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The Incredible Hulk

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Pilot movie
Kenneth Johnson
Original airdate
November 4, 1977
Followed by

The Incredible Hulk is the pilot movie of the live-action TV series The Incredible Hulk. It originally aired on November 4, 1977.


A research scientist experiments on himself and is accidentally and unknowingly exposed to a massive dose of gamma radiation. Henceforth, when he becomes angry or outraged, he transforms into the rampaging, powerful green creature dubbed the "Incredible Hulk."



"Within each of us, ofttimes, there dwells a mighty and raging fury" —Kenneth Johnson

It has been almost 11 months since Doctor David Banner lost his beloved wife Laura in a car accident. Since then he has been haunted by a recurring dream that always begins with happy memories of their idyllic relationship but turns into a nightmare of the accident and his failure to rescue Laura from the burning car. Not even Dr. Elaina Marks, his research partner at The Culver Institute can help rouse him from his anguish. He becomes even more morose when a subject they are interviewing describes the exact same car crash that David had, only the woman was able to lift the car and save her son. David and Elaina are studying the abnormal strength and abilities that come to people in moments of crisis; something that David believes if he had, he would have been able to save his wife. Why, David wonders, were they able to tap into that strength and he could not? Jack McGee, a reporter for The National Register, is also interested in the research and brusquely asks David for an interview, which he declines, knowing full well the quality of newspaper McGee works for—a tabloid newspaper.


As David and Elaina continue interviewing subjects and studying test samples of their blood they eventually discover that they all had a unique deviation in their DNA structure. At first, David is relieved to find what he believes to be the answer; until he checks his blood and not only does he have it but it is more abnormal than the others. That night, David stays late at the lab, trying to solve the mystery. By accident, he discovers that in each of the subject's cases, there was high sunspot activity but in David's case there was low activity. In sunspots, large quantities of gamma rays are emitted which have been known to interfere with biological activity. Anxious to tell Elaina of this development, but unwilling to wait till morning, David heads to the radiology department and subjects himself to a concentrated dose of gamma radiation. However, unknown to him, the machine has been re-calibrated to emit a far higher output, and David receives considerably more than his intended dosage. When it appears that nothing has changed, the frustrated scientist heads home. When a tire blows and he tries to change it in the middle of the night in a heavy thunderstorm, scraping his hand badly in the process, the anger and tension of the last few days boil to the surface and Banner suddenly begins to change, transforming into a huge, green-skinned giant who demolishes the car and rolls it into a ditch where it explodes. Howling his rage to the sky, the creature stalks off into the night.

The next morning, the thing that had once been David Banner encounters a father and his daughter fishing by a lake. The girl is so terrified she falls into the lake, but the creature pushes a tree into the water for the girl to cling to. The father shoots at the monster, wounding it in the shoulder. It then crushes the rifle with its bare hands and flings the father into the lake, then skulks away into the forest. A short while later, the creature stops by a stream. Seeing his reflection for the first time, he touches the water in puzzlement, and slowly the creature changes back to David Banner.

Elaina Marks' morning is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of David Banner; half-naked and with a gunshot wound in the shoulder. Although he can't remember anything after he started to change the tire, he does have vague memories of feeling incredibly strong; of someone else being with him and seeing his white eyes in the stream. Elaina starts to dress his wound and notices that it's almost completely healed. David then tells her about his discovery last night and his gamma injection (David unwittingly received almost seven times what he originally thought he did). As the two scientists wonder what to do next, there's a knock at the door. David hides in the bedroom as Elaina meets Jack McGee; again attempting an interview. Elaina deflects the reporter's request and sends him away, but not before he catches sight of David.

Deciding to be cautious they move to the Southwest Lab, an isolated building on the Culver Institute grounds which contains a hyperbaric chamber used for deep-sea experiments. Elaina discovers the truth about the modification to the radiology equipment that David used, who is horrified to learn the size of the gamma overdose he received. He seals himself in the chamber while Elaina monitors his body functions. Believing that more research is needed, the two try to recreate the environment of that night to provoke the feeling of strength but to no avail. Frustrated once again, David goes to sleep, only to have another nightmare of his wife's death which wakes him abruptly … with glowing white eyes.

Elaina is startled by an abrupt cessation in David's brain activity. When she goes to the chamber to get a closer look, a massive green fist shatters the six-inch plate glass window. Terrified, Elaina watches as the creature that Banner has become rips its way through a supposedly inescapable hyperbaric chamber; tearing the two-foot chromium steel walls like cardboard. Inexplicably, it doesn't attack Elaina; she is able to calm him down, and even draw a sample of blood from his lacerated knuckles. She actually gets him to sit down to rest, and before her eyes, the creature changes back to David Banner.

The next morning, the two scientists survey the destruction. They now realize that its deep emotional commitment or anger that triggers the metamorphosis. David is appalled; the creature appears to have a childlike intelligence and no emotional control. It could easily have killed someone … if it has not already. Elaina disagrees, believing that while the creature is "an outgrowth of David Banner. [His] primitive emotions run wild", it is not a killer, because David is not a killer. The debate is interrupted by a state trooper who informs David that they located his destroyed car and wants to know why it was not reported. Jack McGee is also there, carrying a plaster cast of an abnormally large footprint found by the road where David's car was found, although the trooper does not believe that the footprint is authentic [or worth upsetting the local populace]. McGee then relates the father and daughter's tale of their encounter with a "big hulk" and asks the two scientists if they know anything about it. They deny all knowledge, but Elaina probes McGee to confirm that the creature didn't physically harm either the father or his daughter, therefore proving her theory to David that it will never maim or kill anyone. McGee tries to convince them to let him into the lab to discuss things further, but Elaina makes up an excuse to keep him out. The annoyingly persistent reporter heads back to his car to wait out a safe distance from the lab.

