Forget considerable Carrie Bradshaw and hefty Po. The biggest obstacle standing between the Hulk and an incredible opening weekend may be itself.
The Incredible Hulk, the all-new franchise reboot—opening at midnight tonight—comes only five years after Ang Lee's Hulk proved a smashing disappointment, critically and commercially.
"I am concerned the first movie's reaction could hurt the box office on this second go-round," Tim Frady of the fansite HulkAngry.com wrote in an email. "I hope people give it a chance."
Conventional wisdom says ticketbuyers will.
"We're starting to hear things that are good," says Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Chad Hartigan.
Good could translate into a $60 million-something opening weekend, and a No. 1 finish atop holdovers such as Kung Fu Panda and Sex and the City.
The Incredible Hulk is also expected to best the weekend's other major new release, M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller, The Happening.
"I think it would be troublesome for the studio if [Incredible Hulk] was beaten by The Happening," Hartigan says.
Also troubling would be a scenario where The Incredible Hulk fails to come close to the opening weekend posted by Hulk.
Maligned or no, Lee's Hulk managed a $62 million debut. (It fell of a cliff in the second weekend, grossing just $70 million more through the rest of the summer.) Adjusting for 2008's sky-high ticket prices, Box Office Mojo's Brandon Gray estimates the movie probably hauled in the equivalent of $71 million in its first three days.
Gray, for one, doesn't expect The Incredible Hulk to top Hulk in 2008—or 2003—dollars.
"I'm not convinced they have overcome the stigma yet," Gray says. "It's not clear if the picture is a restart of the franchise or a sequel. It's not clear what it is exactly."
Starring Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, the scientist who morphs into a CGI monster when the angry occasion arises, The Incredible Hulk shares not much more than a cameo by TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno with its predecessor.
Norton, who also cowrote the script, succeeds Eric Bana. Liv Tyler replaces Jennifer Connelly as Hulk ladylove Betty Ross. William Hurt supplants Sam Elliott as Hulk foe Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross. Nobody stands in for Nick Nolte, as the father-son storyline of the first film has been jettisoned. And in the director's chair, Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2) takes over for Lee.
While The Incredible Hulk understandably wants to put distance between itself and Hulk, it understandably isn't above being associated with Iron Man, the summer's $290 million-grossing superhero hit.
The Incredible Hulk's latest TV spots virtually star Robert Downey Jr., whose brief appearance as Iron Man alter ego Tony Stark once was supposed to be a surprise.
"I think the success of Iron Man will assist The Incredible Hulk," says Joel Cohen, executive vice president and general manager of MovieTickets.com.
According to a recent MovieTickets.com poll, The Incredible Hulk was tied with Will Smith's Hancock as the next movie men expected to see this summer, although both Get Smart and WALL-E ranked higher.
If Iron Man gives any kind of boost to his Marvel Comics brethren, then that's all the better according to Frady, who has seen the new Hulk movie—and liked.
"It paid homage to the TV series and the comic book as well," Frady wrote. "The most important factor is that it kept up a nice pace that summer movie fans have come to expect in a movie."
Even a Hulk movie.