There seems to be a little bit of confusion regarding Marvel Studios and Universal Studios' licensing deal for the movie rights of the Incredible Hulk and Namor: The Sub-Mariner. So let me talk to myself about it, what I've heard from my own insiders about these two studios and hopefully this will help you understand it better.
So what are we talking about here?
We are talking about how Marvel licensed out their heroes in the late 1990s, early 2000s to other studios prior to becoming Marvel Studios and producing their own films in-house.
Oh, okay. So what's the problem here?
Some fans are confused by the current deal between Marvel Studios and Universal Studios.
Again, and I'm sounding like a broken record here, what's the problem?
It's not as much of a problem as it is a rights issues. Meaning that originally Universal Studios had all the movie and distribution rights for Hulk and Namor. Universal was the studio who created and produced Ang Lee's Hulk back in 2003, starring Eric Bana as Bruce Banner and the Hulk.
The film wasn't as big of a success as Universal had hoped so when Marvel Studios became its own entity, they approached Universal in an attempt to get the Hulk movie rights back. Universal allegedly didn't want to try an produce another film so they made a deal with Marvel Studios where Marvel got the movie rights to Hulk back, but Universal retained all solo Hulk movie distribution rights. Now, if Disney had owned Marvel at the time when this deal was done (they didn't buy Marvel until 2009), the mouse would have also acquired Hulk's distribution rights.
Seems pretty straight forward. So why are fans confused?
Some might be confused because the distribution rights for Hulk solo movies are not owned by Disney and Marvel — from what I've been told Hulk being in any Avengers ensemble film does not count and Hulk/Banner can also appear in a supporting role in any other Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Universal has maintained the distribution rights for Hulk even after Disney bought Marvel. Disney did manage to buy all the Phase 1 distribution rights back from Paramount for Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. However, Universal was not interested in letting Hulk go completely and maintained Hulk's distribution rights. This was after Disney made them an offer to buy Hulk's distribution rights back around the same time Disney and Paramount made their deal.
Does this cover TV and cartoons?
To my knowledge all of Marvel's older licensing rights deals only cover live-action in film and TV, while Marvel has retained all animation rights to all of their characters for TV cartoon series and animated films.
What does this have to do with Namor?
Oh yeah... Namor has the same issue as Hulk does right now. One of my insiders told me Marvel Studios has the movie rights to Namor while Universal still has the distribution rights. It needs to be noted that Marvel has never officially confirmed this to be true and has only said there is a "grey area" in making a Namor film.
Why does Disney care about owning the distribution rights?
It's all about money. Disney will pocket all the cash and they don't have to cut a check to any rival movie studio. Disney doesn't like when other studios get to play in their sandbox unless Disney owns you. Otherwise, Disney wants ownership of all movie and distribution rights so they can keep all the cash from a movie.
I understand now, but after The Avengers was a huge breakout role for the Hulk wouldn't Marvel and Disney just make a solo movie with Universal since a solo Hulk movie would make a ton of cash?
I've been told this is THE REASON there hasn't been a sequel to The Incredible Hulk. Meanwhile, I've also been told Marvel Studios' brain trust is still developing a solo Hulk movie but it will never get a full green light until Universal sells back those distribution rights. Same goes for Namor, although I've been told Namor can eventually show up in other heroes' MCU films and Marvel Studios executives have been actively trying to find the right fit for Namor into the MCU.
Seems like a pissing contest.
That is one way of saying it, but can you really blame Disney? They spent billions on Marvel in 2009 and while it seems like a long shot to get all of the movie rights back for Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four... Disney can be tougher on Universal simply because Universal only has distribution rights for two heroes.
So what's next?
From what I've been told, Universal has been and is still engaged in talks with Disney because they really, really, really want Marvel Studios to get another Hulk movie rolling and has interest in adapting Namor to the big screen as well. Although both studios have been talking for probably well over a year now. Matter of fact, an Intellectual Property lawyer once told me about how Disney and Universal negotiating a deal probably wouldn't happen. So far, he has been 100 percent correct. (See that story link below.)
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THE INCREDIBLE HULK: Disney Won't Get Distribution Rights Back From Universal For Hulk Solo Films For a While