Originally Played By: Edward Norton
Replaced By: Mark Ruffalo
How It Went Down: Has there ever been a more tumultuous role than that of Bruce Banner/the Hulk?
Initially, Eric Bana played the mean green machine in 2003’s Hulk, which is not considered to be part of the MCU canon. When that film flopped both critically and at the box office, Marvel decided to reboot, with Norton taking over in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk.
The film made $265 million but Norton and the MCU didn’t seem to make for a potent pairing, with reports of creative differences resulting in his exit.
“We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers,” Marvel said in a statement ahead of production beginning on The Avengers. “Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble.”
Shots officially fired, with Norton’s camp calling the statement “offensive” and “mean-spirited,” and going on to deny the allegations, calling it a “financial decision” on Marvel’s part.
Fortunately, Marvel eventually found the right fit in Ruffalo—and realized the character worked better in ensemble settings, not standalone movies. “Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk portrayal set a lot of things right in a way that made us all very happy,” Marvel president Kevin Feige said at a press conference.
“[Hulk is] my generation’s Hamlet. Everyone’s gonna get a crack at it before it’s all said and done,” Ruffalo once joked to Vanity Fair.