Is this green lean or mean?

Latest 'Hulk' mirrors boxoffice of predecessor

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 boxoffice 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 the Ang Lee-helmed original but is unlikely to gross significantly higher than its predecessor and might not spawn a sequel. And it's been dubbed a success.

What gives?

"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.

Last weekend, "Incredible Hulk" fell 49% from its previous weekend gross. That was a big drop for a film's fourth frame and left the Louis Leterrier-helmed actioner looking unlikely to fetch more than $135 million domestically.

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. So "Incredible Hulk" might outgross "Hulk" by $10 million or so overall but like the first film could underperform overseas.

"Hulk" grossed $132.2 domestically after opening in June 2003 with an impressive $62.1 million and then dropping like a rock over subsequent sessions. Its foreign grosses totaled $113.2 million.

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.

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 in worldwide boxoffice. (partialdiff)