Iron Man Isn't Just in Theaters: Here's the Amazing Story of the Real-Life Tony Stark

Iron Man 3 debuts in the U.K. and New Zealand tonight, before arriving in most overseas territories next weekend before heading to U.S. theaters. All eyes are on Robert Downey Jr., who headlines an impressive cast, in the lead role of billionaire industrialist Tony Stark and Iron Man.

This is his fourth go at the character, and I'll be shocked if he isn't every bit as good this time as he has been in the last three films: 2008's Iron Man, 2010's Iron Man 2, and last year's record-breaker, Marvel's The Avengers. At the very least, history and tracking data say Iron Man 3 has a shot to be the year's first billion-dollar film.

Source: Marvel Entertainment.

Meet your stalker, Mr. Stark
I say that not just as a Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) shareholder who has enjoyed watching his performances rack up $300 million to $1.5 billion in global box office receipts. I'm also a longtime fan of the character, and I've been reading the various comic book adventures of the "Invincible Iron Man" since the late 1970s.

Call it hubris, if you like, but I think those three decades of playing witness to the fictional man behind the fantastic armor qualifies me, as much as anyone, to judge whether there's a modern-day Tony Stark toiling among us in industry somewhere. And if so, who it might be.

My choice is entrepreneur Elon Musk. Here's why:

1. A ridiculous aptitude for innovation. Stark invents not the only signature chest plate that keeps him alive, but also the repulsor rays that fire from Iron Man's gloves and the boot jets that take his armor to supersonic speed and suborbital heights. And that's just for starters. Musk's track record, too, is enviable for having helped usher in the electric sportscar at Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) , and affordable solar power via newly public Solar City. Oh, and don't forget his plan to turn humanity into a multi-planetary species.

2. Woman troubles. Stark's relationship with Pepper Potts in the comics is much different from what's depicted on screen by Downey and co-star Gwyneth Paltrow. Bethany Cabe, Whitney Frost, and even Avenger Natasha Romanov, also known as "Black Widow" and played by Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, all become entangled with Stark at various points, often to his detriment. (Frost, in particular, is a menace as the villainous Madame Masque.) Musk's love life isn't so dramatic as to include dalliances with a supervillain. But his high-profile separation from British actress Talulah Riley made headlines. He also has five sons from his first marriage to author Justine Musk, who refers to herself as the entrepreneur's "starter wife."

3. Wealth. According to Forbes, Musk's $2.7 billion fortune places him 190th on its list of the 400 richest people in America. He's also owner of a swank Bel Air compound that rivals Stark's on screen villa from Iron Man 3. The really good news for Musk? Ben Kingsley, who plays Iron Man nemesis The Mandarin, doesn't seem interested in destroying his home with rocket fire.

4. He's already a part of Stark's world. Musk offers a surprising bit of comic relief in Iron Man 2 when he and Stark exchange pleasantries while attending Monaco's Grand Prix, and just a few on-screen moments before one of the film's seminal action sequences. His line? "Got an idea for an electric jet." Stark's reply: "You do? Then we'll make it work." If only it were so.

Sources: Marvel Studios and YouTube.

Iron Man 3 opens on May 3 in the U.S., a nice catalyst for Disney shareholders who've already enjoyed a market-crushing 20% return year to date. Investing now won't make you the next Tony Stark, or the next Elon Musk, but it just might help you fund a nice retirement.

It's easy to forget that Walt Disney is more than just the House of Mouse. True, Disney amusement parks around the world hosted more than 121 million guests in 2011. But from its vast catalog of characters, to its monster collection of media networks, much of Disney's allure for investors lies in its diversity, and The Motley Fool's premium research report lays out the case for investing in Disney today. This report includes the key items investors must watch as well as the opportunities and threats the company faces going forward. So don't miss out -- simply click here now to claim your copy today.


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