• Terrence Howard reportedly left War Machine due to a salary dispute, not returning despite initial intentions for a sequel appearance.
  • Don Cheadle took over the role in Iron Man 2 and has since established himself as the definitive War Machine actor in the MCU.
  • Both actors brought unique qualities to the character, with Howard embodying a sterner military background, while Cheadle adds a more personable touch.



Former War Machine actor Terrence Howard was part of Iron Man‘s MCU cast, joining Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts) as Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. But while his co-stars continued to be an integral part of the MCU timeline after the film was released, Howard was quietly replaced by Don Cheadle as War Machine in Iron Man 2. During Iron Man, there was clear intent to bring back Howard for the role in the sequel, evidenced by the teaser line that showed his character would suit up as War Machine: “next time, baby.” However, Howard never returned.

Instead, Don Cheadle’s Iron Man 2 Rhodey donned the armor instead. Over the years, more has come to light about what happened behind the scenes that led to Howard Terence becoming the former, rather than current, War Machine actor. Unsurprisingly and perhaps unexcitingly, money was the leading factor. Financial speed bumps aren’t rare in the movie industry, but this MCU recasting does remain the highest-profile actor swap outside the Norton/Ruffalo Bruce Banner change.

Iron Man 2

The third film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 2, is an action-superhero film that occurs six months after the original film’s events. After outing himself as the heavy metal superhero known as Iron Man, Tony Stark goes to great lengths to avoid demands from the government for his tech. But, unfortunately, the technology Tony used to save his life is beginning to impact his health inversely – just in time for a man named Ivan Vanko to arrive, who creates his version of the Iron Man tech to settle a decades-long score with Howard Stark’s son.

The First War Machine Left Due To A Salary Dispute

Terence Howard Has Stated MCU Salary Disputes Led To The Recasting

In 2013, Howard once again acknowledged the change-up during a guest appearance on Watch What Happens Live, revealing that he was pushed out due to a salary conflict. According to him, Robert Downey Jr’s MCU salary massively increased on the heels of Iron Man‘s massive success, resulting in a cutback on Howard’s salary, which didn’t sit well with him — especially since he claimed that he pushed for Downey to get the role. Despite RDJ’s massive MCU salary, Downey has maintained that he had nothing to do with the recasting.

Regardless of what really happened behind closed doors, it was early enough in the MCU that recasting a supporting character wasn’t too daunting of a task – and it was clear that RDJ was a bankable franchise face. Downey and Howard had undeniable chemistry in Iron Man, but Don Cheadle has since shown great chemistry with actors from several corners of the MCU. Cheadle’s MCU relationships will be further put on display in the MCU’s upcoming Armor Wars movie, which will focus on Rhodey in a post-Tony Stark world.

Don Cheadle vs Terrence Howard: Who Was The Better War Machine Actor?

The Two Actors Played The Character In Different Ways

Split image of Don Cheadle and Terrence Howard as War Machine

With such an uneven number of appearances in the role, it’s difficult to compare Don Cheadle and Terrence Howard’s MCU performances. Both are acclaimed actors that bring a unique personality to the character. Howard’s Rhodey embodied the experienced military background with more stoic delivery, and Cheadle thrives when Rhodes needs to come off as more personable and down-to-Earth.

Cheadle’s warm camaraderie with Tony, as opposed to Howard’s more assertive take on the character, fits with the more lighthearted direction the MCU has traveled since 2008. At the same time, it’s fair to argue that Howard’s sterner Rhodey was more appropriate for a Colonel and that he felt more like his own character rather than Tony’s sidekick. Either way, MCU audiences have Cheadle for the foreseeable future, but this doesn’t overwrite the great work Howard did in the original Iron Man.

It’s Now Hard To Imagine The MCU Without Don Cheadle

Don Cheadle Has Been Rhodey For 14 Years

Blended image of Rhodey flying and a Skrull screaming in the MCU

Don Cheadle has firmly established himself as the definitive live-action War Machine actor, and, if for no other reason than longevity in the role, it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Rhodes in this stage of the MCU. After Cheadle’s unique take on the character in Iron Man 2, War Machine has clearly been written to take advantage of the actor’s personable demeanor and penchant for subtle comedy.

While, like all characters, Rhodey will eventually leave the MCU, that time doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon. The Iron Man hero is set for more development and character expiration when Armor Wars releases at a hitherto undisclosed time.

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