For over a decade, The Incredible Hulk has been the black sheep of Marvel Studios. It's such an outlier for the studio that it still hasn't been included on Disney's streaming service, although that might be coming sooner than expected thanks to some switching of character rights.
Fans were pleasantly surprised by the return of Tim Roth's Abomination in the upcoming She-Hulk series. However, it didn't end there, as the Abomination will make a surprise appearance in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, sporting a brand new design.
GROWING PAINS OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK
The upcoming book "The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe" includes an interview with Trinh Tran, currently an Executive of Production & Development at Marvel Studios. In this interview, Tran recounted her time as a post-production assistant for Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk when she first began working for Marvel Studios.
Working at an off site facility in the Tribeca West offices, The Incredible Hulk associate producer Stephen Broussard would check on the progress of Iron Man, which "only served to amplify his personal anxiety" about the progress of Hulk:
In those early days, Tran worked among both the Iron Man and Hulk post teams in an off site facility at the Tribeca West offices. Iron Man was on the first floor, while The Incredible Hulk was editing three floors up. Hulk associate producer Stephen Broussard often popped down to see how Iron Man shots were coming along, which only served to amplify his personal anxiety about how behind he felt his film was.
This anxiety had to primarily do with the film's length, which already clocked in with "a bloated three hour cut." To make this feeling worse, Iron Man director Jon Favreau attended a screening for this cut of The Incredible Hulk and ribbed Broussard about its length:
When both films moved to the Lantana Media Campus in Santa Monica, to complete their post-production and mixing, Broussard saw a late cut of Iron Man that was firing on all cylinders. Meanwhile, Hulk was clocking in with a bloated three hour cut. Continuing the cross pollination, Favreau attended the screening of this early version of Hulk and good naturedly taunted: “Does it feel a little short to you, Stephen?" Broussard reenacts.
The book even goes so far as to describe The Incredible Hulk as "a literal monster."
Something that surprised everyone was that, initially, The Incredible Hulk was regarded as the surefire success with Iron Man being seen as more of a risk. However, Broussard didn't mind, thinking it was "awesome" and what made the movie business so great and unexpected:
In that context, it's easier to see how Marvel Studios' The Incredible Hulk was treated as their great hope for box office success, while Iron Man was viewed as more of a cool, experimental movie. "But through various circumstances of those films, they switched places," explains Broussard, "Which I think is awesome; it's what's great and unexpected about the movie business. But there was a nervousness, personally for me, offeeling, in a lot of ways, like the runner up as I watched the excitement of Iron Man grow."
Another huge problem facing post-production was that many of the most important elements of the film were entirely computer-generated visual effects:
Wherever those shifting perceptions may have been leading, there was no time to get lost in the mire of them. Broussard, director Louis Letterier, Feige, and their entire post team had a very limited schedule, and the list of what needed to be accomplished in post was massive: The title character, the finale antagonist, and most of the finale itself all had to be created entirely by visual effects.
One inspiration for the film was Godzilla with Kevin Feige stating that "We watched every Godzilla movie ever," and that much of the structure of The Incredible Hulk was based on them:
For inspiration on how to achieve the look and land on the story they wanted, they went straight to the king of all monsters. "We watched every Godzilla movie ever," Feige reveals. "That's exactly what the structure of The Incredible Hulk is. The government fights Godzilla for three quarters of the movie, then a bigger monster comes along and Godzilla helps the government fight the bigger monster."
Marvel Studios was, at this point, still learning how to tell engaging stories for audiences with the excessive amount of post-production work, a "terrifying" thing when considering that The Incredible Hulk's main character, when in his superhero form, was a 100% digital creation:
For post on The Incredible Hulk, figuring out the CGI of it all began just like on Iron Man with the tale itself. The studio was still learning how to do just that: simply tell a good story. On The Incredible Hulk, the most terrifying part was trying to figure that out when the title character was not in any of the footage they'd shot.
MARVEL STUDIOS CHANGING EXPECTATIONS WITH IRON MAN
It's always funny when a film studio dismisses one project in development as a risk and another as a surefire success when it ends up being the opposite upon release.
A similar Disney example was The Lion King being seen as nothing more than a side-project, while the “A-team” worked on Pocahontas. A film they expected to be a big contender for awards when it ended up being The Lion King that had that honor instead.
It's no surprise that the executives at Marvel Studios believed that The Incredible Hulk would be more of a success. After all, the character had his own popular television show in the 1970s and was a staple in the pop culture zeitgeist. However, despite his popularity today, the general public back then knew absolutely nothing about Iron Man.
The likely reason for this unexpected outcome was due to Robert Downey, Jr., who entranced audiences with his performance as Tony Stark. Something that a fully computer-generated creation couldn't quite compete with, especially since he was primarily a screaming Gamma Monster.
She-Hulk is currently expected to release on Disney+ in early 2022.