Mark Ruffalo has now played Bruce Banner in four movies (counting his cameo in Iron Man 3), yet none have been a full-on Hulk standalone – and that doesn’t look like it’ll change in future. The problem isn’t really story, but practical: Marvel can’t make a Hulk solo film.

It’s been a staggering nine years since The Incredible Hulk and despite talk of a direct follow-up or tangential solo outing for Bruce Banner and his enraged alter ego, none have come to pass; it’s been proven that supposed leaks suggesting development were false and Marvel Studios has repeatedly said it’s off the cards, with Thor: Ragnarok even delivering on long-desired standalone outing Planet Hulk. But why? It really all comes down to contracts.

Read More: Why Marvel Put Planet Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok

It’s well known that characters’ movie rights have a big influence on the Marvel films made. Daredevil (and by extension the entire Netflix Defenders franchise) exists only because Marvel wasn’t able to wrangle Galactus and the Silver Surfer back from Fox, and just this summer we got Sony/Marvel co-production Spider-Man: Homecoming where the web-slinger joined the franchise while being made by a different company. But Hulk is, shockingly, even more complex than that.

Why There Aren’t Any More Hulk Standalone Movies

Bruce Banner green eyes The Avengers Why Marvel Cant Make a Standalone MCU Hulk Movie

Although his comics have never really sold well – the original run was canceled after only six issues, with the character only surviving thanks to his Avengers association – Hulk is one Marvel’s biggest icons, thanks in no small part to the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno The Incredible Hulk TV series. Running from 1977 to 1982 (with three TV movies that joined David Banner with Thor and Daredevil), it reshaped how wider culture viewed the Green Goliath, popularising many essential elements (not least “don’t make me angry, you won’t like me when I’m angry“). This is important because it made Hulk a multimedia star at a time when Marvel was cautious of the big screen.

A film starring Hulk was first floated in 1990, with Universal having bought the movie rights. This took a very meandering route to Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003, a film whose mixed reaction led to a muted sequel development period that ultimately saw the rights revert to Marvel in 2006, just as the studio was setting up the MCU. However, unlike most other reacquisitions where the creator gets the character back outright, with Hulk Universal still has a clause – seemingly in perpetuity – of first refusal on distributing any Hulk films.

This is why The Incredible Hulk, the character’s only solo outing in the MCU, was distributed by Universal. Back then, Marvel Entertainment were an independent company and so the Studios operated as just production, working with outside distributors. This was typically Paramount, who released every film except Hulk up until The Avengers, by which point Disney had bought Marvel and set about distributing themselves.

Related: Which Studios Own the Rights to Marvel’s Characters?

However, even under the Mouse House, Universal still has that “first refusal” clause. So, while they can’t do anything active with the rights, should Marvel decide to make a Hulk movie Universal must be approached first. This was fine in the freewheeling 2000s when Marvel stood as its own thing, but now under Disney creates a conflict – they would be loaning out an IP so another company can make money off it. While something vaguely similar happened with Spider-Man, there was a much clearer balance of rewards to either side. Here Universal’s the only ones who win.

There may be a more antagonistic side to this as well. The last we heard on the matter came from Mark Ruffalo, who pointed the finger squarely at Universal not playing nice with Marvel. Now, it could be simply the company wasn’t going to give up their ability to call on the powerful clause rather than actual disagreement, but it’s clear the whole situation comes down to that.

Page 2 of 2: Why Marvel Can Still Use The Hulk

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