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Hulk is a 2003 American superhero film based on the fictional Marvel Comics character of the same name directed by Ang Lee which stars Eric Bana as the title character, as well as Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, and Nick Nolte. The film explores the origins of the Hulk, which is partially attributed to Banner's father's experiments on himself, and on his son.

Development for the film started as far back as 1990. The film was at one point to be directed by Joe Johnston and then Jonathan Hensleigh. More scripts had been written by Hensleigh, John Turman, Michael France, Zak Penn, J. J. Abrams, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Michael Tolkin, and David Hayter before Ang Lee and James Schamus' involvement. Hulk was shot mostly in California, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hulk was a commercial success, grossing over $245 million worldwide, higher than its $137 million budget. However, the film received mixed to positive reviews from film critics. Many praised the writing, acting, character development of the film and the music score by Danny Elfman, but the character origins differing from the comics, outdated CGI and the dark, depressing story plot were criticised. A reboot, titled The Incredible Hulk, was released on June 13, 2008.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Near the end of the 1960s, scientist David Banner is conducting research into genetics and is attempting to mutate human DNA to boost the immune systems of soldiers to help them heal quickly in battle. After he is denied permission to conduct human trials, Banner experiments on himself. As time passes, David realizes his mutant DNA has been passed on to his son and attempts to find a cure. The military, lead by Thunderbolt Ross, shuts down Banner's research after learning of the unauthorized experiments. In a fit of rage, Banner triggers a massive gamma explosion and kills his wife. David is put into a mental hospital while young Bruce is adopted into a foster home, growing up to believe his parents are both dead.

In 2003, Bruce Banner is now a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. The military takes an interest in Banner's research into nanomeds and sends Major Talbot to investigate it. Meanwhile, David Banner reappears and begins to infiltrate Bruce's life, taking a job as a janitor at the lab and secretly keeping an eye on Bruce. Thunderbolt Ross is informed of the research and becomes concerned for his daughter Betty, who works at the lab with Bruce. Ross meets with Betty and informs her of his concerns, but she becomes angry that he came there for business and not to reconcile with her.

In a lab accident, Bruce is accidentally exposed to gamma radiation and the nanomeds, which combine with his already mutated DNA and protect him from being killed by the radiation. After the accident, Bruce awakens in a hospital bed and Betty informs him that he should be dead, but instead he is better than he was before. That night, David finally confronts Bruce and reveals himself as Bruce's father. He tells Bruce to watch his temper, and quietly steals some of Bruce's hair to conduct his own tests on. David begins using Bruce's altered DNA in animal testing, producing a pack of mutated dogs. The combined frustration and stress around Bruce begin to overwhelm him and he transforms into the Hulk, destroying his lab and rampaging around.

The next day, Betty finds Bruce passed out at home. As he is trying to piece together what happened, General Ross arrives and places him under house arrest. Betty tracks down David and confronts him, prompting David to call Bruce and tell him that he has unleashed three mutant dogs to track down and kill Betty. Bruce is further provoked by Major Talbot, and transforms into Hulk, seriously injuring Major Talbot before rushing to save Betty. The next morning, Bruce is captured by Ross and taken to an underground desert base where Major Talbot is in charge of research. Betty wants to help Bruce control his transformations, but General Ross believes that Bruce is a danger who is doomed to follow in his father's footsteps.

Major Talbot sees an opportunity to profit from the Hulk's strength and regenerative capability. He puts Bruce in a sensory deprivation tank and triggers a transformation into the Hulk, who escapes from the research facility. Talbot is killed when a gun he fires at the Hulk ricochets back on him. The escaped Hulk flees into the desert, battling the army forces sent after him. He discovers that he can cover great distances by leaping with his powerful legs, and uses this ability to quickly make his way to San Francisco to find Betty. Betty defies her father and confronts the Hulk, who is soothed by her appearance and transforms back into Bruce Banner. Meanwhile, David breaks into the lab and uses Bruce's nanomed technology on himself, gaining the ability to meld with and absorb the properties of any substance he touches. He goes to Betty's house and offers to turn himself in, with the condition that he can see Bruce one more time.

