Actor Edward Norton’s recent barb about behind-the-scenes turmoil on the set of The Incredible Hulk returns the spotlight to a nearly forgotten chapter of Marvel’s cinematic history, just in time for the studio’s 10th anniversary.
Released in June 2008, at the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Louis Leterrier’s film is the neglected twin of Iron Man, which arrived a month earlier to widespread acclaim. On paper, The Incredible Hulk probably should have been the easier sell, with a more recognizable superhero — everyone knows who the Hulk is — and with (then) two-time Oscar nominee Edward Norton in the starring role. However, while The Incredible Hulk was financially successful, grossing $263.4 million worldwide, it wasn’t the smash the fledgling Marvel Studios and its distribution partner Universal Pictures might have hoped.
This was a different era, of course, before Marvel Studios was anything resembling the Hollywood powerhouse that it is today, and the idea of a cinematic universe seemed like little more than a pipe dream. The Marvel of this period was a bit of an upstart that made waves by signing the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson to unprecedented multi-picture deals, but also drew criticism for low-balling salaries for supporting players, replacing actors instead of renegotiating contracts, and exerting too much creative control.
Into that environment walked Norton, who struck a deal to board The Incredible Hulk as both the star and uncredited writer. As stipulated by the contract, he submitted his first draft within a month and reportedly continued to polish his script well into production. Norton was also apparently given at least some say about the film’s final cut, as he and Leterrier clashed with producers over the run time, a dispute that spilled over into the public. The studio won, with the theatrical release clocking in at 112 minutes, as opposed to the 135-minute cut championed by Norton and Leterrier.
Norton made it clear he wouldn’t participate in publicity plans for The Incredible Hulk if he wasn’t pleased with the final edit, an assertion the actor dismissed in a statement, saying, “It has always been my firm conviction that films should speak for themselves and that knowing too much about how they are made diminishes the magic of watching them.” However, Norton declined interviews on the matter, and made only select appearances in support of the film’s release.
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