×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The real reason Edward Norton was fired from the MCU

Big, green, and full of rage, the Hulk is one of the most iconic superheroes in comic book history. But despite his popularity, we've never really gotten a proper Hulk movie. Director Ang Lee tried his best in 2003, but his controversial film is widely considered an abomination. So when The Incredible Hulk hit theaters in 2008 — hot on the heels of Iron Man — hopes were high that Marvel Studios could give Bruce Banner and his smash-happy counterpart some cinematic justice.

At first, it seemed like everything was moving in the right direction, as Marvel had cast Oscar nominee Edward Norton as the mild-mannered Banner. This was the guy from incredible films like Fight Club, American History X, and 25th Hour. If anybody could make a Hulk movie work, it would be him, right? Well, after a tepid critical response and so-so box office results, The Incredible Hulk quickly became Marvel's forgotten film.

Stranger still, by the time the Avengers assembled in 2012, Norton had been replaced by Mark Ruffalo. So what exactly happened? Why was a respected star kicked out of Hollywood's most successful franchise? From paycheck problems to behind-the-scenes struggles, here are the real reasons Edward Norton was fired from the MCU.

Both Norton and Marvel can be difficult

If you want to understand why Edward Norton and Marvel parted ways, you've got to know a bit about the key players involved. Because while Norton is a talented actor and Marvel produces some amazing films, both the man and the movie studio can be pretty difficult when it comes to getting their way.

It's widely known that Norton is a guy who likes to call the shots, even when he's not the one in charge. While filming the Hannibal Lecter thriller Red Dragon, he decided on his own that the screenplay wasn't good enough, so he showed up on set one day with lines he'd written for himself… and Anthony Hopkins. When he refused to star in the remake of The Italian Job — a film he was contractually obligated to do — Paramount had to threaten a lawsuit before he accepted the role. And perhaps most infamously, he used his A-list clout to re-edit American History X, a move that infuriated director Tony Kaye.

Of course, Marvel Studios has had its fair share of "control freak" moments. Under producer Kevin Feige, the company has clashed with a couple of directors who wanted to break free from the house style. For example, when execs didn't like Edgar Wright's vision for Ant-Man or Patty Jenkins' take on Thor: The Dark World, they said adios to those auteurs. The studio also gave Joss Whedon a hard time during Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the filmmaker had to fight tooth and nail to keep certain scenes in the movie. As for actors, Terrence Howard was kicked out of the Iron Man series after allegedly being lowballed by the studio.

In other words, Edward Norton is an immovable object, and Marvel Studios is an unstoppable force, so when the two crashed into each other, things got really messy really fast.

Creating The Incredible Hulk

The second installment in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk was directed by Louis Leterrier, the guy behind Now You See Me and the first two Transporter movies. Screenwriting duties went to Zak Penn, who'd worked on X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand. But three months before filming began, Leterrier wasn't thrilled with Penn's script, so Marvel was in a bit of a bind.

That's when Norton showed up to save the day. He'd originally said no to playing Bruce Banner, but he changed his mind after meeting Leterrier. It also probably helped that Marvel agreed to let Norton rewrite the screenplay. True, he didn't have complete freedom to do whatever he wanted, as the production team was already looking for shooting locations and constructing sets based on Penn's script. Norton also had to get all his rewrites done in a month. However, he was given free rein to dig deeper into Banner's psychology, develop the characters, and improve the dialogue.

So it seemed like everything was working out just fine. Norton — who'd done uncredited writing for movies like Frida — was making progress on the script, and Marvel agreed to go with his version. All they had to do now was shoot the film, get through post-production, and voila, fans would get to see the big green giant on the silver screen. Surely nothing else could go wrong… right?

Struggles behind the scenes

Once shooting was finished on The Incredible Hulk, a civil war broke out between Marvel and Norton. After watching the film, studio executives decided the movie was too long and too plotty. They wanted more action, more excitement, and they wanted it shorter. This didn't sit well with Norton, and when he had a meeting with the Marvel brass, the actor allegedly hulked out. According to Leterrier (via Slashfilm), everybody at the meeting was "screaming stuff and everything…. Edward's very vocal."

