Tony Stark is the head of Stark Industries, a major military contracting company which he inherited when his parents died in a traffic accident. Tony himself is a master of invention, having earned multiple degrees and awards for his company's advanced technological products, many of which he has invented. However, Stark is also an alcoholic and a womanizing playboy. Stark is awarded a prestigious award but Obadiah Stane, his deceased father's friend and business partner, accepts the award for him since Tony is gambling at a Las Vegas casino. As Stark leaves the casino with his entourage, he is approached by reporter Christine Everhart, whom he charms into a one-night stand at his Malibu house. When she awakens the next morning, Stark is gone, and she is coldly greeted and ushered out of the house by Pepper Potts, his personal assistant.
Stark flies off to war-torn Afghanistan with his friend and company military liaison, Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, for a demonstration of Stark Industries' new weapon, the "Jericho" cluster missile. On the way back, however, his military convoy is attacked. His escort is wiped out and Stark is critically wounded by one of his own company's bombs.
Waking up in an Afghan cave, he discovers he has been captured by a terrorist group known as the Ten Rings. He also finds an electromagnet embedded in his chest, placed there by fellow captive Dr. Yinsen. Powered by a car battery, it keeps shrapnel from working its way to his heart and killing him. The Ten Rings leader, Raza, orders Stark to build a "Jericho" missile for him, and upon its completion Stark will be freed.