The Incredible Hulk is Marvel’s most shattering superhero, and here are all the actors who played Bruce Banner and his green alter ego in live-action. In most cases, the Hulk was born after gamma radiation experiments conducted by brilliant scientist Bruce Banner ended up freeing his inner beast, leading to a transformation from human to rampaging monster. Thankfully, the Hulk’s fury is most often directed at the bad guys, but any Marvel Comics veteran knows that sometimes the creature cracks and decimates everyone in its path.
In the live-action adaptations of the Incredible Hulk character made so far, the ugliest side of the Hulk is only rarely seen, and usually as a result of a villainous plot. That’s probably all well and good, as it would be difficult for audiences to track down an Avenger who ripped another superhero in half in a previous movie. The real letdown for Hulk fans is that due to a split of rights between Disney / Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures, it seems unlikely that another Hulk solo film will ever be released.
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In the meantime, at least the Hulk continues to make appearances in new MCU movies and TV shows, keeping the big green drummer alive in pop culture consciousness. Five actors have played Bruce Banner or the Hulk in live-action so far, and here’s the recap.
Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk TV Series & TV Movies)
The first introduction those who haven’t read Marvel Comics got to The Incredible Hulk was its eponymous TV series, which began in 1977, and also spawned several follow-up TV movies that incorporated other Marvel characters like Thor. and Daredevil. Two different actors played Dr. Banner – named David instead of Bruce in this version – and Hulk, with Banner played by the late Bill Bixby.
Bixby had previously gained fame in shows like My favorite martian and Eddie’s Father’s Court, and has proven to be an excellent choice to lead The Incredible Hulk. He imbued David Banner with both affable sympathy and solemn sadness, which helped convey his compassion for others and his heroic qualities, while also passing on the involuntary nature of his powers. Sadly, Bixby’s Hulk suffered a tragic final fate in the appropriate title Death of the Incredible Hulk.
Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk TV Series & TV Movies)
In the The Incredible Hulk TV series and its follow-up TV movies, Lou Ferrigno portrayed The Hulk, while Bixby played Banner. Switching actors was pretty much the only way to realistically accomplish the character on a 1970s TV budget and without the advancements in CGI effects. A mountain of muscular man, Ferrigno proved to be just as perfect a choice for the Hulk as Bixby was for Banner, as he had been a championship-winning professional bodybuilder before entering comedy.
Ferrigno is definitely no Daniel Day Lewis type, but he brings a brutal physicality to his performance that helps sell the Hulk as a towering figure that no one should ever want to play with. When Banner transforms into the Hulk, his enemies are usually left both confused and terrified, and this reaction is justified by the ability to tear someone apart from Ferrigno’s Hulk, even though the lack of CGI doesn’t allow the character to to be as imposing and enormous as it is usually depicted. Ferrigno went on to voiced the Hulk in the 2003 and 2008 films.
Eric Bana (Hulk)
Directed by Ang Lee, 2003’s Pontoon starred Australian actor Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, with the Hulk being a fully CGI character for the first time, at least visually. Pontoon is a complex film, and has its strengths, but was quickly eclipsed in the years that followed by the Hulk’s appearances in the MCU. Critics gave it enough reviews at the time, but the box office totals weren’t very impressive considering the film’s hefty budget.
As for Bana’s performance, it’s actually pretty good and makes Bruce’s plight easy to sympathize with. If anything, the problems that many have with Pontoon 2003 are more about the script than the actors, as a common complaint is that Pontoon is too much of a talkative and introspective drama and doesn’t present enough shattering stuff. Still, Bana does well and the movie is definitely worth checking out for yourself.
Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk)
When the newly created Marvel Studios decided to make The Incredible Hulk At the start of Phase 1 of the MCU, they cast Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. It was a sensible move from an acting perspective, as Norton’s work was widely acclaimed. Unfortunately, Norton also has a reputation in Hollywood for being a control freak, whether deserved or not. Norton has reportedly been involved in several disputes with Kevin Feige and other Marvel producers over the final cut, although he has disputed the validity of those claims.
As for Norton’s actual performance, that’s his usual quality work, and it certainly would have been interesting to see him play alongside Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and the rest of the gang in The Avengers. Alas, that wasn’t the case, as Norton wasn’t brought back for other MCU movies, apparently due to the aforementioned claims that were difficult to work with.
Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War and Endgame)
Mark Ruffalo of course succeeded Edward Norton from 2012 The Avengers, and continued to appear in sequels Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. He also played a vital role in Thor: Ragnarok, leading to what comes closest to another Hulk-focused film that fans have gotten since 2008. Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner also made post-credits cameos in Iron man 3 and Captain Marvel.
Ruffalo is now considered the definitive Hulk and Banner screen, which makes sense, as it’s part of one of the biggest movie franchises to ever make. Ruffalo definitely brings a different feel to Banner, making the character less intense and more socially awkward. Yet he also understands Banner’s brilliance, though that brilliance doesn’t extend to how well the Hulkbuster armor works. Ruffalo’s performance also extended to The Incredible Hulk himself in Avengers: Endgame, with the birth of Smart Hulk.
More: The MCU Has Only Used Marvel’s Real Hulk Once
The deleted predator weapon that (accidentally) still appears in the movie
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