Anti-Heroes for Hire

Marvel theory reveals the MCU’s secret plans to finally make World War Hulk

Is Thunderbolts secretly a Hulk spinoff?

There may be more to Thunderbolts than meets the eye. The film, which was unofficially announced last week, is set to bring together a team of comic book anti-heroes for the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But what sort of threat could bring the Thunderbolts cast together? An intriguing new theory suggests it could have everything to do with the strongest Avenger around.

That’s right, one MCU fan believes the Thunderbolts movie may secretly double as Marvel’s long-awaited Hulk-led standalone film. And they make a pretty compelling argument. Let’s dive in.

A secret Hulk movie?

In a recent TikTok video, @danbotooie theorized that Thunderbolts may pit its titular team against none other than Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). As the TikTok user notes, the Thunderbolts’ first appearance in the comics saw them come together to fight The Hulk.

Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.Marvel Studios

Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky (aka, Abomination) is also one of the characters rumored to be in Thunderbolts. If he does, indeed, end up being in the film, then his presence could lead to Abomination and The Hulk going toe-to-toe on-screen for the first time since 2008. The Hulk also definitely qualifies as the kind of threat that’d warrant the formation of a team like the Thunderbolts, too.

This theory also connects back to one major, ongoing MCU rumor, which is that Marvel is in the midst of developing a standalone Hulk movie. In specific, the rumor has suggested that Marvel will use She-Hulk: Attorney at Law to set up a movie based on the World War Hulk comic book storyline, which notably centers on a conflict between Bruce Banner and a team of Earth-based superheroes.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova in Black Widow.Marvel Studios

The Thunderbolts vs. Hulk

In the comics, World War Hulk follows Bruce Banner as he journeys back to Earth after being sent into space by the Illuminati. Seeking revenge for both his forced exile and the deaths of his loved ones, Hulk returns to Earth and begins systematically taking down the members of the secret club. It’s a brutal and massive comic book story — one that fans have been waiting to see depicted on-screen for some time now.

That’s why it was so exciting when rumors began swirling last year that a World War Hulk adaptation was in the works at Marvel. Unfortunately, the studio hasn’t released any information about the project, nor has it even confirmed its existence. Taking that into account, it’s worth asking: What are the chances that Thunderbolts is actually an MCU adaptation of World War Hulk?

The answer to that question is unclear given just how much secrecy is still surrounding both Thunderbolts and World War Hulk. However, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Thunderbolts might be a loose adaptation. After all, the Thunderbolts could theoretically work as a replacement for the Illuminati (R.I.P.), and if She-Hulk plays as important of a role in Bruce Banner’s arc as certain rumors have suggested, the upcoming Disney+ series could very well help tee up a Thunderbolts vs. Hulk conflict in the MCU.

Will Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) end up fighting the Thunderbolts in the MCU?Marvel Studios

The Inverse Analysis — Marvel fans won’t know how accurate this theory is until more information is released about Thunderbolts. That said, it is heavily rumored that team will be assembled by Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. While little is known about the character, her brief appearances have already established that she’s a capable and manipulative leader, which makes her worthy of leading a team like the Thunderbolts.

The Black Widow post-credits scene also established that Val is willing to pit two MCU heroes against each other, so there’s no reason to believe she wouldn’t be willing to lead a crusade against The Hulk.