It’s a good time to be a Marvel fan. The cinematic Marvel universe doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and their TV properties are starting to catch up with the quality of their movies, sometimes even surpassing them in quality. Daredevil, Jessica Jones & Luke Cage have all received mostly positive reviews, and Legion (based in the X-Men universe) had a promising sophomore season. But all these Marvel shows owe a debt to the one that started it all – The Incredible Hulk. It debuted in 1977 and it would be a long time before Marvel would produce anything close to that quality again.
Many long-time fans remember The Incredible Hulk fondly but, these days, far too many people forget or quickly dismiss it. Yes, it’s set in the late seventies/early eighties, and to be honest, it looks like it. Yes, the special effects are lacking, and yes, having a non-CGI Hulk can look “funny”. But good storytelling is good storytelling, and the Hulk had this in spades.
Above all it was a character piece that built on Bruce Banner/ the Hulk’s character, arguably more than any other on-screen representation. It had some great self-contained episodes, 4 of which will be featured on this list.
Without further ado, here are 15 Reasons The Incredible Hulk Is Still Marvel’s Best TV Show.
15. It Was The First Superhero Show To Be Taken Seriously
Fans are so spoiled today that it’s easy to forget that there was a time when the idea of a serious comic book TV show was laughable. The 1960s’ most successful comic book show was Batman, featuring Adam West. It was enjoyable but not exactly serious. The 1970s Wonder Woman had its moments but it was still too campy.
Show creator Kenneth Johnson saw something in the Hulk that could work as a serious television drama. He took what worked from the comic and discarded what wouldn’t work on TV. He treated it as Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde meets Les Misérables, choosing to focus on the tragedy of Banner’s curse as the Hulk. Johnson threw in a murder mystery that would give us the ever persistent, Jack McGee.
Johnson also wanted to cast credible actors and managed to convince the likes of Bill Bixby and Jack Colvin to join the project. Everyone followed Johnson’s lead to make the Hulk a show that could be enjoyed by both adults and children.
14. First Marvel TV Show To Be A Hit
Not only was The Incredible Hulk Marvel’s first show to be a hit, it remained its only live-action hit until Blade was a moderate success in 1998. X-Men really opened the flood gates after that.
We’re talking about a show that debut in 1977 and ended in 1982. It’s a staggering, and somewhat sad statistic, in part because Marvel seemed incapable of releasing anything good for 15 years. This is a perfect example of how hard it was to get the right components together to make a quality superhero show or movie. Not only were fans of the comics watching The Incredible Hulk, it attracted plenty of new fans as well.
The Incredible Hulk was a ratings hit and would go on to be remembered as one of the best TV shows to come out of the seventies/early eighties.
13. The Pilot Episode
This is the episode that has all the essential elements of the series in it. It even features the best Hulk-out ever (slang for when the Hulk transforms).
We meet Dr. David Banner shortly after the death of his wife in a car accident. Banner blames himself for not having the strength to pull his wife out of the burning car where she died. Banner becomes obsessed in finding a way to tap into the hidden strength that all humans are capable of during extreme situations. His research with his colleague, Dr. Elena Marks, leads him to the conclusion that high levels of radiation are the key. He decides to test on himself and accidentally administers 1.7 million units instead of 300,000 units of radiation. Thus, the Hulk is born.
12. It Successfully Added To The Mythology Of The Character
The show made several changes from the comics, the most notable being changing Bruce Banner’s first name to David. There’s some speculation as to the real reason why the name was changed but it remains unclear.
One of the changes that worked best was the green eyes Banner would get just before transforming into the Hulk. Johnson always said that he did that so that fans would recognize that moment as the point of no return for Banner. Once you saw those eyes, you knew that it was about to get real. Many comics, and even the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk have used the green eyes since.
Another definite positive was the addition of investigative reporter Jack McGee. Fans couldn’t get enough of McGee and his unending quest to capture the Hulk. It’s a shame that the series never gave McGee a conclusion to his story.
11. “Mystery Man” Part 1 & 2
You can’t talk about Jack McGee and David Banner without mentioning the terrific two-part episode “Mystery Man”. It’s an extremely well-written episode that gave fans an opportunity to watch McGee and Banner to interact. Any episodes before or after only had the characters interact incidentally.
