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Edward Norton is one of the most well-respected actors in Hollywood. However, his place in the most successful film universe in history remains a blip on the radar.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is famous for bringing nearly everyone back once they’re in on the fun. However, despite anchoring the second film in the universe, Edward Norton was fired from the MCU before he got the chance to turn green and angry with a team. 

The Insufferable ‘Hulk’

Rotten Tomatoes notes that The Incredible Hulk was a modest success at the time. The follow-up to Iron Man, Norton’s Hulk was a darker soul who fell off the grid to avoid further exploitation. Critics decently reviewed the film at a time when superhero movies had a greater stigma. However, looking back at the film, it’s a conspicuous outlier in tone and execution when it comes to the MCU

While Norton was never credited as a writer on The Incredible Hulk, he famously has a lot of creative say in many of his roles. According to Norton, he did enough on the script to warrant a credit that never came. While the film was well-received in 2008, Marvel quickly went in a new direction toward a more collaborative approach to the MCU. 

However, if you ask Norton why he left the franchise, it’s hard to get a straight story. Sometimes, he makes it seem as though it were mere creative misdirection. He wanted to take the character one way, and Marvel wanted to take it the other way. 

A Promethean task

“I loved the Hulk comics,” Norton explained to The New York Times in 2019. “I believed they were very mythic. And what Chris Nolan had done with Batman was going down a path that I aligned with: long, dark, and serious. If there was ever a thing that I thought had that in it, it was the Hulk. It’s literally the Promethean myth. I laid out a two-film thing: The origin and then the idea of Hulk as the conscious dreamer, the guy who can handle the trip. 

According to Norton, Marvel agreed with his image for the series until they didn’t. However, In a previous interview with NPR, he sang a somewhat different tune, stating that he’d done everything he wanted to do with the character and chose to move on when he had an out. 

“My feeling was that I experimented and experienced what I wanted to. I really, really enjoyed it. And yet, I looked at the balance of time in life that one spends not only making those sorts of films but then especially putting them out, and the obligations that rightly come with that … I think you can sort of do anything once, but if you do it too many times, it can become a suit that’s hard to take off, in other people’s eyes.”

Norton holds a reputation for being somewhat hard to work with as much as acting in critically acclaimed roles. Many of his most famous roles, such as American History X, came from scripts he either wrote or had a large hand in writing. This aspect could be the real explanation for why he left the role before it got a chance to shine. 

Why did Edward Norton leave the ‘Hulk’?

Edward Norton
Edward Norton | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

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

Ruffalo might now be the name most synonymous with Banner and his green alter-ego. Still, at the time of his departure, he was one of the biggest stars in the MCU’s growing roster, and before Disney acquired the Marvel name, he was seemingly on course to have a significant role throughout.

However, when Norton dropped out before The Avengers, Kevin Feige implied that it had nothing to do with the reasons he later gave. 

At the time, Feige released a statement implying that Norton’s departure was in light of their desire to have, according to CBR, “an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members.”

This falls in line with Norton’s reputation, but it might also show why a man like he would never work for what the MCU became. After all, it’s hard to picture Norton fighting alongside Thor in Ragnarok or fading to the background in other event-driven movies. Whatever the reason, Norton and Marvel went their separate ways, and both sides might be better for it