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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Iron Man, MIT ‘87 (?) by Matt McGann '00

After 21 last month, another MIT movie.

On Friday, the movie Iron Man opened (and opened big: a $100 million opening weekend).

I must admit, I'm not generally a big comic book superhero fan, and I hadn't even heard of Iron Man until only recently. Most movies like this go by without my notice. But last month, I heard from my friend Wally, via my friend Lisa, about photo stills from the movie that caught my attention:

Hold on, what was that? On his finger in both pictures?

Iron Man with a Brass Rat!

Having Iron Man, a.k.a. Tony Stark, be an MIT alum got me interested in the movie. According to the Wikipedia bio, this is Stark's background:


Anthony Stark was born on Long Island, the son of Howard Stark, a wealthy industrialist and head of Stark Industries, and Maria Stark. Tony is a boy genius, entering MIT at the age of 15, and graduating at the top of his class.


In the movie version, they say that Stark graduated "summa cum laude" from MIT. Of course, MIT doesn't have Latin honors, or a valedictorian, or class rank, or anything like that. The movies really like to give these kind of honors to fictional MIT grads, though. In 2003's The Recruit, Colin Farell's character was said to have been the MIT valedictorian, with a major in "nonlinear cryptography." In the movie version of Carl Sagan's Contact, Ellie Arroway was said to have graduated magna cum laude from MIT.

In an MIT Viewbook-quality quotation, director Jon Favreau said of Stark as a superhero, "He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider, he’s somebody who created a suit using his own intelligence and sweat of his brow. I would love for that to make being an engineer cool, that people might want to go to MIT instead of being on MTV." (Thanks!)

The film, contrary to the web bios I've read, has also made Stark's best friend, James "Rhodey" Rhodes, an MIT graduate. Stark talks about a 1987 spring break trip with Rhodey, implying a college friendship. Even stronger evidence is Rhodey's wearing a brass rat himself in the scenes in the military control room.

Another nice touch is Tony Stark on the cover of MIT's alumni magazine, Technology Review. (I'm trying to track down a copy of the cover)

When you go to see the movie, you should stay through the end of the credits; there's a teaser of a scene that's worth watching. I could tell it meant something to the die-hard fans, but I was clueless, and much more interested in the actor making a cameo (I won't spoil it).

If you do stay through the credits, do me a favor — watch for the name John Underkoffler, and write down what he is credited as (Google has failed me on this one). It's towards the end of the credits, and it's a long title, something like "science/technology advisor & future visionist." Who is John Underkoffler?

John Underkoffler '88 SM '91 PhD '99 is an MIT alum, inventor, and science/technology consultant to many films, including Minority Report, The Hulk, and Æon Flux. You can read a cool article about his work on Minority Report here. And if you're interested in learning more about the technology of Iron Man, check out this article in NewScientist.

If you saw the movie, what did you think?

32 responses to “Iron Man, MIT ‘87 (?)”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It was a very good movie. I was devastated, though, because they didn’t play the actual song, Iron Man, until the credits.

  2. Steven '12 says:

    I noticed how both the main character and the military guy were MIT grads. I REALLY loved how they had brass rats on, it made my night.

  3. yukiko says:

    wow… you have good eyes

  4. Omar '12 says:

    The movie rocked! I loved how they worked in MIT and called the movie out in my mind about the latin honors thing. It really is a solid movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. I was expecting that he would propose to his assistant though. So anyone working on an iron man prototype over at MIT? Come on you EECS folks. Get to work!

  5. YXZ '12 says:

    Brass Rat sounds like a potential name for Iron Man’s sidekick. I imagine he would wear a solid-brass beaver suit.

  6. Chris '12 says:

    yea I got the brass rat in on Stark and Rhodes too! as it was a late Friday night, and I was tired, I wore my MIT sweatpants and T-shirt to the movies, when I was leaving I could hear kids talking about how “that guy goes to the same place as Tony Stark!” cool feeling.

  7. Anonymus says:

    The Iron Man song really didn’t suit the superhero. I LOL’ed at how it played during the trailers.

