Why Marvel Fans Will Never Be Able to Watch ‘The Incredible Hulk’ On Disney+

Unless the rights to The Hulk undergo a startling metamorphosis, the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk will never be on Disney+. It won’t appear at launch time or at any other time. Even when all the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies eventually appear on Disney+, there will always be a big giant hole where Edward Norton Hulk movie  would be. 

Some may argue that’s no great loss, since the general consensus has been that the movie is one of the MCU’s puny entries. It’s definitely the least high-grossing of the lot. But that’s not why the movie can’t be on Disney+. 

Who has the rights to The Hulk?

Disney+ app shown on a smartphone screen
Disney+ app | Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The situation is similar to the situation with Sony and Spider-Man, where Marvel owns the rights to the character, but Sony owns the screen rights to make standalone Spider-Man movies.

Under the recently renewed deal, Marvel Studios/Disney can put Spider-Man in its movies, but when it comes to the solo Spider-Man movies, Sony gets to distribute those. They’re the lead, although Kevin Feige and company co-produce the movies and provide creative direction. 

Universal acquired the screen rights to the Hulk going back to the time when the show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno aired on CBS from 1977 to 1982. That’s why one of the Hulk episodes. called “Never Give a Trucker an Even Break,” features footage from Duel, the evil trucker movie Steven Spielberg made for Universal before he was famous. 

In 2003, Universal released Hulk with Eric Bana and directed by Ang Lee, but the movie left audiences cold and the sequel failed to materialize, so the production rights to the character reverted back to Marvel, according to Forbes.

However, Universal still has the right of first refusal on distributing any solo Hulk movie. When the 2008 movie with Edward Norton came out, it was the second movie the MCU, but Disney did not yet own Marvel, so that movie was distributed by Universal.

In other words, it’s fine for Disney/Marvel Studios to put the Hulk with the Avengers and Thor: Ragnarok, but for there to be a movie with the Hulk as the main character, the deal with Universal stipulates that Universal has to be approached first. That’s why we’ve never gotten a solo Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo. And that’s also why Disney+ can’t show the movie — they don’t own the distribution rights. 

Why this Hulk but not that Hulk?

Wait a minute, you might be saying. Didn’t Marvel announce that a She-Hulk show was coming to Disney+? They did indeed, but that’s a different character. In the comics, She-Hulk was Bruce Banner’s cousin Jennifer Walters, a lawyer shot by crime bosses. To save her life, Bruce gave her a blood transfusion, and she developed powers similar to his, with a key difference: she retained her intelligence and unlike Bruce, could transform at will. She eventually decided to keep her Hulk form.

Since Bruce Banner is so closely tied to the She-Hulk’s origins, The Hulk could conceivably appear in that series, but again, to make a solo Hulk movie, Universal still has dibs. 

There will be other Hulk-related shows on Disney+, including Hulk and the Agents of SMASH from 2013, and The Incredible Hulk animated series from 1996, so Disney+ won’t be completely Hulk-free. Unfortunately, as things stand, all MCU movies will never be on Disney+ all at once. You can have a lot, but you can’t have everything. 

Why is it so hard to get The Hulk right?

For whatever reason, Universal and Marvel have struggled to bring us a Hulk movie that most people are happy with. While the 2003 movie has its defenders, especially for its unique editing that makes the move resemble comic book panels, many thought some elements like the Hulk-dogs were dopey, and the CGI wasn’t up to scratch, even at the time. 

The 2008 movie didn’t fare much better, and star Edward Norton recently revealed he was interested in making a dark Hulk movie similar to what Christopher Nolan did with Batman.

According to Norton, Marvel was initially on board but then decided to go into a more conventional direction. 

As things stand now, the MCU’s version, as seen in Endgame, is called Professor Hulk, where he’s big, strong and green, but he maintains Banner’s intelligence. No longer is his dialogue limited to comical neanderthal-type grunts. 

“There are a lot of cool things they can do with Professor Hulk, especially with characters like the Fantastic Four and Reed Richards now available to Marvel,” said Marvel connoisseur Jeremy Conrad to CNBC. “I know a lot of people really want to see him show up in a movie with Wolverine.”