Marvel drops Ed Norton — maybe they don’t like him when he’s angry [Updated]

July 11, 2010 | 10:23 p.m.
Edward Norton Hulk Marvel

The Hulk has some fairly obvious anger issues and, let’s face it, he’s not exactly a team player. The same might be said of Edward Norton, the two-time Oscar nominee whose talent and temperament are often mentioned in the same breath by Hollywood insiders. “Sure, Ed Norton is a great actor, but….”

Norton portrayed the unjolly green giant’s alter ego, fugitive scientist Bruce Banner, in The Incredible Hulk in 2008, but he won’t be reprising the role in “The Avengers,” the Marvel Studios film planned for summer 2012 that aspires to bring together all of the company’s hero franchises and supporting characters into one massive all-star ensemble with Joss Whedon reportedly directing and Jon Favreau already locked in as one of the producers.

Edward Norton angry Hulk

Norton is on the outside looking in now, as made clear by a surprisingly pointed statement from Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige that was sent directly to the folks at HitFix (it was a response to an earlier rumor story about Norton’s ejection from the Marvel Universe).

Feige, maybe the most earnest and easygoing executive I’ve ever met in Hollywood, slapped down the HitFix notion that this was a money-based move and that that there might be room for negotiation: “We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members.”

Ouch. Norton was going to be a key player — and someone who could certainly hold his own — in a cast led by Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and also featuring Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker is also on board to play Hawkeye, the headstrong costumed archer. The film could also feature Don Cheadle as War Machine, but a few weeks back Cheadle said he was in a wait-and-see mode on that.

Hulkbecomingbanner

Who will play the Hulk? HitFix suggested it would be some unknown actor and that this would be a huge letdown to Marvel fans, but that makes it sound like fans and critics went crazy for Norton in the role. They didn’t. The movie made $263 million worldwide, which is solid, but really not all that much better than Ang Lee’sHulk” in 2005, which starred Eric Bana, collected $245 million and was cheaper to make. Lee’s movie had a production budget of $137 million; the more recent Hulk film, directed by Louis Leterrier, cost $150 million. Critics were more supportive of Leterrier’s action-savvy take than Lee’s monster ruminations, but if you look at the tallies on Metacritic, the scores are actually fairly close, at 61 to 54.

The point may be moot: Fiege made it a point to say they wouldn’t be casting an unknown, anyway. “We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements,” he said in the statement, “and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.”

So this will probably play out a lot like the replacement of Terrence Howard, who was reportedly the highest-paid actor in the “Iron Man” cast and then was shown the door and replaced by Cheadle. Howard got that high pay because he was the first one signed to the project, it was the first Marvel Studios production and Downey’s career was still in bounce-back mode. He got replaced in part because he didn’t want to renegotiate, and that became the Hollywood headline, making it seem like a money matter.

Hulk2008

Marvel Studios, which delivered its first movie in 2008, is already pretty infamous for its penny-pinching, but according to insiders, Howard really got kicked out of the franchise because he was viewed as a problem child by the “Iron Man” team and the studio leadership. And, yes, there may be a trend here. It seems to me that Marvel is now like a pro sports team with a salary cap and a low tolerance for troublemakers — and an even lower tolerance for expensive troublemakers. But Norton’s agent, Brian Swardstrom, has a far different take.

Bruce Banner gamma

Swardstrom sounded apoplectic in responding to Feige’s comments: “This offensive statement from Kevin Feige at Marvel is a purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light…. This past Wednesday, after several weeks of civil, uncontentious discussions, but before we had come to terms on a deal, a representative from Marvel called to say they had decided to go in another direction with the part. This seemed to us to be a financial decision but, whatever the case, it is completely their prerogative, and we accepted their decision with no hard feelings. We know a lot of fans have voiced their public disappointment with this result, but this is no excuse for Feige’s mean spirited, accusatory comments. Counter to what Kevin implies here, Edward was looking forward to the opportunity to work with Joss and the other actors in the Avengers cast, many of whom are personal friends of his. Feige’s statement is unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory. Mr. Norton’s talent, tireless work ethic and professional integrity deserve more respect, and so do Marvel’s fans.”

Good luck trying to unravel the hard truth in all of this, unless Oksana Grigorieva happened to be on the line taping the back-and-forth between Marvel and Norton’s camp.

