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

The Real Reason Ed Norton Doesn't Do Sequels

Edward Norton is widely considered one of the most brilliant and versatile actors of his generation, who can bring his unique touch to seemingly any role. Whether Norton is playing a self-absorbed method actor, an emotionally-repressed narrator with a psychotic alter ego, a humble everyman, or a genius scientist with a rather hulking problem, he is always convincing. Norton is more than just an actor, though: He's also a writer, a director, a producer, and an all-around creative talent. The deep, personal investment he makes in every film means that, in general, he's rather selective about what he takes on.

To be clear, he doesn't seem to look down on genre fare. As his filmography demonstrates, he brings the same seriousness and level of commitment to big franchise films that he does to quirky art flicks. One thing Norton avoids, though, is sequels, or more specifically, playing the same role twice. 

Sure, he's willing to star in a sequel/prequel to a film he didn't act in (see: Red Dragon), but he doesn't reprise his roles in subsequent films, explicitly because he doesn't want to be too associated with any one character, or archetype. As Norton told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, "I think you can sort of do anything once, but if you do it too many times, it can become a suit that's hard to take off, in other peoples' eyes." 

Surprisingly enough, though, there was one major part where he actually did want to do a sequel, before creative struggles got in the way. And yes, it's exactly the one you're probably thinking of.

Norton actually pitched a Hulk sequel, himself

When Edward Norton was first announced as playing Dr. Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk, it was widely proclaimed as perfect casting. Fans were ecstatic. Screenwriter Zak Penn even told Superhero Hype, in 2007, that during the development of Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk movie, the crew had often discussed how perfect Norton would be for the role. Furthermore, Norton's desire to get creatively involved, and even work on the script, spoke volumes about his passion for the project.

And then ... something went wrong. Norton didn't really promote the film, left the MCU, and went on to be replaced by Mark Ruffalo, who has gone to become the MCU's defining Hulk actor. At the time, Marvel Studios issued a short statement about needing an actor who "embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members," and left it at that.

In 2019, Norton revealed to The New York Times that when he first pitched his Hulk ideas to Marvel, his intention had been for a two-film arc. "I laid out a two-film thing: The origin and then the idea of Hulk as the conscious dreamer, the guy who can handle the trip. And they were like, 'That's what we want!' As it turned out, that wasn't what they wanted." In fact, Norton said that he'd loved the comic books, and he'd brought that passion into The Incredible Hulk, but the production of that film — and the realization that his desire for a moody character study conflicted with Marvel's goal for a blockbuster shared universe — was a creative mishmash. "I believed [the Hulk comics] were very mythic," he said. "And what Chris Nolan had done with Batman was going down a path that I aligned with: long, dark and serious. If there was ever a thing that I thought had that in it, it was the Hulk. It's literally the Promethean myth."

So, Norton walked away. Nonetheless, he says he had great relations with Marvel's Kevin Feige, and adds, "What Kevin Feige has done is probably one of the best executions of a business plan in the history of the entertainment industry." Hard to argue with that.