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What Pop Culture Was Like the Year the Marvel Cinematic Universe Started

2008 was a monumental year in human history. The American economy almost fell apart, threatening to take down the rest of the world with it. Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States. Vladimir Putin ended his 8-year run as President of Russia and used his new role as Prime Minister to amend the constitution to allow him to become President again down the road and enjoy even longer term limits the second time around. Meanwhile, his country had a brief war with Georgia. Kosovo declared its independence. Worldwide hunger reached a billion people. The Taliban resurged in Afghanistan.

And Iron Man came out.

Granted, that last one doesn’t seem quite as important, but to the word of pop culture as well as to the film industry’s bottom line there have been fewer important moments in the past decade. Iron Man was the beginning of a path we are only just now completing a decade later with Avengers: Infinity War, and in the intervening years the entire pop culture landscape has been transformed by surging technologies (Netflix & streaming), booming foreign markets (China), widespread consolidation, and clueless Hollywood mimicry (everyone’s been chasing that Marvel Studios magic).

So, here on the eve of Infinity War’s opening, I thought I’d look back at 2008 for a quick reminder of what exactly pop culture was like back then. Iron Man, turns out, was born into a world with a new Indiana Jones movie in theaters, American Idol on TV, Alicia Keys and Coldplay on the radio, Madonna on tour, Grand Theft Auto IV on our video game consoles, Tetris on our phones, and a little thing called Twitter making waves. Donald Trump was still a reality TV show host. Netflix was still primarily known for mail-order DVDs. And comic book movies were still just an every once in a while kind of thing.


Top 10 Domestic Box Office

1. The Dark Knight – $533 million

2. Iron Man – $318 million

3. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – $317 million

4. Hancock – $227 million

5. Wall-E – $223 million

6. Kung-Fu Panda – $215 million

7. Twilight – $192 million

8. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa – $180 million

9. Quantum of Solace – $168 million

10. Horton Hears a Who! – $154 million

Note: The Incredible Hulk finished just inside the top 20, landing at #17 with $134m

Top 10 Worldwide

1. The Dark Knight – $1.003 billion

2. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – $786 million

3. Kung Fu Panda – $631 million

4. Hancock – $624 million

5. Mamma Mia! – $609 million

6. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa – $603 million

7. Quantum of Solace – $586 million

8. Iron Man – $585 million

9. Wall-E – $533 million

10. The Chronicles of Narnia – $419 million

Note: Finishing just outside the top 10 was Sex and the City, which racked up an amazing $415.3 million, good enough for #11. The Incredible Hulk grossed just $263.4, placing it at #21 for the year.


  • Highest Paid Actors: Will Smith, Johnny Depp, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Most recent movie to feature a post-credits scene before Iron Man – 2006’s Crank
  • Most recent Robert Downey, Jr. movie before Iron Man – 2007’s Charlie Bartlett starring a young Anton Yelchin as a wealthy teen who starts selling prescriptions to classmates to become popular. Downey played the embittered school principal.
  • # of Marvel/DC Comic Book Movies Released Before Iron Man – 33
  • # of Marvel/DC Comic Book Movies Released After Iron Man – 43
  • Tom Holland’s Age When Iron Man Came Out: 11


Top 10 Nielsen-Rated Shows on Broadcast or Cable TV

1. American Idol

2. Dancing with the Stars

3. CSI


5. The Mentalist

6. Sunday Night Football

7. Desperate Housewives

8. Grey’s Anatomy

9. Criminal Minds

10. Two and a Half Men

Note: This was the first year of Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice, which was watched by 11 million people, good enough to rank #48 on the year-end Nielsen chart. That marked a rebound for the franchise. The Apprentice had begun to wane in the ratings after six seasons and thus morphed into The Celebrity Apprentice.

Top 5 Shows Watched Online 

1. Gossip Girl

2. House

3. Heroes

4. One Tree Hill

5. The Office

Note: Nielsen wasn’t monitoring online viewing yet, and Hulu refused to release viewership figures. So, the above list comes from a company that “aggregated links to content hosted elsewhere, including official streams at the networks sites, Amazon and iTunes download services, and unauthorized streams.”


Billboard’s Top 5 Albums in America

1. Alicia Keys – “As I Am”

2. Josh Groban – “Noel”

3. Lil Wayne – “Tha Carter III”

4. Eagles – “Long Road Out of Eden”

5. Taylor Swift – “Taylor Swift”

Note: “Taylor Swift” wasn’t even a 2008 album. It actually came out in 2006 and enjoyed one of the longest runs on the Billboard chart of the 2000s, so much so that even though Swift put out a new album in 2008, “Fearless,” her first album still outsold it on the year.

Top 5 Albums Worldwide

1. Coldplay – “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends”

2. AC/DC – “Black Ice”

3. The Mamma Mia! Soundtrack

4. Duffy – “Rockferry”

5. Metallica – “Death Magnetic”

Note: Guns N’ Roses’ long-awaited “Chinese Democracy” came in at #14

Biggest Song of the Year

Biggest Tour of the Year


  • Top 5 Across All Consoles: Mario Kart Wii, Wii Fit, Grand Theft Auto IV, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Call of Duty: World At War
  • Top PC: World of Warcraft
  • Top Mobile: Tetris


Top 10 comics

This one’s simple: 8 of the 10 spots went to the first 8 issues of Marvel’s “Secret Invasion” event about a gradual worldwide takeover engineered by the shape-shifting race known as the Skrulls. Incidentally, there are now some who believe post-Thanos the Marvel Cinematic Universe might adapt “Secret Invasion.” The other two spots on the list went to “Uncanny X-Men #500” (ranked #7) and the first issue of DC’s “Final Crisis” (ranked #9).

Note: This isn’t actually a reflection of customer sales data but instead how many copies of each issue were shipped to comic book shops.


  • Top Fiction: William P. Young’s The Shack
  • Top Non-Fiction: Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth
  • Top Audiobook: Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth


  • World Series Winner: Philadelphia Phillies over Tampa Bay Rays
  • Super Bowl Winner: New York Giants over the Patriots
  • College Football National Champion: LSU over Ohio State
  • College Basketball National Champion: KU Jayhawks over Kentucky
  • NBA Champ: Boston Celtics over the Los Angeles Lakers
  • NHL: Detroit Red Wings over Pittsburgh Penguins


Top viewed on YouTube

Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold” – 0.79 million views (it’s now up to 787 million)

Most Tweeted-About Events, Listed in the Order in Which They Occurred

1. Super Bowl – The Undefeated Patriots were bested by the Giants’ epic fourth-quarter comeback

2. The Summer Olympics – With record-breaking performances from Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt

3. Hurricane Gustav

4. 2008 Presidential Election – Remember, in addition to Obama this was also the year of John McCain and Sarah Palin

5. Mumbai Massacre – “An estimated 80 tweets were being sent every five seconds, providing eyewitness accounts and updates.” – CNN

Note: Twitter was still just a couple of years old, having first gone live in 2006.

Social Media Formats That Didn’t Even Exist Yet

1. Foursquare (2009-today)

2. Instagram (2010-today)

3. Pinterest (2010-today)

4. Vine (2013-2017)

5. Snapchat (2013-today)

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