The Marvel Cinematic Universe By the Numbers
With the arrival of Avengers: Age of Ultron this week, we are officially 11 movies deep in the wildly ambitious and massively popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not including TV shows like Daredevil, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, that’s approximately 23 hours of superhero content, or 1,384 minutes to be exact. When you have that much content and so many recurring characters, patterns start to emerge. You begin to see the habits and tropes that define any franchise played out on an unprecedented scale. It encourages some genuine nerdery. Just how many times does Captain America throw his shield? How many times does Thor boast? How many alcoholic beverages does Tony Stark consume?
This was my mission. To prepare for Age of Ultron, I sat down and rewatched all 10 existing MCU movies and took careful notes. For the record, that marathon consisted of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. When I sorted through my notes at the end of this long journey, I found that many of my assumptions about the MCU were accurate and some of them were not. And, somehow, this whole dumb experiment managed to make me more excited for the next film. Bring it on, Ultron. I’ll count you, too.
The Biggest Players:
Nick Fury has a role in 6 movies.
Iron Man has a role in 5 movies
Pepper Potts has a role in 4 movies.
J.A.R.V.I.S. has a role in 4 movies.
Agent Phil Coulson has a role in 4 movies.
Captain America has a role in 3 movies.
Thor has a role in 3 movies.
Loki has a role in 3 movies.
Erik Selvig has a role in 3 movies.
Black Widow has a role in 3 movies.
Bruce Banner has a role in 3 movies.
James “War Machine” Rhodes has a role in 3 movies.
Agent Jasper Sitwell has a role in 3 movies.
Hawkeye has a role in 2 movies.
Maria Hill has a role in 2 movies.
NOTES: The bulk of the information in this section could be derived from a quick trip to IMDB, but I ended up doing a detailed and careful count and found a few interesting surprises. For example, it’s easy to remember that Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark puts in a brief appearance in The Incredible Hulk or that Pepper Potts has had more to do in the MCU than most of the Avengers. The most surprising statistic is the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell, who pops up as a tiny background character in Thor and The Avengers before playing a key role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you were to include his presence on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (I didn’t), he’d reach the Pepper Potts level and have more titles to his name than most of the heroes.
Death and Destruction
12 major villains are killed:
- Raza, Iron Man
- Obidiah Stane, Iron Man
- Ivan Vanko, Iron Man 2
- King Laufey, Thor
- Brandt, Iron Man 3
- Savin, Iron Man 3
- Aldrich Killian, Iron Man 3
- Algrim/Kurse, Thor: The Dark World
- Malekith the Accursed, Thor: The Dark World
- Alexander Pierce, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Korath the Pursuer, Guardians of the Galaxy
- Ronan the Accuser, Guardians of the Galaxy
9 major villains survive to see the end credits:
- Emil “Abomination” Blonksy, The Incredible Hulk
- General “Thunderbolt” Ross, The Incredible Hulk
- Justin Hammer, Iron Man 2
- Arnim Zola, Captain America: The First Avenger
- Trevor Slattery, Iron Man 3
- Loki, Thor/The Avengers/Thor: The Dark World
- Brock “Crossbones” Rumlow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Nebula, Guardians of the Galaxy
There is only 1 major villain with a truly unknown fate: Johann Schmidt, AKA, The Red Skull, who is sucked into space by the power of the Tesseract.
9 parental figures, mentors and allies shuffle off their mortal coils:
- Dr. Yinsen, Iron Man
- Anton Vanko, Iron Man 2
- Dr. Erskine, Captain America: The First Avenger
- “Bucky” Barnes, Captan America: The First Avenger
- Agent Phil Coulson, The Avengers
- Frigga, Thor: The Dark World
- Loki, Thor: The Dark World
- Nick Fury, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Meredith Quill, Guardians of the Galaxy
Only 5 of those dead parental figures, mentors and allies actually stay dead.
NOTES: Marvel Studios has a habit of not killing off many of its promising characters, giving them a chance to show up again and again. Although the list of dead villains is longer than the list of those who survived, the dead list is full of more forgettable names and faces while the other has delightful characters like Justin Hammer and Trevor Slattery (who went on to star in the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King). The “dead friend” list (for lack of a better title) showcases Marvel’s unwillingness to make the death of likable characters permanent, since Coulson, Fury, Loki and Bucky all bounced back from death in some capacity. In other words, these are truly comic book movies in every sense and for better or worse.
