Mark Ruffalo and Edward Norton’s Hulks Are Secretly Linked Through a Deleted ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Scene

Most epic movie series have significant turnover among their casts. Yet, for more than a decade and over 20 movies, the star-studded ensemble of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has remained unchanged, with rare exceptions. Terrence Howard was notably replaced by Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2. And a couple years later, Mark Ruffalo took over as Bruce Banner.

The Incredible Hulk starred Edward Norton as Banner and his titular alter-ego. But due to behind-the-scenes conflicts and creative differences, Norton stepped away from future MCU installments. So when The Avengers came around, Ruffalo played Banner/Hulk. But thanks to a deleted scene from The Incredible Hulk, the two performances remain forever linked in the MCU.

Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo at the 2010 New York Film Critics Circle Awards
Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo at the 2010 New York Film Critics Circle Awards | Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

‘The Incredible Hulk’ is the most ignored movie in the MCU

As only the second entry in the then-nascent MCU, The Incredible Hulk is often considered among the franchise’s lesser entries. To be fair, Marvel Studios was still learning how best to translate these heroes and villains to the screen. So The Incredible Hulk was already at a disadvantage.

Perhaps because of its unpopularity, the MCU has rarely made direct reference to the movie. The Incredible Hulk set up Hulk supervillain The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) for a potential sequel. And it left both Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and the Abomination (Tim Roth) open for future appearances.

Yet, other than Banner, the only major character to return to the MCU is William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross. Marvel finally folded Ross — another central Hulk foe — back into the story in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. And the upcoming She-Hulk Disney+ could tap into the Hulk mythos further.

RELATED: Edward Norton Will Never Play Hulk Again, But Some MCU Fans Still Miss ‘His’ Bruce Banner

But ‘The Avengers’ links Mark Ruffalo to Edward Norton’s version

Precious little from The Incredible Hulk carried over into Banner’s return in The Avengers. But many fans may not realize that a key moment in Joss Whedon’s 2012 superhero team-up directly references a deleted scene from The Incredible Hulk. We just never get to see Ruffalo actually perform it.

An alternate opening for The Incredible Hulk sees Norton’s Banner traveling in the Arctic. Depressed and desperate, he pulls out a gun with the intention of committing suicide. But before he can pull the trigger, he transforms into the Hulk, effectively ending his plan and setting up his inner conflict.

Perhaps this opening was considered too dark for audiences in 2008. Nevertheless, Whedon brought back elements of Banner’s suicide attempt during a key scene in The Avengers. As the heroes argue, Ruffalo’s Banner confesses that he tried to kill himself, but “the other guy” wouldn’t let him.

RELATED: Why ‘She-Hulk’ Needs Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner to Play a Role

Why hasn’t Marvel given the Hulk another shot at his own movie?

The notion Banner would reach such a low point is certainly an intriguing one. And it serves Whedon’s story well, both honoring the character’s solo MCU journey without leaning on his relatively unpopular film. But it also reveals a lot about why another Hulk movie hasn’t happened since then.

Until Avengers: Endgame, the last thing Banner wanted was to transform into the Hulk. The character has long lacked the heroic ambition that so many of his fellow Avengers carry. Then, of course, there’s the complicated issue surrounding the movie rights to the Incredible Hulk.

For years, conflicting reports have claimed Universal — which made The Incredible Hulk — retained at least partial rights to the character. More recent reports indicate this might have changed. But, for now, fans will have to settle for the shades of Banner’s personal story tucked in the MCU.