Here’s Why We’ll Probably Never See A Solo Hulk Movie Ever Again

The Hulk was a big part of 'Thor: Ragnarok'.

By now, you’ve probably seen the great romp that is Thor: Ragnarok. And – all cynicism aside – it’s a lot of fun. Director Taika Watiti brings the laughs, there’s a lot of great action scenes, and Cate Blanchett as a super-goth queen Hela is a revelation. But it’s also notable for featuring a hell of a lot of the big green guy himself, the Hulk.

You could say that this is the most screen time we’ve seen of Mark Ruffalo’s superhero persona since any of the Avengers films. Which begs the question: why doesn’t Marvel just make a Hulk movie? Especially since the last time we saw the Hulk doing his own thing, it was all the way back in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. And he was being played by a completely different actor back then.

In short: there’s a ton of legalities stopping Bruce Banner from ever getting his own film again.

It’s especially perplexing when you consider how popular the Hulk is. It’s hard to consider it today, when Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man is seemingly everywhere, but once upon a time the Hulk was the most popular Marvel superhero. That was thanks to the 1977 TV show The Incredible Hulk. The show, starring two different actors playing the Hulk pre- and post-transformation, was less superhero drama and more fugitive-on-the-run thriller with a weird Jekyll-and-Hyde subplot driving things along. It hasn’t aged well, but at the time people frothed over it.

It was a huge success at the time, especially for the production company behind the show, Universal Studios. From the show’s premiere until today, Universal have held the rights to distribute any standalone Hulk property.

Of course, Universal have tried their hand at making a few Hulk films, with shall we say… mild success. 2003’s Hulk was the first attempt, by renowned director Ang Lee and starring Australia’s Eric Bana. With cheap-looking special effects, and a bizarre scene featuring Hulked-out dogs, it’s a film that’s best forgotten.

This was followed by the aforementioned Incredible Hulk, this time starring Edward Norton, as the not-so-jolly green giant. Again, it’s a mostly forgettable affair, but it did tie into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to one of those signature post-credits scenes, featuring RDJ himself.

This started an amicable working relationship between Marvel Studios and Universal. In short: Marvel can use the character, but Universal distributes the Hulk films. This led to Mark Ruffalo being cast as Bruce Banner, and his subsequent inclusions in the now 17-film cinematic juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. But because Universal hold the legal rights to make any proper Hulk films, they still have some control over the character.

That said, ever since this deal has come into play Universal has become more and more reluctant to make a standalone Hulk movie. In an interview with Variety, Ruffalo addressed this directly, calling out Universal for stopping what he thinks would be an obvious business decision.

I want to just make one thing perfectly clear today: A standalone ‘Hulk’ movie will never happen […] Universal has the rights, and for some reason, they don’t know how to play well with Marvel. And they don’t want to make money.

This isn’t the only Marvel property tied up in mess of legal mumbo-jumbo. In the late 90’s, a series of bad business decisions left Marvel Comics bankrupt. To make quick bank, they saw the success of giving Universal the filming rights to The Hulk and replicated it with their biggest brand names: Spider-Man was sold to Sony, and X-Men and Fantastic Four were sold to 20th Century Fox, among others. Those deals resulted in some of the biggest films of the past decade, including the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, and the X-Men series starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, et al.

And while it provided a temporary relief for their coffers, these sales resulted in long-term effects few anticipated back then. Specifically, with the rights tied up at other studios, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has significant character gaps. For example, Elisabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch is (in the comics) the daughter of X-Men villain Magneto. But neither film can reference this, since Scarlet Witch is at Marvel Studios, while Magneto is over at Fox.

Not all hope is lost. Only recently was a deal hashed out to bring Spidey back into the MCU fold, resulting in this year’s Spider-Man Homecoming. In addition, some deals have expired, allowing characters like Ghost Rider and Daredevil to return to Marvel Studios.

And in bizarre business news, Fox is considering selling its entire entertainment arm to Disney, who currently own Marvel. Which would mean that – possibly in our lifetime – we may see a movie with both Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in it.

But for now, the chances of a Hulk movie are little to none. What a big hulking mess.