Movie Structure Breakdown: Iron Man

PosterFormat: Movie

Released: 2008

Written By: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway

Directed By: Jon Favreau

Run Time: 117 minutes

Character: Tony Stark


A character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Billionaire, weapons-manufacturer, Tony Stark, is saddled with ceremonies and responsibilities (the imperfect situation) and is reprimanded by his closest friends and advisors (oppressive opposition) because he would rather chase skirts and be awesome (the initial goal). But when he flies to Afghanistan to present his new missile to the military and is kidnapped by the terrorist organization the Ten Rings (the disturbance), Tony is forced to either build them a missile or formulate a complex escape plan (the dilemma) by building a weaponized suit of armor (the new role).

The Imperfect Situation: Tony’s lack of responsibility puts him at odds with those around him.

Initial Goal: Make weapons. Be awesome.

Oppressive Opposition: Rhodes scolds Tony for skipping his ceremony. A reporter scolds Tony for war profiteering. Pepper scolds Tony for nearly missing his weapons presentation. Rhodes scolds Tony again for being late.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Disturbance: Tony goes to Afghanistan to give a weapons presentation. His convoy is ambushed, and Tony is captured by terrorists.

"Send money, but we kill anyway."
“Send money, but we kill anyway. Is for fun.”

Turning Point One – The Dilemma: Start Time: 16 of 117 minutes (13.6%) – Tony awakens in a cave with a battery strapped to his chest to keep the shrapnel he was blasted with from entering his heart. The terrorist torture him into building a Jericho missile. Tony must choose between building their missile and plotting his escape.

The New Role: If Tony decides to fight back against the terrorists, he will become an anti-terrorist war machine.

Act Run Time: 23 of 117 minutes (19.6%)


The character Learns the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Act Start Time: 23 of 117 minutes (19.6%)

Imprisoned in a cave, Tony builds a weaponized suit of armor to fight terrorists (the unfamiliar situation) who are suspicious of his intentions and threaten to kill him (incidental opposition) in order to escape (transitional goal). But when the terrorists become suspicious of his actions and his fellow prisoner, Yinsen, is killed in their escape attempt (the reality check), Tony returns to the States and announces he will no longer make weapons (the commitment).

The Unfamiliar Situation: Tony goes from a rich, pampered billionaire to a dirty, prisoner in a cave.

Transitional Goal: Tony attempts to escape the cave and his terrorist captors.

Incidental Opposition: When the terrorists figure out Tony Stark is in the convoy they were paid to destroy, they choose not to kill him. Instead, they demand he build a weapon of mass destruction. He’s locked in a cave and forced to do whatever they say. Tony begins implementing a mysterious plan while the terrorists watch on surveillance cameras, threatening him at every turn.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Reality Check: The head terrorist sees Tony testing the leg hydraulics for his suit and pays him a visit in his cell. He threatens to burn Yinsen’s tongue with a hot coal and tells Tony he has one day to finish the missile. Tony realizes they must act now.

"Uh, I'm gonna get one of these too, right?"
“Uh, I’m gonna get one of these too, right?”

 When Tony and Yinsen implement their plan, Yinsen is mortally wounded. He tells Tony to go on without him. Tony destroys the terrorists’ stock of weapons before rocketing off into the sky.

Turning Point Two – The Commitment: Start Time: 41 of 117 minutes (35%) – Tony stumbles through the desert without water, but is miraculously spotted by a helicopter and rescued. Tony arrives back in the US and is greeted by Pepper at the airport. He then calls a press conference and gives a speech about his father and his legacy before announcing Stark Enterprises will no longer make weapons. Afterward, Obadiah reprimands Tony for his rash actions and tries to talk some sense into him, but Tony has made up his mind. Tony goes to visit Rhodes to show him what he’s now working on. Rhodes is upset and disappointed with Tony for no longer making weapons for the military and refuses to hear him out. Tony is now committed to making a better suit to fulfill his New Role as an anti-terrorist war machine, which brings him into the Central Conflict with Obadiah.

Act Run Time: 31 of 117 minutes (26.4%)


The character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Act Start Time: 54 of 117 minutes (46.1%)

Tony earns the ire of Obadiah (the central conflict), is locked out of his company and targeted by the ne’er-do-wells who would steal his tech (intentional opposition), as he attempts to build an improved version of his suit (the false goal). But when Tony discovers Obadiah has been selling weapons to terrorists under the table (the turn), he decides to put his new suit to use by taking his weapons out of the hands of terrorists (the moment of truth).

The Central Conflict: Tony squares off with the terrorists and Obadiah/Iron Monger.

False Goal: Tony attempts to build an improved suit.

Intentional Opposition: Obadiah returns from a board meeting in New York (with pizza!) and tells Tony the board has locked him out of the company. He begs Tony to show him what he’s been working on to no avail. Tony continues working on his new suit, but it still has a few humorous bugs to work out.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Turn: At a charity event, Tony is confronted by the reporter he shagged in Act One. She has photographic evidence of Afghani terrorists in possession of Stark Enterprise weapons including a Jericho missile. Upset by this, Tony storms off to find Obadiah who gloats that he is the one who filed the injunction that locked Tony out of the company.

I'll tell you the rest of my evil plan later.
“I’ll tell you the rest of my evil plan later.”

 He thus admits to double-dealing weapons to both sides. Angered by this Tony leaves the party.

