How Marvel's Hulk Got Caught Between Studios

Courtesy of Everett Collection

With Mark Ruffalo playing Bruce Banner, the hero has become a fan favorite. But rights issues with Universal holds up (another) stand-alone movie. "We know where we're taking the character," assures Marvel chief Kevin Feige.

This story first appeared in the July 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

When last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner was flying off into the unknown so that his alter ego, the Hulk, wouldn’t bring harm to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Could the Hulk return in a movie of his own? Ruffalo, who plays Banner, says, "We talk about it, but right now it’s impossible to do a Hulk spinoff." That’s because rights to the Hulk remain divided between Marvel and Universal, which released the tepidly received 2003 Hulk, starring Eric Bana, as well as the 2008 reboot The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton.

While Marvel holds character rights — allowing the Hulk to rampage through the two Avengers movies — Universal has distribution rights to any stand-alone Hulk movie. After Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion in 2009, Marvel acquired distribution rights to the first two Iron Man movies, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger from Paramount, but it has yet to strike a similar deal with Universal for the Hulk. (A potential complicating factor: Universal separately holds specified theme-park rights to several Marvel characters that Disney would like to have.) Declining comment on whether a deal is in the offing, Marvel’s Kevin Feige does reassure fans, "We know where we’re taking the character next within the films that we have announced."

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