terrence howard iron man
Image via Marvel Studios

Why did Terrence Howard leave the ‘Iron Man’ films?

Before the Skrull drama, there was Rhodey's recasting.

Marvel’s most famous recasting is probably Terrence Howard being replaced with Don Cheadle as War Machine in the Iron Man films. But how exactly did this come to be?

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Since Iron Man was a financial success that spawned two sequels it remains the most high-profile case of recasting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even though The Incredible Hulk came out the same year as Iron Man people don’t seem to remember Edward Norton’s recast as strongly, probably because the movie was a flop by comparison. However, to this day Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, AKA Hulk, routinely appears in the MCU as well as Cheadle’s James Rhodes.

Years before Iron Man 2 hit theaters and only a few months after the release of the first film, stories began to surface about the recasting of Howard’s character. Despite this, Howard’s publicist was quoted as saying “Terrence had a tremendous experience working on Iron Man,” according to Entertainment Weekly (via the Internet Archive).

During this time, as the report suggests, rumors swirled about Howard being offered a pay cut for the sequel compared to what was originally promised after previously being the highest-paid actor in the first Iron Man. The EW article also cited anonymous sources representing “Hollywood insiders” who said Howard was difficult on the set of the first Iron Man, though that is a claim that hasn’t been corroborated.

Still, it was obvious Howard was unhappy about what had unfolded with his role in the Iron Man franchise as dribs and drabs from him about his point his view on the matter came to the surface bit by bit over the years. For instance, he credited his involvement in Iron Man as killing his career in an interview with Hollywood.com from 2013. In that same interview, he described his being replaced with Cheadle in the franchise as “the worst thing [he] ever witnessed.”

Terrance Howard opens up about his Iron Man experience

Later that same year, Howard seemed to point the blame at Robert Downey Jr. himself, as he explained in an interview with Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live (via The Hollywood Reporter):

“It turns out that the person that I helped become Iron Man, when it was time to […] re-up for the second one took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out […] We did a three-picture deal. So that means, you did the deal ahead of time. It was going to be a certain amount for the first one, a certain amount for the second, certain amount for the third. They came to me [for] the second and said, ‘We will pay you one-eighth of what we contractually had for you, because we think the second one will be successful with or without you.’ And I called my friend that I helped get the first job, and he didn’t call me back for three months.”

With all that said, Howard still maintained in the interview that he loves Downey Jr. when asked by host Andy Cohen how his relationship with him was. Downey Jr.’s involvement — or lack thereof — with pushing Howard out of the franchise hasn’t been corroborated, it should be noted.

In terms of the nitty-gritty of what Howard says his pay decrease would be from the first Iron Man film to its sequel, which he ultimately did not fulfill, the Hustle and Flow actor and Oscar nominee claims it was a downgrade in the millions. While he was paid $4.5 million for the first Iron Man film, he claims he was promised $8 million for the sequel but that Marvel Studios ultimately reneged on this and only offered him $1 million to return, according to an interview he did with the morning radio show Sway in the Morning. Howard also indicated he didn’t seem to know that the contract in question was completely optional on Marvel’s end, as he explained in the interview:

“I didn’t know that it was not a mutually binding contract; it was only beneficial for them — they could bring me back or not. They can honor it or not.” 

Tony and Rhodey in Iron Man 3
Image via Marvel Studios

Howard’s abrupt exit just goes to show the flash-in-the-pan existence of many Hollywood careers. Case in point: Cheadle later said he was only given two hours to decide whether or not to accept the offer of replacing Howard in Iron Man 2 and signing on to several more films after a phone call he received from a studio executive while he was attending his child’s birthday party at a laser tag place, as he explained in an interview with GQ. During that same interview, Cheadle refuted the claim that he “Aunt Viv’d” Howard, as we previously reported. Rather, Cheadle said he “did not move Terrence out of a role” and that it was “an open part” at the time.

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Danny Peterson
Danny Peterson covers entertainment news for WGTC and has previously enjoyed writing about housing, homelessness, the coronavirus pandemic, historic 2020 Oregon wildfires, and racial justice protests. Originally from Juneau, Alaska, Danny received his Bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Alaska Southeast and a Master's in Multimedia Journalism from the University of Oregon. He has written for The Portland Observer, worked as a digital enterprise reporter at KOIN 6 News, and is the co-producer of the award-winning documentary 'Escape from Eagle Creek.'