After a couple of false starts, it seems as if Mark Ruffalo’s interpretation of comic book scientist Bruce Banner and his gamma radiation-powered alter ego the Hulk wast the one that finally resonated with audiences when he appeared in 2012’s The Avengers. Speculation ran hot that Ruffalo would headline his own solo Hulk film at some point in the future, so it seemed puzzling that as Marvel continued to roll out their plans for their superhero films through 2019 there wasn’t such a project announced. During this past weekend’s bug Avengers: Age Of Ultron junket, Ruffalo explained why there wasn’t and it comes down to an old distribution deal.
Speaking with Collider, Ruffalo confirmed that he still has four films left to his Marvel Studios contract. He doesn’t know which films they will be just yet, but he does seem dubious that one of them will be a solo feature for himself.
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.
I am going to go out on a limb here and interpret Ruffalo’s comments to mean that Marvel Studios/Disney probably doesn’t have the rights to distribute a Hulk solo film. Remember back to the first wave of Marvel Studios films – Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger – that lead up to The Avengers. All of those films, with the exception of Incredible Hulk, were released through Paramount. When Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment, and Marvel Studios was part of that package at the of 2009, Disney announced that the distribution deals currently in place between Marvel and its previous studio partners would stay where they were until they expired. In July 2013, the distribution rights for Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America all reverted from Paramount to Marvel/ Disney.
Conceivably, this is probably a very frustrating state of affairs for Marvel, as a new Hulk film is something that fans would welcome. I would speculate that even though they could produce one, there is someone in the hierarchy there that would prefer not to be sharing profits with Columbia as the distribution deal undoubtedly calls for. (Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter would be my guess.) This would be why we are not seeing any ongoing story lines being developed for Ruffalo’s Banner that would play into a solo film during this current phase of films which ends later this summer with Ant-Man, nor in any of the announced films for Phase Three.