There are few joys in the world that can top the first moment you witness the Hulk smashing his way through a city. Imagine the delightful faces of every child when they first saw the green guy lay waste to New York with his bare hands in The Avengers and you’ll know what we mean. Over time, plenty of actors have taken up the mantle of the gamma-induced giant, but not all stand out as much as others.
When we reflect back on our fondest memories of superheroes, the odds are we have a certain image that sticks out to us all. For the rampaging Hulk, it’s hard to forget all the ripped stretch pants, the countless civilian lives lost to fits of anger and of course the lone piano that played at the end of the first live-action series.
It’s really a toss-up between which of these Hulks is truly the most incredible, but they all played their part in the evolution of the character from comic to screen. Only one can top our list, but they all hold a special place for us. And so, with all the strength we can muster, this is Every Adaptation Of The Incredible Hulk, Ranked From Worst To Best.
16. Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United (2013)
Following the release of 2012’s The Avengers, the comic book audience was ripe for the picking, and Marvel Animation was reaping all the benefits. Marketed as a follow-up to the blockbuster feature, Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United was the first of two features to utilize a 2-D wrap animation process intended to heighten the characters’ facial expressions. The results were far from high quality CGI and audiences were left with a Hulk with poorly rendered textures and blocky movements stuck in a storyline better suited to preoccupy a group of kids than to add to the story of its hero.
Receiving below par reviews across the board, Heroes United spawned another less than stellar outing featuring Iron Man and Captain America. Still, with the veteran voice actor Fred Tatasciore voicing the green rage machine, we could at least expect some type of enthusiasm from the character, right? Wrong. While the Hulk comes off as smarter than his usual self, delivering one-liners and bantering back and forth with the armored Tony Stark, he does little to convince audiences that he’s anything other than a fun time for five year olds, thereby planting him firmly at the bottom of our list.
15. The Marvel Super Heroes (1966)
The first television series based on Marvel Comics, The Marvel Super Heroes deserves a lot of credit for all that came after. Consisting of five segments, each seven minutes in length, the series presented superheroes to a younger audience at a time when the genre wasn’t considered a part of mainstream media. Running from September 1966 to December of the same year, a total of 65 episodes would open up the television world to the immense fantasy universe. Using little animation, each segment used static comic panel images to create the stories with minimal movement from the characters.
“The Incredible Hulk” was one of the five segments to be featured during the show’s two month run. Borrowing largely from the Silver Age of comics, the stories were ripped directly from the source with the permission of Stan Lee. Voiced by Max Ferguson, the Hulk sounded more human with a calming demeanor. While certainly outdated compared to the out of control version we know today, the green machine was more sympathetic, depicted as a dumbed down Banner who still retained traces of a conscience for his actions. He may not have been as fun to watch, but there was an eloquence about his speech that made him unlike any other Hulk adaptation to date.
14. Iron Man: Armored Adventures (2008-2012)
Premiering on the Nicktoons Network to a record-breaking 125,000 viewers, Iron Man: Armored Adventures opted not to follow any of the continuity from either the MCU or comic books. Instead, Tony Stark and his pals are teenagers, all wise beyond their years and coping with critical adult situations before their time. Everyone is new to the 16 year old Stark, including Bruce Banner and his alter ego, and much like Iron Man himself, the Hulk is shown to be much more youthful than we’re used to.
Not appearing as Bruce Banner until the second season, Stark first encounters the brilliant young scientist’s angrier side after the big guy saves him from the grips of the Controller. Shown as slightly older than Stark, the billionaire teenager acknowledges Banner’s intellect, even going so far as to call him a genius for his expertise in gamma radiation. Voiced by Mark Gibbon (who will appear again later on), the man behind the character delivers all the appropriate battles cries of the Hulk, even if the shoddy animation proves to be a disappointment. Overall, this version of the Hulk is before his prime, still dabbling with his strength during his younger years and showing you don’t have to stick to the source material to provide an intriguing look at an old fan favorite.
13. The Super Hero Squad Show (2009-2011)
Admittedly, this form of the Hulk and his superhero compatriots isn’t the most serious adaptation of the character we’ve seen, but for what it’s worth, voice actor Travis Willingham does admirable work at putting a comedic spin to the character. Intended for a younger audience, The Super Hero Squad Show takes the popular action figure line from Hasbro as its basis, more or less putting Marvel’s Mini Marvels comic line on display for a jolly good time.
