Terrence Howard was part of Iron Man's cast, joining Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts) as Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, but while his co-stars continue to be an integral part of the MCU a decade after the Jon Favreau-directed film was released, Howard was quietly replaced by Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2 - making it the very first case of recasting in the franchise.
During Iron Man, there was a clear intention of bringing back Howard for the role in the sequel evidenced by the tease that his character will suit up asWar Machine "next time, baby." But as fans know, this never came to fruition with Cheadle's getting the opportunity to put on the armor in Iron Man 2. Back then, no one made a big deal about it, not knowing how big interconnected storytelling on the big screen would become which was why Marvel Studios got away with it without much scrutiny. But over the years, we learned more about what happened behind-the-scenes that led to Howard being booted out of the MCU.
Howard, who's a fan of the comic book character, was the first actor to join Iron Man and had the largest salary among the cast. Favreau chose him on the notion that he can eventually play War Machine in future movies. Given this, he spent time with pilots and visited Nellis Air Force Base to prepare for the gig. But as fate would have it, he never got to put on the armor after he was recast just a few months after Iron Man hit theaters. It wasn't clear what prompted the actor switch, but Howard came out understandably frustrated. "Apparently the contracts that we write and sign aren't worth the paper that they're printed on sometimes. Promises aren't kept, and good faith negotiations aren't always held up," he said in light of the issue.
In 2013, the actor once again acknowledged the change-up during a guest appearance on Watch What Happens Live, revealing that he was pushed out due to salary conflict. According to him, Downey had a major pay raise on the heels of Iron Man's massive success resulting in cutting back on his salary which didn't sit well with him, especially since he claimed that he had a hand in Marvel's decision to pick Downey for the role. Downey, for his part, maintained that he had nothing to do with the recasting. It's still unclear whether the actor's camp walked away or Marvel Studios simply stopped negotiating, but based on Howard's statements, the break-up was anything but amicable, with the studio remaining mum on the matter to this day.
Regardless of what really happened behind closed doors, at that point, Marvel Studios knew already that Downey was going to be the face of their franchise, making him their top priority. They landed a perfect casting choice and they weren't going to waste that opportunity because of an internal conflict - especially since Kevin Feige's plans of an interconnected franchise were riding on the actor's shoulders.
Fortunately, after several years of feuding, Downey and Howard finally patched things up back in 2017. Revealed by Howard himself, he said that both parties decided to come together since "everybody is making money now."
Downey and Howard had undeniable chemistry in Iron Man making it easy for fans to buy into their relationship as Stark and Rhodey. It would've been interesting to see how their dynamic would've changed over time. That's not to say that Cheadle isn't good. His rapport with Downey has also been great. But looking back at how the MCU began, one can't help but wonder what would have happened if Howard were still is the MCU's War Machine.
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