Despite being one of the most iconic comic book characters in history, and one of the standout members of The Avengers, the Incredible Hulk hasn’t had very much luck on the big screen. Ang Lee’s 2003 film was ambitious but derided by critics, while Marvel’s quasi-reboot, The Incredible Hulk, has been all but forgotten in the sprawling MCU since its release in 2008.
Fans of the giant green rage monster have been hoping that he’d be given another solo outing and were markedly disappointed when the Phase Three slate was unveiled, revealing that the soonest we’d be able to see another Hulk film is 2020. Dr. Bruce Banner himself, Mark Ruffalo, has expressed his desire to star in a Planet Hulk adaptation and is signed on for several more Marvel films, but seems destined to spend his screen time as a supporter among the rest of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. As it turns out, there’s a very specific reason behind that.
According to Ruffalo, Marvel is not the sole owner of the Hulk’s movie rights. In fact, they share them with Universal Studios, who helped distribute The Incredible Hulk and are contracted to do so for every Hulk movie from here on out.
Ruffalo explained the situation in a new interview with Collider:
“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.”
While Marvel has managed to find a way to share a character like Spider-Man with Sony Pictures, sharing the Hulk with Universal in order to get more solo films off the ground may not be a priority for Marvel’s parent company, Disney. It’s one thing to bring a character like Spidey into the MCU, help Sony with its own solo films and reap the benefits of that partnership, but simply splitting the distribution profits with another studio for a film featuring one of your biggest characters is another thing entirely.
As Ruffalo said, it’s not an insurmountable hurtle, but an obstacle nonetheless. Until that hurtle is cleared, it’s likely that Ruffalo will simply show up in other films as the Hulk, which, judging by the character’s box office history, may not be that bad of a plan.
The actor revealed that there are four films left on his contract but that “it could always go further.” His contract isn’t resigned to just showing up in Avengers films, either (as evidenced by his little cameo in Iron Man 3), which leaves the door open for appearances in Captain America: Civil War and beyond. As far as whether or not he’ll show up in the Cap threequel though, Ruffalo has yet to hear anything definitive:
“I don’t know if I’m in it yet. I don’t know. Sometimes these things happen at the last minute in this world. I really don’t know where I fit in from here on out, and I’m not sure they do.”
Regardless of where he’ll show up in the future, or what may happen with his solo film rights, you can always see Mark Ruffalo perform some Hulk smashing when Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters on May 1st, 2015.