Much like his other comic book pals, the Hulk is a young version of himself in the series. Depicted as juvenile and small-minded, he’s shown as an avid comic book reader who has a few anger issues to deal with. Despite not knowing his own strength, he still manages an upbeat candor, always appearing cheerful and good-humored. The voice talent behind the series is enough to reward it with a glowing recommendation for children, but alas, the series remains nothing more than an outright form of entertainment for the kiddies. Still, the citizens of Super Hero City, including the Hulk in his signature purple stretchy pants, is worth checking out if you want to turn any child onto the Marvel world at an early age.
12. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008)
In a comic book universe where adaptations tend to stick to the routine, sometimes it can pay to be different. In Next Avengers, it’s the children of heroes past that prove to be the protectors of the future, re-imagining the newest Avengers as the sons and daughters of the original group. It’s an interesting take from writer Christopher Yost that addresses issues of parental death in a coming-of-age tale, while also giving us a look at one Avenger in a whole new light.
Bruce Banner doesn’t show up in the animated feature until the conclusion. In a plot to destroy Ultron, the villain who defeated the original Avengers, the new group of child prodigies decide to seek out Banner. Now retired and hiding out in the desert, it’s been years since the geneticisthas had an episode. Noticeably wrinkled with grey hair and a beard, Banner is no longer the young man he once was. After being poked past the point of no return, he soon transforms into the old man Hulk, complete with facial hair. He may be older, but the Hulk never truly ages. With the same stamina and muscle mass he’s always had, he makes quick work of Ultron and reminds us all that age is just a number.
11. Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes (2006-2007)
With only one season and twenty-six episodes to its name, we wouldn’t blame you if you’d never actually seen this particular Fantastic Four series. First aired on Cartoon Network, World’s Greatest Heroes was subjected to erratic scheduling, leading to many episodes going unaired in the United States, but thanks to the home video release, the series is now fully available for your viewing pleasure. It’s a good thing too, because it just so happens to feature one of the most underrated adaptations of the Hulk to date.
One listen to Mark Gibbon’s take on the Hulk and it’s hard to mistake his deep voice with any other. Appearing in only one episode titled “Hard Knocks,” Bruce Banner comes across the Fantastic Four after being chased by an agent who wants to use him to advance his own agenda. Turning into the mean mess of mayhem, the Hulk’s appearance is noticeably broader than usual, with a vengeance and irritability in his face that doesn’t go away. The anger in Gibbon’s villainous approach shows the lack of control Banner has over his alter-ego as he makes his way through The Thing and the rest of his crew. Without any sense of wrongdoing, this is a more anti-heroic version of the character, one who was deserving of more screen time than he received.
10. Hulk (2003)
In hindsight, it’s easy to pick apart Ang Lee’s Hulk. Rumored to have been in the works for fifteen years, Marvel had always intended to make a solo Hulk movie once the necessary CGI graphics were available. Clearly, there was still some work to be done. The life-like mannerisms of the Hulk himself were severely lacking, often appearing jerky during action sequences, but it was the cartoonish rendering that most disappointed viewers, many of whom compared the look to an all-too handsome version of the animated ogre Shrek. On further examination, however, Hulk was far from the mess many made it out to be.
Ang Lee described his feature as two separate movies, one being a Greek tragedy about a man coping with the mistreatment from his father and the other being developed in the studio by the special effects crew. While the final product seemed long and boring, it gave us the best on-screen character development to date for Bruce Banner. Eric Bana’s version of the character may have differed from the nerdy version we’ve seen before, but he managed to capture the anger of the Hulk while addressing issues regarding the misuse of science through genetic mutation. Ultimately, it was the Mr. Hyde to Eric Bana’s Jekyll that wasn’t fully realized, resulting in a Hulk that fell short of expectations.
9. Marvel Animation Universe (2012-Present)
A cross-series universe collectively known as the Marvel Animation Universe began in 2012 with the launch of Ultimate Spider-Man. Marketed to children on Disney XD, other shows would eventually make their way into the fold including Avengers Assemble and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, only the big green man managed to star in the Avengers main cast while getting his own solo series with Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.. Although there were some who complained about the lack of Bruce Banner is both series, it was how the Hulk was portrayed that ultimately makes the biggest impression.
Never strictly a hero nor a villain, Bruce Banner’s second-half usually falls somewhere in-between. While Banner has tried to utilize his strengths for the better of humankind, he usually falls short due to his diminishing intellect as the Hulk. All that changed with the Marvel Animation Universe. The Hulk is not the mean spirited destroyer of the past, but actually exhibits a certain level of control over his rage, capable of breaking it out when necessary. Of course, his temperament can still get the better of him, but he retains enough thought to manage his emotions and come up with plans, making him a fitting leader in his own comedy series.
