Edward Norton was originally the Hulk in Marvel's The Incredible Hulk, but his stint didn't last long with Mark Ruffalo replacing him in 2012's The Avengers. The second headlining actor to be cast in the franchise, Norton's The Incredible Hulk, where he played Bruce Banner and his alter-ego, followed Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man in 2008. But right before his next outing in Joss Whedon's ensemble film, Marvel Studios announced Ruffalo to take over the part.
Directed by Louis Leterrier, The Incredible Hulk wasn't as well received as its MCU predecessor, but it's considered an improvement from 2003's Hulk, which many people took as a good sign for the big-screen future of the character. Norton's performance was well-received, leaving no indication that Marvel Studios was looking to replace him. But as it turns out, things were more chaotic behind-the-scenes.
Norton was expected to reprise the role as the Hulk in The Avengers, but right before filming for the crossover movie began in 2010, Marvel released a statement that they wouldn't be bringing back Norton because they're looking for "an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members." They also maintained that the decision wasn't "based on monetary factors." No further information was given regarding the specifics, but it's clear that there's a falling out between involved parties. Many believed that the snide comment was in relation to Norton rewriting the solo movie's script - he recently called out Marvel for Incredible Hulk's's bad script - something that probably didn't bode well with the higher ups at Marvel.
Norton's team quickly came out with a statement denying Marvel Studios' claims. Calling out Kevin Feige for his offensive comments to the actor, they claimed that there had been active conversations about Norton reprising the role in The Avengers, and that he was actually very excited at the idea of joining his fellow MCU actors for Whedon's movie. However, "after several weeks of civil, uncontentious discussions... a representative from Marvel called to say they had decided to go in another direction with the part." This gave them the impression that the decision to recast Norton was due to financial reasons, and while they're okay with that, they couldn't simply accept Feige's "mean spirited, accusatory comments."
Ruffalo was eventually announced to be taking over as Hulk. He was presented at Marvel Studios' San Diego Comic-Con 2010 panel alongside the whole cast of The Avengers. The actor belatedly admitted that he was extremely nervous to take on the role but maintained that he's good friends with Norton and he feels like he "has bequeathed this part" to him. Ruffalo's Hulk became one of the best parts of The Avengers. Since then, he has become a staple in the MCU, reprising the role three more times - Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Infinity War. He'll soon appear in Avengers: Endgame this April, but his fate hangs in the balance after that with Marvel Studios seemingly no plans of going for another standalone film because of Hulk's rights issues with Universal.
Four years after the recasting, Norton addressed the actor switch-up for the first time in 2014, although he offered a different variation of the story from both his former employer and even his representatives. According to him, he left the role on his own accord. "Maybe on some unconscious level, I didn’t want to have an association with one thing in any way degrade my effectiveness as an actor, in characters. I think you can sort of do anything once, but if you do it too many times, it can become a suit that’s hard to take off, in other peoples’ eyes," he said. As of now, everyone seems to have moved on from this casting controversy. Although with conflicting statements regarding what prompted Marvel to replace Norton after working on The Incredible Hulk, fans will be more than open to learn what really went down with their ugly break-up.
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