In “Mystery Man”, Banner survives a car accident that leaves him with amnesia, and burns that require his face to be covered in bandages. McGee manages to track him down in the hospital, suspecting that Banner could hold the key to the Hulk. At this point, McGee is still unaware that a man physically transforms into the creature. Banner doesn’t remember anything but he does find McGee familiar, and agrees to go back with him to the city to see if together, they can jog his memory.
Things get very interesting when the two are forced to fend for themselves after their plane crashes in the middle of a large forest. Throughout the episodes the two men come to understand each other and we learn why McGee is so obsessed with the Hulk. This is a wonderfully written and acted episode that showcases the best The Incredible Hulk can offer.
10. First Marvel Show To Win An Emmy
The Emmys have often overlooked comic book shows, even to this day. It only goes to show you how respected The Incredible Hulk was that it was even nominated for an Emmy award. The fact that Mariette Hartley won for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series was a shock to everyone except the creators of the show. Johnson pitched the script to Mariette Hartley and told her “this is your Emmy.” She played Dr. Caroline Fields in the episode “Married”, which we’ll talk more about later.
The Incredible Hulk also managed to get two more nominations through the course of the series, for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Series (Dramatic Underscore) and Outstanding Cinematography for a Series. Jessica Jones would finally give Marvel TV another Emmy, this time for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music.
Season two of The Incredible Hulk kicked things off with one of the finest episodes of the series. The aforementioned “Married” received critical acclaim as we know but it gave Banner something he didn’t have; a chance for happiness.
In the episode, Banner heads to Honolulu to find renowned hypnotherapist/psychiatrist Dr. Caroline Fields. Banner hopes to use Dr. Fields’ methods in order to help control the Hulk. Dr. Fields suffers from a deadly disease herself and realizes that the Hulk’s unique healing factor can perhaps help cure her. They decide to help each other and through the course of the episode fall in love. They go so far as to marry each other, making Caroline Fields the first woman David Banner marries after the death of his first wife.
8. The first ever Stan Lee Cameo
The cameos that Stan Lee makes in all the Marvel movies are a staple at this point. Many fans have come to love and expect them. Funnily enough, Stan Lee’s first cameo was actually in the TV movie Trial Of The Incredible Hulk, which starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.
Bixby ended up taking the director’s chair, as well as starring in it. Stan Lee’s cameo takes place during the “trial” (dream sequence trial), and he plays the part of a juror. During the climax of the scene, Banner transforms into the Hulk and picks up the jury box and tosses it, and everyone in it, aside. Of course, Lee needed a stunt double for that.
7. The Only Superhero Show to Have 3 TV Movies
The Incredible Hulk ended with its fifth season in 1982 but, remained popular enough to warrant three made for TV movies; Return Of The Incredible Hulk (1988), Trial Of The Incredible Hulk (1989), and Death Of The The Incredible Hulk (1990). Many fans lament that David Banner/the Hulk, never got to end their story on the show. Instead, they got their conclusion in the last of the three TV movies.
The Hulk movies got made thanks to NBC. They nabbed the rights from CBS. The movies vary in quality compared to the show. The show had the same cast but attempted to add more supernatural elements than its predecessor. Bixby and Ferrigno were as strong as usual and the first two movies were a ratings smash. The third and final movie suffered from a dip in viewers but nothing lasts forever.
6. ” Prometheus” Part 1 & 2
The episode “Prometheus” is the episode closest to a comic book type story. It presented an intriguing premise that was executed very well. This episode almost always shows up on any fan’s list of the best episodes of the series.
In the episode, David befriends a blind woman named Katie, after saving her life. In another location, scientists monitor a large meteor that seems to be headed right toward the area where David and Katie are.
Eventually the meteor crashes, and leaves David and Katie shaken but unharmed. But the high levels of radiation coming from the meteor begin to affect David, and after transforming into the Hulk, he doesn’t revert back to human form. Instead, he’s in a perpetual half-Hulk like state.
The government send a team to investigate the crash site and they end up capturing the Hulk, thinking he’s an alien. The episode has plenty of interesting twists and turns and yet another memorable performance from Bill Bixby.