Major villains killed by Captain America: 0
Major villains killed by Thor: 0
Major villains killed by Black Widow: 0
Major villains killed by the Hulk: 0
Major villains killed by Star-Lord: 0
Major villains killed by Nick Fury: 1 (Alexander Pierce)
Major villains killed by Drax: 1 (Korath)
Major villains killed by Obidiah Stane: 1 (Raza)
Major villains killed by Loki: 2 (King Laufey and Algrim/Kurse)
Major villains killed by Iron Man: 2 (Savin and Brandt)
Major villains killed by Pepper Potts: 2 (Obidiah Stane and Aldrich Killian)
Major villains killed by the awesome power of Teamwork: 3
- Ivan Vanko is taken out by Iron Man and War Machine.
- Malekith is killed by the combined efforts of Thor, Jane Foster and Erik Selvig.
- Ronan is turned to ash by Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora and Rocket.
NOTES: These numbers are amusing because they show how Pepper Potts has landed the finishing blow on more major villains than Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Star-Lord and Nick Fury combined. That’s weird and kind of great. Of course, if someone crazier than me decided to count every single dead henchman, these numbers would be far different and the Avengers would be have a lot more blood on their hands. Still, the real murder champion is teamwork, as more villains were defeated in unison by more than one hero than by individual one-on-one fights.
Thor throws his hammer 13 times.
Captain America throws his shield 20 times.
Hawkeye fires 26 arrows.
Iron Man fires his repulsor blasts 58 times.
Black Widow obliterates 35 humans and Chitauri.
Hulk engages in 53 individual acts of smashing.
Of that smashing, 14 of them involve vehicles, ether human or alien.
NOTES: You’d think that a lot of those numbers, especially Hawkeye’s arrow count, would be higher. That’s just how moviemaking works. You show Clint Carton fire a little over two dozen arrows and your brain fills in the blanks with dozens more that are fired offscreen. The Captain America, Iron Man and Thor numbers are self-explanatory, but for the purposes of this list, I defined a Hulk smash as Bruce Banner’s angry green half causing deliberate damage to some kind of property. I did not include Hulk punching someone (like a Chitauri or Thor) unless that punch also included damage to a building, the ground, etc. I expected more cars to be victims of his rage when I began counting, but it turns out that the Hulk hates pavement and stone a lot more than automobiles.
Out of Touch
Thor doesn’t understand 6 jokes/references.
Drax doesn’t understand 6 jokes/references.
Captain America doesn’t understand 9 jokes/references.
NOTES: All three of these characters have great moments where they don’t understand the world around them. For Thor and Captain America, it’s because they’re fish out of water. For Drax, well, it’s because he’s Drax. However, Cap has the edge because his “man out of time” thing opens up all kinds of great jokes about all of the pop culture he’s missed.
Song and Dance
19 scenes utilize a pop or rock song as a major component of storytelling.
- 3 of those scenes use AC/DC as Tony Stark’s personal soundtrack.
- 11 of those songs come from Star-Lord’s Awesome Mix Vol. 1.
- 1 of those songs is “Blue” by Eiffel 65 because Shane Black does what Shane Black wants.
There are 10 dance sequences in the MCU so far. Seriously.
- 4 of those dance scenes come from Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Only 1 of those dance sequences is a full-fledged production number (see: Captain America: The First Avenger).
- Unfortunately, only one dance scene involves Sam Rockwell busting a move.
NOTES: Guardians of the Galaxy may be the only MCU movie to have a bestselling soundtrack, but there is plenty of song and dance to be found throughout all of the movies. While everyone remembers the dance-off between Star-Lord and Baby Groot rocking out to The Jackson 5, a lot of people may not remember the spectacle of Steve Rogers’ USO tour or the fact that the chill, laid-back Iron Man movies offer plenty of opportunities for characters to hit the dance floor.
Steve Rogers commits 21 selfless/noble acts.
Steve Rogers references patriotism or personal duty 30 times.
Steve Rogers notes the changing times and his disillusionment 23 times.
NOTES: For the purposes of this count, I defined selfless/noble act as anytime Steve Rogers put himself in harm’s way to help or protect someone else.
