Every version of the Hulk ranked worst to best

After a gamma bomb exploded in his face, Bruce Banner gained incredible powers that turned him into a colossal green superhero. Cursed with some major self-control issues, Hulk became one of the most intriguing characters in Marvel's pantheon, and throughout his 50 years of sustained popularity, Marvel has adapted the Emerald Avenger countless times for the screen. Where do all those Hulks rank? Read on for the highs and lows of his smashing career.

Fred Tatasciore in Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers (2014-2015)

In 2014, Bandai and Marvel teamed up for Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, a Japanimation offering in which Tony Stark develops a new digital system called DISK, or Digital Identity Securement Kit, which allows him to encode and trap his foes in super-villain jail. Naturally, Loki winds up with one of these wacky digital prisons and snares Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, and the Wasp. Thankfully, some random teens possess a unique Biocode that lets them free their super-friends.

Voice actor Fred Tatasciore, who plays the Hulk in the English-dubbed version, is starved for dramatic action. Each hero can only bust out of e-jail for about five minutes, so the Jade Giant pretty much just fights and growls in lieu of any real character progression—which makes sense, given that the program is little more than a commercial for the Bandai's "Bachicombat" game.

Travis Willingham in The Super Hero Squad Show (2009 -11)

Debuting in 2009, The Super Hero Squad Show featured a take on the Marvel Universe that followed the old Warner Bros. model of being very kid-friendly while remaining entertaining to parents. Each episode arrived front-loaded with adult-oriented Easter eggs—even Paste Pot Pete drops by—and loose adaptations of classic storylines set in Superhero City (where Stan Lee serves as the mayor, of course).

Travis Willingham provided the voice of the show's Hulk, and although the Green Goliath was a regular player, the series kept the stories simple; Bruce Banner rarely appeared, eliminating the fascinating friction between the character's tormented ego and raging id. While Willingham's portrayal was on point, the plot offered few opportunities for Hulk's personality to evolve—he mostly made juvenile jabs at his teammates and pulverized stuff.

The comics-inspired plots and super-fan gags made Squad palatable for the elder set, but the animation is pretty run of the mill, and each episode mainly seemed interested in selling Hasbro toys.

Eric Bana in Hulk (2003)

Ang Lee's 2003 film presented a nicely nuanced version of Bruce Banner's alter ego. In particular, one beautifully shot sequence follows Hulk as he hops from mountaintop to mountaintop in the ruddy desert. Steeped in unstated emotion, the scene remains one of the most poignant Jade Giant moments ever captured on film. 

The pathos is great, but Lee's entry is an otherwise clunky affair. While it tries to subvert the genre, it never finds its rhythm (perhaps thanks to numerous rewrites). Tacked-on moments, such as old Purple Pants' brawl with some CG monster dogs, gut the movie's emotional core. Hulk diverges from its source material, turning the superhero into a product of fatherly genetic manipulation, but the curious twist falls apart thanks to Nick Nolte's ham-fisted performance as Pops Banner. Hulk also lacks a central villain, aside from Nolte and Sam Elliott's too-sympathetic General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. Even Eric Bana's version of Banner, although well-acted, feels too put-together for a character that should be unraveling. Plus, the CGI, which was pretty spiffy in its heyday, looks dated and cumbersome.

On the plus side, Bana does drop Bill Bixby's classic line "you wouldn't like me when I'm angry." 

Ron Perlman in The Marvel Action Hour (1994-1996)

Technically, Ron Perlman only played the Hulk in two episodes of the Marvel Action Hour, which included half-hour serials of Iron Man and The Fantastic Four. Still, it's Ron friggin' Perlman, so he at least deserves a mention. While this Hulk/Banner combo is hampered by his limited screentime, Perlman throws his meaty chops into the role. However, three appearances don't justify a place near the top of Hulk mountain.

Fred Tatasciore and Mark Ruffalo in LEGO Avengers games (2013)

True, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and Marvel's Avengers are video games, but they qualify because, like most Lego games, they're a lot of fun. Super Heroes is a CG-block free-for-all in which a gazillion superheroes team up to stop an equal number of supervillains from nabbing all the "cosmic bricks"—a clever play on Marvel's wish-granting cosmic cubes. Bruce Banner and his alter ego don't have much to say and content themselves with Hulking out and breaking stuff; still, voice actor Fred Tatasciore does provide some great guttural sounds.

Marvel's Avengers, more of a labelmate than a sequel, pulls its plot points from The Avengers and Age of Ultron. Players can also go off on tangents inspired by other films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor. The computer-generated world and gameplay are more evolved, and our hero even has a few lines, although they're mostly cribbed from Ruffalo's dialogue. Despite the cutesy humor, which includes a painfully amusing groin-smash transformation and a Chitauri Dragon beat-down selfie, Marvel's Avengers shows off a wee bit more of the Green Goliath's range.

