Iron Man 3 straddles the line between two different years, and if it weren’t for some of the in-universe tv shows, it would have taken place much later than one would surmise from the in-film clues. This is part 7 in a 20 part video series discussing when each film in the MCU takes place. So when does this movie really take place?
“Where are we, Upstate?” “We are 5 miles outside of Rosehill, Tennessee.” “WHY?!”
The timeline for this film feels like an important part of its setting, which is why this film’s final understood timeline is so confusing. We begin on New Year’s Eve, 1999 as we get some background on some characters and plots that’ll be utilized later in the movie, as well as a short few scenes from the following day in 2000.
Early on in the film we get a date via Happy’s Skype call to Tony dating that day to Tuesday December 22nd. We also get plenty of Christmas and Holiday themes throughout the movie. A number of times throughout the film we hear character’s discussing 13 years later or 13 years ago, referring to when they all met in 1999. “…13 years ago?” “And here you are, 13 years later.” 1999 plus 13 is 2012, and even if they were referring to the day of the new millennium, it’d still round out to 13. But here’s where that line of thought starts getting fuzzy: when Tony jokes about how he and Maya have an imaginary child, he asks if it’d be 12, and she says “he’s 13.” Considering the 9 month gestation period, this does edge the film closer to 2013.
We also have the incumbency of President Ellis we need to discuss. Presidents are elected every four years. We know of three modern presidents in the MCU so far. Obama, Ellis, and Trump. If we conjecture that Obama was in office between 2009 to 2012 in the MCU, then Ellis would take office on January 20th 2013, as we know he’s president through 2016. Does that prove this film must take place in 2013 instead of 2012? Obama was never actually confirmed to be president in the MCU during the 2009-2012 period, so it may be the case that Ellis was president for that term as well, and Obama the term beforehand. This is confirmed in The Winter Soldier, as Ellis wouldn’t have otherwise been President when Cap was found in 2011.
The most blatant date featured in the film does date Iron Man 3 to December 23rd, 2013, however. This would mean it actually occurs after Thor: The Dark World, which we discuss in part 8, and not the other way around. But thanks to the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it confidently places the events of Iron Man 3 before The Dark World. This would negate any idea that it occurs in 2013, because now it must occur in December 2012. 96.7% of Iron Man 3 takes place in 2012, 2.6% in 1999, and another .7% in 2000.