• The Incredible Hulk
    is the only solo MCU project featuring Bruce Banner as the Hulk’s distribution rights reside with Universal Pictures.
  • Mark Ruffalo has portrayed the Hulk in various crossover projects, interacting with other superheroes, including Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.
  • The Hulk first met Thor in 1988’s
    The Incredible Hulk Returns
    , and there are similarities between this TV-movie and their dynamic in the MCU.



20 years before the MCU kicked-off and The Incredible Hulk introduced audiences to Bruce Banner, the Hulk met another future Avenger in a made-for-TV movie. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk saw Edward Norton debut as Bruce Banner, a former physicist and biochemist at Culver University whose exposure to gamma radiation transforms him into the Hulk when he becomes enraged. The Incredible Hulk marked the start of a lengthy career for the Hulk in the MCU, who, after being recast for Mark Ruffalo, survived his self-exile on Sakaar, and has more recently been combined with Banner’s human persona to create Smart Hulk.

Currently, The Incredible Hulk is the only solo MCU project featuring the titular character. While there has been speculation of a potential future solo Hulk movie, including one focused on Marvel Comics’ epic World War Hulk event, the Hulk’s distribution rights still reside with Universal Pictures, making it impossible for Marvel Studios to develop further solo projects for the character. However, this hasn’t stopped Mark Ruffalo from portraying the Hulk in a variety of crossover projects, which have seen him come into contact with many other superheroes, but there’s one that the Hulk had met 20 years before the MCU.

The Incredible Hulk

Louis Leterrier

Release Date
June 13, 2008

Universal Pictures


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1988’s Hulk Movie Starred The Hulk & Thor Years Before The MCU

Back in 1977, head of Universal Television Frank Price and writer and producer Kenneth Johnson began development on a TV series focused on characters Universal had acquired from the Marvel Comics library. This led to the premiere of a successful series, The Incredible Hulk, which ran between its 1977 pilot and its 1982 finale, and starred Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner, with Lou Ferrigno portraying his Hulk persona. The success of The Incredible Hulk series led to its continuation in the form of TV movies, the first of which, 1988’s The Incredible Hulk Returns, introduced Banner’s Hulk to Thor.


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Thor was drastically changed for The Incredible Hulk Returns, as he wasn’t Asgardian, nor a god, but a long-dead Viking King who was refused access to Valhalla. By using a mystical hammer – not named Mjolnir – Steve Levitt’s Donald Blake could summon the subservient Thor, portrayed by Eric Allan Kramer, and since Blake is Banner’s former student, the two Marvel heroes soon joined forces to save Banner’s love interest. This was the first time that another Marvel character appeared in The Incredible Hulk’s world, but the Hulk and Thor wouldn’t meet again until the events of 2012’s The Avengers.

How 1988’s Hulk Movie Mirrors MCU’s Hulk & Thor Story

Mark Ruffalo's Hulk and Chris Hemsworth's Thor in New York in The Avengers

The Avengers brought the Hulk and Thor together again, now portrayed by Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth, respectively. The dynamic between the MCU’s Hulk and Thor is different to that in The Incredible Hulk Returns, though there are similarities, particularly since the pair battle before teaming up in both projects. In the MCU, the pair later became much stronger friends, as the events of Thor: Ragnarok brought them closer, so even though a direct sequel to The Incredible Hulk may not have been produced, Bruce Banner has still made a meaningful connection to Thor, one of his longest-lasting live-action allies.

Key Release Dates

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