The Hulk first appeared in 1962 with The Incredible Hulk #1 (written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and others); since then he’s grown into much more than just the scientist with an angry alter-ego. Now, he is the strongest one there is, less a character and more of an unstoppable force of unquenchable fury. That’s part of the reason he’s still referred to in everyday conversation, in jokes, in films — as an icon, the Hulk is universal. His rage and green-ness are as famous as any superhero, villain or otherwise on screen.
So why is it the that we don’t see as much of him in other forms of media than superheroes like Spider-Man or Captain America? It’s not because no one has ever tried to adapt the Hulk, it’s just that those who do have gotten him mostly wrong. It’s so bad that some of these adaptations in both film and television have outright ruined the character outside of comics. To prove the point, we’ve brought you the 15 adaptations that have ruined the incredible hulk over the years. Some of these, you’ll recognize from your childhood while others are fairly recent. By the end, you’ll see just why Marvel Studios and smaller television producers are wary of Hulk-related media. It’s like the frog said — not easy being green.
15. HULK (2003)
Of course, one of the worst depictions of the Hulk and his world has to be 2003’s Hulk (directed by Ang Lee). The film was certainly unique but it failed in its attempts to focus on the deeper aspects of its torn protagonist (played by Eric Bana). What made it worse was that in that attempt, it neglected to show how destructive the Hulk can actually be.
It’s difficult to compress decades worth of character development into two hours of film, which is why it’s so essential for each adaptations to get his big green essence right. Hulk completely missed the mark and what we ended up with was a mess of (admittedly bold) storytelling and seemingly over-the-top characters. As a film, it’s a great action-packed bit of entertainment and an interesting take on a comic book movie, but as an adaptation of the Hulk and the characters around him, it’s a mess.
14. THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (directed by Louis Leterrier) actually began as a reboot of Ang Lee’s film. The resulting film introduced the Hulk (played by Edward Norton) to a new film universe which was an exciting prospect. Unfortunately as we’d find out, he didn’t have the best of introductions.
Unlike its spiritual predecessor, The Incredible Hulk had more action. Way more action. Too much action. You might be asking how it’s even possible for a Hulk film to have “too much action.” Just consider that the Hulk as a character isn’t just a ball of fury, he’s has a personality of his own. He’s not just Bruce Banner doped up on fury, but that seems to have been completely left out of the film, which left us with the impression that the Hulk of the modern era was just a dumb beast that needed to be controlled…which is really only half true.
13. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2014)
Hulk made his second appearance in the MCU in The Avengers (directed by Joss Whedon), this time with Mark Ruffalo playing Bruce Banner. It was arguably the best depiction of the character in recent memory, offering just the right amount of character depth and destructive action. His appearance in the film’s sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron (directed by Joss Whedon) wasn’t as great. In fact, it was a lot worse.
That was mostly due to the rushed and largely inorganic relationship between Banner and Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) in what appeared to be a failed attempt at adding complexity to two characters that were already pretty complex as they were. It also completely disregarded whatever feelings he had for Betty Ross in The Incredible Hulk, which might have been a better relationship to explore.
12. ULTIMATE AVENGERS 2 (2006)
Before Marvel Studios, there was just Marvel Animation Features which released films such as Ultimate Avengers and its sequel, Ultimate Avengers 2 both of which feature the Chitauri as antagonists. The first of these animated features did quite a good job at depicting a desperate Banner and an enraged Hulk that, while destructive, clearly exhibited real emotions and conflicts of his own.
Ultimate Avengers 2 failed to build on that. Instead, it pretty much just had Banner (voiced by Michael Massee) vaguely regretting his actions as the Hulk for a while before hulking out and escaping his S.H.I.E.L.D prison, never to be seen again. The action was great, but this was still a poor depiction of the Hulk, especially in comparison to other animated adaptations, including the film’s predecessor.
11. FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD’S GREATEST HEROES
There were a lot of things this series got wrong and the Hulk was one of them. He appeared in the episode, “Hard Knocks” (story by Craig Kyle) as a friend of Reed Richards on the run. It was the kind of drama that would work but a risky storyline for a 20-minute episode. Most of the episode is pretty much just the Hulk (voiced by Mark Gibbon) rampaging through the city with the Fantastic Four and special agents on his heels.
There were many flaws with this adaptation. It tried to shove too much of the Hulk into an episode that couldn’t really focus on him. So instead, what we got was other characters taking on Hulk’s classic lines and phrases. “Thing smash” for example. It’s a shame because there was a lot of potential. Hulk himself admits to being a monster and we see some of that, but it’s all so rushed that it just falls flat and ends up another overtly clamorous adaptation.
10. HULK AND AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H
Clearly aimed at a younger audience than the Hulk comics generally appeal to, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H is an animated television series which depicts the Hulk (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) as the leader of S.M.A.S.H, a super team of gamma-powered heroes. The Hulk here is depicted as being friendly, funny, intelligent and calm. He isn’t really fighting a constant battle within, just battles against aliens and other powerful villains.
If he were just a huge, vibrantly green monster from a kid show, it’d be fine. However, this isn’t some colorful monster you’d find on Sesame Street, this is the Hulk we’re talking about. Despite being toned down… a lot… the show is still clearly aimed at an audience mature enough to understand a more complex Hulk, which makes this depiction of the character a needless adaptation.
9. THE INCREDIBLE HULK & SHE-HULK
The second season of the animated series, The Incredible Hulk, shifted the tone and focus of the show. Where the first season was relatively darker and focused on a each of the characters, allowing them to gradually grow over the course of the show with an over-arching plot and several subplots.
The second season changed all that. It focused both on the Hulk (voiced by Lou Ferrigno) and on his cousin, She-Hulk (voiced by Cree Summer) with constant guest appearances by other Marvel heroes and villains, yet there was much less character development. For example, that ceaseless conflict between General Ross and Banner just seemed to magically resolve by the end of the season with no real journey there and they completely removed Betty from the story. They took the exciting parts of the Hulk’s incredible story and rushed them.
8. NEXT AVENGERS: HEROES OF TOMORROW (2008)
Next Avengers by Marvel Animated Features, focused on the children of the Avengers in a post-apocalyptic future in which Ultron has succeeded in taking the world with his technologically superior army. These kids finally decide to free the world from Ultron’s control and on their journey, they encounter the heroes that preceded them like Thor and of course, Hulk.
The story goes that the Avengers were defeated by Ultron with six of them dying, except for Tony and Bruce, who both fled. Aside from the fact that that’s pretty out of character for a brutal fighter like the Hulk, this lame excuse to force the Hulk into the film makes for a pretty unimpressive appearance overall, except for the end when he tears Ultron in two. Even that, however, cannot make up for the warped version of the Hulk we got in that film… even his muscles don’t make any sense!
7. DEATH OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1990)
Starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as Bruce Banner and the Hulk, respectively, Death of the Incredible Hulk (directed by Bill Bixby), as the title suggests, promised the demise of the gamma-powered hero. His death comes after he’s caught in an airplane explosion, which every comic fan knows should be nothing to the Hulk. He’s walked away from much more destructive things than that.
It was stated that this film wasn’t intended to be the end of the film series, but with the tragic loss of Bixby in 1993, that return film never came to fruition, especially after the negative reception of Death of the Incredible Hulk. This meant that after so many great films, the series had come to a tragic and unimpressive end, one that stole the “incredible” from the incredible Hulk.
6. THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES
After seemingly every supervillain there ever was conveniently escaped their imprisonment (later revealed to be Loki’s mischief), five superheroes joined forces, creating the Avengers. Most of the Avengers are pretty much what you’d expect them to be like when adapted for a kids’ show. The Hulk is a different story. You can tell that they tried to keep it kid-friendly while also staying relatively faithful to personality and tragedy of the comic book character; unfortunately, they failed.
