Though Black Panther will be Marvel’s first film with a black lead and a predominantly black cast, the Wakandan king isn’t the first black hero to take center stage in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That distinction belongs to James Rhodes—War Machine—a character who almost got his own solo movie.
During a recent interview with Complex, Black Panther screenwriter Joe Robert Cole spoke about how he first became a part of Marvel’s writer program. Unlike most prospects, who typically write pitch scripts specifically as part of an application to get into the workshop, the studio reached out to Cole directly because of a “Chinatown-style cop script” he’d already penned, which led to a meeting:
At that meeting, they also said they were thinking of doing a War Machine movie. I pitched a concept and won that job to write the script but they decided, based on what Iron Man 3 was going to be, they weren’t going to do War Machine anymore. But they asked if I’d be interested in joining their writer’s program instead.
Marvel was right to snatch Cole up—the man does good work—but it does sting a bit to know that Don Cheadle’s War Machine could have starred in his own film—a film that got bumped off to make room for Iron Man 3, a serviceable, but not altogether interesting MCU movie.
War Machine’s dynamic with Iron Man is one of the most fascinating in Marvel’s comics; more often than not, it’s Rhodes who ends up being the heart and voice of reason when the pair inevitably end up saving the world from whatever danger Stark (inadvertently) has managed to put the world in. There’s been some of that rapport in Marvel’s films, but War Machine’s never quite gotten the chance to really shine on screen.
One can only hope that, with all the buzz and excitement around Black Panther, Marvel might just see an opportunity to polish up that old War Machine project and put it back in the pipeline for a later date.