General Ross agrees and allows David to talk to Bruce. David tells Bruce that he wants to see his real son, the Hulk. Bruce refuses to transform and David grabs a nearby power wire, mutating into a large power-absorbing monster. Bruce becomes the Hulk and the two fly to a forest and battle. The two fight each other to a lake, where David freezes the Hulk in the water and taunts him, trying to get Bruce to release his power. Finally Bruce unleashes the full power of the Hulk, which overwhelms his father and causes him to swell into a huge, unstable form. At the same time, General Ross detonates a gamma bomb on them. David is destroyed, but Bruce (who is unconscious at the bottom of the lake) survives and remembers David tucking him into bed as a child saying sweet dreams which probably means his father still might have loved him.

One year later, Bruce is shown working as a doctor in a rainforest. Some soldiers try to steal some medical supplies from the camp, and Bruce confronts them, telling them "Don't make me angry! You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!" as the loud roar of the Hulk can be heard and the screen fades to green.

All spoilers have been stated and have ended here.


  • Eric Bana as Bruce Banner / Hulk (known legally as Bruce Krenzler throughout the movie): A gamma-radiation research scientist who was exposed to a large amount of gamma radiations in an accident in his labs and after the incident. Bana was cast in October 2001, signing for an additional two sequels. Ang Lee felt obliged to cast Bana upon seeing Chopper, and first approached the actor in July 2001. The role was heavily pursued by other actors. Bana was also in heavy contention for Ghost Rider, but lost out to Nicolas Cage. Bana explained, "I was obsessed with the TV show. I was never a huge comic book reader when I was a kid, but was completely obsessed with the television show." It was widely reported Billy Crudup turned down the role. Johnny Depp and Steve Buscemi were reported to be in under consideration for the lead. Edward Norton, who went on to play the part in The Incredible Hulk, expressed interest in the role. Norton eventually turned down the part as he was disappointed with the script.
    • Michael and David Kronenberg as Young Bruce Banner
    • Mike Erwin as Teenage Bruce Banner
  • Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross: Bruce's ex-girlfriend/co-researcher, as well as estranged daughter of General Ross. Betty is possibly the only way for the Hulk to lead back into his transformation of Bruce. Connelly was attracted to the role by way of director Ang Lee. "He's not talking about a guy running around in green tights and a glossy fun-filled movie for kids. He's talking along the lines of tragedy and psychodrama. I find it interesting, the green monster of rage and greed, jealousy and fear in all of us."
  • Sam Elliott as General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross: A four star general and estranged father of Betty. Ross was responsible of prohibiting David Banner from his lab work after learning of his dangerous experiments. Elliot felt his performance was similar to his portrayal of Basil L. Plumley in We Were Soldiers. Elliot accepted the role without reading the script, being simply too excited to work with Ang Lee. In addition Elliot also researched Hulk comic books for the part.
  • Nick Nolte as David Banner: The mentally unstable biological father of Bruce Banner who was also a genetics research scientist and had been locked away for 30 years after causing an explosion in the gamma reactor and accidentally killing his wife, Edith. After exposing himself to gamma radiation, he gains the ability to combine with the essence of all physical objects, reminiscent of the comic book character Absorbing Man, one of the characters that first appeared in the early scripts of the film. He also, at one point, becomes a towering creature composed of electricity, reminiscent of Zzzax, one of the Hulk's enemies in the comic series. Nolte agreed to participate in the film when Ang Lee described the project as a "Greek tragedy." Paul Kersey portrays the young David Banner in flashbacks.
  • Josh Lucas as Major Glenn Talbot: A ruthless former soldier who offers Banner and Betty Ross an opportunity to work for him in an attempt to start an experiment on self-healing soldiers.
  • Cara Buono as Edith Banner: Bruce's biological mother of whom he cannot remember. She is heard, but mostly appears in Bruce's nightmares.
  • Kevin O. Rankin as Harper: Bruce's colleague whom he saved from the gamma radiations.
  • Celia Weston as Mrs. Krenzler: Bruce's adoptive mother who cared for him after the death of Edith and David's incarceration.
  • Lou Ferrigno as Security Guard
  • Stan Lee as Security Guard
  • Johnny Kastl as Soldier
  • Daniel Dae Kim as Aide


