The Incredible Hulk is arguably a bit of an outlier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite its outstanding take on Bruce Banner and his grumpy alter ego, the film was met with an underwhelming critical and financial reception. By now, it's been well-documented that The Incredible Hulk was plagued by development difficulties (some reportedly stemming from star Edward Norton, who became significantly involved with the movie's story).
Now, thanks to the new book, "The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe," we know that the movie's woes stretched beyond its core production team. For a while, in fact, Marvel Studios was concerned about its distribution partner, Universal.
To provide some context, unlike fellow MCU entries like Iron Man and Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk was distributed by Universal. And, as the book explains, the people at Marvel Studios were "[concerned] that the studio's deal with Universal had, to a degree, already hamstrung the movie."
This sentiment stemmed from the fact that, unlike Marvel's then-deal with Paramount, which involved multiple films (such as Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor), its deal with Universal was only for one Hulk film. As explained in the book:
"With no long-term benefits for their efforts, it became a concern that Universal was, for lack of a better phrase, phoning in the marketing of the movie. Pragmatically, they had no incentive to invest in Marvel Studios."
At the time, Marvel Studios was in a serious financial bind. The studio had a limited amount of cash to make its films (money that it needed to pay back), and an uncertain landscape in terms of how audiences would receive its products. So, the fear of a partner possibly not delivering on their end of the agreement — especially one as vital as marketing — was likely a stressful situation.
Having said that, the way it's phrased in the book, it seems that Marvel's concerns could have been a misunderstanding as opposed to it being a case of one company trying to jeopardize another. Of course, that's open to interpretation. It's also worth noting that, while some may argue that Marvel's worries were validated by The Incredible Hulk's financial results, the studio actually didn't expect the film to perform as well as Iron Man.
As the book reveals, Marvel Studios producer Stephen Broussard "knew The Incredible Hulk was going to place second [to Iron Man], so there was personal pressure about landing the movie that might lose money for the studio's risky two-picture launch."
Ultimately, things worked out well enough. According to "The Story of Marvel Studios," The Incredible Hulk was projected to make between $150 and $170 million. The film ultimately took in $264 million worldwide, surpassing initial expectations.
The rights to the Green Goliath are a complex topic, but as it was last reported, Universal owns the distribution rights to Hulk films, while Marvel Studios owns the character's film rights themselves. Fans have long speculated that such restriction is what partly influenced the development of Disney+'s upcoming She-Hulk TV series, which features Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner as a supporting character.
Rumors have been swirling regarding a Hulk standalone movie over the past year, but nothing has been confirmed aside from the hero's aforementioned role in She-Hulk.