Tony Stark takes flight 46 times.
Tony Stark consumes 12 alcoholic beverages. Of those beverages, 4 of them are scotch and 4 of them are champagne.
Tony Stark references or engages in 14 sexual or flirtatious encounters.
J.A.R.V.I.S. doesn’t approve of Tony’s plans 7 times.
Tony Stark wears 11 different Iron Man armors. 4 of those armors are worn during the climax of Iron Man 3.
NOTES: For the record, “take flight” is defined by Tony activating the propulsion in his armor’s suit, so that count includes every time he flies high into the air and every time he propels himself across the room. As for the sexual and flirtatious encounters, only two of those are actually consummated on screen: Vanity Fair reporter Christine Everhart in Iron Man and Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3.
Thor summons lightning 17 times.
Thor takes flight 15 times.
Thor makes 31 boastful or arrogant statements.
The Bifrost is used to travel into and out of Asgard 14 times.
Characters say Mjolnir 7 times.
Characters mispronounce Mjolnir 3 times. Each of those mispronunciations are courtesy of Darcy.
NOTES: Interestingly, Thor’s massive list of boastful statements comes from Thor and Thor: The Dark World. The god of thunder is too distracted by his conflict with his adopted brother to do much boasting during The Avengers.
Black Widow is underestimated by her enemies 10 times.
In other words, Black Widow doesn’t need any man’s help 10 times.
Black Widow’s dark and tortured past is referenced 14 times.
NOTES: Coming up with stats for Natasha Romanoff was a little more difficult than the other Avengers because she’s a far more slippery character. Her abilities are based on surprise and deception, so it’s not like we can count shield throws or anything. However, I counted 10 moments where someone or something thinks she isn’t a threat (often because she’s a woman), only for her to turn the tables in an exciting way.
Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk 8 times.
Bruce Banner almost transforms into the Hulk (or fakes someone out) 10 times.
The Hulk has 4 lines of dialogue:
- “Leave me alone!” - The Incredible Hulk
- “Hulk smash!” - The Incredible Hulk
- “Betty.” - The Incredible Hulk
- “Puny god.” - The Avengers
NOTES: This is fairly self-explanatory, but the majority of these stats come from The Incredible Hulk, which simply has more screen time to allow for more Hulking (and almost Hulking) out.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Groot says “I am Groot” 11 times.
Friends and foes call Rocket a “rodent” or other cruel names 8 times.
Star-Lord makes 11 pop culture references.
Star-Lord earns the role of “Worst Role Model in the MCU” 6 times.
NOTES: After hearing several parents complain about what a poor role model Star-Lord is, I decided to count up the individual moments where he engages in behavior that is worse than the typical actions of an MCU hero. The results were lower than expected and Peter Quill seems like a typical movie rogue, not a monster.
Loki deceives, double crosses and tricks someone 28 times.
Nick Fury shows up after the end credits 2 times (in Iron Man and Thor).
Rene Russo has 8 lines in Thor.
Rene Russo has 19 lines in Thor: The Dark World.
Howard Stark is portrayed by 3 completely different actors:
- Gerard Sanders in Iron Man.
- John Slattery in Iron Man 2.
- Dominic Cooper in Captain America: The First Avenger.
The evil Mad Titan Thanos is directly referenced or his presence inferred 14 times.
The lazy Mad Titan Thanos bothers to show up for only 3 scenes.
Characters say the word “Tesseract” 26 times.
Superheroes or other good guy characters badly influence children by swearing 25 times.
- Tony Stark wins the pottymouth trophy with 9 uses of profanity.
- Rocket is the runner-up with 5 uses of salty language.
- Rhodey squeaks into third place with 4 curse words.
NOTES: Despite the countless jokes about Nick Fury showing up after the end credits of every movie in existence, Samuel L. Jackson’s super-spy only shows up after the end credits in two MCU movies, which is genuinely surprising.
The weirdest stat I counted was easily the number of lines for Rene Russo in the Thor movies, which was really an exercise in showcasing just how much the first movie wastes her. She gets twice as much to say or do in the first half of Thor: The Dark World than she does in the first movie altogether.
That final stat was also inspired by parental complains about Star-Lord, namely him calling Ronan a bitch at the end of the film. However, Star-Lord has nothing on Iron Man, who is the swear-champion of the MCU.