Why can't Marvel make a solo Namor movie?

  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever introduced comics icon Namor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

  • Actor Tenoch Huerta said he’d love to return, but rights issues mean it’s not that easy

  • Universal has reportedly blocked Disney from being able to create a standalone Namor movie

  • It’s similar to the issues that have plagued the likes of Hulk and Spider-Man

Tenoch Huerta enters the MCU in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as Namor. (Marvel Studios/Disney)
Tenoch Huerta enters the MCU in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as Namor. (Marvel Studios/Disney)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe sure loves a good row over rights, and while it’s wrangled the Fantastic Four and the X-Men back from the clutches of 20th Century Fox, its latest addition is caught in a complicated web of legalities.

At the centre of this courtroom chaos is Tenoch Huerta’s Namor — a character who made his comics debut in 1939 — who made his movie debut in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. As we dived into the mythology of K'uk'ulkan and the people of Talokan, Huerta made a splash as Namor (dropping the Sub-Mariner) bit of his comic book counterpart's name.

Read more: The best Black Panther: Wakanda Forever cameos

As one of the MCU's oldest teases, Namor was hinted at in Iron Man 2, before Avengers: Endgame gave a nod to his imminent arrival via the mention of underwater earthquakes.

Praised as one of the franchise’s best villains to date — and with Shuri (Letitia Wright) sparing Namor's life — there are obvious questions about when he’ll return.

Why can’t Disney produce a Namor standalone?

Tenoch Huerta as Namor in Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.
Tenoch Huerta as Namor in Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Disney)

According to Wakanda Forever producer Nate Moore, the rights to Namor as a character belong to Universal instead of Disney. Speaking to The Wrap, Moore confirmed 'he can return' but there are some caveats. Even in Wakanda Forever, Disney wasn’t allowed to use Namor in marketing materials unless it was for a series of character posters.

Although this means Disney presumably brokered a deal to use Namor in Wakanda Forever, the studio can’t forge ahead with a full-blown Namor spin-off movie. This likely takes a Disney+ series set in Talokan off the table, meaning Namor and his nautical buddies are reduced to cameos in other projects.

Prince Namor The Sub-Mariner Marvel comic 4th Aug 1968, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
Prince Namor The Sub-Mariner Marvel comic from 1968. (Alamy)

Universal studios acquired the rights to “The Sub-Mariner” from a troubled Marvel Studios around 2001 — planning a movie after Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). Harry Potter’s Chris Columbus was attached to direct this story of a 'troubled rebel with a short temper', which was set to be a 'major franchise' for Universal. Even though the project fell into development hell, it was still being talked about in 2009.

Read more: Why has Marvel's Phase 4 been so divisive?

The rights have remained up in the air since, with MCU overlord Kevin Feige telling IGN as recently as 2018: “It’s not as a clean or clear as the majority of the other characters.”

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness writer Michael Waldron explained to Variety how Namor was considered for its Illuminati lineup just like the comics, however, it was dropped due to 'other plans'.

History is repeating itself

THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Edward Norton as the Hulk on British poster art, 2008, ©Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection
Edward Norton as the Hulk on British poster art for The Incredible Hulk, 2008, (Universal Pictures/Everett Collection/Alamy)

This isn’t the first time the MCU has been left over a barrel with character conundrums. Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk is the MCU's black sheep, but despite being part of the franchise’s canon and Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton from The Avengers onward, it’s easy to forget Universal Studios technically owns the Emerald Giant.

Feige has shared his joy at being able to use Galactus and the Silver Surfer after the House of Mouse acquired Fox, but there are still a few outliers who don’t quite fall under Mickey’s umbrella. Following Artisan Entertainment's Man-Thing in 2005 and its closure, it was thought Lionsgate owned the rights to the character. Elsewhere, James Gunn tweeted about how obscure legal wranglings means he can’t use Rom the Space Knight and the Micronauts’ Bug in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Sony Pictures)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Sony Pictures)

The big one is Sony’s Spider-Man standalones. It seems like only yesterday the two sides went to war and it looked like the wall-crawling hero was out of the MCU.The Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters is even more complicated, as the Venom and Morbius movies have a troubled relationship with the mainline MCU.

Read more: Every upcoming MCU movie and TV show

Sony’s Amy Pascal has always maintained the SPUMC is part of the MCU, which led to a now-infamous glance from an awkward Feige. There have been whispers of a Spider-Man and Venom crossover, but even that seems like a logistical nightmare because Disney effectively borrows Peter Parker.

What’s next for Hulk and Namor?

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 03, 2022: Tenoch Huerta Mejia attends the European premiere of  'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' at Cineworld Leicester Square in London, United Kingdom on November 03, 2022. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Tenoch Huerta Mejia attends the European premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Getty Images)

The difference is, Sony owns the film rights to Spider-Man whereas Universal only has Hulk and Namor’s distribution rights. This puts these two juggernauts in limbo… for now. A Reddit post from earlier in 2022 showed off an SEC filing that suggests Universal’s contract will run out in June 2023. Even then, it’s not guaranteed it’ll be full steam ahead with Hulk and Namor.

Whatever happens next, we know Huerta is ready to return. Talking to Total Film (via The Direct), the star said, “The mythology around Namor is huge. You can be crazy with all this cultural aspect, and you can create a lot of things with Namor, because they take a fantastic source of stories and mythology and religion and everything.”

Tenoch Huerta as Namor in Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.
Tenoch Huerta as Namor in Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Disney)

Away from Namor, we could finally get another Hulk movie thanks to the She-Hulk finale neatly setting up a World War Hulk outing. Much like that would use multiple characters like Bruce Banner, Jennifer Walters, and Skaar, an ensemble could be one way to get around the mess of Namor's rights.

We never thought we'd see Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine or Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man in the MCU, so look how far we’ve come in such a short space of time when everyone decides to share.

Read more: The actors with the most MCU appearances

The seas of Namor’s rights seem a little easier to sail after Wakanda Forever, but that doesn’t get us closer to giving Huerta the standalone his fans are cheering for. For now, we're pinning our hopes on the inevitable Black Panther 3 or various Wakanda Forever spin-offs that are reportedly in the works.

If not, who wouldn’t want to see Huerta star alongside John Krasinski and Patrick Stewart for an Illuminati movie?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in cinemas now.