Pay close attention to a big-budget corporate behemoth like Iron Man 3 and you'll start to notice several of the hidden agendas at play — and we're not just talking about the mysterious plans put forth by the Mandarin. A project like this is packed to the gills with different brands to promote (some more obvious than others), and in the wake of the movie's giant opening weekend, some of those brands got a rocket-powered boost. Here are five of the highest-gaining stocks. (Some spoilers below.)
Gwyneth Paltrow's partnership with Tracy Anderson
How long will it be before Gwyneth Paltrow starts promoting an Extremis exercise regimen? The Oscar-winner often credits petite fitness guru Tracy Anderson with transforming her body, and now that the two women have teamed up in several exercise-related business endeavors (their latest is a new food delivery program that just happened to launch the day before Iron Man 3 came out), Paltrow has begun shedding her clothes onscreen with a vengeance, her own body a walking infomercial for what she's selling. Other actresses might blanch if they had to spend the last half of Iron Man 3 stripped down to a sports bra, but don't you think Paltrow seized the chance to cross-promote her Anderson-toned abs? (Consider this the warm-up: In Paltrow's upcoming indie comedy Thanks for Sharing, most of her running time is spent strutting around confidently in lingerie.)
Robert Downey Jr.'s star power out of the suit
Downey Jr. has made no secret of the fact that he hates donning the bulky Iron Man armor, and you can feel that antipathy in Iron Man 3. The actor spends most of the second act suitless, and even when there are some Iron Man suits in play, Tony Stark is either controlling them remotely or (as in the big finale) destroying them once and for all. The lesson that Tony Stark learns is that he doesn't need to wear the suit to be a hero, and it provides an awfully convenient corollary for Downey Jr. himself, who's just begun to negotiate his Marvel endgame: He doesn't need to wear that Iron Man suit to prove to you that he's a superstar.
Marvel's toy department
That said, when it comes to the suits, Iron Man 3 has two masters to serve: Downey Jr., who doesn't want to wear them, and Marvel's toy department, which needs new suits to sell. Smartly, the movie has managed to accommodate both. Iron Man 3's finale is a remote-controlled suitapalooza, and each new suit of armor (including the bulky Hulkbuster) gets its cameo moment to shine. Yes, the film ends with an orgiastic fireworks display of self-destructing Iron Man suits, but that sting is tempered by the knowledge that if you walk into Toys "R" Us, you'll find all of those suits good as new again.
You've got to wonder: At what point does Marvel really need more money to make Iron Man 3? Isn't the film a guaranteed cash machine, a profit center that never stops spitting out gold coins? If ever there was a film that didn't need product placement, it'd be this one ... and yet the movie is crammed with brand names anyway. The most conspicuous bit of branding comes with the reveal that Stark has hooked up Harley with some Verizon FiOS, but did you know that the scene that takes place at the Chinese Theatre is essentially product placement, too? And that there's a whole other Chinese cut of the movie with even more brands stuffed in?
Man, Guy Pearce is really making hay of his comeback, isn't he? After taking on minor supporting roles in Animal Kingdom and The King's Speech, Pearce shined in some more substantial parts in Lawless and the Mildred Pearce miniseries, and Iron Man 3 gives him his most high-profile turn in nearly a decade. Yes, we were a little bit worried when he first appeared in full nerd drag: Would this be Prometheus redux, where Guy Pearce would spend most of his screen time buried under unfortunate prosthetics? But no, it was all intended to build stakes for his nottie-to-hottie transformation, and when Pearce's made-over, evenly tanned Aldrich Killian showed up at Stark Industries (wearing loafers with no socks!) and left a sly kiss on Gwyneth Paltrow's toned cheek … well, let's just say that several Vulture staffers were besotted enough to begin researching Guy Pearce's personal life. (He's been married! Since 1997! To a psychologist! Who has this tattoo on her back!) We're still not sure how Pearce managed to be the only man in Australia not cast in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby (he would have made a great Tom Buchanan), but more's the pity. Hollywood, please give him all of your roles.