What’s next? Well, no one seemed to mind that Cheadle stepped in as Tony Stark’s best pal in “Iron Man 2,” and I can’t see a fan revolt over Norton’s exile. Right now, to be savagely honest, there is one and only one irreplacable person in the Hollywood life of Marvel: Downey. An Avengers movie with someone other than Downey in the metal suit won’t fly, but don’t expect picket signs for the absent Norton.

Feige, shown in the photo below with Downey, really couldn’t bring in a total unknown to play Banner because the movie already has an unproved lead in Hemsworth (best known, to date, as Captain Kirk’s doomed father in the short opening sequence of the “Star Trek” reboot) and a still-unproved commodity in Evans. Tapping a fresh-face actor to play Banner would be cheaper, sure, but the new guy might get gobbled up in shared scenes with big-charisma personalities like Downey and Jackson or real-deal, serious actors like Renner and Cheadle.

Kevin Feige and Robert Downey Jr on set of Iron Man 2

So who will take over the green movement from Norton? Adrien Brody, who just went into action-hero mode in “Predators,” is mentioned a lot. And he did attend the premiere of “Iron Man 2,” as did Renner, who at that time had not been announced as an “Avengers” cast member. Someone very close to the situation tells me that Brody is not getting the job, but that could be a smoke screen. (I have a pet theory, by the way, that Brody is locked in for the role of Ant-Man, but that’s more hunch than anything else. Nathan Fillion is getting a lot of attention from the rumor mill, though, for the Hank Pym role, so I could be wrong….)

Alex Ross Hulk

Speaking for myself, I’d love to see Kevin Spacey in the role, and there’s no reason that Banner needs to be as young as the other heroes in the film. I also think Hugh Grant would be a great and unexpected choice — he does look like the bookish and bespectacled Banner — but that might not go over well with the fanboys.

It’s a pretty wide-open role, really. Liam Neeson could do it, so could Hugh Laurie or even a Michael C. Hall.

We should know very soon — Marvel sources tell me that the announcement will be any day now and that the new Banner will almost certainly be part of the studio’s Comic-Con International panel at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 24. You know who you can rule out for the role? Anyone with a reputation as a problem child.

So this will be three actors in the same role in a span of seven years. That’s not unheard of — three actors played James Bond in films released between 1969 and 1973, and Batman’s cowl was worn by three different stars between 1992 and 1997 — but the real problem for Marvel Studios is the industry word of mouth that will start if there are any more high-profile ousters. If one more hero is kicked to the curb, you’ll start hearing rumors, fair or not, that Marvel Studios is the real bad guy.

– Geoff Boucher

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PHOTOS: Top,  Edward Norton speaks at the 11th Annual Friends of the High Line Party and Summer Dinner on June 21 in New York. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images); Second and fourth, scenes from “The Incredible Hulk” (Marvel Studios/Universal) . Third and fifth, vintage panels showing Bruce Banner  (Marvel Comics);  Sixth, Kevin Feige and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of “Iron Man 2” (Marvel Studios/Paramount). Seventh, a painting of the Hulk by Alex Ross (Alex Ross/Marvel). Bottom, Chris Hemsworth as Thor (Marvel/Paramount).

[Updated at 5:38 p.m.: An earlier headline on this story said Norton was “fired,” implying that he had secured the role of Bruce Banner in “The Avengers” movie and then lost it. The actor was in negotiations to reprise the role but had not signed a contract, so the headline has been changed.]


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Comments


40 Responses to Marvel drops Ed Norton — maybe they don’t like him when he’s angry [Updated]

  1. Fabrisse says:

    I loved Norton's take on Banner. I believed him as he hitched his way home from South America. I can't imagine another actor capturing that vulnerability.

  2. Well, this is disappointing news. But I think you're right. Only Downy is irreplaceable. In fact, let's get a new Captain America!
    And now's our chance to get Steve Buscemi! Ultimates FTW!
    Also: Dr. House as Dr. Strange!!

  3. ATG says:

    I'll miss Norton's take on Banner/Hulk. I think he did an excellent job and was looking forward to giving him some juicy scenes with Downey. The only cast members I'm excited about are Downey and Jackson. I do hope they use Cheadle, as he's a joy to watch.
    My hope for Hugh Laurie would be a Fantastic Four with him as Reed Richards. I think he'd be awesome as Mr. Fantastic!

  4. Walter says:

    Do we really need Bruce Banner in the Avengers anyway? Why not just have the CGI Hulk running rampant.

