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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It's a tale of two movies, with an oddly similar ending.
Five years ago, "Hulk," the first movie based on Marvel's hulking green comic book character, rang up $245 million in worldwide box office but was widely dismissed as a commercial failure.
The second attempt, "The Incredible Hulk," amped up the fun factor and dialed down the brooding of director Ang Lee's original but is unlikely to gross significantly higher than its predecessor and might not spawn a sequel. And it's been dubbed a success.
"We're happy with the financial results, even if they (only) reach the first film's levels," a Marvel insider insisted. "Having a sequel is not the definition of success."
That's fortunate, as even outpacing the first film's worldwide haul by 10% looks optimistic at this point, and that's not likely to stoke enthusiasm for a franchise follow-up anytime soon.
After four weekends, the Louis Leterrier-directed "The Incredible Hulk" has earned $125 million, the same as what "Hulk" had pulled in at the same time in its run. "Hulk" finished with $132 million, and its successor is unlikely to do much better.
Its foreign rollout is still in progress, with comics-friendly Japan among the territories the remake has yet to bow, but it appears likely that the Edward Norton starrer will struggle to reach $130 million internationally. The first film tallied $113.2 million overseas.
Action films tend to outperform internationally, though comic book adaptations can be a different matter if the fan base skews American. Marvel touts the Hulk comic franchise as its second most popular worldwide, after Spider-Man.
"All we can say as a studio is that we are very pleased with the result," Universal domestic distribution president Nikki Rocco said.
Despite the similarity of the Hulk films' theatrical runs, industryites suggest the lighter tone of the second film makes it more the vehicle to generate sequels, and some suggest the remake will prove a more lucrative DVD title than the Eric Bana-starring original. On the other hand, production costs and marketing expenses were steeper the second time around, totaling more than $200 million. The first film cost about $150 million to make.
Still, the dark original so turned off the Hulk character's fanboy base as to require a complete reworking of its big-screen rendering before a film franchise could be christened.
But Marvel has yet to greenlight a Hulk sequel. So other observers suggest the films' most important distinction lies simply in how well market expectations were managed in advance of their respective bows.
"Hollywood is always about perception," said David Davis, managing partner and entertainment analyst at Arpeggio Partners in Los Angeles. "The first Hulk (movie) had such high expectations after the NBC-Universal merger and was supposed to be critical-favorite Ang Lee's breakout commercial blockbuster.
"Then with the new Hulk film, Marvel was able to underplay the importance of the success after the great success of 'Iron Man' this summer," Davis said. "So the new one overdelivered, relative to its underpromise."
The Marvel-produced, Paramount-distributed "Iron Man" has fetched more than $563 million at the worldwide box office.