Ahead Of Avengers Infinity War, We Calculated Who Is The Best Connected Character In The Marvel Cinematic Universe

By James O Malley on at

The Marvel Cinematic Universe celebrated its tenth birthday earlier this year - and in just a few short weeks we’ll all be sitting down in the cinema to watch executive producer Kevin Feige’s crowning achievement: Avengers: Infinity War is set to draw together all of the dozens of characters and plot threads into the sort of spectacular crossover event that has only really been seen before in the pages of comics.

The mantra of “It’s all connected” - the idea that each film and TV show is infused with subtle, and some not-so-subtle, references to other characters and properties, is one of the reasons for Marvel’s success. By creating a coherent universe, with common characters, organisations and infrastructure, Marvel has given audiences an endlessly deep and rich viewing experience for the hardcore viewer.

Thinking about these connections the other day I realised something important: If we can analyse how characters are connected, perhaps we can learn new things about our favourite characters, and the cinematic universe that we like to spend time in.

And this reminded me of the work by a couple of historians, Ruth and Sebastian Ahnert, who a few years ago decided to analyse a bunch of old letters sent by underground Protestants during the reign of “Bloody” Mary I, who was a Catholic, in the 16th century. No, really, I’m serious.

Rather than simply look at the text of the letters, the academics used the letters to create a network map of connections between individuals in that era. The thinking was simple: By looking at who was sending letters to who, could they spot who the important players were at the time? Could this sort of metadata analysis people who may have been ignored by traditional historians? By building a map of connections, can they fill in the historical blanks and learn more about the importance of lesser known characters? Particularly women, who have been traditionally left out of the historical narrative.

And this brings me back to Avengers: What if we could use a similar network analysis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to work out which characters have actually been the most important to the whole endeavor? Not in terms of powers - as that would presumably be Thor or Thanos or whoever. But which characters are the most central to the collection of interconnected stories that we love? Who is providing the most connective tissue across the fictional universe?

Let’s find out.

Only Connect

So we need to create a database of connections - where can we get the data? Helpfully, there is the utterly exhaustive Marvel wiki we can turn to. It’s actually pretty breathtaking in its depth: The nerds who maintain it have created a vast database of every character - 57,000 or so in all.

Where characters appear in multiple universes, they have different pages for that iteration of the character. For example, there are 394 separate pages for Tony Stark, including one specific Earth-616 (the main Marvel continuity), and more usefully, one specifically for the Tony Stark in Earth-199999, aka the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the version played by Robert Downey Jr.

But how to count the connections? Obviously this isn’t a perfect science, but what I did was take every link included on a given character page, and count that as a connection. So I downloaded the pages for all 749 MCU characters, and counted all of the links in their pages where they link to other MCU characters. And totalled up how many connections there were in total. (Where two pages link to each other - for example, Tony Stark linking to Steve Rogers, and Steve Rogers linking to Tony Stark, I’ve only counted it as one connection).

Old Boys Network

Having loaded all of the connections into a database, it means we can plot them as a network map. AKA the world’s most confusing tube map. It was so massive, we had to make do with a rather crude and cropped screenshot. Click on the image below to load a slightly larger version.

(Nerd note: This chart is limited to characters with 15 or more connections to other characters, whether those characters are in the same film or show, or not.)

I think this is pretty cool, as it shows who is connected to who - and it clusters together similar characters

The large bulk at the top are the Earth-bound heroes - Tony Stark, Peter Parker and so on. The smaller clump to the left are some of the characters from the annoyingly short-lived Agent Carter series. The large group to the bottom are mostly characters from Agents of Shield, which after five seasons is now arguably even more expansive than the movies. Between the two you can see the characters that have connections between both AoS and the movies - like Nick Fury, who put in an early guest appearance on the show, and Jasper Sitwell, the SHIELD Agent who appeared in Thor, Avengers and Agents of SHIELD, before it was revealed that he was actually a member of Hydra.

Over on the right of the map are two clumps for characters mostly associated with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy. And looking between, we can see that Thanos is, of course, a common connection amongst Earthbound and intergalactic characters - but it also reveals that Sif, one of Thor’s super-pals is too. In addition to her role on Asgard, she links up to Taneleer Tivan - The Collector, thanks to the Thor 2 post-credit sequence. And she even connects directly with the SHIELD Agents, having put in an appearance in the season two.

Best Connections

So we made a cool map. But what about the maths, what does the data reveal? Who is the best connected character in the MCU?

Top of the list isn’t actually an Avenger, but the man who brought the team together: Phil Coulson is directly connected to 135 other characters thanks to his appearance in all but one of the phase one films, as well as his starring role on Agents of SHIELD.

Second is Tony Stark - presumably helped by appearances outside his own series in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, not to mention the two Avengers films so far.