8. Ultimate Avengers Universe (2006)
Before Marvel’s super team made their big screen debut in the MCU, there was the Ultimate Avengers Universe. Comprised of two direct-to-video features, titled Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers II, the story arc was shockingly similar to the 2012 blockbuster, showing the formation of the group after Captain America’s resurrection in the present day. Under the watchful eye of Agent Nick Fury, the all-star superheroes take the fight to the shape-shifting Chitauri, but before it’s all said and done, one seething green heap of anger will become yet another menace to the group.
Once again voiced by the talented Fred Tatasciore, the Hulk lays waste to everything around him. Initially given permission by S.H.I.E.L.D. to join in the fight, the reluctant Banner is forced to take mood-stabilizing medication to keep his other side in check. It isn’t until the beast is unleashed on the extraterrestrial evil that the Hulk flips the script, attacking his teammates and eventually succumbing to their collective power. With piercing green eyes and enough strength to lift Thor’s mighty hammer, he’s a sight to behold as his throws around his colleagues with ease and puts the fear of a gamma-radiated god in them.
7. Planet Hulk (2010)
In 2010, Marvel had amassed enough acclaim from comic book readers to justify making an animated adaptation of the famed Planet Hulk storyline from writer Greg Pak. Much like Incredible Hulk issues 92-105, the movie dealt with the Hulk being sent to a far off planet after he is deemed too dangerous to live on Earth. But as one would expect, nothing is ever that easy. Instead, he crash lands on Sakaar, a war-torn planet ruled by a tyrant known as the Red King. Fitted with an obedience disk and forced to fight as a gladiator, he makes friends with his combatants and leads an insurgency against the planet’s emperor.
Reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, the Hulk steps into the role of Maximus with reluctance. As an intergalactic warrior, Rick D. Wasserman does a fine job voicing the heroic Hulk. Although at first he wants nothing more than to pummel his way to the Red King, he eventually takes up the cause of the imprisoned people. His quest for revenge doesn’t come so simple, with many of the story’s battles proving to be challenging, but the Hulk manages to finish each of his fights in typical smashing fashion, appearing oddly chivalrous in the process.
6. Marvel Productions Universe (1981-1983)
In many ways, the Incredible Hulk is a product of the 1980s. Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno were staking their claim in the Marvel world thanks to their live-action series and Bob Holt was becoming the new voice of the grunting big guy in his first solo animated series. For many, Holt IS the voice of the Hulk, and it’s easy to see why. With all his anger and loud pitched noises, he must have done some serious damage to his vocal cords, but that’s the price you pay to be the best.
Lasting only a single season of 13 episodes, The Incredible Hulk was part of the larger Marvel Productions Universe, which also featured the animated series Spider-Man as well as Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Today, the show is fondly remembered for its quirks, including the fashion faux paus of having the Hulk wear red pants (gasp!), which somehow magically tuned back into his normal street clothes when he transformed back into Bruce Banner. Still, the adaptation was ahead of its time, using the artwork of Sal Buscema, a prominent artist of the 70s and ’80s comic book, as the source of inspiration for the character’s design. It was the Hulk at his best, yet as these next entries show, there’s always room for improvement.
5. The Incredible Hulk (1996-1997)
Premiering on UPN in September of 1996, the second solo animated Hulk series featured a version of the Green Goliath voiced by the iconic Lou Ferrigno. As a part of the greater Marvel Animated Universe, the series would fit in with other shows of the time, including one featuring the Fantastic Four. Complete with an awesome intro, The Incredible Hulk would ultimately be short-lived, lasting a combined 21 episodes before being taken off the air.
Much like the ’80s animated series before it, The Incredible Hulk featured the same classic look of the comics, with the green machine’s bulging muscular body starring alongside characters such as Banner’s girlfriend Betty Ross and She-Hulk. It was the Herculean voice of Ferrigno, however, that took the character to the next level. Letting out a mighty roar unmatched by many, he brought an impassioned fury to the alter-ego while also appearing vexed beneath all the grunts and growls. With Neal McDonough taking over duties as the voice of Bruce Banner, we witnessed the Hulk smash his way through tanks, helicopters and army foes alike while he continued his search for a cure that never came.
