Johnny Depp Almost Starred In An Awful '90s 'Hulk' Movie
Back when Johnny Depp was an in-demand young actor everyone desperately wanted in their franchises (as opposed to someone who got paid to not be in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore), a major studio was planning a movie under a concept that sounded like sci-fi at the time: "What if he got angry, and people didn't like him when he got angry?" Yes, Universal Pictures wanted Depp to star in a Hulk movie around 1997, and it sounds like both of them dodged a bullet there because almost everything we know about it sounds terrible.
At the stage where Depp was reportedly courted for the role, the film was going to be written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, who also wrote Die Hard with a Vengeance and Armageddon and did uncredited writing work on Nicolas Cage's The Rock and Con Air. That actually sounds kinda promising -- Hulk is a giant monster who punches tanks, so he would have been perfect for a dumb '90s action flick. Unfortunately, Hensleigh's script takes the sort of manic liberties with the source material that comic book fans were sadly used to before the 2000s.
The movie would have introduced Bruce Banner as a scientist working at a private company trying to get people to Mars, but Banner thinks that idea is nuts: humans couldn't survive there, c'mon. So he wants us to mutate into a race of superstrong beings who can withstand extreme weather. To that end, he starts experimenting on death row inmates by exposing them to gamma-irradiated insect DNA. For some reason, the inmates aren't totally on board with this plan and try to break out, which causes an accident in the experiment where they and Banner himself get gamma'd and turn into giant monsters. You can see the concept art for the insect people in the background here:
Of course, after getting some destruction porn scenes out of his system, Banner/Hulk would have ended up saving the world from the mutated convicts (who somehow end up getting their hands on a missile). Hensleigh really wanted Steve Buscemi for the part, which almost would have made the whole thing worth it, but the studio allegedly thought he "wasn't name enough" and insisted on Depp. The project seemed misguided on every level except for one thing: the ambitious Hulk animatronics they were preparing look genuinely cool.
For better or worse, it looks like the effects were too ambitious because the project was canned over budgets concerns and we ended up getting the CGI-heavy Ang Lee Hulk movie a few years later. But for a while there, we were pretty close to getting a Hulk who mumbled unintelligibly while covered in scarfs instead of yelling “HULK SMASH!” in torn pants.
Top image: Arnold Wells/Wikimedia Commons, Universal Pictures