The pair return to the main building to try curing him through x-ray therapy, but to no avail. Meanwhile, McGee sneaks back to the lab. Finding a way in, he sees the demolished hyperbaric chamber along with a footprint in the dust that matches the one he found. When David and Elaina return unexpectedly, he hides in a storage closet and overhears the two talking about packing up their research and finding a safer place. When Elaina asks about their "friend" returning, David talks about a heavily constructed radiation vault that might be able to hold it. When David goes to the closet for supplies, he finds McGee who proudly reveals himself, unaware that he has knocked over several bottles of chemicals, which are now leaking out onto the floor.

The scientists threaten to call the police on McGee, but he calls their bluff, having heard their plans to cover up the damaged lab. He knows the two are hiding something about the creature and demands they come forward and tell him. David continues to deny any knowledge as he leads McGee out of the lab, but the reporter keeps pushing him; calling him a liar.


David says, in a tone replete with concern and warning,

"Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

The chemicals in the storeroom continue to leak, forming a steaming puddle that flows toward a pile of sacks labeled "DANGER". Too late, Elaina realizes something is wrong and has just enough time to call out to David before a powerful explosion tears through the lab, knocking the two men outside off their feet. Frantically, David races to the side of the burning building where he sees Elaina, unconscious and buried by a concrete beam in the middle of the inferno. The flames are too intense [for David's self-preservation instinct] to get through. As David calls out to her, his helplessness and anger trigger the metamorphosis once more. The creature easily tears through the wall, hops over the flames, tosses the debris off Elaina, and leaps up to the main lobby. McGee regains his senses just in time to see the creature walk out of the lab with Dr. Marks in his arms, heading off into the forest. McGee tries to follow but his leg is broken from the fall. All he can do is watch in horror as a subsequent explosion destroys what's left of the lab.

Some distance away, the creature sets Elaina gently to the ground. She regains consciousness but she knows that her injuries are fatal. The creature can sense it as well and he looks at her with tears in his eyes. Elaina wonders who will take care of "David" now, and finally admits that she has loved him for a very long time, and always will, before finally succumbing to her wounds. When the creature realizes that Elaina Marks has breathed her last, the creature howls with morbid anguish, then sobs briefly.


Several days later, Jack McGee attends the funerals of Elaina Marks and David Banner. No one believed his story about the hulking creature who took Dr. Marks, but he is convinced that "The Hulk" is responsible for the fire that killed Dr. Marks and Dr. Banner (he saw David approach the building but never saw him leave). He is also given a description to all the law enforcement agencies who have issued a warrant for murder on The Hulk. He believes that sooner or later the creature will be caught, and when he is, it'll be the biggest story of the century.

Some time after the mourners have left, a lone figure approaches the gravesites. It is David Banner. He pauses for a moment, lost in thought, remembering his last words with Elaina about finding a safe place to find a cure for him. He then utters, upon Elaina's grave, that he loves her, and that he thinks that she loved him, even though she never said it—not knowing that she had said it to the Hulk. With nothing more to say, he walks away toward an uncertain future.


Bill Bixby was Johnson's first choice to play Banner. At first, Bixby resisted accepting the part; but, after reading the script, he quickly signed on.

Richard Kiel was initially cast as the Hulk, but shortly after filming began, it became apparent to the producers that he was not "bulky" enough to play the role. (One shot of Kiel remains in the pilot, he can be seen from directly above when the creature saves the little girl who falls in the lake.) Arnold Schwarzenegger was approached by producer Kenneth Johnson for the role, but he was already contractually tied to Conan The Barbarian. Schwarzenegger, however, recommended former body-building rival Lou Ferrigno.

Theme music[]

Joe Harnell composed the music for the pilot movie and the series. The three most well-known tracks are:

  • "The Lonely Man" is the most iconic and the piece most associated with the series. A sole, lamenting piano piece that plays over the closing credits as Banner hitchhikes down an empty road. A more orchestrated version is played over the opening titles.
  • "The Love Theme", which serves as the shows' secondary theme, is played in its entirety over the opening montage of Banner's dream/nightmare in the pilot. A different version is used in the episode "Married", and it was this version that is included on the show's official soundtrack album. It is also sometimes used at the end of a Hulk-out when the creature calms down and shows affection to humans or animals, or when he displays his childlike fascination with the world.
  • "Growing Anger" is the short, truncated string piece used to build tension, with overtones of Bernard Hermann's famous music for the film Psycho. In the pilot, it is played during the build up to the first Hulk-out, and it is frequently used in the series, either immediately before or during the Hulk's rampages.

Harnell also developed the eerie choral voices which played over the metamorphosis sequences, as Banner transformed into the Hulk and back again.


  • David: [to Elaina] My mother always used to tell me: 'Getting angry doesn't help.' Elaina: I always liked your mother!
  • Elaina: But it won't kill because David Banner won't kill!
  • McGee: Alright, Dr. Banner, but I don't give up easily.
  • David: I want to be Dr. Banner, not Dr. Jekyll!
  • David: Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.


  • Hulk-out 1: Problems with a flat tire
  • Hulk-out 2: Nightmare
  • Hulk-out 3: Explosion at the lab and seeing Elania mortally wounded.


Movie poster in West Germany

The movie was theatrically released in other countries: Australia, Finland, France (L'incroyable Hulk), Germany (Der Unglaubliche Hulk), Philippines.

Kenneth Johnson makes a cameo voice role as "Scotty" over the intercom in the Southwest Lab, when Banner is notified of the arrival of the state trooper and McGee.

Goof: When Banner gets out of his car in the rainstorm to inspect the flat tire, the hubcap is missing from the wheel. Just before he injures himself with the lug wrench (triggering his first Hulk-out), he is seen removing the hubcap.