely of places.
From the moment it is activated, until we see it set a terrorist outpost ablaze with fire, you get a perfect image of Iron Man’s potential. No one will ever forget how this hunk of junk was filmed like some sort of atrocity, hellbent for anarchist defeat. For the rest of the series, we see others try to replicate the innovation, while Stark tries to rightfully protect it. The Mark I being assembled from pieces of Stark’s past dirty deeds makes it the perfect thesis for what Iron Man was going to set out to be for the next 11 years in the MCU; innovation only suited for peace and prosperity.
9. Iron Patriot/ War Machine Mark II
The second edition of War Machine’s suit stands for so much more than its predecessor seen in Iron Man 2. Yes, these two armors are actually just the same model with a different paint job. However, this iteration has more defined slim features making it stylistically look better for War Machine. The Iron Patriot came first in Iron Man 3 and subsequently had its colors stripped away for a more traditional look in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In many ways, the Iron Patriot is what Colonel James Rhodes ultimately first strived to be as a hero following orders from the highest of political figures to defend his country. Many think the U.S. colors make for an ugly suit, but the scheme is peak Rhodey. “This sends a better message,” he tells Stark in Iron Man 3. He enjoys being this American hero, but he must learn to earn that title after losing his suit to a villain. Similar to Stark’s relationship with his suit, Rhodes’ character arc and journey to becoming an Avenger are reflected in the War Machine armor.
8. The Mark III
What makes the Mark III the first true Iron Man suit? You might say because it is the first to feature the classic red and gold colors. That is absolutely part of the answer, but the main reason is its image was the first that the MCU got to label as “superhero”. The Mark I may have first stunned the universe with its sheer novelty, but it is only used as a means of survival. The Mark III is the armor that Stark wears on his first round of heroic deeds.
In retrospect, this armor is obviously less innovative than later entries, but its simplicity does not stop it from being iconic. Everyone still remembers Stark showing no mercy in the armor during his first guerrilla beatdown. The MCU has only shown us characters walking away without looking at rear explosions a few times and Stark walking away from the bursting tank in the Mark III is a damn fine mood. This armor also proved that the Iron Man costume can be taken seriously in live-action.
7. The Mark VI
The only suit to be heavily featured in more than one film is the Mark VI. Stark’s 6th armor is a personal favorite of mine because it leaves quite an impression during Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. We are in awe when it demolishes foes alongside War Machine, tackles Loki and Thor, and helps save one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s helicarriers from being destroyed. It stands out as the first armor to feature a triangular unibeam chest piece.
The Mark VI is vital to Stark because it is compatible with a new arc reactor, free from metal poisoning as seen in Iron Man 2. The basis of the sequel is Stark overcoming personal demons and fragile physical health in order to be the hero the world needs him to be. The Mark VI allows Stark to showcase his willingness to overcome these challenges; then the armor becomes a polished visual metaphor for “new year, new me.”
6. War Machine Mark III
The third edition of the War Machine armor is the best version that we have seen so far. The armors in Infinity War and Endgame are stellar with all of their guns and glory; we just don’t spend much time with them. Many of their physical details go easily missed, but this is not the case with the Mark III seen in Captain America: Civil War. Rhodey really gets into his groove with this armor. No longer feeling the need to prove himself amongst the Avengers, Rhodey is unafraid to point his guns in the directions required to make a statement.
The film is full of complex confrontations and he never holds back from putting in his two cents. He is brash in his decision making and even displays a little hubris. The Mark III is a great visual representation of these personal qualities. The suit shows off more diverse advanced weaponry than ever before; finally, War Machine feels less like an Iron Man clone. The icing on the cake is the 22 little Ultron symbols on the armor’s upper right chest making up a tally of all the drones he took down in Sokovia. Although Vision ultimately destroys the armor, Rhodey still made a statement with this glow up.
5. The Mark XLIV
Regardless of how you feel about Age of Ultron, you cannot deny that the Hulkbuster showdown was worth the price of admission alone. Fans anticipated the Hulkbuster vs Hulk fight, and boy did the film deliver. The Hulkbuster ranks in as the 44th Iron Man armor and is created by Stark and Banner in the event that Banner ever completely loses control of the Hulk. It is deployed and aided by an orbital tracking satellite, nicknamed “Veronica”, that can provide on-site enhancements when needed.
