Why Marvel Can Still Use The Hulk
However, it's not like there's no Hulk in the MCU. After being recast as Mark Ruffalo (a choice unrelated to rights issues - it was the result of Norton not wanting to return), Hulk's appeared in The Avengers, Iron Man 3's post-credits scene, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok and will return in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. This is because Universal's option only relates to explicit Hulk films and, as Bruce Banner is clearly part of an ensemble in these cases, they have no say in them.
Just because he's a supporting character, though, doesn't mean Hulk is being underserved. Per Ruffalo and Kevin Feige, Ragnarok is the start of a three-movie arc that will act as some approximation of a standalone story, delving into what makes Hulk, Hulk. It's Marvel working around the restriction and. based on the reaction to the character since The Avengers, it's working.
Read More: What To Expect From Hulk in Avengers 3 and 4
So from all this, there's no official barrier to another MCU Hulk movie. The situation is more of a standoff between Disney and Universal where neither wants to give, and so Marvel are just dealing with it. Like with Spider-Man, there is scope for some agreement, although the current terms don't leave much room for negotiation.
Could this change? Post-Homecoming, anything's possible. After all, Ruffalo's contract originally ran for six movies, so assuming that hasn't changed he still has one more to go (Iron Man 3 is unlikely to have counted); rounding things off with a Hulk movie would a fitting finale to the character's time in the MCU. However, also working against that are creative reasons as well as contractual.
The Creative Reason - Hulk Movies Are Hard
As we said at the start, Hulk isn't the most popular of the main Avengers. And this is true of both in the 1960s and the 2000s. Ang Lee's Hulk made $245M at the worldwide box office, a fair enough sum for the time that saw it pretty much break even, but considerably lower than X-Men 2's $407M that same summer and well below Spider-Man's $821M a year earlier. The Incredible Hulk barely improved on that half a decade later, making $263M in a year when Iron Man brought in $585M and The Dark Knight topped $1B (this was when hitting that mark was a major achievement). Neither of the films got great attention either; The Incredible Hulk is one of the worst reviewed of the entire MCU and is often forgotten when it comes to full-franchise assessment.
Hulk movies are not proven at best, unpopular at worst. Part of this comes from a tricky balance within the character's concept; while you have a big green monster for thrills, he only exists in a gulf of our actual protagonist. This is why the one truly successful outing for Hulk is the TV series, which by its nature focused on Banner's conflict and internal drama - things that are great for episodic TV but not really a big blockbuster movie. Hulk is Jekyll and Hyde where Hyde is typically mindless. Of course, the comics moved beyond this in the 1960s, but culturally that is where Hulk's been, and it's only really in Ragnarok where his autonomy is presented.
All of that makes a Hulk movie a tricky prospect. It requires going against an ingrained idea and barreling into something more psychological than the MCU structure allows. Marvel can't make a Hulk standalone, but they probably wouldn't want to even if they could.
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017) release date: Nov 03, 2017
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Black Panther (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019