Iron Man launched the MCU as we know it back in May of 2008. Just a month later, though, it was meant to continue with The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. Just like Iron Man, the green giant’s standalone picture had its own post-credits scene featuring Stark himself. Box office disappointment and actor changes put the Hulk on ice, but Mark Ruffalo’s take on the character has been popular. With him taking on a co-starring role in Thor: Ragnarok, there’s been some question about whether we might see a new standalone Hulk movie sometime soon.
— Variety (@Variety) July 15, 2017
A Hulk movie is, in short, not happening. When asked by Variety, Mark Ruffalo explained: “I want to make one thing perfectly clear today – a standalone Hulk movie will never happen… because Universal has the rights to the standalone Hulk movie, and for some reason they don’t know how to play well with Marvel and they don’t want to make money.”
Actor Don Cheadle was with Ruffalo and chimed in to joke that, “and with you as the new Hulk, it would be terrible… these corporations would work it out if they thought they’d make enough money, so it’s clearly about who is playing Hulk.”
Ruffalo says the companies have talked about it, but he “just [doesn’t] see it in the cards.”
Here we are again with movie rights ownership. What the heck is going on?
It’s about distribution… or maybe not
Marvel movie rights are pretty complicated. At the turn of the century (it’s been long enough that we can say that now, right?), Marvel really didn’t own much of its own stuff. The company only regained the rights to Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor in 2005 and 2006. The Hulk rights reverted in 2005 when Universal didn’t make a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk movie. Universal, however, retained distribution rights to Hulk movies. That’s why Marvel can make movies like the Avengers films and Thor: Ragnarok with Hulk prominently featured, but can’t just make a Hulk movie whenever they feel like it.
But it seems like there’s more to it than that. Ruffalo is eager to throw Universal under the bus in the above quote, but Marvel has shown a willingness to work with other studios. That’s what got us Spider-Man: Homecoming. That’s what put Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool. Neither Hulk nor The Incredible Hulk performed very well at the box office, so the prospect of making another standalone Hulk movie is likely a daunting one for the young studio. Keeping the characters as a supporting cast member is much less risky. With that said, Thor: Ragnarok has been described a a buddy movie, so it seems likely Hulk will factor into a significant portion of the movie. In that case, then, Thor’s third outing could serve as a testing stage to see how the modern Hulk plays with audiences as a more prominent character.
There’s a whole version of the Hulk that hasn’t been explored. In the comics, Hulk has been green, grey, and red. In some of those incarnations, he’s not a mindless rage monster, but able to maintain both his increased strength and his genius-level intelligence. Edging toward that version of the Hulk could prep the character for a standalone movie. However, it sounds like none of the parties involved are interested. Mark Ruffalo gets to be part of the MCU without having the burden of a trilogy on his back and Marvel gets to use the character without the risk.
Will we ever see another Hulk movie? Maybe. We’ve had six Spider-Man movies. But for now? Don’t hold your breath.