The Hulk Solo Movie: Explaining How Hulk Became Smart Hulk

Mark Ruffalo's version of the Hulk, though, is getting nothing. Here's why.

By Doug Norrie and Staff | Published

The Hulk solo movie

Every one of the main Avengers in the Marvel universe have now gotten a solo project. Even Hawkeye has an upcoming Disney Plus series. Everyone except Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, that is. While we got an Incredible Hulk solo movie shortly after the first Iron Man in 2008, that starred Ed Norton has Bruce Banner, and it was basically a different character. Mark Ruffalo’s version of the Hulk, though, is taking forever to get anything. Here’s why.

When we look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 23 films through four epic phases ultimately culminating with Avengers: Endgame (though Spider-Man: Homecoming technically came “last”) we see a body of work with some truly transcendent movies. And the argument about which movie was “best” or “your favorite” can be so wide-ranging because the franchise embodies such a diverse collection of tone, style, attitude, scope and much more.

Maybe you loved Ragnorak because of the bottled comedy. Or maybe Winter Soldier is your game because a good-old espionage film does the trick. Are you the type to vibe with Guardians of the Galaxy because the intergalactic hijinks is what gets you off. Iron Man and Downey’s snark could have won the day for certain levels of fans. Or maybe you just love a good-old-fashioned popcorn fest and The Avengers movies come in first. Point being, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s a little something for everyone and picking the “best” of the bunch typically comes down to just personal taste. 

But there’s almost one certainty when engaging in this debate with Marvel fans: no one is picking 2008’s The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton. While technically the second overall movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, coming out just a month after Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk has been relegated to the sidelines and all but forgotten in this discussion. 

And with Marvel now moving into Phase Five with Black Widow getting her own standalone film (it’ll come out someday), Thor and Doctor Strange headed toward more flicks and television projects like WandaVision, Hawkeye and Loki giving individual treatment to characters, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk is the only one without his own vehicle. That’s about to change.

Why Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk Took So Long To Get A Solo Movie


One of the true outliers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the Hulk not getting any movie or television series in just his name since the *failed* movie in 2008. Though Mark Ruffalo’s version has generally been a hit with fans, he’s been sitting on the outside looking in when it comes to that personalized experience. There’s a good reason it’s taken so long to get a Hulk solo movie. For a long time, Marvel didn’t own the rights to do it. Universal Pictures did.

Word now though is that this has all just changed. Rumor has it that while everyone has been stuck in quarantine Marvel has been working the phones to get the rights back to the Hulk. Now this rumor says they’ve done it, and they have the Hulk back. They even have a plan for what they want to do with him. More on that further down.

But while Fox and Disney own the rights to just about everything under the sun when it comes to Marvel, the distribution rights around The Hulk were still owned by Universal Studios. The latter ceded over the name to incorporate in movies, which is why we get his Green-ness in all the films, but when it comes to Hulk solo movies, Universal has in the driver’s seat. And they didn’t seem to want to give that up. Monetarily, who could blame them?

Going forward for the Hulk, it’s safe to say we’ll see him the upcoming She-Hulk show on Disney+ and likely some other spots. But that was happening whether Marvel own the rights to Hulk or not. Now though, if the rumors are correct then Marvel owns the rights and they can do a lot more.

How Hulk Became Smart Hulk

Mark Ruffalo

One of the big things Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame glossed over was how Bruce Banner and Hulk merged to become Smart Hulk. In Infinity War Hulk is still Hulk and then five years later he’s suddenly Smart Hulk. No real explanation other than Smart Hulk saying Bruce finally stopped fighting Hulk. Word is, though, that this lack of explanation will be solved with the new Hulk solo movie Marvel is working on.

According to WGTC the Hulk solo movie will show Hulk’s transformation into Smart Hulk. In fact it may be the focus of the entire movie with Hulk’s solo movie set in the five-years between the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Mark Ruffalo himself has already sort of confirmed that’s the direction they want to take this. In fact it’s Mark Ruffalo himself who is pushing this idea for a Hulk movie. He’s calling the Smart Hulk the Bulk and he went on The Tonight Show to reveal that he’s pitched the project to Marvel saying, “That should have been its own movie, that’s what I’m pitching actually, that section of time, like how did Banner become the Bulk? You know?”

