The Hulk’s Time Warp: Marvel’s Continuing Saga of 36 Year Old Errors

The MCU Hulk’s complicated place in Marvel’s major franchise repeats decisions made about the character from almost four decades ago in Hulk’s past.

Split image of Lou Ferrigno's Hulk and MCU's Hulk

The Marvel Cinematic Universe iteration of the Hulk is still baring the brunt of movie mistakes that have been present in the character’s film history for 36 years. While the modern Hulk movie history begins for most with The Incredible Hulk‘s release in 2008, the cinematic history of the iconic Marvel character goes back considerably further. In fact, the first ever Hulk film was released in 1977, starting the series with The Incredible Hulk and Death in the Family – which would also serve as a direct part of The Incredible Hulk show.

These releases would be followed up on later with the 1988 The Incredible Hulk Returns and The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk, before closing off the series with The Death Of the Incredible Hulk movie two years after. While these installments all came out decades before the MCU timeline brought the Hulk into its fold, the series does foreshadow a much-complained about mistake made by the franchise regarding the hero, despite being so many years before the MCU Hulk story even began.

The Hulk’s Original Movie Lineup Also Sidelined Hulk For Other Heroes

Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk TV poster

The Incredible Hulk Returns is notable both for being the first ever live-action Hulk movie to not also be made into a part of the seasons of The Incredible Hulk show, and because it features another prominent Marvel hero: Thor. Similarly, the next release – The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk – featured Daredevil alongside the titular Hulk.

It’s worth noting that it’s believed these Marvel hero cameos were put in place to serve as backdoor pilots for prospective television series of their own for both Thor and Daredevil. This – while more understandable than simply refusing to give Hulk his own movies until his film death – suggests that the Hulk was also being used here to prop up other heroes much in the way the MCU iteration can be seen to.

Though viewers here had the option to view the seasons of The Incredible Hulk show that birthed the movies should they want a more Hulk-focused adventure, it’s still somewhat surreal to note that the MCU Hulk’s problem with having his movie appearances largely serve to bolster the reputations of other figures can be traced as far back as 1988. Indeed, The Death Of The Incredible Hulk movie may further explain why the character’s cinematic history in more recent years has been so fraught.

The Death Of The Incredible Hulk Movie Created A Real-Life Hulk Problem

The Death of the Incredible Hulk Poster Cropped

While The Death Of The Incredible Hulk movie is the third and final installment in the original Hulk series, a fourth movie was reportedly in the works – The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk. Both actor Lou Ferrigno and writer Gerald Di Pego have spoken about the prospective plot lines the installment could have explored, which may have explored its own iteration of the Smart Hulk story, according to Ferrigno’s words from the 2019 Montreal Comic-Con.

Unfortunately, the movie would never come to pass, with explanations being split between The Death Of The Incredible Hulk‘s low ratings, and Hulk actor and director Bill Bixby’s declining health – though Di Pego has spoken out against this latter explanation in past years, calling it a fan rumor. Ultimately, The Death Of The Incredible Hulk being the final release of the original series means the trilogy ends on a low point that doesn’t reflect the character’s movie potential as squarely – something reflected even in modern reviews, as the third release has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes scores by a considerable margin.

As it stands, this suggests the Hulk is more of a risk for a solo movie than he necessarily is, especially as many negative reviews are more focused around the production and the fact Hulk’s movie journey ends with his death – showing that any problems didn’t lie with the character himself. However, its reception does mean that, when combined with 2003’s Hulk and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Marvel’s last three Hulk movies have been considered disappointments, thus creating the impression the hero is a riskier prospect for focal film features.

What The MCU Needs To Learn From The Original Hulk Series (& What It Needs To Avoid)

Smart Hulk in She-Hulk season 1 looking annoyed.

While the overall impact of the original Hulk movies may have served to reinforce that the MCU Hulk is best without solo movies and alongside other heroes, there are many more important lessons Marvel’s new movie era could and should take from its predecessor. Though The Incredible Hulk was in many regards a cutting edge live-action superhero release for its time, it’s clear it required more suspension of disbelief than many of the more modern designs – something that the collection of those who regard it with fond nostalgia makes clear was possible for many.

As such, leaning into the Hulk’s more bizarre side – rather than focusing on ironing out the Banner and Hulk divide via Professor Hulk – does seemingly have a promising precedent for the MCU. The franchise has teased it may delve more into Hulk’s often entirely surreal comic history via moves like introducing his son Skaar, but currently the character has been relegated to short appearances and cameos, preventing further elaboration. Hopefully, Hulk’s prospective return in Avengers 5 & 6 – if not potentially even sooner – can allow the franchise to embrace some of the aspects that make the Marvel character so long-lasting.

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