Mark Ruffalo Was the Original Choice for Hulk Before Edward Norton, But Marvel Said No

Avengers: Endgame marked the end of the line for several key Marvel heroes. But Mark Ruffalo is already confirmed to return as Bruce Banner in the upcoming Disney+ series She-Hulk. The show centers on Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), Banner’s cousin, who develops similar Hulk-like abilities. But despite his recurring role, Marvel initially didn’t want Ruffalo to play Hulk.

Mark Ruffalo at the 'Avengers: Infinity War' premiere
Mark Ruffalo at the ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ premiere | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Edward Norton starred in Marvel’s ‘The Incredible Hulk’ in 2008

Moviegoers were stunned when Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury emerged from the shadows in Iron Man’s post-credits scene. In an instant, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began to take shape. The road to The Avengers was laid out. And just months after Iron Man, the MCU took its second step toward an epic superhero crossover event with The Incredible Hulk.

Setting aside director Ang Lee’s divisive 2003 film Hulk, the movie introduced Edward Norton as Banner. The film took inspiration not only from the comics but also from the TV series which ran from 1977-1982. Despite being a decent-sized hit, The Incredible Hulk never received a sequel. And Norton had a falling-out with Marvel. So Banner had a new face by the time he joined the Avengers.

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But the film’s director wanted Mark Ruffalo to play Bruce Banner

Admittedly, Ruffalo seemed a strange choice for the role. At the time, the actor was best known for smaller films like You Can Count on Me and The Kids Are All Right. Playing an effects-heavy superhero took his career in a much different direction. However, The Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier — who worked with Ruffalo on Now You See Me — once admitted he wanted Ruffalo as Banner all along.

“Both [Hulk actors] are great. Both are fantastic,” Leterrier told The Huffington Post in 2013. “But I actually wanted to cast Mark Ruffalo as Hulk and Marvel was like ‘No, you should get Edward Norton because he’s more famous.’ … I wanted Mark Ruffalo. And they were like, “No, no, he just does smart, intellectual movies.” Which makes sense, then and there in his career. But that’s how I know [Ruffalo].”

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Mark Ruffalo joined the MCU in ‘The Avengers’ and continues in the role

Leterrier admits the stories behind Norton’s MCU exit were “blown out of proportion.” The director bears no ill will toward Norton. However, at this point, Ruffalo has long established himself as the most popular version of Bruce Banner aka the Hulk. After all, he has appeared not only in all four Avengers films but also in a major supporting role in Thor: Ragnarok.

And despite the exit of half the original six Avengers, Ruffalo’s Banner looks to be a driving force for the MCU in Phase 4. Rumor has it the character might return for 2022’s Thor: Love and Thunder. But even if that’s not the case, he’ll certainly be an instrumental part of introducing She-Hulk. The only question is whether that Disney+ series will mark the end of Banner’s story.