Details Of Marvel’s ‘Hulk’ Film Rights – Fans Can Relax About Sequel – Forbes

Much has been made in the last two months of actor Mark Ruffalo’s comments about the future of the Marvel superhero Hulk on the big screen. In an interview with Collider, Ruffalo stated, “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.” And ever since, fans and media outlets have been speculating about Marvel not owning the rights to the Hulk on film, and there’s been a lot of guesswork about what precisely Ruffalo was referring to. Since the details of these rights deals are rarely made public in all their little nuances, the uncertainty about precisely who owns what and — most importantly — why Marvel hasn’t made a Hulk sequel yet continues to vex fans and press alike. So let me clear it all up for everyone once and for all, with the specific correct details for you.

Hulk 4

Marvel regained the film production rights to the Hulk in 2005, after Universal’s license of the character lapsed due to failure to enter production on a sequel to 2003′s Ang Lee film Hulk. In February 2006, Morton Handel — then-chairman of Marvel Entertainment – said during an earnings report announcement, “Several watershed events in 2005 have set the stage for the next phase of Marvel’s growth. … We are actively working on scripts for Captain America, Ant-Man and Nick Fury… In addition, the rights for Hulk and Iron Man reverted back to Marvel.” Later in 2006, Marvel successfully regained the film production rights to Captain America and Thor as well.

But despite obtaining the cinematic rights to make Hulk movies, Marvel did not obtain distribution rights. Universal held those rights, and today I can confirm the exact situation is that Universal currently retains the right of first refusal to distribute any Hulk films in the future. If for some reason Universal chose to forgo distribution, then Disney would immediately pick up the distribution rights for the Hulk movie. So Universal has no claim at all to the production rights, and their distribution rights are dependent on exercising their option, which remains in full effect at the moment.

Those thinking that the Universal distribution rights are the major obstacle to getting a Hulk sequel seem to forget that Marvel released Iron Man 2 with Paramount distributing the picture. Paramount in fact distributed Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor. Meanwhile, Marvel entered an agreement with Sony to share Spider-Man production rights in a plan that lets Marvel use the wall-crawler for team-ups only, while Sony still produces and distributes solo Spidey flicks. Marvel clearly isn’t going to refuse arrangements with other studios to share characters or share distribution, if and when the studio wants to make a movie.

Iron Man 2

So the claims that distribution rights alone would be enough to make Marvel refuse to release another Hulk movie don’t make much sense. If they wanted to make the movie, they’d either buy the distribution rights from Universal, reach a deal in which Universal agrees to decline distribution in exchange for some other arrangement with Marvel or Disney (for example, Disney co-financing another project with Universal, Disney allowing Universal to distribute some other film instead, Disney changing the release date of one of their films to open the calendar up for a Universal movie, and so on), or they’d just release a film and live with the distribution deal as they did with Iron Man 2 and lots of other films (as they’re doing by sharing Spider-Man).

It’s not entirely irrelevant that Universal has distribution rights to the Hulk solo movies, and of course Marvel would prefer to release all of their content under their own banner and not have to share profits. That’s just good business sense. But it’s also good business sense to not cut off your nose to spite your face, and Marvel has consistently been willing and able to make deals and release films under shared licensing or distribution if and when that fits into their plans and is the best way to make the movies they want to make.