Jonathan Hensleigh

Producers Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd began the development for Hulk in 1990, the same year the final TV movie based on the 1970s TV series aired. They set the property up at Universal Pictures in 1992. Michael France and Stan Lee were invited into Universal's offices in 1994, with France writing the script. Universal's concept was to have the Hulk battle terrorists, an idea France disliked. John Turman, a Hulk comic book fan, was brought to write the script in 1995, getting approval from Lee. Turman wrote ten drafts and was heavily influenced by the Tales to Astonish issues, which pitted the Hulk against General Ross and the military, the Leader, Rick Jones, the atomic explosion origin from the comics, and Brian Banner as the explanation for Bruce's inner anger. Universal had mixed feelings over Turman's script, but nonetheless future screenwriters would use many elements.

Hurd brought her husband Jonathan Hensleigh as co-producer the following year and Industrial Light & Magic was hired to use computer-generated imagery to create the Hulk. Universal was courting France once more to write the script, but changed their minds when Joe Johnston became the director in April 1997. The studio wanted Hensleigh to rewrite the script due to his successful results on Johnston's Jumanji. France was fired before he wrote a single page, but received a buy-off from Universal. Johnston dropped out of directing in July 1997 in favor of October Sky, and Hensleigh convinced Universal to make the Hulk his directing debut. Turman was brought back a second time to write two more drafts. Zak Penn then rewrote it. His script featured a fight between the Hulk and a school of sharks, as well as two scenes he eventually used for the 2008 film; Banner realizing he is unable to have sex, and triggering a transformation by falling out of a helicopter. Hensleigh rewrote from scratch, coming up with a brand new storyline featuring Bruce Banner, who prior to the accident which will turn him into The Hulk, experimenting with gamma-irradiated insect DNA on three convicts. This transforms the convicts into "insect men" that cause havoc.

Concept art for Jonathan Hensleigh's script

Filming was set to start in December 1997 in Arizona for a summer 1999 release date, but filming was pushed back for four months. Hensleigh subsequently rewrote the script with J. J. Abrams. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were also brought on board to rewrite with Hensleigh still attached as director. In October 1997, Hulk had entered pre-production with the creation of prosthetic makeup and computer animation already under way. Gregory Sporleder was cast as "Novak", Banner's archenemy while Lynn "Red" Williams was cast as a convict who transforms into a combination of human, ant and beetle. In March 1998 Universal put Hulk on hiatus due to its escalating $100 million budget and worries of Hensleigh directing his first film. $20 million was already spent on script development, computer animation, and prosthetics work. Hensleigh immediately went to rewrite the script in order to lower the budget.

Michael France

Hensleigh found the rewriting process to be too difficult and dropped out, and felt he "wasted nine months in pre-production". It took another eight months for France to convince Universal and the producers to let him try to write a script for a third time. France claimed "Someone within the Universal hierarchy wasn't sure if this was a science fiction adventure, or a comedy, and I kept getting directions to write both. I think that at some point when I wasn't in the room, there may have been discussions about turning it into a Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler movie." France was writing the script on fast track from July—September 1999. Filming for Hulk was to start in April 2000.

France stated his vision of the film was different from the other drafts, which based Bruce Banner on his "amiable, nerdy genius" incarnation in the 1960s. France cited inspiration from the 1980s Hulk stories which introduced Brian Banner, Bruce's abusive father who killed his mother. His script had Banner trying to create cells with regenerative capabilities in order to prove to himself that he is not like his father. However, he has anger management issues before the Hulk is even created, which makes everything worse. The "Don't make me angry..." line from the TV series was made into dialogue that Banner's father would say before beating his son. Elements such as the "Gammasphere", Banner's tragic romance with Ross, and the black ops made it to the final film. France turned in his final drafts in late 1999-January 2000.

