'Hulk' means big green

Tie-in partners hope evolved superhero will be more popular than '03

Hulk smash. Universal happy.

The big green gamma-rayed guy will be back with tie-in partners including Burger King, 7-Eleven, Kmart, mall retailers, grocery store brands Pringles and Sargento, Airheads candy and Hasbro toys.

As part of the push, the Hulk will appear on a tricked-out custom motorcycle to be built during a cable TV show, on hacker-fighting software in Best Buy and other big-box stores and as a role model for strength training in GNC, an entertainment tie-in newbie.

Still to be determined is whether audiences will embrace the do-over of 2003's disappointing big-screen "Hulk." Devoted comic fans are a tough sell and, as Universal and Marvel Studios found, so are promotional partners who remember Ang Lee's angsty version that opened at $62 million but quickly sank as negative word spread. It ended up with a disappointing $132 million in the U.S., and less internationally, on a hefty $150 million budget.

In pitching the current incarnation of the famous superhero, studio executives went to great lengths to tell potential partners how this "Hulk" would be different -- and successful.

"We know the 'Hulk' from 2003 didn't satisfy the fans, and we had to acknowledge that," said Stephanie Sperber, executive vp of Universal Studios Partnerships. "We emphasized the passion that fans still have for this character and that this is the movie people have always wanted."

Key points of difference: Hulk (Edward Norton) is more clearly defined as a hero, which is both partner and merchandise friendly. He has a high-profile nemesis in the Abomination (Tim Roth), and he's in love (with Liv Tyler). Even the name has been tweaked -- it's "The Incredible Hulk," giving partners like 7-Eleven an outsized hook for themed products. The Incredible Gulp, anyone?

"Hulk" bows June 13.
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