Where's the box office love for "The Incredible Hulk"?
There are already plans for "Thor" and "Captain America" movie sequels after next year's blockbuster-to-be "The Avengers", but despite a new TV series planned for ABC, will we get to see a sequel for the Hulk? And if so, when?
He's over seven feet tall. His skin has been grey and green. He's capable of lifting 100 tons over his head and can go toe-to-toe with Thor, the God of Thunder himself... and sometimes even win. Yep, I'm talking about The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Comics' popular character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby whose concept is based upon "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "Frankenstein". Put simply, the Hulk is the strongest one there is.
So why in the holy hell is his film career in limbo?
I know, I know, the Hulk WILL return in "The Avengers" film next year, which features the likes of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America on the same team. But as incredibly cool as this is, that isn't a Hulk SOLO film. We haven't had one since 2008, which starred Edward Norton, had a $150 million budget, and made $134 million at the U.S. box office.
Don't get me wrong, the Hulk has had his most memorable success on TV, when the CBS live-action "The Incredible Hulk" series hit the air from 1977 to 1982. The late, great Bill Bixby played Dr. David Bruce Banner (just don't ask why his name was changed to David, it's so stupid), while Lou Ferrigno played the Green Goliath himself. The duo would reunite for three tele-films on NBC after the series was cancelled; 1988's "The Incredible Hulk Returns" that featured Eric Kramer as Thor, 1989's "Trial of the Incredible Hulk" that featured Rex Smith as Daredevil, and 1990's "The Death of the Incredible Hulk". Let's face it, the Viking-king-and-biker-arm-wrestling angle for Thor and having Steve Levitt as Dr. Donald Blake, WHO IS THOR'S GUIDE RATHER THAN HIS ALTER-EGO, is insulting, but for limited SFX in 1988, I actually liked this TV film. 1989's "Trial" TV movie had its flaws too, in which had Daredevil in a black costume because the producers thought red wouldn't translate well on-screen (seriously), but despite its changes, I liked it too. That TV movie also gave us two things the others lacked - Banner and the Hulk wearing purple pants like the comics (even if it was in a nightmare sequence), and started the trend of having Stan Lee cameo in Marvel films. "Death", however, is an abomination in which the Hulk meets his demise falling from an exploding airplane. What? We all know there was to be a fourth TV movie, called "Revenge of the Incredible Hulk" (a.k.a. "Rebirth of the Incredible Hulk), that would've had David Banner resurrected and the Hulk would've spoken, but Bixby's cancer and passing stopped that from happening.
For years, Universal Pictures tried to get a Hulk movie made, and nearly did get one made in 1998 with Jonathan Hensleigh signed on to write and direct the simply-titled "Hulk" project. In that, Bruce Banner would've experimented on prison inmates with gamma radiation that turns one into an insect creature, one with pyrokinetic abilities, etc., before he himself is exposed to gamma rays. Casting had started and Johnny Depp was considered for Bruce Banner. But thankfully, the rumored $160 million budget made Universal scrap the project.
One aspect of that film would've had Hulk grow when he gets angry, clocking in at both 9 feet and then 12 feet when really p.o.ed. It would actually end up making the cut in the first big-budget, silver-screen outing for the character, 2003's "Hulk". Directed by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, the film starred then-Aussie unknown Eric Bana as Dr. Bruce Banner, Jennifer Connelly as Dr. Betty Ross, Sam Elliott as General Ross and Nick Nolte as Banner's father. Considering the character's popularity and $66 million opening, it was sure to be Marvel's next big franchise and spawn successful sequels, right?
Well, that was before the film's second weekend at the box office. The film took a 66-percent drop in its profits due to bad word of mouth and the movie gained the ire of fans. While fans like and loathe it, it's clear that any movie that features the Hulk fighting a gamma-mutated killer poodle, pays homage to the popular Bill Bixby show by having "David Banner" be the name of the Hulk's EVIL FATHER, and then making said-Papa Banner turn into an Absorbing Man-type super-villain kind of kills the argument. It also didn't help that many felt that the Hulk himself looked like a bad PlayStation graphic of Shrek.
When Universal failed to meet the deadline to make a sequel to the 2003 bomb, Marvel got the film rights back and Marvel Studios was able to make the film themselves for 2008's "The Incredible Hulk". With director Louis Leterrier at the helm, Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler as Dr. Betty Ross, Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky and William Hurt as General Ross, the 2008 adaptation was much more faithful to both the beloved 1970s Bill Bixby series AND Marvel's monthly comic series. With the origin taking place during the opening credits similar to the Bill Bixby series, dealing more with Bruce Banner being on the run looking for a cure, and one of the best comic book movie fights when the Hulk faces off with the Abomination in the streets of Harlem, the film received mostly positive reviews from critics AND fans alike. You'd think a better-reviewed Hulk film would surely spawn a sequel NOW, right?
