Is Captain America 4 Setting Up Harrison Ford's Thunderbolt Ross To Become Red Hulk?

Marvel Comics artwork of rampaging Red Hulk
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

William Hurt is no longer with us, but it appears that Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross will continue on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After the initial rumors that Harrison Ford was being considered to join the MCU by either taking over as Ross or playing Franklin Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot, multiple publications have shared that it will be the former, prompting fans to share their thoughts about a Ford-portrayed Ross. Furthermore, it’s been reported that Ford will debut as the character in Captain America: New World Order, and then he will return for Thunderbolts a few months later.

The fact that Marvel Studios went to the effort of recasting Thunderbolt Ross indicates that there are big things coming up for the character. I imagine that if Ross had only been slated to make minor appearances in Phase Five, akin to when William Hurt briefly popped up in Avengers: Infinity War or cameoed in Avengers: Endgame, he could have been easily replaced with another character. But specifically with the one-two punch of Ross being in Captain America: New World Order and Thunderbolts, I’m now wondering if we’ll see Harrison Ford’s version of the character follow in his comic book counterpart’s footsteps by becoming Red Hulk, something that has been speculated to happen in the MCU ever since Hurt returned as Ross in Captain America: Civil War.

Tim Blake Nelson in The Incredible Hulk

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Leader Is Captain America: New World Order’s Villain

So far we’ve only seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross as a Hulk adversary in The Incredible Hulk, with Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Black Widow showing him as being an obstacle for many of the MCU heroes in general during his time as the United States Secretary of State. Working off the few things we know about Captain America: New World Order so far, Mark Ruffalo isn’t expected to reprise Bruce Banner/Hulk. Even if he were, now that Bruce has been Smart Hulk for a while and is beloved by the public, Ross would have less cause to pursue his vendetta. That being said, New World Order is bringing back Tim Blake Nelson’s Samuel Sterns for the first time since his introduction in The Incredible Hulk.

When we left off with Sterns, he’d just injected Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsy, who already had a Super Soldier Serum variant coursing through his veins, with a sample of Bruce Banner’s blood. After becoming Abomination, Blonsky knocked Sterns aside, and as the scientist lay on the ground, another one of Banner’s blood samples started leaking into his open head wound, causing his cranium to expand. This was meant to set up Sterns becoming The Leader. After more than a decade, that payoff is finally coming. The Leader will be Captain America: New World’s main antagonist, and he could easily be the catalyst for Harrison Ford’s Thunderbolt Ross to become Red Hulk.

Needless to say that Captain America: New World Order’s chief purpose is for Sam Wilson to shine as the Star Spangled Avenger following the events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and that’s the way it should be. I want to see Sam and his allies defeat Leader on their own, not have Hulk jump in to bail them out. Still, perhaps during New World Order, Leader kidnaps Thunderbolt Ross and puts him through mysterious experimentation. Sam rescues Ross, but in the end-credits scene, it’s hinted that whatever Leader did to Ross is starting to change his physiology. In my opinion, the best way to accomplish this is to show Ross’ eyes glowing red, similar to what happened with Bruce Banner at the end of The Incredible Hulk

There’s also the possibility that Thunderbolt Ross could team up with The Leader, as The Cosmic Circus claims that Ross will be a private citizen in Captain America: New World Order. Since he’s no longer a high-ranking figure in the U.S. government, and following confirmation in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law that the Sokovia Accords have been repealed, he could be dissatisfied with how superheroes are back to running around without what he sees as effective accountability and supervision. Since he no longer has access to as many resources as he used to, an alliance with the super-intelligent Samuel Sterns, specifically one that allows him to gain special abilities, may be necessary for him to carry out his will. Whatever Red Hulk-related narrative path is taken in New World Order can easily lead into the events that will unfold in Thunderbolts.