  5. J.Thur says:

    Yes we really need the Hulk in The Avengers, as there are several story lines in the comics that pit the Avengers against the Hulk. I'm sad to see Norton go, but it seems there were always problems with him on the set, and Norton always fighting about him writing the script for the Hulk. So I'm really not surprised that he is gone! I think Adrien Brody would make an awesome Hulk.

  6. Escritor says:

    Please, Hollywood, stop turning comic books into movies. They are not good, any of 'em.

  7. G.Patton says:

    I won't miss Norton. The dude is an egomaniac! Eric Bana was far better and is a better actor over all.

  8. uheuhr says:

    I completely agree. I don't think they'll be much of a fight over Norton's leaving, but if Marvel, for some crazy luciferic reason, decided to boot Downey, there would be an uproar of hellbent fans… including me. He is, and always will be, the most irriplacable person, not just of "The Avengers" but of Hollywood. That man is a living prodigy/genuis. Not to mention he oozes sex appeal. Well anyways, he's the reason why Iron Man succedeed, and why the avengers will too. The only reason. As he says, "He IS Iron Man."

  9. The Bell says:

    A few more episodes, and only slack-jawed neurotic yes-man Favreau will be left.
    "Feige" is the German word for coward.

  10. J. Galt says:

    How old are these guys in 2012? I'm sure this will flop regardless.
    When will Hollywood make real hero's like Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, Francesco d' Anconia, Ellis Wyatt, and JG?
    The John Galt App…

  11. Jet Black says:

    Continuity doesn't seem to be a Hollywood strong point these days. OK so it worked for Star Trek. Don't bet that studios will be able to pull it off everytime.

  12. Ellen says:

    Great article Geoff!! Marvel is absolutely the villain here for me. I adore Joss Whedon, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Downy Jr.; but with no Ed Norton, and especially ousting him in such a way, it's a no-go for me.

  13. Uno Say says:

    how about Ryan Reynolds for the Hulk?

  14. Brett says:

    Few actors' performances result in their "ownership" of the role. Just ask Alec Baldwin, who lost the Jack Ryan character to Harrison Ford, or Pierce Brosnan, who thought he had at least one more "James Bond" in him when the producers decided to skew much differently and brought in Daniel Craig. Norton famously clashed with the production of "The Incredible Hulk" film. I don't know if his creative input was what led to that movie's entertaining moments or not. I suspect it did, but he's certainly not irreplaceable. That being said, Boucher's suggestion of Liam Neeson sounds absolutely ridiculous, though "Dexter"'s Hall could be interesting.

  15. invisiblegrl_Ca says:

    I heard they were courting former Doctor Who Star -David Tennant for the role. He would make a good Bruce Banner.

  16. PJ says:

    The perfect Bruce Banner: DAVID TENNANT

  17. eric says:

    I like Edward Norton. But that aside, the question is of continuity. Cheadle replacing Howard was doable because the Jim Rhodes character was always secondary. Banner/Hulk is a lead character, with an already established top-line actor having played the role in a movie where Downey showed up as a cameo. You can't switch course mid-stream like that. All the suggestions for replacements sound good to almost inspired, but if Norton isn't Banner, then the whole thing falls apart. If they thought he might to difficult to work with long term, Marvel should have cast someone else from the beginning. Without Norton, the illusion is lost.
    A great storyline for the Avengers would be the Hulk losing control and going on a rampage, with the Avengers having to take him down. That was the origin story for both old and new Avengers, having Norton as the lead villain/catalyst would've been awesome.

  18. dfasf says:

    There is a facebook group called
    Attention Marvel Studios: Keep Ed Norton as the Hulk in the Avengers!!
    join it !

  19. Daniel Reyes says:

    I agree that without Ed Norton, the whole setup of cameos and alternate endings that have plagued the last few Marvel Movies are worthless. Plus Ed Norton interacting with Robert Downey on screen as two scientists would of been a great exchange of acting on screen.
    Liam Nielsen might be an okay replacement, but like I said earlier the connections are now lost. Ryan Reynolds is supposed to be Deadpool in the spinoff of Marvels worst movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
    If Marvel makes another move like this that damages the integrity of everything the Marvel fans/Hollywood movie goers have been following on screen, then this film will be starting a race with a bullet hole in one foot!

  20. Marley says:

    Oooh – ooh, I vote Nathan Fillion, love him. Second choice Hugh Grant. Yumalicious both of them.

