Even as Marvel Studios settles many of its rights issues through its Sony deal and buying Fox, two MCU superheroes heroes still have their rights stuck at Universal.
Marvel Studios has been dealing with rights issues since the inception of the MCU, with Fox, Sony, and Universal holding onto various characters. This all stems from an age in which Marvel was dealing with financial difficulties and sold off the film rights to the likes of the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, and Namor.
One report previously purported that Disney had finally reclaimed these rights from Universal almost three years ago. However, the latest evidence may have suggested that, while the rights remain out of Marvel Studios' hands, they will reclaim ownership in June 2023 based on the original terms of the deal.
And now, fans finally have official word on the current status of Universal's Marvel rights, revealing that two heroes are unfortunately still trapped just outside Disney and Marvel Studios' clutches, preventing them from developing certain projects.
Universal's Marvel Rights Remain In-Tact
A recent report from The Wrap revealed that Universal still holds the rights to both Hulk and Namor, placing limitations on their use in the MCU. The outlet added a comment from Marvel Studios producer Nate Moore who revealed the character had to be "borrowed" for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, just like the Hulk has been.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige revealed in 2013 that Namor would not be appearing in the MCU due to Universal holding the rights. But by 2018, the MCU boss changed his tune to share his belief that "there’s a way to probably figure it out" to allow the underwater anti-hero to join the franchise:
“I think there’s a way to probably figure it out but it does have — it’s not as a clean or clear as the majority of the other characters.”
Marvel Studios has long had to endure similar difficulties with Hulk, as his rights issues have prevented him from starring in his own standalone movie or series since 2008's The Incredible Hulk - which Universal distributed.
Disney has entered deals with the studio several times in recent years, including allowing characters from Unbreakable to appear in Universal's Split and Glass. Back in 2005, NBCUniversal even traded sportscaster Al Michaels - who was casting the Disney-owned ESPN's Monday Night Football - for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who was created by Walt Disney in 1927 for Universal.
The producer also revealed how Universal's ownership of the rights prevents Disney and Marvel Studios from developing a Namor spin-off movie and adding limited his appearance in Black Panther 2's extensive marketing campaign.
Will Disney Ever Reclaim Hulk and Namor from Universal?
Earlier in the year, an SEC filing was uncovered from the original Marvel-Universal deal that indicated the initial term of the contract may be just 15 years. Granted, this may not be certain, but there's every chance that the distribution rights to Hulk and Namor may be back with Disney and Marvel Studios as soon as June 2023.
As Sony owns the film rights to Spider-Man, they are free to develop and distribute projects starring the character and those related to him. But since Universal only has the distribution rights to Hulk and Namor, they are not able to develop their own ventures, only distribute any from Marvel Studios.
This technically means that Marvel Studios could give Namor his own solo outing or produce its rumored World War Hulk movie. However, Disney would not be able to distribute it, with that duty falling to Universal, who would in turn receive a chunk of the profits, giving the House of Mouse plenty of incentive not to bother.
Nonetheless, just last month, Feige teased that the prospect of Namor receiving his own solo project depends on the reception to Wakanda Forever, clearly leaving the door open to the possibility. So, perhaps the studio is about to reclaim the rights, especially given reports that they are already working on a Hulk project.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is playing now in theatres worldwide.