Ang Lee

Michael Tolkin and David Hayter rewrote the script afterwards, despite positive response from the producers over France's script. Tolkin was brought in January 2000, while Hayter was brought in September of that year. Hayter's draft featured The Leader, Zzzax, and the Absorbing Man as the villains, who are depicted as colleagues of Banner and get caught in the same accident that creates the Hulk. Director Ang Lee and his producing partner James Schamus became involved with the film in January 20, 2001. Lee was dissatisfied with Hayter's script, and commissioned Schamus for a rewrite, merging Banner's father with the Absorbing Man. Lee cited influences from King Kong, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Beauty and the Beast, Faust, and Greek mythology for his interpretation of the story. Schamus said he had found the storyline that introduced Brian Banner, thus allowing Lee to write a drama that again explored father-son themes.

Schamus was still rewriting the script in October 2001. In early 2002, as filming was underway, Michael France read all the scripts for the Writers Guild of America, to determine who would get final credit. France criticized Schamus and Hayter for claiming they were aiming to make Banner a deeper character, and was saddened they had denigrated his and Turman's work in interviews. Schamus elected to get solo credit. France felt, "James Schamus did a significant amount of work on the screenplay. For example, he brought in the Hulk dogs from the comics and he made the decision to use Banner's father as a real character in the present. But he used quite a lot of elements from John Turman's scripts and quite a lot from mine, and that's why we were credited." France, Turman and Schamus received final credit. A theatrical release date for June 20, 2003 was announced in December 2001, with the film's title as The Hulk.



Filming began on March 18, 2002 in Arizona, and moved on April 19 to the San Francisco Bay Area. This included Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley labs, Oakland, Treasure Island military base, and the sequoia forests of Porterville, before several weeks in the Utah and Californian deserts. The penultimate battle scene between Hulk and his father used the real Pear Lake in Sequoia National Park as a backdrop. Filming then moved to the Universal backlot in Los Angeles, using Stage 12 for the water tank scene, before finishing in the first week of August. Filming of Hulk constituted hiring 3,000 local workers, generating over $10 million into the local economy. Mychael Danna, who previously collaborated with Lee on Ride with the Devil and The Ice Storm, was set to compose the film score before dropping out. Danny Elfman was then hired.

Eric Bana commented that the shoot was, "Ridiculously serious... a silent set, morbid in a lot of ways." Lee told him that he was shooting a Greek tragedy: he would be making a "whole other movie" about the Hulk at Industrial Light & Magic. An example of Lee's art house approach to the film was taking Bana to watch a bare-knuckle boxing match. Computer animation supervisor Dennis Muren was on the set every day. One of the many visual images in the film that presented an acting challenge for Bana was a split screen technique employed by Lee to cinematically mimic the panels of a comic book page. This required many more takes of individual scenes than normal. Sound design was completed at Skywalker Sound. Muren and other ILM animators used previous technology from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (for the Dobby character) to create the Hulk with computer-generated imagery. Other software used included PowerAnimator, Softimage Creative Environment, Softimage XSI, and RenderMan Interface Specification. ILM started computer animation work in 2001, and completed in May 2003, just one month before the film's release. Lee provided some motion capture work in post-production.


Film score

Hulk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Danny Elfman
Released June 17, 2003
Length 69:53
Label Decca Records

The film score for Hulk was composed by Danny Elfman, who scored Spider-Man the previous year. Frequent Ang Lee collaborator, Mychael Danna, was the original composer for the film. However, Danna's score was rejected by studio executives for its non-traditional approach, which featured Japanese taiko, African drumming, and Arabic singing. Elfman was then approached by Universal's president of film music, Kathy Nelson. With 37 days to compose over two hours of music, Elfman agreed out of respect to Lee. While instructing to retain much of the character of Danna's score, Lee pushed Elfman to write material that did not sound like his previous superhero scores. "They did leave some of my music in the movie," said Danna, "so the Arabic singing and some of the drumming is mine. What happened is that they panicked, they brought in Danny and he heard what I've been doing and I guess he liked it."

