Retro Review: The Incredible Hulk (Pilot Episode)

We take a fresh look at the 1978 Pilot for the Incredible Hulk TV series

Synopsis: A troubled scientist’s accidental overexposure to gamma radiation curses him with the tendency to change into a bestial green brute under extreme emotional stress.

Review: Having watched a recent clip on IGN’s Youtube channel in which a panel was looking back at the pop culture of the 1970s. I felt somewhat nostalgic when ‘The Incredible Hulk’ television series came up for discussion.

I remember watching this pilot episode with the family when I was around about 8 years old and I was utterly fascinated by what was happening. The series was produced by Kenneth Johnson, who at the time was fresh off the success of producing ‘The Bionic Woman’. The series was loosely based on the popular Marvel comic book, but there were a few notable differences. For example, Bruce Banner was now David Banner and instead of being on the run from General Ross. He was basically trying to keep a low profile and avoid any contact with tabloid journalist Jack McGee.

The series borrowed a little of its premise from a popular show called ‘The Fugitive’ in that it saw David Banner traveling across the USA in a desperate search for a cure to his malady while keeping an eye out for a very determined Mr. McGee.

The Story

The origin story sees Dr. David Banner having nightmares about the way he lost his wife in a terrible car accident and how he tried in vain to save her. The dream haunts him and is also what is driving his scientific investigations into the untapped human strength that sometimes comes out when in moments of crisis. Dr. Banner is frustrated by the fact that several of his study subjects were able to save their loved ones in similar circumstances to how he lost his wife, yet he could not find that same strength within himself to succeed at saving his wife.

When he figures out the common denominator is to do with Gamma Rays caused by sunspots. Banner does an experiment and exposes himself to Gamma Rays, but unbeknown to him is the fact that one of his scientist colleagues has made a few tweaks to the equipment, which causes Dr. Banner to take a much bigger dose of radiation than he intended.  Angry and ticked off by the fact that his experiment didn’t work. David drives off in his car and suddenly gets a flat tire. As he gets out of the car and attempts to repair the tire. Dr. Banner is overcome with rage and slowly transforms into a giant green hulk, which causes a bit of trouble with a father and daughter who are camping nearby.

When the Hulk transforms back to David Banner he goes straight to his scientific colleague Dr. Elaina Marks to help him figure out what happened.

The Acting

Although the styles and computers in this pilot are very 1970s. The acting isn’t. Bill Bixby is perfectly cast as David Banner and brings a performance that makes the character very easy for people to relate too. You feel his frustration and anger at not getting the answers he is after. But you also empathize with him too. Bixby amazingly maintained this level of performance throughout the series four seasons.

Susan Sullivan who is pretty much the guest star of the week puts in a wonderful performance as Elaina Marks. She is very obviously carrying a torch for David and her feelings for him are unrequited throughout the film, which really hits home when her character tragically dies in the arms of The Hulk, who has just tried to save her from burning to death.

Lou Ferrigno who played The Hulk would also maintain the same level of performance throughout the series. We’d often get to see two versions of the Hulk in this series. The rageful one in which he would throw people and objects around and the more gentle side. The calm after the storm. Ferrigno does a lot of acting with his physicality, but he also pulls off some great facial expressions that convey the Hulk’s confusion and bafflement. It’s a very subtle performance, which makes you want to try and understand the Hulk.

Finally, Jack Colvin is an absolute menace as Mr. McGee who continued to pop up throughout the series as he mercilessly chased Dr. Banner around the USA trying to get his story.


Aside from the awful fashions and Flared pants that you could store pretty much the whole of NATO’s armory up each trouser leg. This pilot episode still holds up pretty well. Sure the effects could probably be done a bit better today and we’d obviously have much nicer lab equipment in this day and age. But I was still thrilled and entertained by this pilot movie.

Particularly enjoyable was the sequence in which David transforms into the Hulk while inside a hyperbaric chamber, which is made of very thick steel and has a window that is six inches thick. This sequence in which Hulk smashes up the chamber leads to a really gentle scene in which Dr. Elaina Marks calms the Green Hulk down. It’s an intense scene where you still find yourself half expecting the Hulk to hurt her somehow given how wound up he was before she managed to calm him.

Overall. This is still a great pilot movie, which has some brilliant performances from all the actors involved and some wonderfully well-written scenes from writer, producer, and director Kenneth Johnson.

If you want to check this out yourself for the first time. Or if you are wanting to look at it again like I did. You can now get the whole of the first series of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ on Amazon Prime for just £4.99. Hopefully, the other three seasons and the three TV movies will eventually find their way on there too.


The Incredible Hulk (Pilot Movie)
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Visual Effects & Make-up
  • Incidental Music

Ian Cullen is the founder of and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: When he is not writing for Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of You can contact ian at: [email protected]
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