Director Joss Whedon named it after the famous Archie Comics characters Betty and Veronica. Get it? Banner used to date a Betty and now Veronica is the last one available that can calm him down. Fans cannot ask for a more brilliant suit rocking a strong resemblance to its counterpart. Though what really makes the Mark XLIV special is that it comes from Stark’s and Banner’s hearts. You get clear images of this when the armor displays its abilities to save the Hulk from being his own worst enemy. Instead of being birthed from hate and scrutiny, the Mark XLIV comes from the close friendship between the Science Bros.
4. The Mark XLII
Stark’s 42nd armor primarily worn in Iron Man 3 gets mixed reactions from fans. It is an incomplete prototype for his autonomous prehensile propulsion tech. The suits that followed the Mark XLII were perfected models. So why does the unsystematic prototype rank higher above its successors? It exhibits more spunk and character resulting in a more engaging film. This is the first suit to take inspiration from the iconic Extremis armor from the comics. Some dislike there being more gold than red on Iron Man, but this armor struts its shine while proving that untraditional looks can often be a breath of fresh air.
For the first time ever, Stark can summon his suit to autonomously assemble thanks to implanted microchips in his body. Stark always had unity with his suits thanks to the arc reactor on his chest, but this armor’s ingenuity took “I am Iron Man” to a new level. It is in Iron Man 3 where Stark must learn what makes Iron Man a hero; himself or the armor he creates? To his own luck, he is stuck with the Mark XLII for this journey into the self. The suit frequently stumbles in stride, only works when it wants to and even loses power at one point. It is through these faults that Stark learns that Iron Man does not come from his inventions, but from his spirit. The mark XLII had to walk so that every suit after could run.
3. The Mark XLVI
In the past, Iron Man bested aliens, killer robots, genetically enhanced assassins, the Hulk, and even held his ground against Thor. The biggest loss he took was at the hands of his own friend, Captain America. Their fight dissolved the Avengers and was just as astonishing as it was devastating. One reason we can continue to debate and raise these questions about the climactic fight rests with the Mark XLVI. The 46th armor takes visual inspiration from the fan-favorite Bleeding Edge suit from the comics. The distinctive small arc reactors all over the body blend the colors in a new shimmer, making previous suits feel out of style.
Finally, it is time to say hello to retractable helmets for multiple piece helmets are an inconvenience of the past. That is exactly the point of the Mark XLVI, to feel like the most superior design capable of even stopping he who leads the Earth’s mightiest heroes. When you put an unhinged Stark in control, the armor feels like a deluxe sentence to utter defeat. Iron Man has never been more feared than in the Mark XLVI.
2. The Mark LXXXV
Stark finally reached his prime with the Mark L seen in Infinity War, however, we now know that simply was not enough given the circumstances. Over five years and 35 suits later, he avenges the universe with his life. Knowing him, he obviously had to do it in typical Stark style: getting the last line and looking good while doing it. The Mark LXXXV has the inverse parallel of being the last MCU suit while also paying visual homage to the first comic book armor to dawn both red and gold colors from 1963. This is obvious because no other MCU armor bears primarily gold shoulder and thigh pieces.
After watching Endgame, how can anyone disagree that is the most powerful Iron Man suit to ever grace the screen? It was literally able to harness the power of all six infinity stones while still not disintegrating its human host to mere ashes. For all of its power, it still feels somewhat tangible given what is established about the tech. The smooth and more human muscle shape also never make it look or feel any less real than we want it to be. The 85th suit will forever be defined as the suit Stark wore when he died. The design and power make for great cinematic visuals of Iron Man’s last stand.
1. The Mark VII
You may be wondering why I just established that the Mark LXXXV is Stark’s most powerful armor but falls slightly short of the mark VII? These make the top two because you never feel like Stark puts himself on the line to face death in the face, other than when he dawns these armors. However, his 7th suit is still the only armor to have the title of almost single-handedly preventing large-scale destruction. The LXXXV avenges the day when defeating Thanos, but the help of literally every other hero in the MCU is just as needed. When New York needs heroes to band together to face Loki’s army in The Avengers, Iron Man stands out as the MVP when a nuke is about to wipe out the entire coast.
