Despite being one of the founding Avengers, the Hulk has had an arguably small role to play in the MCU as the only member of the team not to lead a solo project since Phase 1. Universal and Marvel reached an agreement in 2008 for the former to distribute The Incredible Hulk which starred Edward Norton as Bruce Banner before he was recast with Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers.
Disney and Marvel still hold the rights to develop movies starring the Hulk, but Universal has the first refusal opportunity to distribute the project and takes a significant chunk of the profits. This complicated legal issue has since led the MCU to limit Hulk to supporting roles and omit solo projects altogether.
Rumors have previously spread to suggest Disney may have regained the rights but have yet to be supported by anything definitive. Marvel Studios has also been reported to be developing a World War Hulk movie following on from the events of Disney+'s She-Hulk with plans to shoot this year for a late 2023 or early 2024 release.
With the current state of Hulk's distribution rights sitting up in the air, new evidence has been uncovered to suggest when Disney will reacquire the rights.
Disney May Regain Hulk Movie Rights Soon
Reddit user u/vidoardes shared evidence that indicates Disney may regain the distribution rights to the Hulk in June 2023, allowing them to produce a new solo movie based on the green Avenger.
Universal currently owns distribution rights to any movie starring Hulk or Namor in the leading role, meaning they receive a significant share of the profits.
An SEC filing from 2006 notes Universal Studios' agreement to distribute The Incredible Hulk under the same terms as a similar deal with Paramount:
"Universal Studios has agreed to distribute Marvel’s film The Incredible Hulk and sequels on essentially the same terms as those on which Paramount has agreed to distribute the other films financed and produced under the film facility."
The aforementioned SEC deal with Paramount notes its distribution agreement "for an initial period of 15 years commencing on the initial Theatrical Exhibition of such Picture:"
"6. Distribution Term: Paramount shall have the right to exercise its Paramount Distribution Rights with respect to each Picture for an initial period of 15 years commencing on the initial Theatrical Exhibition of such Picture (the 'Initial Distribution Term');"
As The Incredible Hulk hit theaters in June 2008, the 15-year period indicates Disney will regain distribution rights to the character in June 2023, at which point Marvel Studios would be able to begin production on a Hulk movie that Disney themselves would distribute.
Geeks WorldWide previously reported in October 2021 that a World War Hulk movie is in development with a 2022 production date, but updates have since been scarce.
Is Marvel Working on The Incredible Hulk 2?
Fans shouldn't take the newly-uncovered details of the agreement between Disney and Universal as a certainty the House of Mouse is about to reacquire the distribution rights to Hulk and Namor. However, these SEC filings may be the strongest evidence yet that the rights will be changing hands next year.
Many have been desperate to see a sequel to The Incredible Hulk with Mark Ruffalo for over a decade, and She-Hulk has so far been the closest Marvel has been able to offer due to legal agreements. Now, Disney may finally be able to offer fans what they have been waiting for, perhaps explaining the silence surrounding the widely-reported World War Hulk movie.
Marvel Studios' Phase 4 and 5 slates may be filled to the brim for now, but there are still plenty of release opportunities left in Phase 6 and beyond. Although, Disney may need to be quick to get started on a Hulk-centric project as Mark Ruffalo may well be looking to move on from the role soon after over ten years as Bruce Banner.
Beyond opening the doors to Hulk taking on a bigger role, Marvel Studios may finally be able to give Namor his own solo movie. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will introduce the Atlantean ruler, played by Tenoch Huerta, but his MCU future remains up in the air as of now.
Hulk will return in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law when it premieres on August 18, exclusively on Disney+. Namor will make his MCU debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever which hits theaters on November 11.