A soundtrack album was released on June 17, 2003 by Decca Records. It features the song "Set Me Free" by Velvet Revolver, which is played during the film's end credits.



Universal Pictures spent $2.1 million to market the film in a 30-second television spot during Super Bowl XXXVII on January 26, 2003. And a 70-second teaser trailer was attached to Spider-Man on May 3, 2002. Just weeks before the film's release, a number of workprints were leaked on the Internet. The visual and special effects were already being criticized, despite the fact that it was not the final editing cut of the film.

Home media

Hulk was released on VHS and DVD on October 28, 2003. The film earned $61.2 million in DVD sales during 2003. Hulk was released on HD DVD format on December 12, 2006 and it was later released on Blu-ray on September 16, 2008.


Critical response

Rotten Tomatoes calculated a 62% approval rating out of 232 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "While Ang Lee's ambitious film earns marks for style and an attempt at dramatic depth, there's ultimately too much talking and not enough smashing." By comparison Metacritic collected an average score of 54 based on 40 reviews.[55] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B-, on a scale from A to F.

Roger Ebert gave a positive review, explaining, "Ang Lee is trying to actually deal with the issues in the story of the Hulk, instead of simply cutting to brainless visual effects." Ebert also liked how the Hulk's movements resembled King Kong. Although Peter Travers of Rolling Stone felt Hulk should have been shorter, he heavily praised the action sequences, especially the climax and cliffhanger. Paul Clinton of CNN believed the cast gave strong performances, but in an otherwise positive review, heavily criticized the computer-generated imagery, calling the Hulk "a ticked-off version of Shrek".

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle considered "the film is more thoughtful and pleasing to the eye than any blockbuster in recent memory, but its epic length comes without an epic reward." Ty Burr of The Boston Globe felt "Jennifer Connelly reprises her stand-by-your-messed-up-scientist turn from A Beautiful Mind." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly stated, "a big-budget comic-book adaptation has rarely felt so humorless and intellectually defensive about its own pulpy roots."

Hulk received retrospective praise from critics for its artistic difference from other superhero films. In 2012, Matt Zoller Seitz cited the film as one of the few big budget superhero films that "really departed from formula, in terms of subject matter or tone", writing that the film is "pretty bizarre... in its old-school Freudian psychology, but interesting for that reason". In Scout Tafoya's 2016 video essay on another film directed by Ang Lee, Ride with the Devil, he mentioned Hulk' as "Lee's ill-fated but quietly soulful and deeply sad adaptation of The Incredible Hulk comics". In 2018, Peter Sobczynski of wrote that the film is "a genuinely great example of cinematic pop art that deserves a reappraisal"

Box office

Hulk was released on June 20, 2003, earning $62.1 million in its opening weekend, which made it the 16th highest ever opener at the time. With a second weekend drop of 70%, it was the first opener above $20 million to drop over 65%. The film went on to gross $132,177,234 in North America on an estimated budget of $137,000,000, and made $113,183,246 in foreign countries, coming to a worldwide total of $245,360,480. With a final North American gross of $132.2 million it became the largest opener not to earn $150 million.


Connelly and Danny Elfman received nominations at the 30th Saturn Awards with Best Actress and Best Music. The film was nominated for Best Science Fiction Film but lost out to another film based on Marvel characters, X2. Dennis Muren, Michael Lantieri and the special effects crew were nominated for Best Special Effects.


Main article: The Incredible Hulk

After the mixed reception of Hulk, Marvel Studios reacquired the film rights to the character, and writer Zak Penn began work on a sequel titled The Incredible Hulk. However, Edward Norton rewrote Penn's script after he signed on to star, retelling the origin story in flashbacks and revelations, to help in establishing the film as a reboot; director Louis Leterrier agreed with this approach. Leterrier acknowledged that the only remaining similarity between the two films was Bruce hiding in South America.

External links

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