The Hulk Vs. Wolverine Movie

Hulk vs. Wolverine

Word is that one possible Marvel plan has Mark Ruffalo returning as Bruce Banner aka Hulk and then using this movie as a way to introduce the Marvel universe’s new Wolverine. Hulk vs. Wolverine would then be the jumping off point for Marvel to begin their new X-Men universe, something which we already know they’re keen to do.

Hulk and Wolverine have gone toe to toe many times in Marvel comics. Most recently Damon Lindelof wrote an Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk miniseries of comics for Marvel back in 2009. So there’s plenty of print material to draw from for a Hulk vs. Wolverine movie, if Marvel wants to go there.

Why The 2008 Incredible Hulk Should Have Worked

Ed Norton

In 2008, at this point in the MCU trajectory, even coming off the success of Iron Man, expectations for what Marvel had in store were still moderately tempered. There’s almost no way we could have seen the full scope of what this universe would become. That being said, The Incredible Hulk had a lot going for it. They cast a legit star in Edward Norton Jr. in the lead role, taking over for Eric Bana’s luke-warmly received Hulk in 2003 (62% on Rotten Tomatoes). Norton, arguably the best pound-for-pound actor in the MCU (even now), lent big name recognition to the role he expected to inhabit going forward. 

The rest of the cast with Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William Hurt is nothing to sneeze at either and lent a lot of credence to the idea that MCU was going to be populated with not only big stars, but actors and actresses with chops as well. 

And going back to Iron Man, there was plenty of momentum around this world (though it wasn’t fully connected yet) and superhero movies as well. Like I said, Iron Man is just a month out of the box and The Dark Knight is coming in about three months (released in July of 2008). We are ramping up the comic book movie love and haven’t hit anything close to fatigue. 

This is all to say, The Incredible Hulk had a lot going for it and still at the advantage of getting into the game early as the Hulk solo movie took center stage. 

Why Ed Norton’s Hulk Solo Movie Failed

Hulk solo movie

Let me start by saying that from a critical perspective, The Incredible Hulk didn’t finish as a dumpster diver. The 67% Rotten Tomatoes score is right in line with its predecessor. It’s by no means a “bad” film. But the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And this movie is incredibly forgettable. 

Directed by Louis Leterrier who’d recently found surprise success in The Transporter movies, The Incredible Hulk is relegated to the Marvel sidelines for a few reasons. First and foremost they committed what to some is a cardinal sin in comic book movies – that’s largely changing a character’s origin story. In the comics, Bruce Banner is transformed into the Hulk because of a gamma ray bomb that goes off in his vicinity (depending on the version). In this one Norton’s character is exposed to the gamma rays that lead to his “affliction” through government experiments which are at the root of a relationship storyline that’s pretty ridiculous. It’s a minor distinction, but fans tend to hate this sh#$ especially if it’s kind of corny. 

That being said, the end product isn’t terrible at all. So what else happened? Short story is that Norton hated his Hulk solo movie. He and Leterrier clashed over the film’s tone which led to the former basically refusing to promote it outside of some half-hearted appearances. Whether this clouded critical consensus is up for debate, but it’s rarely a good sign when the star is at odds with the director on final cuts of the film. 

And it showed at the box office. The Incredible Hulk isn’t the lowest on the Tomatometer (that’s Thor: The Dark World at 66%) but it does clock in at the lowest dollar amount in terms of ticket sales at just $264 million worldwide which is $100 million lower than the next closest MCU film (Winter Soldier). 

These factors, combined with Norton’s staunch insistence on hating his Hulk solo movie, were the death knell for a studio/actor truce happening. And when you combine some other factors, which we’ll get into next, it’s easy to see why Hulk didn’t. 

Nothing goes over your head.

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