With Avengers: Infinity War right around the corner, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are looking forward to seeing Mark Ruffalo reprise his role as Bruce Banner. The 50-year-old first took on the part in Joss Whedon’s 2012 ensemble epic The Avengers, and since then has made the character his own. Ruffalo wasn’t always the angry green monster, though. The part was initially played by Edward Norton in 2008’s Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier. Norton is a more talented actor than Ruffalo, some would say – or at least an excellent one in his own right – so why was he dropped as the Hulk?
Iconic Character Needs a Dedicated Actor
The Hulk is one of the most recognizable and iconic characters from the Marvel comics and has been voted number 18 in an Observation Deck best Marvel characters of all time poll. There are few who wouldn’t recognize the enormous green beast, which is why the character has been used so frequently over the years in film and video games. There have been more than ten games featuring the Hulk over the years. These include early offerings like The Incredible Hulk from Probe Entertainment for SNES in 1994, up to more recent titles like The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Revenge from Cryptologic. In comparison, Black Widow has rarely appeared in the game world. This highlights just how central the Hulk is to the MCU.
For this reason, Marvel needed to make sure they had someone who was dedicated to the role and wouldn’t upset the harmony with the other A-list actors. In their statement as to why Norton was dropped for The Avengers and replaced by Ruffalo, Marvel stated that it was because the Fight Club star was not a team player. Norton’s representatives refuted this claim, though, saying that there had been a dispute between the two parties over financial matters. Norton’s turn as Banner was fairly well-received critically, but it was the lowest performing Marvel installment at the box office with a worldwide gross of $263 million. This could also have influenced Marvel’s decision to drop Norton.
Losing the Role Allowed Norton to Pursue Other Things
In 2014, Norton said that it was his own decision to discontinue playing the Hulk in subsequent films following the 2008 adventure. He claimed that because the character was so iconic and much-loved, he was worried that he would become too associated with it. The Hulk has appeared in three more Marvel films after the initial outing, and now Ruffalo is the first person people think of when the character is mentioned. This hasn’t affected his career, however, and while appearing in Marvel romps Ruffalo has also managed to take on other roles. Most notably, he starred in Foxcatcher (2014) and Spotlight (2015).
Norton has had a few excellent turns since his time as the big green guy too. He’s said that he wouldn’t have been able to do them if he had carried on as the Hulk. Already nominated for two Academy Awards for his performances in Primal Fear in 1996 and American History X in 1998, Norton received another nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Birdman in 2014. He was also lauded for his work in Moonrise Kingdom in 2012, and The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014.
Ruffalo one of the Most Popular Avengers
Despite the Marvel Universe losing a truly talented actor, Ruffalo’s appointment as the Hulk has been hugely successful. The Avengers was met with a strong critical response, and people also noted the great job Ruffalo had done at replacing Norton. Karina Longworth from the Village Voice noted that “Ruffalo successfully refreshes the Hulk myth, playing Banner as an enormously bashful nerd-genius.”
Since that first outing, Ruffalo appeared again in Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015, and Thor: Ragnarok in 2017. Fans can’t get enough of the powerful yet humorous hero, and frequent polls have found the Hulk to be the most popular of all the Avengers. Unfortunately, Ruffalo has confirmed that there are no plans for a new standalone Hulk film in the near future, with Universal Pictures owning the rights to the character. He will, however, be appearing in Avengers: Infinity War parts one and two, starting with the first installment this year. With his excellent inclusion in the latest Thor offering, there is a chance that the Hulk could also appear in other Marvel movies centering on different characters.
Whatever the reason for Norton stepping down from playing the Hulk, it has most certainly turned out for the best. Ruffalo has been superb and has made the role his own, while Norton has successfully managed to reinvigorate his career with some fantastic performances elsewhere.