- Iron Man’s powerful suits define his character and have raised the tech level of the Marvel Universe, but not all of them have made it to the big screen.
- Some concept art reveals unused designs for Iron Man’s suits, including a larger and more practical Hulkbuster Suit and a bulkier, “bruiser” version of the Mark III suit.
- Other unused designs include specialized suits for high-speed flight and close combat, as well as failed international suits and a cool nanite-created armor for Doctor Strange.
Being the MCU’s flagship character for many years, Iron Man is and was defined by his powerful suits, not all of which managed to make it to the big screen. Relying on his brain rather than any inherent powers, Tony Stark is a genius inventor capable of feats of engineering far surpassing any other person in the Marvel Universe. Singlehandedly raising the tech level of the MCU’s Earth-616, Iron Man has created an impressive variety of specialty suits throughout his tenure as an Avenger.
Unfortunately, not all of these suits could make it into movies. The MCU is known for penning fantastic concept art that doesn’t always make it to the final product, and Iron Man’s many armors are no exception. Whether the designs were too niche, bizarre, or hard to properly implement with realistic-looking CGI, quite a few suits never made it off Marvel Studio’s chopping room floor. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some great Iron Man armor designs hiding away in behind-the-scenes features, art books, and concept artist websites that have surfaced over the years.
10 The Original Hulkbuster Suit
Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015
One of the most hotly anticipated suit designs from the comics, the Hulkbuster Suit is a staple of Tony Stark’s armory. Much bulkier than his other suits, the Hulkbuster lives up to its name, being purpose-built to stop the Hulk should Bruce Banner lose control of the muscle-bound beast. Going toe-to-toe with The Hulk is no easy task, and as a result, the Hulkbuster is more of a small mech than a suit of armor that Tony can actually wear.
Earlier drafts of the Hulkbuster Suit posted by concept artist Josh Nizzi (via JoshNizzi.com) were even bigger, towering over the Hulk. Nearly twice as tall, this version of the armor seemed to be a no-frills, practical version lacking the red and gold flair typical of Iron Man’s suits. Additionally, it leaves Tony’s head exposed with no helm of its own, instead relying on the targeting systems and head protection of whatever armor he’s wearing when he enters it. The final version fans got in Avengers: Age of Ultron was a more vibrant, comics-accurate version of the armor, even if it was smaller, making this unused design less exciting.
9 The Mk. III “Bruiser” Suit
Iron Man, 2008
Of all of Iron Man’s MCU suits, the Mark III is where he began to truly hit his stride, the earlier rough designs of necessity taking shape into more of a sleek hero. But artist Phil Saunders almost had a very different vision for Tony’s first true Iron Man suit (via Instagram). In his very first design for the armor, Saunders depicted a very different look from what Tony wound up wearing for the majority of his first film.
Justifying Tony Stark’s relative inexperience in iterating on only his third suit design, this concept suggests an Iron Man who hasn’t fully worked out all the kinks in compacting the suit’s power supply and weaponry into a smaller package. The result is a bulkier, “bruiser”-looking suit that evokes the musculature of the original Iron Man Amor from the comics. While it’s an interesting take that makes sense for Tony’s capabilities so early in his story, the chunky, almost hunched armor design would’ve been strange to see Iron Man fly and fight in the entire film, putting this simian-looking design on the lower end of the rankings.
8 Mk. XL “Shotgun” Suit
Iron Man 3, 2013
Of the entire Marvel catalog, Iron Man 3 featured the highest number of different Iron Man suits by far, owing to Stark’s activation of the “House Party” protocol in the movie’s climax. With years of experience as Ion Man by this point, Tony Stark has amassed a collection of extremely specialized suits. Despite the film showing off more than 40 different suits, not every concept made it into the final film.
One such suit was the Mk. XL “Shotgun,” shared by concept artist Phil Saunders. This suit is incredibly aerodynamic, with limbs able to lock into its hips to sustain supersonic flight for extended periods. It’s hard to wonder if it wouldn’t be more practical for Tony to simply board a plane and accomplish the same results, leaving this strange-looking armor to be heavily redesigned for its final brief appearance in the movie’s climax. This unique concept may have needed more explanation than was possible in Iron Man 3.
7 Jet Suit
Iron Man 3, 2013
Similar to the Mk XL, the unnamed Jet Suit also specialized in high-speed flight. Unlike the stranger “Shotgun” armor, however, this concept makes a little more sense as an option Tony might reach for if he needed to fly somewhere fast. Without locking Iron Man’s arms down, this suit turns its shoulders into jet wings, with various air-intake ports scattered around the forward-facing armor to aid in propulsion. Concept artist Josh Nizzi created the suit for Iron Man 3.
While a little more thought-out, the Jet Suit isn’t without its flaws. While practical for sustained flight, the helmet and fin-like wings are undeniably goofy, giving Iron Man the appearance of a shark or fish. It’s also hard to say that this armor would make any amount of sense to walk it, the immobile neck seemingly jamming Tony’s head constantly to be looking forward. The idea of a plane-like flight suit is a cool concept, but one that proved hard for Iron Man 3 to represent. The Jet Suit gets the point across slightly better than the Mk XL, giving it the edge on the final list.
6 Close Combat Suits
Iron Man 3, 2013
When Tony Stark unleashes the “House Party” protocol, every suit from Iron Man’s collection joins the fray. Among them are some odd designs with less-than-delicate manipulators, eschewing gloves for massive pincers, drills, and other weapons and tools. These bizarrely-armed suits stretch Tony’s preparedness to hard-to-believe levels, spotlighting his over-reliance on the suits that the film plays with. A pair of suits with similar obvious weaponry were deemed too strange to even stand among the more hyper-specialized of Tony’s armor.