Red Hulk, Elektra and Agent Venom on Thunderbolts #1 cover

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Red Hulk Has Been Part Of The Thunderbolts In The Comics

The Thunderbolts weren’t named after Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in the comics, but he does have ties to that team. At the beginning of the Marvel! NOW era, Ross put together a non-government-sanctioned version of the Thunderbolts, with his teammates including Deadpool, Elektra, Punisher, Agent Venom, Mercy and Samuel Sterns in his Red Leader form. This version of the Thunderbolts essentially served as a strike force willing to take measures your standard superhero wouldn’t. This take on the team only lasted a few years, and Ross hasn’t been affiliated with any later version.

At D23, we learned that the MCU’s version of the Thunderbolts will consist of Bucky Barnes, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, U.S. Agent, Ghost, Yelena Belova, Red Guardian and Taskmaster, but who’s to say the lineup ends there? Maybe the team will also be packing some heavy muscle in the form of Red Hulk, and in the MCU, it’s Ross who the team is named after. Let’s be real, none of these characters are slouches in a fight, but with Red Hulk on their side, they’ll be guaranteed many more victories. Plus, given Ross’ pro-Sokovia Accords stance in Captain America: Civil War, it stands to reason he’d be game for running a team that will only follow his directives, and it’d be even better if he could be out in the field with them.

Conversely, given Thunderbolt Ross’ antagonistic past both in the comics and on the big screen, rather than being part of the Thunderbolts, what if he’s the Thunderbolts movie’s main antagonist? Granted, it’s weird to have a team named after the person they’re fighting, but maybe there’s a scenario where Ross helps form the Thunderbolts, but his transformation into Red Hulk corrupts his mind, requiring the team’s members to neutralize someone they once called an ally. Regardless, I’d be curious to how these characters would bring down a threat who would give Hulk trouble on a good day.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

What Are The Chances Of Harrison Ford Playing Red Hulk?

As I mentioned earlier, Marvel Studios reportedly hiring a heavy hitter like Harrison Ford to take over as Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross means that we won’t be getting the character just standing on the sidelines. This is strengthened by the fact that Harrison Ford accepted the role in the first place; would he have agreed to appear in the MCU just for a few minutes of screen time? Red Hulk certainly isn’t the only way for Ross to shine in Captain America: New World Order and Thunderbolts, but with this character having been around since the MCU’s second movie, this is unquestionably the biggest way to kick things up a few notches with him. 

However, spending a significant amount of time on camera doesn’t necessarily mean that Harrison Ford’s time as Thunderbolt Ross will be too demanding. Just like Mark Ruffalo playing Hulk and Tatiana Maslany playing She-Hulk, we can assume that Red Hulk will be performed through motion capture, and Harrison Ford might not be up for going through all that, whether it’s because of his age or simply not having the patience for it. This could be partially rectified by just having another actor coming on set to perform Ross once the Red Hulk transformation occurs, although it would still require a separate session to record Ford’s facial expressions and record his dialogue.

Furthermore, Red Hulk was a major character in the Marvel Comics universe for almost a decade, and while Ford is reportedly willing to appear in at least two Marvel movies, he may not want to stick around the superhero franchise for the long haul. There’s also the possibility, albeit a slim one, that a different character could become Red Hulk in the MCU. For the most part, characters in the comics who’ve gone by a specific codename in the comics has retained said codename in the MCU, but there have been some exceptions, like Darren Cross becoming Yellowjacket in Ant-Man  (which was later incorporated into the comics) and Layla El-Faouly becoming Scarlet Scarab in Moon Knight.

So while it’s exciting for Harrison Ford to be joining the MCU (though I look forward to when Marvel Studios officially confirms the casting), don’t put any money on his version of Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross becoming Red Hulk just yet. Working off the limited information available, for now, I see it as a coin toss whether Ross becomes this gargantuan powerhouse or continues to be a regular human  desperate t push his own agenda. However, should any details be shared that push us closer towards one direction or the other, we’ll let you know.

Captain America: New World Order comes out on May 3, 2024, and Thunderbolts will follow on July 26 of the same year. These are just a couple of the upcoming Marvel movies that CinemaBlend will continue covering, so keep checking in with us for the latest and greatest updates, and don’t forget you can stream nearly the entirety of the MCU with your Disney+ subscription.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.