5. First Comic Book TV Show With Crossover Heroes
Superhero crossovers seem to be the norm nowadays but the Hulk‘s TV movies were the first to do it. The Incredible Hulk Returns featured Marvel’s Thor. There is actually a scene in the movie where Hulk and Thor duke it out but, don’t expect the battle to be anywhere near as epic as the one they had in 2012’s Avengers.
Trial Of The Incredible Hulk gave fans a chance to witness the live-action debut of Daredevil. It even featured the villainous Wilson Fisk (Kingpin), played by John Rhys-Davies, who also played Gimli in the Lord Of The Rings. Daredevil’s on-screen debut was a lot better than Thor’s. Daredevil even sported an all-black costume similar to the one he wore in Netflix’s first season of Daredevil. The idea was for Daredevil to spinoff into this own series but that never materialized.
4. The First Live-Action Adaptation That Stan Lee Loved
The Incredible Hulk’s popularity quickly gave way to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange getting their own live-action TV shows. The Amazing Spider-Man only last two seasons and Dr. Strange never made it past being a less than stellar TV movie. While Stan Lee didn’t mind Dr. Strange, he hated The Amazing Spider-Man; calling it “a nightmare”.
Stan Lee was never shy about his deep admiration for The Incredible Hulk. He would often gush about it in interviews, sounding like a fanboy himself. Lee noted that all the changes that were made on the show were the right ones. He praised Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno’s performances and appreciated show-creator Kenneth Johnson’s devotion to make a good show. The next movie to come out after the Hulk concluded was 1990’s Captain America, which Stan Lee called “another disappointment”.
3. Has One Of The Most Iconic TV Themes Of All Time
If people remember anything about The Incredible Hulk, it’s the classic intro and outro. The intro had scenes from the pilot episode while a dramatic narration told the story of David Banner. Who could forget the music? The intro had an intense bombastic tone to it, while the outro quieted things down with a haunting and somber piano, dubbed “The Lonely Man Theme”. Composer Joe Harnell was nominated for but failed to win an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Series in 1982. The theme is so fondly remembered that the filmmakers behind 2008’s Incredible Hulk incorporated it in to their film.
The intro is continues to be quoted by fans today. The dramatic voice everyone remembers was done by voice actor Ted Cassidy. It doesn’t hurt that the intro also had the most quoted line of the show in it: “Mr. McGee, Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
2. ” The First” Part 1 & 2
Another must-watch episode has to be “The First”. It was the only episode that featured a fight scene between two “Hulks”. If you couldn’t tell by now, the two-part episodes are almost always great.
While the two-parter does have action, that’s not the draw. It’s the concept and the script that really shine. The acting from everyone involved in the episode is strong too.
David Banner hears news of a small town that had sightings of a Hulk-like creature several years before Banner’s Hulk. Nobody has seen it for years. David hopes that finding the person responsible for the creature will lead him to a cure. The problem is that the scientist responsible for the “first” Hulk is dead, and David only has half of the doctor’s medical notes.
David’s chance comes when a decrepit man named Dell Frye catches David morphing into the Hulk and decides to help him with the missing notes. You find out soon after that Frye has his own agenda for helping David.
1. Bill Bixby & Lou Ferrigno
Casting Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in their respective roles was a huge part of what made The Incredible Hulk so great. It’s important to give a nod to Jack Colvin too.
Lou Ferrigno seems like the only choice to play the Hulk. Arnold Schwarzenegger was originally considered for the part but deemed too short. Ferrigno had the look that was needed plus, he really understood how to portray the gentle vulnerability the Hulk needed to have, along with the anger. Keep in mind that Ferrigno had to emote without speaking a word.
Bill Bixby fit the character of David Banner like a glove. He was the first and only choice for the role. Bixby was already a respected actor and leading man, and the Hulk gave him a chance to get away from playing squeaky-clean characters.
Bixby nailed the anguish, torment, rage, and intensity that Banner needed, and most importantly, he made Banner likeable. You really felt that Banner was a good man that was worth rooting for. Sadly, Bixby passed away from cancer in 1993.
Do you agree that The Incredible Hulk is still the greatest Marvel TV show? Let us know in the comments!