  21. JohnRJ08 says:

    Michael C. Hall would be a brilliant choice to play Banner. As far as Ed Norton is concerned, the guy is a gifted actor but he doesn't have the temperament to work with a ensemble. He would bring production to a halt with his relentlessly controlling behavior. Some people call it having a "vision" for a role and passion for the work, but others call it arrogance and a lack of trust in anybody else's judgment. Norton routinely re-writes all the dialogue of movies he works in, and he would probably insist on giving line readings to Downey. This is why you'll never see him work for a director like Clint Eastwood, who doesn't tolerate primadonnas or disruptive behavior on his sets. I like Ed Norton and most of his movies. But I can understand why he wasn't invited back to play Hulk in this new ensemble film.

  22. eric says:

    @ JohnRJ08,
    Edward Norton routinely stars in ensemble movies. Here's a few:
    The Italian Job – Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland
    Kingdom of Heaven – Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Liam Neeson (Norton wasn't even mentioned in the credits)
    Red Dragon – Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel
    Death to Smoochy – Robin Williams, Danny DeVito, Catherine Keener
    The Score – Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando
    Rounders – Matt Damon, John Malkovich, John Turturro
    While he was A lead character in a couple of these movies, he wasn't THE lead character in any of them, and had to share the light or be an actual supporting character in all of them. Norton can & will play ball if he's bought into the production, and he'll subvert his ego if he respects who he's working with (Downey Jr, Cheadle, Paltrow?, etc) and knows he's not the primary cog in the movie. He's done it before, and he would've done it again for this.

    • Chan says:

      I love your thinking. I just bought Thor and was watching the extras and just found out Edward will not be playing The Incredible Hulk. That totally sucks. That's a great observation on the fact that he has playing in movies with bigger names and he's done an awesome job with it and why wouldn't he be able to do it again. I can't believe they are replacing him with Mark Ruffalo who's acting is nothing of the greatness that Edward has. It just won't be the same without him.

  23. Tim says:

    I won't be seeing The Avengers. Norton has made his place as The Hulk just as Downey Jr. has made is mark as Iron Man. I say enough of us reject the movie and they may reconsider.

  24. Troy says:

    I wish marvel would have gotten their heads out of there a$$es and done what they should have and that is keep it together. Edward Norton made the movie for me. I will not see this movie and will urge others not to due to this indespicable crap. I will do everything in my power do the right thing when this movie comes out. I can't believe this crap. Edward Norton, I'm sorry there is nothing that can be done at this point. Marvel = crap (of course Downey is awesome so don't start on this). They couldn't even keep Toby McGuire for spiderman and they effed up spiderman 3. What a worthless company. Norton = Hulk forever, end rant.

  25. Mason says:

    I think the idea of Michael C. Hall playing the role of Bruce Banner is a great one. Let's just say the man can act. Before Six Feet under and Dexter he was on Broadway and did one heck of a job. He really has the ability to take on complex roles and really assume all aspects of what that character represents. I say to you Marvel, give him a shot, you will DEFINITELY be happy you did!
    Join the cause to get him considered:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-C-Hall-as-B

  26. Junior says:

    I wish that marvel would just stop making movies. Hollywood is just destroying the comic world with crap films of our heros. I'm sick and tired of meeting people that think switching a actor is the same as switching an artist. It isn't and in the middle of a sequel of films that hollywood put in play, comic don't do that. Drop the film you're wasting money on making more films now. Stay away from legendary heros and stick to independent comics for films. I hate having to explaining to people how wrong they are about comic heros because they only read or saw the movie version. Mark Ruffalo looks nothing like any drawings I have seen or imagined of Banner. Why the beat on Ed Norton making script chances in films , Robert Downey does the same thing . Great actors speak their mind, so stop the excuses ,for being cheap. If someone only started using unknown actors for all heros for the Avengers you wouldn't have angered so many fans. We all know you don't need famous actors to make a great movie example Star Wars and Avatar. Marvel should stop letting greed from Hollywood get in there way. Marvel please start using other stories because DC is kicking your butt example R.E.D and Watchtower; better then that stick with animation only.

