Given the tremendous success of Marvel’s cinematic universe so far, there’s been no shortage of questions regarding the future of the Avengers’ green Goliath, The Hulk, and whether he’d ever get another solo movie. While rumors have suggested that there might be some issues with the rights to the character, a new report confirms that Hulk’s big-screen future is securely in the hands of Marvel Studios.
Back in April, Marvel franchise actor Mark Ruffalo made headlines when he indicated that the reason we haven’t seen a Hulk solo movie since he took over the character in The Avengers is due to Universal Pictures still owning the rights to the character. Not so, according to a new report published by Forbes that confirms Marvel’s ownership of the film production rights to Hulk and clarifies exactly what Universal does own, and why it is Marvel’s decision — and Marvel’s decision alone — not to let Hulk fly (or rather leap) solo again.
According to the report, Universal relinquished its film production rights to Hulk in 2005 after declining to produce a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 film Hulk. Around that time, the film rights to Hulk — as well as Captain America, Iron Man, and other characters owned by various studios — all reverted back to Marvel over the course of several years, setting the stage for what would become Marvel’s ambitious cinematic universe lineup.
However, while the film rights to Hulk rest with Marvel, the distribution rights to films featuring the character still rest with Universal, and give Universal the right to “first refusal” on future solo movies. This means that, if Marvel decided to make a new movie featuring Hulk, Universal would have the right to distribute it (instead of Disney) and could either decline, handle the distribution of the film, or (more likely) work out a deal with Marvel that would be mutually beneficial for both studios in the long run.
As the article points out, Universal’s ownership of the distribution rights to Hulk is far from a deal-breaker for Hulk’s corporate caretakers at Marvel and Disney, who worked out a distribution deal with Paramount Pictures for Iron Man 2 when the rights to that character were still owned by Paramount. More recently, Marvel and Disney managed to arrange a deal with Sony Pictures, which owns a considerably larger chunk of the rights to Spider-Man, in order to produce the upcoming Spider-Man reboot.
So what is stopping Marvel from making another movie featuring Hulk front and center? The performance of the previous solo films is the most likely culprit.
In two attempts at producing a Hulk solo movie, neither 2003’s Hulk nor 2008’s The Incredible Hulk managed to rake in enough box-office revenue in the U.S. to cover their production budgets. Both films failed to hit the $150 million mark domestically, and earned an average of $254 million worldwide together — making them the two lowest-grossing movies in Marvel’s cinematic universe so far by a wide margin. (Note: While the 2003 film isn’t actually part of the Marvel cinematic universe, it’s being included for comparison’s sake here.)
Still, with Hulk’s profile raised quite a bit in recent years thanks to his involvement in The Avengers movies, there’s reason to believe Marvel might be more inclined to give him a solo nod down the road. Ruffalo has previously stated that he’s contracted for several more Marvel movies at unspecified points, so the studio is certainly keeping their options open when it comes to Hulk.
Hulk’s return in future Marvel movies is entirely uncertain at this point, though he can be expected to appear in 2018’s The Avengers: Infinity War – Part I and the 2019 follow-up The Avengers: Infinity War – Part II. Beyond that, well … it’s apparently all up to Marvel.