    But hey, I like how geeks are the new trend these days. You’re more likely to get a date by being an engineer than being a movie star (at least in my country). But I’d like to be one of those movie star-scriptwriters with an engineering degree and tell everyone that I applied to MIT at one time raspberry

  8. DetroitMan says:

    Dang, this movie made me even more disappointed I didn’t get in. XP

  9. Anonymous says:

    “The Adventures of Iron Man and Brass Rat”

    As strange as it seems, this reminds me of the mice used in the lab to study human disease. Get it? Man=Rat


  10. Judy '12 says:

    oh SWEET!!!!

    I remember that in Fantastic 4, the Elastic Man said he was from MIT or something. It was in the beginning of the first movie, when the two guys were meeting the corporate head.

  11. Snively says:

    Iron Man was a FANTASTIC movie, I’ve seen it twice now. The only thing better than the fact that brass rats were in it is that rings actually play a really important part in the movie. Seriously, when you go see the movie, watch out for rings and listen for references to rings, you’ll realize that there’s a lot to pick up on.

  12. Melis says:

    Normally I’m not a huge fan of Marvel movies, but this one was great. Downey Jr. is so bad-ass…especially with his brass rat.

  13. GROAN!!! Want…to..see……
    Dang you, Physics AP.

  14. CA says:

    Hey, can anyone tell from the photos above what year the class ring is from?

  15. Okay, new life plan, forget Course 8, I’m going to go to MIT to build myself an iron suit and save the world. Materials science and engineering maybe?

  16. Steph says:

    John Underkoffler does all that? Wow, I wondered who was consulted on these sorts of movies. Cool job.

  17. Anonymous says:

    first1! i hope.

  18. Dilip P says:

    Out of place but I just happened to read your about section and was fascinated to know that you followed Bollywood movies smile

  19. Jean says:

    “wow… you have really good eyes”- you dont need them, the brass rat five feet tall on the screen for a couple minutes when they have the phone call.

    It looked like his ring said “2000” on it though…

  20. Pearle '12 says:

    Snively, you wouldn’t happen to be talking about anything like the Ten Rings, would you? *cough*Mandarin*cough* I had so much fun at this movie. Bring on the sequel!

  21. tania '07 says:

    re: ca

    i haven’t seen the movie yet, so i dunno if the pictures are of the brass rat in the movie. but the brass rat in the picture that matt posted is definitely the class ring for class of ’07. it has the juggling beaver and the blimp on the boston skyline.

  22. patrick says:

    it would say a lot for the robotics division of MIT if this were the case…

  23. beth says:

    Sorry that this is clearly being posted in the wrong place, but please be a little patient as this is my first post on here haha

    I was just wondering if somebody could tell me how important AP scores are to MIT admissions officers? I have a great GPA and pretty good SAT scores, but my AP teachers are NOT preparing us properly and I feel pretty nervous about it! (the highest score somebody from my school has ever earned in AP chem is a 3…)

  24. Jihad Dib says:

    wow nice smile congrats for all of u smile hope to be one of the students next yr smile im planning to study telecom engeneering smile

  25. Hey ,man hows it going, listen completely off any subject you are talking about but my GPA is down due to my Forein Language. In my following two years of high school it will raise up to my average 3.5-3.7. Will MIT take the Forein Language into to mass purspective. Beleave me, I can speak it fine it is the actual tests that get me. So would you ease my and notify my awareness to this luming problem. It does not seem to big though in the back of my heads it is mocking me in the failure. Well get back to me when you can, and hope to see when I get to MIT.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2012,

    You could be the next Iron Man.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Matt! when are you going to make a blog for those in the waiting list??
    I am extremelly nervous!!

  28. Teri Centner says:

    I saw it today before I realized it featured MIT, and while I didn’t notice the Brass Rat on Robert Downey Jr., I did notice the one on his Air Force friend. Having gone to MIT *and* been in Air Force ROTC, this movie rocked for me!

  29. Teri Centner says:

    Oh, and also, I went to MIT from 1985-1989, which means Stark and Rhodes were theoretically there at the same time as me. Which is kinda cool. Dorky, but cool.

  30. Scott Hoehn says:

    Just saw the movie last night. The brass rat was a hit for me too. The only thing I ever wanted from my dad’s estate was his MIT class of ’47 ring which I wear with pride of his brilliance. No one ever looks at it, but I bet they will now. It’s great to know that whenever MIT is mentioned in a movie, it actually gives a TON of credibility to the not-so-credible plots. Great movie to see. Go Beaver!

  31. Brad Waller says:

    I saw it on them, but could not tell a) what year, or b) were they wearing it correctly.