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Mark Ruffalo made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut as the Hulk in The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon. Ruffalo’s turn as Dr. Bruce Banner was a massive hit with fans and, arguably, a reason why the movies are so popular. And it took Whedon’s intervention to land him the part. In fact, the now-disgraced director called Ruffalo his “dream choice” from the beginning. 

Mark Ruffalo wasn’t the first Hulk in the MCU

Joss Whedon directed Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk in 'The Avengers'
Joss Whedon (L) and Mark Ruffalo attend the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival on April 18, 2016, in New York City. | Jim Spellman/WireImage

Before Ruffalo, Eric Bana played the character in 2003’s Hulk. The first appearance of Bruce Banner in the MCU, 2008’s Incredible Hulk, saw Edward Norton take on the role. In the movie, directed by Louis Leterrier, the character took on Tim Roth’s Abomination. It was the second film in the franchise, after 2008’s Iron Man

Though many loved Norton as Banner, the casting didn’t last. For 2012’s The Avengers, the studio began looking for a new Hulk. They settled on Ruffalo. Not only did Marvel like him, but the film’s writer-director felt strongly about casting the 13 Going on 30 star.

Why Joss Whedon cast Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk

Though Whedon didn’t necessarily join the Marvel project with the intention of recasting, he was up to the challenge. He chose the person he’d long wanted to play the part: Ruffalo. In Joss Whedon: The Biography, he explained how he felt.

“Mark was my dream choice and I had my heart set on him,” he was quoted as saying. “I wanted a completely fresh take on the character.” As luck would have it, Marvel already had the actor in mind. The studio was “completely on board” with the casting decision. 

Ruffalo continued to portray Banner (and later, Smart Hulk) in Avengers: Age of UltronAvengers: Infinity WarThor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Endgame. Now, it’s hard for many fans to imagine someone else in the role. 

Whedon and Ruffalo’s future in comic book films


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Though some fans wanted one, a Ruffalo-led standalone Hulk film hasn’t yet come to fruition. But that doesn’t mean he won’t play the character again. Despite concluding a natural arc in Avengers: Endgame, Ruffalo appears in the upcoming Disney+ series She-Hulk. The show stars Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, Banner’s cousin who exhibits a similar power. She-Hulk arrives on the streaming service sometime in 2022, most likely.

As for Whedon, he’s not likely to appear behind the camera for any major comic book films anytime soon. After Justice League actors Gal Gadot and Ray Fisher accused Whedon of treating them poorly, Whedon responded with his version of the events. But the public backlash against the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator will likely preclude him from getting in the director’s chair for a major studio tentpole. 

While Whedon may no longer work on future Marvel projects, he deserves credit for casting Ruffalo as Hulk. From his emotional arc with Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha (Black Widow) to his little moments (like when he posed with “fans” at a diner in Endgame), the actor truly embodied the beloved character on screen.