According to Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards’ “MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios,” Mark Ruffalo was, as had been widely reported in the weeks leading up to SDCC, in talks to succeed Ed Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk in the forthcoming superhero epic “The Avengers.” And locking him down was important because Marvel wanted to end its panel with a superpowered bang by assembling all six Avengers (and their two S.H.I.E.L.D. cohorts) for an epic, SDCC throwing down of the superhero movie gauntlet (pun very much intended).
Ruffalo, however, was far from a box office draw in 2010. Though he’d established himself as one of the finest performers of his generation with his emotionally thorny portrayal of Laura Linney’s standoffish younger brother in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2000 classic “You Can Count on Me,” Ruffalo had settled into something approaching a character actor groove. In a normal contract negotiation, this would’ve given Marvel all kinds of leverage to slowly negotiate a studio-friendly contract with the B-list star’s representatives. But with SDCC fast approaching, a deal had to be finalized at the eleventh hour if Marvel wanted a full Avengers assemblage.
Ruffalo, who would receive his first Academy Award nomination in early 2011 for his supporting turn in Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right,” had obtained Norton’s blessing to take over as Banner. It was an odd situation in that unproven stars like Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans would get standalone films as, respectively, Thor and Captain America before appearing in “The Avengers,” while Ruffalo was far more in demand as an actor. But if he missed as Hulk, he could take solace in knowing that he’d given critically acclaimed performances in films directed by Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, and David Fincher. He’d be fine.
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