The Hulk will be returning along with the rest of the original Avengers in next year's sequel Avengers 4, but what does his future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe look like after that? Hulk is unique among the members of Marvel Studios' flagship superhero team, in that he's the only character for whom Marvel cannot make solo movies (since those rights belong to Universal Pictures). Despite this, Bruce Banner has managed to eke out an intriguing character arc through ensemble movies, and through his recent "guest" appearance in Thor: Ragnarok.
Things took a turn for Bruce in Avengers: Infinity War when, in the Avengers' most crucial battle yet, the Hulk refused to come out and play. We've yet to be given a real explanation for why this happened in the movies (Avengers: Infinity War co-director Joe Russo has said it's simply the result of Hulk and Banner's relationship becoming "dysfunctional"), and it remains to be seen whether or not the big green guy will re-emerge in Avengers 4.
The question of what will happen to Hulk after Avengers 4 is arguably much more interesting, however - especially considering the journey he's been on so far.
- This Page: Hulk's History in the MCU So Far
- Page 2: Hulk's Future in the MCU
Marvel Can't Make Solo Hulk Movies
In the same year that Iron Man kicked off the MCU, Universal Pictures released an MCU movie as well: The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. It served the character well as an origin story, but outside of occasional references (like Bruce recalling the time he "broke Harlem") and the eventual return of William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross, it's easy to forget that Incredible Hulk is an MCU movie. Not only was the role of Bruce Banner soon recast with Mark Ruffalo, there also hasn't been a standalone Hulk movie since.
In theory, Marvel Studios could add another solo Hulk movie to the MCU slate... but it's very unlikely to happen. Universal has a "first refusal" option on Hulk's movie rights, which means that if Marvel wanted to make a Hulk solo movie, it would first have to offer Universal the option of distributing it (similar to how Sony Pictures distributes the MCU Spider-Man movies). That's a major disincentive for Marvel, since it means splitting the profits on any Hulk solo venture, so instead the studio came up with a workaround: featuring Hulk as a supporting character in team-ups and other character's movies. So far, this approach has worked surprisingly well, allowing Marvel to give Hulk a three-movie arc without actually giving him a Hulk movie.
Avengers 4 Ends Hulk's Three-Movie Arc
Last year, Mark Ruffalo revealed that Thor: Ragnarok - in which Thor finds Hulk living a new life as a gladiator on the planet Sakaar - was the start of a new Hulk trilogy, with a clear character arc through three ensemble movies. As Ruffalo explained, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige asked for his insight on what direction the character should take, and hatched a plan for executing a three-act story through Hulk's next three movie appearances:
"Kevinpulled me aside before this, and said, 'If you were gonna do a... if we were going to do a standalone Hulk movie, what would it be?' And I said, 'I think it should be this, this, this, and this and this, and ends up like this.' And he's like, 'I love that. Why don't we do that in the next three movies, starting with Thor 3 and then we go into Avengers 3 and 4.'"
The still-untitled Avengers 4 will mark not only the culmination of a story arc that the MCU has been building since 2012's The Avengers, but will also effectively be the final act of Hulk's current character arc. So far, we've had one movie where Hulk was forcibly keeping Bruce dormant, and one movie where Hulk was forcibly keeping himself from being called to the surface. If Hulk's three-movie arc takes a similar shape to the three acts of a superhero solo movie, Avengers 4 could see the two halves finally make peace with another for the sake of saving the world, and finally emerge as a full-blown superhero in control of his own powers.
Mark Ruffalo Still Has MCU Movies On His Contract
One of the upsides to Hulk not getting his own trilogy of solo movies (like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man) is that Ruffalo has been working through his six-movie contract with Marvel at quite a sedate pace. Ruffalo has so far starred in The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Infinity War, so after Avengers 4 he's still committed for one more movie.
By contrast, some MCU actors are facing the ends of their six-movie contracts with Avengers 4 - most notably, Captain America actor Chris Evans, and Thor actor Chris Hemsworth. While Hemsworth seems amenable to continuing as Thor in the wake of Thor: Ragnarok's success, Evans has openly said that Avengers 4 will be his last MCU movie., and many believe that Avengers 4 will be Robert Downey Jr.'s swansong as Tony Stark as well. As the biggest stars of the MCU depart, it will make room for the more sidelined characters to move into more prominent roles.
Page 2: Hulk's Future in the MCU
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019