Norton was especially upset because he thought he was going to have more say in the creative process. According to Deadline, the actor had been "promised tremendous involvement and access" to the final product, but Marvel wasn't too keen on Norton's contributions, as they chopped out many of the scenes he'd written. Flashback sequences that gave Banner more depth were tossed by the wayside, and an opening scene when Norton's character tries to commit suicide was left on the cutting room floor. While Norton was hoping for a more introspective film that ran 140 minutes, the movie turned into a run-of-the-mill action flick that was just 112 minutes long.

Upset and frustrated, Norton promoted the film here and there, but he didn't exactly attend every press junket to sing the Hulk's praises. He did enough to encourage fans to see the film, but despite all his work on The Incredible Hulk, there were no guarantees Norton would be invited to join the Avengers.

The Avengers assemble... without Edward Norton

When Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows in Iron Man, Marvel fans started counting down the days until Earth's mightiest heroes finally assembled. But who would actually show up to save the world from an alien invasion? Would the Avengers include Edward Norton's Bruce Banner? Well, it certainly seemed that way at first. As Louis Leterrier explained to MTV, he told Kevin Feige that Marvel "should definitely get Edward in the movie" since he was "fantastic and brought so much to [the role]." And according to Leterrier, Feige seemed interested and claimed they were discussing a deal with Norton to have him join the MCU supergroup.

Norton's agent, Brian Swardstrom, also claimed Marvel wanted to the actor to defend New York from the Chitauri army. In a statement released in 2010, Swardstrom wrote it was Kevin Feige's "fantasy" to have Norton star in the film, and that Norton had even met with director Joss Whedon to discuss the upcoming movie. "Edward and Joss had a very good meeting (confirmed by Feige to me)," Swardstrom wrote, "at which Edward said he was enthusiastic at the prospect of being a part of the ensemble cast." But when it finally came time to punch aliens and smash Loki, the role had been handed over to Mark Ruffalo, leaving Norton fans incredibly upset.

Feige kicks Norton out of the Avengers

When it comes to the MCU, there is one above all who wields unlimited power over the Avengers. No, it isn't Robert Downey Jr. or the Russo brothers. And no, it wasn't the late, great Stan Lee. The man with the plan is Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios and producer of every MCU film to date. He's the real-life equivalent of Nick Fury, pulling all the strings and getting everything in place to make this cinematic universe run smoothly.

In other words, he's the dude who gave Edward Norton the axe.

In 2010, shortly before The Avengers stars assembled at the San Diego Comic-Con, Kevin Feige released a statement signaling the short-lived Norton era was over. And after saying Norton wasn't returning for Avengers, Feige started dropping some superhero shade. "Our decision is definitely not based on monetary factors," Feige said, "but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members."

Basically, Feige said that Norton wasn't a team player, so that's why he was getting the boot. And while some believe Marvel screwed Norton over by chopping up his script, others have claimed he was a real pain while making The Incredible Hulk. According to Deadline, one Marvel insider described Norton as a "wolf in the hen house," and based on his alleged behavior on films like Red Dragon and American History X, it's easy to see why Marvel might've been eager to part ways.

Follow the money

When Kevin Feige said Edward Norton was difficult to get along with, many fans accepted the story at face value. After all, Norton has a reputation for being temperamental. (It should come as no surprise that he's been compared multiple times to the character he plays in Birdman — a passionate, headstrong actor who won't budge an inch.) But while Norton's attitude might've played a part in his MCU departure, there could be another side of the story, one that has more to do with dollar signs.

Even though Feige said money had nothing to do with Norton's firing, Brian Swardstrom (pictured left) couldn't disagree more. After Feige publicly took the actor to task, Norton's agent released his own statement, completely contradicting everything Feige had said. According to Swardstrom, Norton was "looking forward to the opportunity to work with Joss [Whedon] and the other actors in the Avengers cast." Evidently, the actor was "enthusiastic" about starring in such a big blockbuster, but according to Swardstrom, Marvel let him go over what "seemed to us to be a financial decision."

