Can Ecology Explain The Success of The Marvel Cinematic Universe?

This could be the start of a new field of ecological movie analysis.
Chris Young
Some of the source comics for the MCU film universe.ralpoonvast/Pixabay

The Marvel Cinematic Universe spans more than 20 films generating over $6 billion in revenue. 

While the enormous franchise's box office clout can't be attributed to any one factor, ecologists say they may have found a way to map the way the cast's diverse, complex character interactions are partially responsible for this success.

In doing so, they hope to forge a surprising, and unexpected collaboration between the field of ecology and movie analysis.


Studying superhero interactions

In their research, Matthew Roughan and colleagues from the University of Adelaide in Australia, point out that ecologists have long been in possession of the mathematical tools needed to study interactions between species — or superheroes in this case.

This team has now implemented those tools to study the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

According to an MIT press release, Roughan and his colleagues applied ecology models to interactions between the characters in the movies. These models, typically, are used to assess the roles of different species through the complex web of interactions in their ecosystem.

The researchers counted the conflicts between characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and studied them by using the same mathematical tools developed by ecologists. 

A new universe of movie metrics?

Using these tools, the researchers drew up correlations between a film's total amount of conflicts, its dialogue and the revenue it generated.

Some of the findings are a little obvious. For example, the researchers say that larger cast sizes will typically bring in larger audiences. This isn't a novel finding — the Avengers films, as an example, draw from many different franchises, have a large cast and, therefore, draw in a huge pre-established audience.

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Similarly, the researchers correlated origin movies with more dialogue and less conflict — more dialogue is clearly necessary for establishing a character's origin and personality.

Can Ecology Explain The Success of The Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Source: Matthew Roughan et al.

However, the University of Adelaide team seem to suggest that this new research may be the first foray into an expansive field, saying that their work could lead to new applications in analyzing movies: 

“The presented metric and its generalization could be explored in relation to other cinematic universes, or TV shows,” Roughan and his team note in the MIT article.

Thanks to the complexity of the ecological mathematical tools, the data could also be used to create more specific recommendation algorithms. Ecology might have a surprising function in the future of moviegoing.

The researchers released their findings in a paper called, How the Avengers assemble: Ecological modelling of effective cast sizes for movies.

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