Mark RuffaloThe Avengers hulk smashed its way past the wizarding world of Harry Potter to claim a new box office record this past weekend with $200.3 million in ticket sales. And now for the actual surprise. Nearly half of those tickets were sold to women. Why? I've got three words for you: The Incredible Hulk. And now two more: Mark Ruffalo

In a script by Joss Whedon -- male director oft described as a feminist -- smooth, sexy Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man has been dethroned in favor of a guy who literally smashes through everything set in front of him. But it's as the Hulk's alter-ego Dr. Bruce Banner that Ruffalo and Whedon have reinvented the superhero as the everyman.

Goodbye macho man. Hello sweet, humble, unassuming, conflicted guy who looks more like he needs a hug and, I dare say it, mothering, than a man ready to take on the world. Who would have thought of the Incredible Hulk as cuddly? Who would have thought the Hulk would be getting all the attention today?

During interviews with the actors before the New York premiere last week, Tom Hiddleston, who plays the movie's main villain, Loki, joked that it was almost embarrassing sitting at Comic-Con last fall with people so focused on giving him "Loki Love" while Ruffalo and Captain America actor Chris Evans sat beside him. At the time comic book fans were still uneasy about Ruffalo's casting.

Those days are over. We're in love with the Incredible Hulk. And the big green lug has gotten Ruffalo plenty of attention, from a Twitter hacker who has taken his account hostage to sending bids sky high on some Avengers-themed memorabilia he's signed to support the green charity he passionately talks up every chance he can get about the danger of natural gas drilling instead of the danger of letting a green monster loose in Manhattan.

But it's Disney/Marvel's promise to give Ruffalo his own movie in 2015, a flick that will be 100 percent Hulk, that shows how much this reinvigorated character means to the franchise. In total, we're supposed to get six films out of him.

He's certainly sexy enough to draw the ladies (sorry, but you were thinking it too). But thanks to Whedon and Ruffalo himself, Hulk is finally a superhero we can wrap our arms around and let him carry us through another Avengers (they totally set that up at the end of the movie; if you stayed for the post-credits scene?) and beyond ... fingers crossed anyway.

Who stole your heart in The Avengers over the weekend?

 

Image via Brock Lady