Infuriated with Feige, Norton's agent said the producer's comments were "mean spirited," not to mention "unprofessional, disingenuous, and clearly defamatory." While Swardstrom's rant didn't do Norton any good, it did raise a few eyebrows among the Marvel fanbase and made some question the studio's version of events.

Mark Ruffalo hulks out

With Edward Norton gone, Marvel needed somebody to fill his stretchy purple pants. So in 2010, at the San Diego Comic-Con, Mark Ruffalo was revealed as the new Bruce Banner. Ruffalo quickly became a fan favorite, taking the character in a more lovable and lighthearted direction — and according to Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier, Ruffalo was actually the guy he wanted for the radiated scientist in the first place.

Speaking with The Huffington Post, Leterrier claimed Ruffalo was his first pick for the film, but Marvel allegedly wanted Norton because he was "more famous." Still, Leterrier believes both actors are fantastic in the role, and as he explained to MTV News, he wishes Marvel had stuck with Norton so as not to screw up the continuity. But what did Norton think about a new actor taking his spot? Well, speaking with The Independent, he described Ruffalo as "awesome" and had no ill will toward his colleague.

Of course, it's not like he gave Ruffalo a lot of advice on how to play Bruce Banner, either. During an interview with The Marvelists (via We Got This Covered), Ruffalo admitted the two never actually sat down and discussed how he should play the character. "I was just kinda' like, 'Is this okay?'" Ruffalo explained, "'and he was all like, 'Man, all's fair in love and war.' And Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. He never gave me any feedback." But really, that's probably for the best. Ruffalo and Norton are both incredibly talented, but their acting styles make for radically different Banners.

Edward Norton's side of the story

With the different stories swirling around Norton's departure, what does the actor himself have to say about leaving the MCU? Well, his opinions on the issue have evolved over the years. In 2008, when the Incredible Hulk drama became public, Norton gave a statement to Entertainment Weekly (via Slashfilm) saying the media was twisting the facts and blowing everything out of proportion.

But in June 2010, after telling his Facebook followers that he wouldn't be starring in The Avengers, Norton wrote, "I sincerely hoped it could happen and be great for everyone, but it hasn't turned out as we all hoped." Jump forward to April 2011, and that sadness had turned to anger, with Norton firing back at Marvel and Kevin Feige in an interview with The Independent. Norton said Marvel's decision to let him go had nothing to do with him playing nice with others. Instead, it was "just flat out a business decision," one motivated entirely by money.

Then in 2014, the actor's opinions evolved again. During an NPR interview, it seemed he'd made peace with his superhero past. "My feeling was that I experimented and experienced what I wanted to," Norton explained. "I really, really enjoyed it." But Norton also said he was glad to have parted ways with the MCU, as being part of the Marvel machine would've required years of commitment. If he'd been playing the Hulk all that time, he might've missed out on films like Birdman and Moonrise Kingdom. Sure, getting all that fame and moola might've been nice, but it seems like Norton is finally cool with everything that went down with Marvel.

Or maybe not…

Norton is still angry about the Hulk

All these years after The Incredible Hulk hit theaters, you'd think Edward Norton would've finally gotten over his nasty past with Marvel. But in July 2018, the Birdman star took part in a Comedy Central roast of legendary action star Bruce Willis. When it was his turn at the mic, Norton poked and prodded at his Hollywood friend, but he also lobbed a few bombs at the studio that possibly screwed him over. Referencing Willis' tough guy filmography, Norton quipped, "I tried to be like you. I did a big action movie called The Incredible Hulk. You know what went wrong? I wanted a better script."

It seems like Norton is still stewing over Marvel's decision to cut many of the scenes he'd written. However, Norton wasn't done roasting the studio just yet. After blasting the Hulk's screenplay, Norton said, "I thought we should try to make one Marvel movie that was as good as the worst Christopher Nolan movie, but what the hell was I thinking?" Since Dark Knight Rises star Joseph Gordon-Levitt was sitting just a few seats away, that last line was an especially snappy zinger. But despite the Batman joke, Norton's true rage was directed at the studio that sent him packing. It just goes to show that no matter how much time has passed, when it comes to getting fired from the MCU, Edward Norton is always angry.