4. Edward Norton – Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008)
Since the premiere of The Avengers, one of the long-debated questions of the Internet has been, “Who played the better Bruce Banner?” While Eric Bana and Lou Ferrigno often enter the discussion, the true debate for some lies between Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo, whose takes on the character both fit in the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Incredible Hulk is an odd fit for the MCU, speeding through its origin story in the first few minutes before acting as a quasi-sequel and reboot of Ang Lee’s 2003 film starring Eric Bana. The continuity between this movie and subsequent MCU films remains the same, but as performances go, Norton and Ruffalo’s takes on the character are night and day.
There’s something to be said about the more self-serious approach of the Hulkster in the 2008 blockbuster. Sticking with his moral compass while struggling with the effects of gamma radiation, Norton’s Hulk was noticeably darker than previous adaptations, a fact made evident through the big man’s darker shade of green. Hanging its hat on what Hulk does best, the film took to the streets of Harlem during the final showdown with the movie’s central antagonist, The Abomination, but at the heart of the story was a man who wanted to rid himself of a curse. At the end of the day, Norton’s performance was cast aside for Ruffalo, but not before he made an indelible impression on audiences around the world.
3. The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982)
The Incredible Hulk of the late ’70s and early ’80s is hands down the most distinguishable version on our list. A part of an effort to establish more comic book characters on television, the series was spearheaded by Kenneth Johnson, who originally intended for the live-action character to be bright red and portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Lou Ferrigno would win out the role, skipping out on all the Hulk-talk that he would later bring to various animated adaptations for a silent version of the brute. Donning the shaggy hair and body paint, Ferrigno’s stature presented an extreme contrast to Bill Bixby’s lonely, often sullen portrayal of the mild-mannered Banner.
Not one to shy away from honesty, Johnson admitted his lack of inspiration from the source material, seeking instead to make a compelling human drama. It was Ferrigno, however, that stood out to viewers at the time. The only actor to play the part using nothing but his intimidating physicality, he would later team up alongside the Norse god Thor and the blind vigilante Daredevil in a couple of live-action, made-for-television movies. It’s Ferrigno’s angry eyes and grinding teeth that bring back memories for many generations, making him the definite version of the character for many old school fans.
2. The Christopher Yost Animated Universe (2008-2012)
Initially announced by Marvel Entertainment and Disney XD as the “new Marvel Universe” animation block, the fourth cartoon universe to feature Stan Lee’s comic book creations would eventually be recognized as the Christopher Yost Animated Universe, thanks to the prolific writer’s part in the creation of the stories. Beginning with Wolverine and the X-Men, the universe in its entirety would also consist of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as well as the direct-to-video features Hulk Vs. and Thor: Tales of Asgard.
When it comes to the ultimate version of the Hulk, it’s no secret that everyone’s favorite is the ground and pound, havoc-causing mass of destruction. With Fred Tatasciore bringing out his very best Hulk impression, Yost manages to fit that larger than life persona on the screen. First as an Avenger held against his will in a prison known as the Cube and later as a smashing, bashing ball of fury fighting both Wolverine and Thor in the Hulk Vs. double feature, Tatasciore gargles and roars his way to icon status. Now recognized as one of the most noted voice actors to ever portray the character, his best work is on display as the Hulk rips his way through the opposition for our entertainment.
1. Mark Ruffalo – Marvel Cinematic Universe (2012-Present)
Re-casting an actor in a major motion picture can be a cause for concern, especially if the character in question happens to be a beloved comic book hero. After experimenting with the Hulk in 2008, Edward Norton and Marvel had a significant falling out over creative differences, giving the studio the difficult task of finding a new actor to fill the stretchy pants of the muscled green guy. Mark Ruffalo’s version would prove to be a roaring success, though admittedly, he did have the help of some familiar faces to help guide the transition.
In 2012’s The Avengers, Banner’s gentler nerdy side would be given a chance to shine, with shades of the darker Hulk still making an appearance. Undoubtedly given the most to work with from a material standpoint, Ruffalo showed off his comedic chops while bantering with Tony Stark and delivering one-liners. Easily topping the other Hulks on our list as the most quotable, he gave us such memorable lines as “I’m always angry” and “Puny god” while making quick work of everything around him and tossing Loki around like a rag doll. Although we’re still holding out hope for another solo Hulk film featuring Ruffalo, we can take comfort in knowing he’ll be sticking around for a few more years with big projects like Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War still in the pipeline.
What’s your favorite version of the Incredible Hulk? Let us know in the comments.