When The Avengers first hit theaters and broke numerous box office records just about three years ago, one character that seemed to be talked about a lot by audiences enamored with that film was the Hulk. With many critics praising Joss Whedon’s writing and Mark Ruffalo’s performance of the “enormous green rage monster” as the best since Bill Bixby’s and Lou Ferrigno’s turn in the popular TV series of the 70’s and 80’s, it seemed like Marvel Studios had the keys to another successfully revived franchise after the relative failure of 2003’s Hulk and the lukewarm performance of their own 2008 film The Incredible Hulk.
Still, after Marvel Studios revealed the film slate for “Phase Two” and “Phase Three” of their cinematic universe, the Hulk was conspicuously absent. He’ll be showing up in a few weeks when the anticipated sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters, but why not try and make a new solo film with the newly popular character? It seemed strange that Marvel wouldn’t at least make another attempt after the character’s reception in their first major team-up film. Now, though, we may know why the studio hasn’t pulled the proverbial trigger. First, though, some context.
When producer Avi Arad was trying to get a film based on the character off the ground in the early 1990’s, the rights were picked up by Universal Pictures, where they remained through the development and release of 2003’s Hulk, directed by Ang Lee and starring Eric Bana. After that film hit theaters in June and failed to generate enough business to warrant a sequel, the property was put on the back-burner, where it would remain for about four years.
Marvel Studios began developing the film that would become 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and at some point it was decided that the two films from the studio in 2008 would be a part of the same, shared universe. The Incredible Hulk was created with Marvel Studios serving as the production company, while Universal, who still owned the film rights, would be the distributing party.
Upon the release of The Incredible Hulk, it was considered a moderate box office success, but again, not enough of one to warrant sequel consideration by either Universal or Marvel Studios. Still, studio executives would later confirm the Hulk’s presence in The Avengers, and after talks with Edward Norton broke down to reprise the role, Mark Ruffalo was cast in his place. In 2012, The Avengers hits it big with both critics and audiences, and the Hulk in particular is singled out for praise due to the writing by Joss Whedon and the performance of Ruffalo.
So, why haven’t we seen the Hulk since the first Avengers film? Well, although we got a brief cameo from him in the post-credits scene from Iron Man 3, Marvel has been reticent to discuss details pertaining to when we might be able to see a new, solo Hulk film featuring Ruffalo in a starring capacity. Now, though, we may have an idea as to why that would be. In an interview with Collider to promote Age of Ultron, Ruffalo stated that the decision isn’t up to Marvel Studios or Disney: it’s up to Universal. He said,
As far as a Hulk movie, a standalone Hulk movie, Marvel doesn’t really have the rights to that yet. That’s still Universal’s property, so there’s that issue. That’s a big impediment to moving forward with that. Now I don’t think that’s insurmountable, by the way, but I don’t know where it’s going from here for me.
Now, everything makes a lot more sense. The writing may have been on the wall, though. People who use the “Disney Movies Anywhere” service may notice that the only Marvel Cinematic Universe film not connected to that service is The Incredible Hulk. Although Disney owns Marvel Studios, the massive company has demonstrated that they’ve stopped short of buying out all the rights to movies of their new acquisitions, as also demonstrated by the recent digital release of the Star Wars films. In that case, 20th Century Fox has retained the rights to the original 1977 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, perhaps due to similar circumstances.
Either way, while it’s puzzling that Marvel Studios hasn’t publicly mentioned this detail before now, it’s an odd relief to know that the studio isn’t actively ignoring the possibilities that are present in the MCU for Bruce Banner. Hopefully, Disney can write that check, bring the property back under their umbrella, and make the solo Hulk movie that so many fans are still hoping for.
You can next see the Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron, opening in theaters on May 1st.
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