Thanks to his skill and the Mark VII’s advancements, he does so without dying. The rest of the team helps him recover, but you cannot deny that the suit played an integral role in keeping him alive. The armor also has a record for creating a lot of extremely memorable moments within a short period of time, while that time is also being shared with other heroes. Everyone remembers Iron Man doing something in this suit that he never did before at the time. Whether it is the iconic entrance in which it saves Stark from falling off a building, killing a giant space worm from the inside, ricocheting lasers off Cap’s shield, or redirecting a nuke- you remember the Mark VII for helping elevate the MCU to a whole new level with the Avengers.
The Mark L – The predecessor to the second best gets an honorable mention for two reasons. The first being the most obvious, it is not as powerful as its successor. The second reason can be found in its name; it is the suit in which Stark took his greatest loss and almost ungraciously died. Nonetheless, it is worthy of recognition for introducing nanotech armor to the MCU in style. Taking visual inspiration from the comic book Model Prime armor, it wowed us as it broke the limits of what Iron Man could do on-screen. Stark’s quest to prepare for the inevitable destruction that has been haunting his mind lasted for multiple films. When Thanos presents himself as the manifestation of these nightmares, Stark takes him head-on in his prime and with his 50th suit. Some may call it poetic.
The Iron Monger – Iron Man’s first villain, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), leaves an unremovable greedy stain with the Iron Monger suit. It’s size, weaponry and brute appearance create an impression that dominates the screen. The way Favreau films the armor and Stane within it, truly makes it feel like a monstrosity. The suit is the inverse of Stark’s vision for Iron Man: innovation only suited for war and profit. The Iron Monger armor does not feel so fictitious when examining today’s global politics.
The Mark V – Many might be shocked to find this armor as just an honorable mention. Stark’s fifth armor may own one of the best cinematic introductions of them all, but it is sadly not on screen long enough. Some of the other armors on this list also have little screen time, but they have stronger representation than just, “wow that looked really cool.” Nevertheless, the Mark V’s design is fantastic and seeing it go from blocky suitcase to armor is a great visual delight.
The Mark XLVII – Stark’s 47th armor may just be the Mark XLVI with a different paint job, but it represents a unique point in his life. The heavy presence of metallic black on the body is an homage to the Ultimate armor introduced in the 2002 comics. Scarcely seen in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the Mark XLVII could also be referred to as the mentor suit. It is worn at one of the peaks of Stark’s character arcs, guiding a new hero. The lack of red and gold paint possibly represents his age and experience; a great visual metaphor for a matured hero passing the baton. If only we could have seen more action from the Mark XLVII.
The Mark XLVIII – The 48th armor in the catalog, otherwise known as the second Hulkbuster, was one of the great delights of Infinity War. This time, Bruce Banner wears the suit and Mark Ruffalo makes the armor’s limited screen-time all the more fun to watch. The updated sleek design works, making it leaner and meaner than its predecessor. With its handful of scenes, we only scratched the surface of what a newly improved Hulkbuster can do.
The Mark XLIX – Finally seeing Pepper Potts suit up in an armor completely of her own is one of the most gratifying moments from Endgame. Fans have been longing to see an MCU version of the “Rescue” armor from the comics and almost no one saw it coming by the film’s third act. The sleek colors, stylized paint pattern, and unique helmet could not make for a better look for Potts. It being the 49th armor Stark built means it was made prior to Infinity War. Not surprising because at that time he was preparing for the inevitable. Seeing Potts and Stark fight side-by-side makes for one of the greatest shots in the franchise. Its short screen time holds it back from being in the top 10. Hopefully, we have not seen the last of it.
The Mark XLIII – The 43rd armor in Stark’s library is unfortunately only seen in roughly half of Age of Ultron – when the Avengers are in their prime. This armor is a perfected model of the Mark XLII and is the only suit that can be partnered and adapt into the first Hulkbuster. In all honesty, this suit probably features one of the best-balanced color schemes of red, gold and gray paint. This combined with the abilities it displays (sentry mode; being able to work in individual parts) makes for one of Stark’s most aesthetically pleasing armors.
So there is the list! Have any disagreements that you want to bring to the table? Let us know on our social media and make sure to check out Avengers: Endgame when it arrives on DVD & Blu-ray August 13!