Turning Point Three – The Moment of Truth: Start Time: 74 of 117 minutes (63.2%) – Back at his house, Tony watches the news and sees his former captors terrorizing the inhabitants of the village to which the recently deceased Yinsen was a native. He also sees the terrorists have Stark weapons, including Jericho missiles. As the news anchor wonders if there is anyone who can help these people, Tony looks at his reflection in the glass and blows it to bits. He has made his choice. He puts on his new suit and rockets off to save the day. Tony has decided that he can no longer be the warmonger that he was, and opts instead to fight for those who cannot defend themselves.

Act Run Time: 22 of 117 minutes (18.8%)


The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Act Start Time: 76 of 117 minutes (64.9%)

Tony tries to singlehandedly save the world from terror (the doomed plan) and brings his new suit to the attention of Obadiah and the terrorists (self-inflicted opposition), as he attempts to destroy his stolen weapons (the penultimate goal). But when Obadiah steals Tony’s arc reactor to power his own suit, leaving him to die (the lowpoint), Tony uses his old Mark One reactor to save himself and go after Obadiah (the newfound resolve).

The Doomed Plan: Tony tries to take his weapons out of the hands of those who would use them for evil, bringing his new suit to the attention of Obadiah and the terrorists.

Penultimate Goal: Tony attempts to take his weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

Self-Inflicted Opposition: Tony chooses to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and subsequently earns the ire of the US Air Force who tries to kill him with fighter jets. His adventure in Afghanistan also reveals to Obadiah the existence of Tony’s new suit. Later, Tony convinces Pepper to sneak into Stark Enterprises and steal information on Obadiah’s new project. Obadiah discovers her in the act and realizes she has stolen the schematics for his top-secret suit. Now he’ll have to kill her as well.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Lowpoint: Obadiah pays Tony a visit and paralyzes him with a high-tech doodad. With a captive audience, Obie revels in the evilness of his plan and, in true supervillain fashion, leaves Tony to either die slowly or come up with a plan of his own.

And that is the summary of my evil plan.
“And that’s exactly what you need to do to stop me.”

Turning Point Four – The Newfound Resolve: Start Time: 99 of 117 minutes (84.6%) – Tony stumbles down to his lab and gets the old reactor Pepper saved for him. When he is unable to reach it, his pet robot delivers it to him, and Tony dramatically smashes the glass in which the reactor is encased. He has resolved to stop Obadiah at any cost.

Act Run Time: 24 of 117 minutes (20.5%)


The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Act Start Time: 100 of 117 minutes (85.4%)

Tony uses his old Mark One reactor to power his suit (the longshot) and faces off with Obadiah’s more advanced suit (ultimate opposition) to stop Obi’s sinister plan for world domination or something (the ultimate goal). But when it becomes clear Obadiah’s suit is far more powerful than his own (all is lost), Tony enlists the aid of Pepper to blow the reactor powering the building and electrocute Obadiah (the final push).

The Longshot: Tony attempts to face Obadiah using his old Mark One reactor as a power source. Pepper and the SHIELD agents attempt to apprehend Obadiah, knowing he has built a suit of his own.

Ultimate Goal: Tony attempts to face Obadiah using his old Mark One reactor as a power source. Pepper and the SHIELD agents attempt to apprehend Obadiah, knowing he has built a suit of his own.

Ultimate Opposition: Obadiah, who has now officially gone crazy, fires up his suit and takes it for a test run by destroying a small portion of the city and killing as many innocent bystanders as possible.

“I think I dropped my scruples under this car. Nope.”

Without his new reactor, Tony’s suit is impotent in comparison.

Turning Point Catalyst – All is Lost: Tony’s suit is nearly out of power, and Obadiah’s suit has the clear advantage. Obadiah makes use of this advantage by toying around with Tony instead of killing him while he has the chance.

Turning Point Five – The Final Push: Start Time: 109 of 117 minutes (93.1%)

– Obadiah pins Tony on the glass roof above the arc reactor. Realizing he is incapable of defeating Obadiah, Tony tells Pepper to hit the button to overload the reactor (because every reactor should have a button to overload it). Pepper says no, but Tony uses his charm to convince her otherwise.

Act Run Time: 13 of 117 minutes (11.1%)


Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Act Start Time: 113 of 117 minutes (96.6%)

Tony reconciles with Pepper, partners with SHIELD and finds a new purpose in his life as the Invincible Iron Man.

The New Situation: Colonel Rhodes gives a press conference in defense of Stark Enterprises. Tony is shown to be alive and well, reading a newspaper about the night’s events as Pepper bandages his superficial wounds. The newspaper has dubbed the mysterious man in the suit Iron Man, which Tony takes a liking to. Agent Coulson from the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division supplies Tony with index cards delineating the cover story created for the press. He also tells him Obadiah will be said to have died in a small aircraft crash. Tony tries to reignite the passion he and Pepper experienced on the night of his charity event, but she declines and their relationship remains unchanged… until the sequel.

Afterward, Tony goes to the lectern and begins reading from the cards provided by SHIELD, but the reporter he seduced earlier calls into question the plausibility of his story. Tony begins to ramble before finally revealing to the press “I am Iron Man.”

Act Run Time: 4 of 117 minutes (3.4%)

To learn more about six act structure, purchase your copy of “Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret” today!

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