Many have seen the blockbuster Iron Man man series and know that it is based on a character who appeared in a series of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoons beginning in 1966. What many may not know is that the 2008 film adaption, starring Robert Downey, Jr,. as Tony Stark, was inspired by Elon Musk, creator of X.com, PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, Solar City and perhaps, very soon, the Hyperloop. Musk appeared in the film in a cameo role.
According to Iron Man director John Favreau, actor Robert Downey, Jr., was so overwhelmed by Musk’s accomplishments that he didn’t know how to make the character seem real. You would never know it, though, since the film went on to gross $318 million in the US and $585 million worldwide,
The most obvious similarity between Tony Stark and Elon Musk is that they both move very fast, Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit and Musk in his business dealings. Musk landed on US soil in 1992 and has done several lifetimes of work in just two decades.
The next similarity is the “superhuman” influence Stark and Musk have on the titans of industry they compete with and the governments who are as astounded as anyone by their abilities to create and execute. The president of General Motors (GM) credits Musk’s influence for moving it to pursue electric vehicles.
Next, there is the “gee, wow” technology that both Stark and Musk bring to the world. Of course, staying true to the dictates of Hollywood blockbusters, Iron Man seems to be obsessed with military weapons and firepower. It is only in passing that we see Stark using anything other than rockets, grenades, lasers and missiles. But Stark does use brain-machine interfaces and 3-D modeling with hand gestures for complex object manipulation. Musk has involved himself in non-military technology for the most part, seeking to make the world a better place by improving how money is exchanged, how cars are powered, how we explore the universe, how we obtain electricity and how we travel from city to city.
Finally, the most tangible similarities between the two are their charm and thoughtfulness. Modern culture has come up with the term “nerd” for the types of people that generally accomplish what Stark and Musk accomplish. Nerds are usually quiet and at least a little bit awkward. Interviews with Musk show a man highly driven and intelligent, but quite capable of empathy and humility.