Steve Rogers is third, which makes sense given that he is a foundational character for much of the Universe’s scaffolding: From his super-soldier experiment being crucial to the 1940s founding as the Strategic Scientific Reserve, which we then saw on Agent Carter, to his place in Marvel’s fictional universe as a celebrity (appearing in videos shown at Peter Parker’s school, referenced in Daredevil, and so on.)

The most important women on the list aren’t actually in any of the films: It’s Daisy Johnson, otherwise known as Quake or Skye from Agents of SHIELD, and her colleague Melinda May, who after five seasons have encountered dozens of different characters and have been linked to tonnes of important moments.

Here’s the full top 100 - well, actually 108, as many on the list have the same number of connections as others. The number at the end in brackets is the number of connections we counted.

1) Phil Coulson (135)
2) Anthony Stark (95)
3) Steven Rogers (80)
4) Daisy Johnson (71)
5) Melinda May (60)
6) Nicholas Fury (58)
7) Bruce Banner (56)
=8) Thor Odinson (55)
=8) Grant Ward (55)
10) Peggy Carter (54)
11) Natalia Romanoff (51)
12) Jemma Simmons (49)
13) Loki Laufeyson (47)
14) Howard Stark (44)
15) Matthew Murdock (43)
16) Jessica Jones (36)
17) Leopold Fitz (35)
=18) Lance Hunter (34)
=18) Antoine Triplett (34)
=18) Barbara Morse (34)
=18) Peter Quill (34)
=22) 89P13 (33)
=22) James Buchanan Barnes (33)
=22) James Rhodes (33)
=25) Yondu Udonta (32)
=25) Scott Lang (32)
=27) Glenn Talbot (31)
=27) Peter Parker (31)
=29) Luke Cage (30)
=29) John Garrett (30)
=31) Raina (29)
=31) Wilson Fisk (29)
=33) Samuel Wilson (28)
=33) Ultron (28)
=35) Vision (27)
=35) Odin Borson (27)
=35) Wanda Maximoff (27)
=38) Alphonso Mackenzie (26)
=38) Werner Reinhardt (26)
=38) Clinton Barton (26)
=38) Michael Peterson (26)
=38) Johann Schmidt (26)
=38) Groot (26)
=44) Maria Hill (25)
=44) Thaddeus Ross (25)
=46) JARVIS (24)
=46) Jasper Sitwell (24)
=48) Gamora (23)
=48) Sunil Bakshi (23)
=50) Karen Page (22)
=50) Hive (22)
=50) Carl Creel (22)
=50) Ronan (22)
=54) T'Challa (21)
=54) Arnim Zola (21)
=54) Drax (21)
=54) Anton Ivanov (21)
=54) Jeffrey Mace (21)
=59) Matthew Ellis (20)
=59) Kevin Thompson (20)
=59) Victoria Hand (20)
=59) Wolfgang von Strucker (20)
=59) Andrew Garner (20)
=64) Gordon (19)
=64) Brock Rumlow (19)
=64) Malekith (19)
=64) Helmut Zemo (19)
=68) Pietro Maximoff (18)
=68) Sif (18)
=70) Ivan Vanko (17)
=70) Henry Pym (17)
=70) Emil Blonsky (17)
=70) Jiaying (17)
=70) Jane Foster (17)
=70) Stephen Strange (17)
=70) Calvin Zabo (17)
=70) Ego (17)
=78) Lincoln Campbell (16)
=78) Robert Gonzales (16)
=78) Thanos (16)
=78) Hela (16)
=78) Alexander Pierce (16)
=78) Virginia Potts (16)
=78) Ian Quinn (16)
=78) Kara Lynn Palamas (16)
=78) Abraham Erskine (16)
=78) Melinda May (LMD) (16)
=88) James Taylor James (15)
=88) Edwin Jarvis (15)
=88) Erik Selvig (15)
=88) Taserface (15)
=88) Maximus Boltagon (15)
=88) Gideon Malick (15)
=88) Aldrich Killian (15)
=88) Shuri (15)
=88) Trevor Slattery (15)
=97) Ulysses Klaue (14)
=97) Phillip Coulson (LMD) (14)
=97) Jack Thompson (14)
=97) Taneleer Tivan (14)
=97) Jeffrey Mace (LMD) (14)
=97) Frank Castle (14)
=97) Nebula (14)
=97) Fandral (14)
=97) Claire Temple (14)
=97) Doctor List (14)
=97) Adrian Toomes (14)
=97) Blackagar Boltagon (14)

Who do you think is the most surprisingly well connected character? And how do you think this will change after Infinity War hits the cinemas? I mean, other than Thanos’s imminently rocket-boost up the chart. Let me know in the comments.

James O’Malley is Interim Editor of Gizmodo UK and tweets as @Psythor.