Prior to Bryan Singer's X-Men in 2000, Marvel didn't have the greatest track record with adaptations of their properties. There was an incredibly underwhelming Spider-Man television series in the '70s, as well as two not-so-great Captain America TV films, a really boring acid trip of a Dr. Strange TV movie, and several other failed attempts at adapting Marvel Comics' characters in both movies and television. Not a single one of them was even a little successful. Well, there was one...
In 1977, writer/producer Kenneth Johnson received a call from Frank Price, the head of Universal Television at the time, and was offered a selection of Marvel Comics characters to choose from to produce a television series. Johnson immediately declined the offer, not interested in doing a superhero on television. However, he happened to be reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo at the time and was soon inspired to take the premise of the Hugo novel, as well as the premise of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and use those to put a unique, and ultimately realistic, spin on what he referred to as, "This ludicrous thing called The Incredible Hulk." The series soon became a hit, running for five seasons on CBS.
In 1982, cast members received word that the series had been canceled. For most, it would seem that The Incredible Hulk, or at least the version starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the creature, was over. Six years later, in 1988, however, it would be revived as a movie-of-the-week called The Incredible Hulk Returns. The reunion movie was quite popular, and the next year it received a sequel, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. It is interesting to note that both of these movies were intended to serve as backdoor pilots, introducing other Marvel characters in that world who could possibly be used in their own television series. The first movie introduced Thor, played by Eric Allan Kramer, and the second introduced Daredevil, played by Rex Smith. Trial, actually, watches more as a Daredevil movie featuring the Hulk rather than the other way around.
The final movie, The Death of the Incredible Hulk, didn't feature another Marvel Comics character, although there was a Russian spy who was very similar to the Black Widow, but with a different name. This final film actually did provide closure for the story of Banner and his creature, staying very true to its title. It is rather fitting that this did end up being the final story in this particular iteration of the Hulk, but it wasn't meant to be the end at all. There was another movie in the pipeline that was being bounced around even while Death was in production. The next movie was planned to be called Revenge of the Incredible Hulk.
Precious little is known of this planned fourth Hulk film. Lou Ferrigno himself has confirmed its validity, but as hard as I've searched, and being a huge fan of both the television series and the reunion trilogy, believe me when I tell you, I've searched far and wide, I can't find the script anywhere. As of July 1990, Gerald Di Pego, who had written Trial and Death and whose credits also include the film adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel Message in a Bottle as well as the 2004 thriller The Forgotten, was writing the script, but it is possible that the script had never actually been finished. Lou Ferrigno maintains that the film was canceled due to the declining health of Bill Bixby, who was struggling with cancer, however, this doesn't really jive with established facts. Bixby lived another three years after the film was proposed, and had stayed very active behind the camera right up until his death, directing episodes of Blossom, as well as hosting several television specials focusing on Elvis Presley and the controversy surrounding his death. More likely, the fourth film was shelved due to the lackluster performance of The Death of the Incredible Hulk,
While the script is not available online anywhere, and it is entirely possible that it was never finished, we do know what the film was going to be about, thanks to various interviews with Di Pego throughout the years. According to Di Pego, the film would see Banner revived in the immediate aftermath of the last film, and with his revival he would be cured of his Hulk affliction. Banner would end up being kidnapped by "villains", as Di Pego described them, and be forced to try and duplicate his accident to create a Hulk army. I actually wonder if these "villains" weren't intended to be the same Russian agents from the last film, making this a direct sequel to that film, though that is just my own theory based on the information that has been disclosed. At some point during the film, Banner would again be exposed to gamma radiation, bringing the Hulk out once more. This time, however, the Hulk would retain Banner's intelligence, making him basically the Professor version of the character, who was the comic book incarnation through most of the 1990s. Another extremely interesting bit of information about this lost movie comes in the form of several publicity stills produced at the time, featuring Brigitte Nielsen as She-Hulk.
It is unknown if She-Hulk was actually going to be part of the Revenge of the Incredible Hulk movie, or if these stills were from a separate She-Hulk movie that was being planned in the early 90s, but either way, the pictures are pretty cool.
While I have to say that seeing Lou Ferrigno play the merged Hulk would have been interesting, I love the tragic ending the characters ended up with, and I think Death of the Incredible Hulk serves as a fitting finale for the series. It is nice, however, to sometimes think about what could have been. What do you think? Would Revenge have been a good movie, or was the series best left where it ended? Sound off in the comments below.