Why the MCU Has Not Made a Sequel to The Incredible Hulk
Mar 15, 2023
The Incredible Hulk was released in 2008 and was the second film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Hulk has been one of the most iconic Marvel heroes, and of the original Phase 1 lineup of heroes was likely the most well-known and popular due to his long-running television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Yet while Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor all got multiple sequels The Hulk did not. This certainly comes as a shock not only given the Hulk’s popularity but also how big the character has become in the MCU and was the breakout character of The Avengers.
The Incredible Hulk is underrated in many ways and certainly has its fans, but the fact that the main star Edward Norton was recast with Mark Ruffalo meant it was a film that was destined to be overlooked. One has to wonder why Marvel Studios has never gone ahead with a direct sequel to The Incredible Hulk, though, instead choosing to continue Bruce Banner’s story in other films. Here is a breakdown of why there has not been a sequel to The Incredible Hulk and how Marvel Studios has found a way to keep the character’s legacy going.
The Lowest Grossing MCU Box Office
The Incredible Hulk opened the same summer as Iron Man and kicked off the MCU, yet despite the Hulk being a more popular and well-known character, Iron Man drastically outperformed The Incredible Hulk at the box office. The Incredible Hulk grossed $134 million at the domestic box office which was just $2 million more than the 2003 Hulk film, which was seen as a disappointment. Even worldwide, The Incredible Hulk grossed $264 million, which barely beat out Hulk’s $245. The Incredible Hulk was beaten out by Mamma Mia as Universal Pictures’ highest grossing film that summer.
Related: Every Actor to Play the Hulk and What They Represent
As of this writing, The Incredible Hulk is still the lowest-grossing film of the MCU. While the Hulk is popular, his two solo films have shown he has not quite been the box office draw that other heroes are. It could be suggested that the 2003 Hulk impacted audiences’ enthusiasm for The Incredible Hulk and the new version in the MCU has likely rebranded his image to audiences. However, there is another matter that gets in the way of The Incredible Hulk sequel and that is rights issues.
Complicated Film Rights with Universal Pictures
The film rights around The Hulk are complicated, as Universal Pictures held the rights for years and released director Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003. Universal Studios would have lost the rights to the character if a new deal wasn’t renegotiated. The deal was that Marvel Studios would finance The Incredible Hulk in exchange for Universal Pictures distributing the film. Since Marvel was financing the film this allowed them to use the Hulk in other projects like the planned film The Avengers. Universal retains the right of first refusal to distribute any future solo Hulk movies.
While this might not have been an issue at first since Marvel Studios was an independent studio, in 2009 they became acquired by Walt Disney Pictures. Unlike Spider-Man, which has a shared profit between Sony Pictures and Disney, Universal Pictures would retain most of the profits from distributing The Incredible Hulk.
If a sequel were to be made, Universal Pictures would technically have the decision if they wanted to distribute it or pass it to Disney. The character is likely more profitable now so Universal Pictures would likely distribute the film, but Disney does not want to help a competitor make money and the past two Hulk films have shown them the investment may not be worth it.
The Hulk Has Worked as a Supporting Character
While the Hulk’s solo films have struggled at the box office, his appearance as a supporting character in the MCU has been very successful. Part of the issue with Bruce Banner as a character for many adaptations is he is a character actively avoiding situations, making him a passive protagonist and also fighting to not transform into the Hulk which is what audiences want to see. Making him carry a film has been a difficult task, but letting him be a supporting player has been beneficial.
Related: History of the Hulk in the MCU: From Monster to Hero
The Avengers establishes the Hulk as something scary as seen through the eyes of other heroes, but also something triumphant. Avengers: Age of Ultron showed him within the context of a team and a group of superheroes, something few adaptations have given him since they tend to stick with the man on the run angle.
Thor: Ragnarök showcased an evolved Hulk as well as a fun comedic buddy comedy duo with him and Thor. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has shown him as a mentor figure who the audience accepts because of the build-up of stories they have seen him on. Marvel Studios has found great use of the Hulk even without making him the lead of his own sequel.
Marvel Has Found Workarounds for Hulk Sequels
While Marvel Studios has not made a direct sequel to The Incredible Hulk, they have found plenty of ways within the MCU to continue the character’s storyline. Bruce Banner and The Hulk’s story has primarily been told in the four Avengers movies and Thor: Ragnarök but plotlines and characters from The Incredible Hulk have popped up in other projects.
William Hurt reprised his role as Thunderbolt Ross in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Black Widow and despite the actor passing away the character will continue on with Harrison Ford stepping into the role for Captain America: New World Order and Thunderbolts, with the rumor being he will become the Red Hulk.
Plot points from The Incredible Hulk have also lived on in other MCU franchises. One of the longest unanswered plot points revolved around Samuel Sterns aka The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) who will make his return to the franchise in Captain America: New World Order, which will arrive 16 years after The Incredible Hulk. The film’s primary villain, Abomination, appeared in a cameo role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings before getting his full storyline taken in a bold new direction in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.
In fact, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is very much the future of the Hulk franchise in the MCU, as Marvel Studios has full creative control over the character and have used it to not only continue the Hulk’s storyline, but also introduce a new fresh character to the franchise that can carry it moving forward. In many ways, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and Captain America: New World Order is a creative way of making a sequel to The Incredible Hulk.
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