Killian’s Extremis-enhanced soldiers almost had to go up against a pair of suits armed with particularly depraved weaponry. One suit pictured has heavy knuckledusters outfitted with what appears to be pneumatic hatchets. Another instead wields a pair of buzzsaw-like chakrams (via JoshNizzi.com). Tony has faced down powerful inhuman soldiers like the Chitauri and Ultron’s Army, giving the relatively classic-looking suits an interesting purpose despite the admittedly impractical weapons. Thus, they’re in the middle of the pack regarding unused concepts.
5 Pneumatic Avengers Suit
The Avengers, 2012
When The Avengers finally came together in 2012, Tony reappeared with the brand-new Mark IV suit, upgrading to the Mark VII by the film’s end. This suit was carried over into Iron Man 3 and remains an iconic suit with well-rounded capabilities that has endured as a “classic” Iron Man MCU look. Yet The Avengers nearly featured Iron Man wearing a very different armor that was far from anything he had worn previously or since.
The unused concept art was created by artist Adi Granov, who had also worked in the comics, including the Extremis arc that Iron Man 3 was heavily based on (via Unleashthefanboy.com). This suit featured heavy pneumatic pistons stemming from Iron Man’s hips and shoulders, betraying some need for increased strength. The unusual helmet, steel color palette, and lack of protection draw questions about whether this suit was built for a specialized role or the result of Tony once again working with limited resources. The armor’s sheer uniqueness gives it staying power, but it feels too different from Tony’s usual fare to justify ranking any higher.
4 Grapple Suit
Iron Man 3, 2013
Though flight is undeniably a most useful tool Tony always makes sure to include in his designs, it’s gotten him in trouble quite a few times throughout Iron Man’s movies. Between icy buildup in the Stratosphere nearly cutting his hero career short in Iron Man to his narrow escape from Loki’s portal in The Avengers, the ability to fly has put Iron Man in plenty of risky situations. It’s no wonder he might look into alternate methods of locomotion.
Another unused suit from Iron Man 3 (via JoshNizzi.com), this armor features a wrist-mounted grappling cable with a five-pointed claw. The camouflaged paint job of this armor suggests it might be used for stealth operations, evoking Justin Hammer’s military-use drones unveiled in Iron Man 2. It’s possible this functionality explains the grappling hook, providing 3D movement in environments in which flight might be too obvious or noisy. This clever conceit makes this suit a fantastic tool Iron Man might reach for should the situation call for it.
3 Failed International Suits
Iron Man 2, 2010
Though widely considered the weakest of the Iron Man trilogy, Iron Man 2 still had some solid ideas that could’ve been expanded upon further. One such concept was the arms race created with Tony’s decision to go public with his identity as Iron Man, with countries across the globe attempting to re-create the technology for themselves. While the film gave a brief look at these suits from across the world, concept art went into surprising detail about what the knock-off Iron Man suits might look like (via concept artist Scott Patton).
Some countries were able to get relatively close to the Mark I and Mark II armor, with Canada and England looking not entirely dissimilar. Strange designs like China’s egg-like armor and Iran’s bipedal mech, resembling an AT-ST from Star Wars more than anything else, fall a little further short of capturing Tony’s ingenuity. No matter how close they got, all these designs were destined to fail, providing some interesting insight into just how special Iron Man is. It’s a shame these designs didn’t get more of a spotlight, their designs being some of the coolest unseen armor yet.
2 Doctor Strange Suit
Avengers: Infinity War, 2018
Iron Man is no stranger to giving out suits to his teammates, either in the comics or the MCU. In Avengers: Infinity War, Tony lets Bruce Banner borrow an iteration of the Hulkbuster Amor to aid in the Battle for Wakanda, and the Scarlet Spider became an iconic part of Peter Parker’s arsenal as Spider-Man. But the same films almost saw a particularly cool Iron Man suit loaned out to Doctor Strange. This suit’s style makes it one of the top pieces of Stark tech ever shown off, let alone among concept art.
Concept art depicts a sleek nanite-created armor being worn by Stephen Strange, being with him even during Ebony Maw’s interrogation (via concept artist Phil Saunders on Instagram). The extra-cool detail is Doctor Strange’s Eye of Agamotto, containing the Time Stone, being used as a power source in place of an arc reactor, seemingly bringing the mystical suit to life. This combination of magic and technology would be a great way to consummate the mini-rivalry of Iron Man and Doctor Strange, each reliant on opposite elements.
1 Alternate Mk. I Suit
Iron Man, 2008
Though its power is far from the most impressive thing Tony Stark has built, the very first suit that started it all, the Mark I, is impressive for its sheer ingenuity. Famously made “in a cave…with a box of scraps!“, the first Iron Man film did a great job depicting the suit’s piecemeal, improved nature while still emphasizing how dangerous it was, chewing through small-arms-wielding terrorists with ease. Concept art by Marvel artist Ryan Meinerding shows off a version of the suit that looks remarkably different, with details that help the suit stand out even more as a cobbled-together weapon with limited resources.
Ryan Meinerding’s original vision for the suit was more grounded, with various timing belts and engine pieces haphazardly spot-welded to the back of the Mark I. The exposed wiring, radiator grills, and mechanical components make use of Meinerding’s background in industrial design, altering the prototype to be something that looks more true to life. While the Mark I was stripped of these elements in the final redesign, likely to emphasize the importance of the Arc Reactor, the early iteration of the Mk I could’ve pushed the MCU in a very different direction, more grounded in reality. This makes it by far the single coolest Iron Man suit to never see the screen, simply due to how different the MCU would’ve looked had it been included.