Not so fast. As good as the film was, it still wasn't the summer blockbuster at the box office it should've been. It also didn't help that Edward Norton and Marvel had apparent arguments over the theatrical cut of the film with Norton unhappy with the editing and wound up not being credited for his rewrites to the screenplay, though Norton did get co-credit for the screenplay in the posters under the name "Edward Harrison". The film was rebooted five years after the 2003 flop, but many to this day still refer to this as "Hulk 2" rather than a reboot, not realizing the 2008 film had nothing to do with its predecessor. In a summer when "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" got a ton of money at the box-office and critical acclaim, the 2008 film made only $2.5 million more than the 2003 one did and "Hulk" seemed to be lost in the summer box-office shuffle.
Thankfully, Marvel Studios had a plan. The end of 2008's "The Incredible Hulk" was left ambiguous with Bruce Banner smiling as his eyes glow green, about to Hulk-out, and fans wondering what that could mean. Knowing that a sequel could be unlikely, Marvel Studios instead decided to bring the Hulk back for 2012's blockbuster-to-be, "The Avengers". In a world where the closest we'd gotten to a live-action Hulk and Thor fight before was the 1988 TV movie "The Incredible Hulk Returns", Marvel Studios was able to gain the rights to the Avengers' core characters when deals with other movie studios, such as "Captain America" from the now-defunct Artisan Entertainment and "Iron Man" from New Line Cinema, didn't work out. What was considered a fanboy impossibility is now sure to become one of the most popular and box-office shattering blockbusters of next year, along with Christopher Nolan's final Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" and Columbia Pictures' reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man".
Due to talks between Marvel and Ed Norton going south, the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con unveiled the next actor to portray Dr. Bruce Banner: Academy Award nominated actor Mark Ruffalo. With a rumored portrayal of Banner being more of a nerdy scientist and more likeable like the David Banner character of the Bixby series, as well as rumors of the Hulk coming to blows with the Avengers before joining their ranks, that begs the understandable question: What's next?
"Iron Man 3" and "Thor 2" are both planned for a theatrical release in 2013 each, while talks of a "Hulk" sequel are nowhere to be found. Granted, the talented Guillermo del Toro is planning on revamping the Hulk for a new live-action TV series for ABC, but even then, it's reportedly a new take on the character and not in canon with the Marvel Cinematic Universe that Marvel Studios has so brilliantly created and developed. So we're going to be getting a new origin for the Hulk, and likely a new actor for Banner, all over again. And since the Hulk is being developed for television, theatrical sequels to the 2008 film seem unlikely because TV shows and movies about the same character don't usually happen. But as good as a TV series could be, TV show budgets usually keep characters from translating well on-screen, especially in terms of how they look. Just see the WB series "Smallville" for proof on that.
But my question is, why not have another solo Hulk released after "The Avengers"? Heck, "Captain America" is going to get one, and that's not even in theaters yet (as of the time this was written, anyway). So why not the Hulk? Mark Ruffalo is signed on to play Bruce Banner for an unknown amount of films, but are those just "Avengers" sequels or could a solo Hulk film be possible for him to star in? And if so, what happens to the supporting characters from the 2008 film, like Betty Ross, General Ross, and Samuel Sterns, who was last seen apparently mutating into the villainous Leader before the final battle in "The Incredible Hulk"?
Will said supporting characters be recast by new actors due to Banner's own recasting? Or will they pop up in cameo form in "The Avengers" at some point, since Hulk's last film ended with Robert Downey Jr.'s Anthony "Tony" Stark telling General Ross a team was being put together? If neither General Ross or his daughter appears in "The Avengers", why not?
So many questions have yet to be answered and so far, there's not been a peep or confirmation about the cinematic future of the Hulk. Sure, Marvel Studios' own Kevin Feige said the Hulk would return in a solo film AFTER "The Avengers", but let's face it, Marvel Studios has LOTS of characters they want to adapt into movies after "The Avengers", from "Iron Fist" and "Ant Man", to "Luke Cage" and "Doctor Strange". Where would the Hulk fit into their schedule? WHEN would the Hulk be released in theaters? 2014? 2015? It could be years before the Hulk gets his own solo movie, and odds are we could see an "Avengers" sequel before we see a sequel to "The Incredible Hulk". Granted, a sequel to "The Avengers" will be likely a bigger money-maker at the box office than a Hulk sequel, but even so, it's disappointing that one of Marvel Comics' most popular, most iconic characters is not getting the box-office love that other super heroes are. 20th Century Fox is churning out "X-Men" movies left and right and Columbia has big plans for a new "Spider-Man" trilogy with the Marc Webb-directed reboot despite Sony's financial problems, but to not see more film adaptations for the Hulk is disappointing to me.
Then again, things change. NBC was going to air a new "Wonder Woman" TV series this fall, but (thankfully), that didn't happen. What happens if a "Hulk" TV series doesn't end up happening? It could be budget reasons or creative difficulties or whatever that could keep the show from not being picked up. If it does become a reality, then the Hulk's film career seems up in the air.
In closing (and sorry this was so long, but I had to vent), The Incredible Hulk has the potential that, when done right, it could be a huge box-office franchise if everything works out right in terms of having a good story, good cast performances and being faithful to the character. But as Hulk and "Green Lantern" have proved at the box-office, it's not easy being green. It looks like, after next year's "The Avengers" film, it could be a long time before the Hulk hits theaters.
And that's a damn shame.
The Hulk belongs on the big screen. He just needs the right talent to make it work.
What do you guys think? Agree? Disagree?
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