The Netflix Sci-Fi Action Thriller That Killed A Franchise

By Kevin C. Neece | Published

20 years ago, acclaimed director Ang Lee took on the task of launching a new superhero film series with Hulk, which is streaming now on Netflix. While the film received a fair amount of praise, It ultimately failed to connect with audiences and was left as a standalone project. Today, with all its flaws, the film represents a technological leap forward in comic book movies and the beginning of at least two trends that continued for years following its release.

The Long Road To Making The Hulk


Lee turned down the opportunity to direct Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in order to direct Hulk, drawing inspiration from Greek mythology, King Kong, Faust, Frankenstein, Beauty and the Beast, and Jekyll and Hyde. Mostly shot in California between March and August of 2002, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, the film featured the first ever fully-realized CGI version of Marvel Comics’ famous green giant. It was an advancement that was not likely in anyone’s minds at the beginning of development in 1990, the same year the final TV movie based on the 1970s Incredible Hulk series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was broadcast.

CGI Hulk


The double casting of The Incredible Hulk TV series was because Bixby played David Banner, the human half of the Hulk character who was renamed for the TV series, while Ferrigno was painted green and given prosthetic makeup to play the Hulk. Before the 2002 film, no CGI character had been quite as ambitious or given as much screen time. Despite the major advancements that were made in creating a more expressive, lifelike character, the film’s digital effects were a focus of some of the criticisms it received from reviewers at the time.

But the trend of a CGI Hulk continued and has persisted across every film featuring the character that has been made since. The movie failed to put into motion a new era of Marvel movies, despite ending with an obvious sequel tease, due to the overall lack of enthusiastic response it received. In addition to critiques of the digital effects, though they did push the medium forward, the movie received poor marks for its dialogue and for not having enough action sequences.

Box Office Success Wasn’t Enough

Hulk was praised, however, for the performances of its cast and for the unique visual style adopted by Ang Lee, an approach that frequently framed the action of the film in boxes on screen, mimicking the experience of reading a comic book. Financially, the film was a success, earning $245.4 million and becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year. But with disappointing critical and audience response, there did not seem to be enough momentum for a sequel, which was reworked into a reboot of the character, The Incredible Hulk, starring Ed Norton.

Mark Ruffalo Replaces Eric Bana

mark ruffalo hulk

While Norton was replaced as Bruce Banner in The Avengers by Mark Ruffalo, who has played the role ever since, the Norton film is still a depiction of the same character and is a part of the MCU continuity. Released in 2008, the same year as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk stands as the second movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But there is one point of connection between The Incredible Hulk and Hulk that is a trend that persisted throughout the MCU as long as it could.

Stan Lee Starts A Movie Tradition In Hulk

Legendary Marvel Comics ambassador and writer Stan Lee, co-creator of The Incredible Hulk and many other Marvel characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, and The Fantastic Four, made a cameo in the Ang Lee film, a tradition he would continue for the rest of his life in every Marvel Cinematic Universe film. In fact, he makes his appearance in the movie as a security guard alongside the original TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno, who plays his fellow security guard. Stan Lee had previously made appearances in the Spider-Man movies and in The Incredible Hulk TV movies, as well as narrating animated Marvel TV shows.

So, if you want to see the first CGI Hulk and Stan Lee’s pre-MCU cameo appearance, or would just like to wonder about what might have been if this film series had continued, you can stream Hulk now on Netflix.

robert downey jr

Subscribe For

Marvel News

Expect a confirmation email if you Subscribe.