Obviously, for the cartoon like this, he’d have to work well with the other Avengers which is why conflicts between the characters didn’t occur all that often and he was depicted as a much friendlier character than he actually is. The series went for plain, superpowered fighting fun, which is why Hulk, like many of the characters in the series, were quite thinly written in comparison to other adaptations.
5. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN
Hulk appears in Ultimate Spider-Man quit a lot and after the episode, “The Incredible Spider-Hulk” (written by Brian Michael Bendis), he displayed more control and intelligence thanks to Peter Parker (voiced by Drake Bell). It was this series that sparked the spin-off, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, another show that ruined the Hulk. Here is where that poor depiction began.
His first appearance was promising. He appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, smashing and destroying the city. Unbeknownst to all, chasing the invisible Zzzax. It all went wrong went the writers decided that making the Hulk more controlled would be a great idea. It really wasn’t. It just helped to turn him into another one of the thinly written adaptations we’ve been seeing more of recently.
4. HULK VERSUS WOLVERINE (2009)
The animated double feature, Hulk Versus (directed by Frank Paur and Sam Liu) pits the Hulk (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) against Wolverine (voiced by Steven Blum) and Thor in two completely different stories with only one thing in common: you get to see the Hulk tear his way through an otherwise tranquil landscape. The first story begins with Wolverine being called in to track down the Hulk who has apparently levelled a small town. The second story sees Loki unleash the Hulk on Asgard after separating him from Banner through mystical means.
If either of the stories did the Hulk justice, it was “Hulk Versus Thor.” There, we saw the real difference between Banner and Hulk and how much of a curse the Hulk is on the gamma expert. On the other hand, Hulk versus Wolverine seems to just be an excuse to have two heavy hitters fight each other. It’s more interested in Weapon X than it is in showing Hulk as anything other than a wrongly accused monster.
3. IRON MAN & HULK: HEROES UNITED (2013)
When HYDRA scientists attempt to capture the Hulk to create their own arc reactor, Hulk finds himself allied with Tony Stark. This version of the Hulk is a lot more intelligent than audiences and fans might be used to. While that’s not completely out of character for the Hulk, since his intelligence has been known to fluctuate depending on his anger and other factors, here it just served for the forced witty banter between the two protagonists.
That would be okay if they were to explore the character further, but the film settles for one liners and a bunch of noisy, poorly animated action sequences, which is just not what the Hulk is about, despite what this film and many others seem to think. Is it fun? Yes. But it didn’t need the Hulk to make it so. The addition of the Hulk just ruined both the character and the film.
2. MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN – “HALLOWEEN MOON”
This relatively new series had a few people already losing faith with its childish take on the Spider-Man mythos as well as its animation style. Then came the Hulk (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) in the episode “Halloween Moon” (written by Kevin Burke) to help Spidey (voiced by Robbie Daymond) tackle Man-Wolf, who is threatening to infect the city with his affliction.
Ignoring the fact that they changed Man-Wolf just so they could include Hulk, “Halloween Moon” has many faults in its depiction of the characters here, especially the Hulk. We get that most of the characters in here are about high-school age, but is there a reason why Hulk sounds like he’s that older guy trying to fit in and stay hip and happening? We don’t think so. “Banner’s lame,” Hulk? No, just the show. It’s a terrible depiction of a great character.
1. IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES – “UNCONTROLLABLE”
When The Controller (voiced by Michael Kopsa) takes a hold of Rick Jones and attempts to control the Hulk, he instead ends up controlling Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor. It’s up to the Hulk to put a stop to the rampaging Hulkbuster and to the Controller.
This version of an animated Hulk is slightly better than most, only because Hulk’s intelligence and rage is pretty in-line with the comic book source material. It also respects the relationship between Hulk and Rick Jones, although it does alter it slightly. The only thing that ruined this adaptation of the Hulk was that it only scratched the surface of the Hulk’s character. It gave us nothing of Banner or of that internal conflict, resulting in a depiction that ultimately made the same mistake as other adaptations, leaning more toward the heavy hitting, loud monster and not the character.
Did these adaptations ruin the Hulk for you? Let us know in the comments!
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