Rick Wasserman in Planet Hulk (2010)

After the lukewarm response to 2008's The Incredible Hulk, Marvel put live-action Green Goliath flicks on the back burner. But Bruce Banner's four-colored tales were still selling like hotcakes, so Lionsgate whipped up a direct-to-video adaptation of Planet Hulk

In the tale, Hulk smashes up Las Vegas a little too well. As a result, his "friends" in the superhero think tank the Illuminati trick him into a spaceship and blast him across the cosmos, and he crash-lands on the planet Sakaar. He's captured by the creatively named Red King, who slaps some gnarly gladiator armor on him and tosses him into the arena, letting Hulk go to town on the smashing.

Planet Hulk definitely has its moments, but in trying to stuff an entire 15-issue story arc (plus tie-ins) into 90 minutes, the feature skips over several key subplots. Marvel also cut key characters like Reed Richards and Silver Surfer due to licensing issues with Universal—and the Hulk never reverts to Banner, which stunts his emotional range. Still, the animated feature does offer some solid Hulk-for-Hulk's-sake characterization.

Fred Tatasciore in Avengers Assemble (2013-) and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (2013-15)

During the early 2010s, the Hulk was a busy boy. Not only did he leap from Earth's Mightiest Heroes to Avengers Assemble, but he also got his own spinoff in Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (or Supreme Military Agency of Super Humans). Unfortunately, Hulk and Banner serve chiefly as comic relief on the solid if workmanlike Assemble. Aside from a few episodes, including a "World War Hulk" adaptation and "Dehulked," there isn't much Emerald Avenger to write home about.

For S.M.A.S.H, though, he landed a leadership position and his own team of bruisers, including She-Hulk, his son Skaar, Red Hulk, and Rick Jones (as his gamma-irradiated alter ego A-Bomb). The series tried to underscore Hulk's heroics Rick Jones' web-based reality show, but seriously overestimated the charms of Office-style meta-narration, and the weekly flying-camera gags got old fast, but the short-lived series did showcase some solid Hulk action and a dollop of personal development.

Tatasciore also reprised his most verdant role in the direct-to-video film Hulk: Where Monsters Dwell, with Jesse Burch as Bruce Banner and a story in which an animated Doctor Strange tries to keep his green pal from tearing up the city thanks to Nightmare's subconscious meddling. While entertaining, the home release does little for the Hulk's mythos.

Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Five years after Ang Lee shepherded the character's first big-screen adventure, director Louis Leterrier helmed the franchise reboot The Incredible Hulk. While the second take is also a bit of a jumble, Edward Norton's nuanced Bruce Banner, Tim Roth's Emil Blonsky/Abomination, and William Hurt's lean, mean "Thunderbolt" Ross are worth watching, and the cartoonish motion-capture Hulk—a warm-up for The Avengers' version—looks good.

If anything yanks the purple pants off this green giant, it's the scattershot plot. When the audience ignores basic logic, the movie floats along just fine. But once you dig any deeper, the story gets dicey, and the movie also sidesteps the character's comics origins again, turning Banner into yet another failed Super Soldier.

Creative tensions between Marvel and Norton (who rewrote the script) forced the actor to make his own Hulk-sized exit from the franchise. After everything, The Incredible Hulk underperformed at the box office, sealing the casket on Marvel's future solo Hulk endeavors. The silver lining on this green mushroom cloud? Mark Ruffalo's Hulk was just around the corner.

Michael Bell and Bob Holt in The Incredible Hulk animated series (1982-1983)

In 1982, Spider Man and His Amazing Friends merged with The Incredible Hulk to become part of the shrewdly titled '80s power hour The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. Michael Bell, who played Wonder Twin Zan on Super Friends, starred as Bruce Banner, while Grape Ape himself, Bob Holt, provided the Hulk's snarls.

Like its predecessors, the Stan Lee-narrated Hulk centered on Banner's episodic quest to cure himself. The series also featured a rogue's gallery of comic book favorites like She-Hulk, Hydra, Puppet Master, the Leader, and, naturally, General Ross. For once, the writers remained faithful to the Jade Giant's bombed-out origins, for the most part, and also whipped up several new characters, including restaurateur Rio and his daughter Rita, who courted a cowboy hat-sporting Rick Jones.

Although the program only aired for 13 episodes, Hulk took on Quasimodo in an epic, literary-fueled feud that Marvel later adapted into its own comic. Some of the plots were half-baked and the animation could be fairly choppy—but powered by '80s nostalgia, this super-friend lands pretty close to the top.

Neal McDonough and Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk (1996-1998)

After finding success with Spider-Man, The X-Men, and the Marvel Action Hour, the House of Ideas mainlined the animated The Incredible Hulk into the eyes of comics-starved teens everywhere. Starring Neal McDonough as Banner, the show brought Lou Ferrigno—who played the green giant in the live-action '70s series—full circle as the voice of the Hulk, part of a great recurring voice cast that included Mark Hamill as Gargoyle, John Vernon as General Ross, Richard Grieco as Ghost Rider, and Luke Perry as Rick Jones.

