Mark Hughes wrote for Forbes about the movie rights to the Incredible Hulk and possibly why there isn’t a solo Hulk film in the works. What we’d been hearing is that though Marvel had the rights to make Hulk films and use the character, Universal retained the rights to distribute any solo Hulk film. And according to Mark that is essentially true:
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.
But sharing the distribution money may not be the real reason behind why a solo Hulk film isn’t being made:
The biggest and best modern Hulk stories with potential for big-screen adaptation, according to fan sentiment and press attention, are Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. In either case, or any similar scenario, we’re talking about a large amount of visual effects work and large cast, so the budget for such a project would be close to $200 million if not more. It needs a great story with a compelling new arc for the Hulk that convinces audiences there’s more to him than they’ve seen so far, a threat level that turns this into a really big event-level movie on par with the previous event movies he’s been reserved for, and lots of marketing to build the hype and buzz around the release to ensure a big opening weekend and long legs.
That sort of expense is difficult for Marvel to swallow right now since history hasn’t been kind to movies that depended on the Hulk as the main character. A $180 million budget film would require another $150 million in heavy marketing, so $330 million is the total price tag and $660 million is the break-even point. To get the sort of returns Marvel can get by investing that money into another property, a Hulk sequel therefore needs to bring in at least $750+ million at the worldwide box office, preferably more. And until that sort of performance seems much more likely than a modest or yet-again-failed theatrical run, Marvel knows better than to go down that road.
So it seems that the number one reason there is no Hulk solo film is simple, the studio just doesn’t see it being profitable.