One of the things that we knew from the very beginning of the larger MCU storyline is the fact that the Hulk was one of the original characters that were introduced by Marvel Studios. In fact, the character was the second MCU character to be introduced in the continuity. Nevertheless, we’ve only seen one solo Hulk movie, even as She-Hulk is about to get her own series, and this is probably because of the fact that Marvel Studios never owned the distribution rights to the Hulk, as that is still Universal’s property.
In that regard, the thing that people should know is that distribution agreements tend to be quite tricky, especially when it comes to the contracts entered into by different companies. Meanwhile, Universal also has the same kind of agreement with Marvel Studios, but with a more concrete term. That is why we are yet to see a solo Hulk movie ever since the first one in 2008. As such, we are here to look at whether or not the distribution agreement between Marvel Studios and Universal and the Hulk will be ending soon.
The Hulk Movie Rights Explained
When Iron Man was released in 2008, one of the things that people immediately saw was the fact that Marvel Studios was going all-in on the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and a possible tie-in with other heroes. This became clear when The Incredible Hulk was released less than two months after Iron Man. Of course, this wasn’t the first time we saw the Hulk on the big screen because we have already seen several iterations of the character in movies.
One of the most popular versions of the Hulk in the more modern age was when Eric Bana played the role of Bruce Banner in the 2003 version of the Hulk, which was produced and distributed by Universal. In that regard, by financing and distributing the movie, the rights to the Hulk character belonged to Universal.
However, years later, things changed when Universal couldn’t get a sequel into production, and that was what forced its contract agreement with Marvel to revert the character back to Marvel Studios as far as production rights were concerned. That is why we were able to see Marvel Studios producing a 2008 reboot of the Hulk called The Incredible Hulk. Still, the distribution rights belonged to Universal, and that means that the studio has the right to choose how many theaters the solo film would play in and which platforms it would be on.
In other words, Marvel Studios owns the licensing rights to the Hulk in the sense that it can produce as many movies as it wants involving the character. But the thing is that any movie involving the character as the lead role will have to involve Universal in the picture, especially when it comes to the marketing and distribution of the movies. This is why we never saw a second Hulk movie starring the character in the lead role, as negotiations between Marvel Studios and Universal were not as fruitful as the ones that we saw with Sony’s Spider-Man character.
This is probably the best reason we could think of regarding the Hulk and his status within the MCU. The fact that Marvel Studios could not produce a Hulk movie without entering into a partnership with Universal involving the distribution of the character was probably a bit too much work for them, and that’s why Bruce Banner and the Hulk have always been background characters ever since they were introduced in the MCU in 2008.
She-Hulk could be a different story though because, while the character still belongs to Universal in terms of its distribution rights, the rights probably don’t cover TV shows. And that’s why Disney and Marvel Studios opted to use the streaming route for the character instead of producing a movie involving both the Hulk and She-Hulk.
Could Universal’s Distribution Agreement For The Hulk Be Ending Soon?
As mentioned, Marvel Studios and Universal entered into an agreement involving the Hulk’s character and movie in 2008. In that agreement, Universal has sole rights to distribute and market the movie, while Marvel has the right to produce it. Universal doesn’t have the production rights because it reverted back to Marvel in the middle of the 2000s when the company failed to produce a sequel movie to the 2003 version.
However, it was found by a Reddit user that the agreement between Marvel Studios and Universal regarding the distribution rights for the Hulk will only last for 15 years from 2008. This means that Universal could only distribute the character until 2023, as the 15 years began in 2008 when the movie was first released in theaters.
In that regard, there is a good chance that Universal’s hold over the distribution rights regarding will be ending soon and that Universal could no longer have any claim to the distribution of any movie produced by Marvel Studios involving the Hulk as the lead character.
But while the distribution agreement may be ending soon (if the rumors are correct), we don’t know whether or not Universal is still willing to hold on to its rights or whether or not it is willing to work on a deal with Marvel involving the Hulk’s character. And there’s also the fact that everything we are talking about right now is speculative in nature.
What Is The Future For The Hulk In The MCU?
If the rumors involving the Hulk’s distribution rights with Universal are current, this could bode well for the character and his future with the MCU because that would mean that Marvel Studios would have sole rights over the character as far as its production and distribution rights are concerned. As such, Marvel Studios wouldn’t have to work with Universal or any other company in relation to the market and distribution of the Hulk as the lead character of a movie.
That would mean that there is still a good chance that we would end up seeing a standalone Hulk movie in the future, especially considering that the World War Hulk storyline in the comics is one of the most popular events involving the character.
Then again, considering that Marvel Studios kind of found a loophole regarding the distribution rights to the Hulk when it was able to safely produce She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and make it available on Disney+, it becomes interesting what the company will do with the Hulk’s character as there is a good chance that anything involving him as the lead of any production could be relegated to the streaming platform.
As popular as the Hulk is and as great of a storyline as World War Hulk may be, Marvel Studios might opt for the safer route by using the Disney+ streaming platform instead of releasing a Hulk movie in theaters. But that all depends on whether or not Universal’s hold over the distribution rights for the Hulk will indeed see an end in 2023.