Hulk also wasn't your average smash-a-thon, particularly during its downbeat first season. Banner and Hulk both oozed self-loathing, and Banner's transformations seemed genuinely painful. In addition, a surprising number of episodes ended on a bittersweet note for the Green Goliath, his friends, and the viewers at home.

For season two, She-Hulk landed a co-starring role, and the writers turned their frowns upside down. But the second season threw too many Hulks—red, gray, et cetera—into the mix and overburdened the dialogue with one-liners, wiping out most of the dramatic tension. In the end, Hulk failed to smash his way to a third season.

Paul Soles and Max Ferguson in The Marvel Super Heroes - Hulk (1966)

Each half-hour of 1966's Marvel Super Heroes included three seven-minute segments, which explored the exploits of Iron Man, Captain America, Namor, Thor, and of course, the Hulk. Paul Soles and Max Ferguson lent their voices to Bruce Banner and the Hulk, respectively, and each mini-episode tackled one of his stories, such as his explosive origin or his early battles with the Leader.

Grantray-Lawrence Animation used xerography, which employs photocopying to create a sense of motion, to bring Marvel's panels to the screen. The lack of dynamic action might put some cartoon connoisseurs to sleep—movements are limited to facial expressions, punches, scrolling backgrounds, and the occasional explosive interjection—and the voice work can be lackluster. Sometimes, when the Hulk is supposed to snarl at the Leader's nefarious schemes, he just sounds annoyed.

Nevertheless, Hulk rips the artwork of Marvel's greatest creators right off the page, giving life to artists like Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and Don Heck as well as the stories of Stan Lee. It also captures the spirit of Marvel's greenest guardian. Plus, only Spider-Man's own catchy tune tops the Hulk's awesome retro theme song.

Gabriel Mann and Fred Tatasciore in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (2010-2012)

The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, featuring Gabriel Mann as Bruce Banner and Fred Tatasciore as the Hulk, spun a hokey premise into animated gold. The plot kicks off as Doctor Doom and 73 other baddies break out of super-jail, forcing Marvel's finest to put their heads and pointy helmets together. Dozens of heroic faves make the roster, including Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man, Wasp, and Ms. Marvel, and the show's clever sense of humor echoes the tone struck by the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The show's architects constructed a breathable in-show atmosphere and fleshed out the heroic crew. Sure, Banner and his green id don't drop by for every episode, but they still enjoy some choice characterization. Many critics and fans fell in love with the cartoon, so it stung a little when Disney XD swapped the series out for the engaging but subpar Avengers Assemble after just two seasons.

Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk series (1978-82)

Starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, CBS' The Incredible Hulk tested the live-action waters with a 1977 pilot film before delivering four seasons of pants-shredding action between 1978-'82. The series worked over the source material, changing Banner's first name and completely ignoring Rick Jones, Betty Ross, and General Ross; instead, Jack Colvin's intrepid reporter, Jack McGee, trailed Banner on his cross-country race for a cure.

Even though the stunts, effects, and formulaic plots are corny by today's standards, the man-on-the-run vibe worked well. The writers treated Banner and his plight with respect, using Ferrigno and Bixby's acting chops to good effect. Hulk may have wandered from its comics origins, but it stayed true to the books' core concepts, and it still inspires the many Hulks who've followed in Lou's chalky green footsteps. 

When CBS canceled the series in 1982, fans were left dangling, unsure of Banner's fate. Fortunately, NBC later bought the rights, bringing Banner and his big green pal back for three follow-up TV movies, kicking off with 1988's The Incredible Hulk Returns. and concluding with 1990's The Death of the Incredible Hulk. The second film in the trilogy, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, is significant for including Stan Lee's first live-action cameo.

Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers and beyond (2012-)

Mark Ruffalo's set the standard for the modern era with his performance in The Avengers and Age of Ultron. While other Banners and Hulks have more pathos, Ruffalo's winking Hulk best suits the banter-heavy Marvel Cinematic Universe. True, this Banner doesn't get much lab time or even a proper origin story, but his science banter with Tony Stark proves he's got some serious gray matter. And while Chitauri invasions and robotic overlords don't leave much room for a personal life, his brief interludes with Black Widow suggest he's both suave and smashy.

Ruffalo's Hulk has also given us some primo cinematic moments, such as the Hulkbuster fight from Avengers 2 and the random Thor punch-out. Plus, Ruffalo's coffeehouse chat with Thor is a total side-splitter, and the "puny god" moment from the first Avengers is an instant classic. Who doesn't love a good Loki thrashing? It's a shame Universal won't let the big green guy out of their clutches and give him a proper MCU solo adventure—but after those first two meh full-length features, maybe Hulk is better off as a team player.