Just to be clear, I am not talking about the theme park in Orlando. I am talking about the studio.
Right now, superheroes are the hottest thing in Hollywood. It comes as no surprise that the success of The Avengers is getting Warner Bros, Fox, and Marvel themselves to create dozens of superhero movies and shows for the rest of the decade.
The question is with the recent success and popularity of superheroes on the rise, why isn't Universal Studios joining them? The answer is a little tricky. When Marvel sold the film rights to their characters in the '90s to prevent themselves from going bankrupt, Universal got the rights to the Hulk.
Fast forward to the early 2000s, and Universal gave us the first Hulk movie starring Eric Bana in 2003. Then in 2008, they gave us The Incredible Hulk as the second film in the MCU starring Edward Norton. So far that means that technically, we did get 2 superhero movies from Universal. However, that is well before the Avengers made the studios decide to go superhero crazy.
Things really get complicated with this, because Disney bought Marvel. When they bought Marvel, they also bought the film rights to Iron Man, Captain America and Thor from Paramount. They also bought the rights to Hulk from Universal, which led us to believe that they can do literally anything they wanted with the Hulk and give him stand-alone sequels like Iron Man and Captain America got, but as Mark Ruffalo said in this interview
As far as a Hulk movie, a standalone Hulk movie, Marvel doesn’t really have the rights to that yet. That’s still Universal’s property, so there’s that issue. That’s a big impediment to moving forward with that. Now I don’t think that’s insurmountable, by the way, but I don’t know where it’s going from here for me.
That interview was in April, just a couple months ago. That means that Universal can make a Hulk movie. As stated in this article from 2013,
Disney can make any Hulk movie they want since Marvel has the movie rights but Universal will continue to distribute all Hulk films and the IP lawyer seems to think that Disney does not want to "share the profits" for any of their owned properties.
It says that Universal made a deal with Marvel Studios that gives them permission to use the Hulk, but they get to distribute the Hulk solo movies. This is interesting, because we can quickly assume that Disney and Marvel do not want to share the rights like that so they wouldn't want to let someone else distribute their productions, but the Sony deal with Spider-Man says otherwise. The Sony deal with Marvel is the same exact thing. They can do what they want with Spider-Man, but distribution for the Spider-Man solo movie remains with Sony with a Spidey solo film set for 2017.
It's also important to note that when Universal bought the rights from Marvel, they didn't just buy The Hulk. They bought the film rights for the character Namor the Sub-Mariner, who still resides at Universal. Well not entirely. The production rights for Namor have returned to Marvel, but the distribution rights have remained at Universal.
It's interesting how Hulk AND Namor are set up in the same sort of deal with Marvel regarding the release of their movies. As the current plans for Phase 3 of the MCU show, the deal with Sony is the only time they'd want to allow another separate studio distribute the movies because they prioritize having Spider-Man in the MCU more than continuing to give us Hulk or giving us a new hero in the form of Namor.