  27. Junior says:

    Hollywood is just destroying the comic world with crap films of our heros. I'm sick and tired of meeting people that think switching a actor is the same as switching an artist. It isn't and in the middle of a sequel of films that hollywood put in play, comic don't do that. Drop the film you're wasting money on making more films now. Stay away from legendary heros and stick to independent comics for films. I hate having to explaining to people how wrong they are about comic heros because they only read or saw the movie version. Mark Ruffalo looks nothing like any drawings I have seen or imagined of Banner. Why the beat on Ed Norton making script chances in films , Robert Downey does the same thing . Great actors speak their mind, so stop the excuses ,for being cheap. If someone only started using unknown actors for all heros for the Avengers you wouldn't have angered so many fans. We all know you don't need famous actors to make a great movie example Star Wars and Avatar. Marvel should stop letting greed from Hollwood get in there way. Marvel please start using other stories because DC is kicking your butt example R.E.D and Watchtower; better then that stay,with animation movies only.

  28. [...] Marvel drops Ed Norton — they don’t like him when he’s angry More in: Comics, Movies, L.A. events , L.A. events Marvel , L.A. events Marvel , L.A. events Marvel Stan Lee [...]

  29. saddening says:

    Ed Norton was perfect. I won't see the next movies. I'm too bummed by this stupid movie. I'm gonna pirate them at best or just not bother.

  30. [...] Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and the Hulk (Oscar-winner Mark Ruffalo, stepping in for the banished Edward Norton) will be joined by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, reprising her slinky S.H.I.E.L.D. spy [...]

  31. Coffinhunter says:

    Are they serious? How much Banner do you really wanna see in an Avengers movie anyway? Other than a brief cameo to introduce him….then all hulk!

  32. [...] Evans) and the Hulk (Oscar-winner Mark Ruffalo, stepping in for the banished Edward Norton) will be joined by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, reprising her slinky S.H.I.E.L.D. spy [...]

  33. Jim says:

    Really Norton was the wrong choice for Banner from the outset, so was Bana.. they both had screen persona linked with violent or psychotic behavior. Banner is the complete opposite of this. Ruffallo has a much gentler screen persona and I could believe a gentle person could be tortured by the Hulks mania… which is the entire point of the Hulk to begin with.

  34. Bruce Banner says:

    Thats too bad because Edward Norton was perfect for the role of Bruce Banner. I know Mark Ruffalo is playing him now and that does not mean he wont be good. However, he looks too big and meaty to play a character that is suppose to seem vulnerable. Edward Norton looked the part and played it beauitfully. He gave Bruce Banner the ultimate justice that character deserves. He could have brought an element of seriousness that The Avengers really could have used considering most of its other characters are quite humorous as they have been portrayed in recent movies. Norton would have made this movie 100 times better and would have looked spectacular in the Avengers line up. This is the wrost move Marvel could have possibly done… They really have disappointed the fans here.

  35. Protoplasm says:

    if you're going to update this article, you should probably write that they gave it to Mark Ruffalo. I was absolutely confused seeing this article appear in my RSS feed since i already knew who would play the hulk.

  36. captaincabinets says:

    dude, Michael C. Hall would be awesome as the hulk!

  37. Ruben says:

    Saw Avengers….WORTH EVERY PENNY!! I was sad to see Ed norton not in the film because I do thnk he's good at what he does but the new actor…Mark Ruffalo….did an awesone job! Very pleased with his performance! Definitely a MUST SEE! Great script and well put together! Being a big Ed norton fan I honestly think mark did a much better job then Ed would have. Plan to go see it again!!

  38. Jon says:

    Pretty sure Ruffalo did a better job than Norton would have in this one, though it would be hard to see Ruffalo hitch hiking around the world. So depending on how they use Ruffalo will be key, honestly though, Norton was too tiny to play the Hulk I watched on cartoons growing up. Ruffalo has enough meat on his bones and actually has the intellectual look needed.

  39. Maiku says:

    This is about Same actors playing the same characters make a excellent movie, especially when they match the fictional character. It really is not about who was better, Mark or ED. It is about the Characters. Our only comparison is the original Stan Lee comics. If you base a judgment off of that, then Ed Norton is clearly the better for the role. In the hulk movies his acting was just like the Bruce Banner in the comics. Mark is a great actor also, but his Avenger role (although good), advanced the banner/hulk characters a little too fast. Two Examples: “My key to control him is: I always stay angry”, or the head to head with Loki “pauses with a dumb look, slams him around and says: Puny God”. These remind me of The Thing not The Incredible Hulk. Regardless, Good Movie, But Norton is the HULK.

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