Our team of heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to be tasked with its most epic quest yet in the quickly approaching Avengers: Endgame. I, too, was recently tasked with a quest. It probably wasn’t as crazy an undertaking as trying to bring half of the universe back from being turned into ash, but it was pretty crazy all the same.
My endeavor involved re-watching all 21 films in the MCU canon. Plenty of fans are doing that, but my task didn’t end there. I tallied each one of their spoken lines, as well as fighting stats. We’ll get to the fisticuff tallies tomorrow — for now, we’re going to stick to the lines.
A few notes: All of the stats should be “approximate," in the same way the Screen Actors Guild has to approximate lines. In scenes of pure dialogue, it’s easy to count up lines, but some characters are prone to giving speeches. Should Tony Stark’s entire opening speech about legacy in Iron Man 2 count as much as a snarky "I am Groot" in the post-credits of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Probably not. I counted lines according to the ebb and flow of how they were performed. If things felt like they could go either way, I erred on the side of less rather than more.
All of that out of the way, who do you think has the greatest amount of lines in the MCU? Who talks the most? Who talks the fastest? Who is a never-ending stream of quips?
Appearing in nine films out of the assembled 21, Tony Stark runs away with everything when it comes to the line totals. He has approximately 2,788 lines in the MCU thus far, and nobody else comes close to beating him. The difference is so big here that even if you were to count lines differently than I did, we’re still dealing with him winning by well over 1,000 lines. No other character cracked 1,000, let alone 2,000. Now would be a good time to mention that villains and love interests were not counted, though in the former case villains usually only last for one film, and in the latter, only Pepper Potts would have had the smallest chance of making a dent.
Tony gives speeches. He also gives very quick retorts. His dialogue with Pepper is often so fast that they’re talking right over each other. He quips and he quips fast. Any film with him in it added another hour to the project (at least), because his lines come fast and furious, which required a lot of pausing. This happens even when he’s appearing in another character’s movie.
Case in point: Even though Captain America: Civil War is technically a Captain America movie, Tony has approximately 207 lines in it. Steve Rogers, the title character, has 173. Tony may lose the one-on-one fight with Cap at the end of the film, but he certainly talks a heck of a lot more.
To his credit, Cap comes in second in the overall tallies. He also has 9 appearances, with no other character surpassing 9. Yes, this includes things like the Cap PSAs in Spider-Man: Homecoming and his one line at the end of Ant-Man. The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan comes in with a total line tally of 924. This makes sense for his character — Tony is a non-stop chatterbox, but Cap listens more than he speaks, and when he does speak, he gets to the point. There’s a stronger conviction to everything that he says, and he doesn’t argue with everybody as Tony does. The exception is, of course, when he argues with Tony.
Cap had his biggest growth spurt (line-wise) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where he racked up a line count of 234. He also has one of his largest counts of fisticuffs in that film (the elevator scene helped), but we’ll leave that to another time. Aside from Cap’s brief appearances in movies that he’s just guest-starring in, his smallest tally is in Avengers: Infinity War. While Tony gets out 131 in that movie, Cap lies pretty low, with a measly 27. This is the case with almost every hero I counted — Infinity War had so many characters and was so spread out that many verbose heroes drew small tallies. Tony still managed, as did some others.
A side note: Loki’s brief impression of Cap in Thor: The Dark World does not count as a Cap line, or a Cap appearance. We’re going by character, and not by actor — technically that was still Loki talking, so the line goes to him and not Cap. The same logic applies when Loki impersonates Odin, when Janet van Dyne takes over Scott Lang's body in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and when Skrulls impersonate both Coulson and Carol in Captain Marvel.
Nick Fury may match Tony and Steve when it comes to his number of appearances (he also has 9), but many of these pop-ins are brief — Fury’s total is 438, with his largest amount coming from Captain Marvel, followed by Marvel’s The Avengers. Though he only has 7 appearances, it is the God of Thunder, Thor, who comes in third, with 856 lines. Thor began the MCU by letting his hammer do most of the talking, but Thor: Ragnarok changed the game and gave him his biggest per-film tally with 346. His chatty changes remained with him during Infinity War.
That number doesn’t beat any of Tony’s tallies in the Iron Man films, but it’s the only one that comes close. Ragnarok also helped Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), as he racks up 118 lines in that movie alone, second only to the 124 lines he had in The Incredible Hulk, the only MCU film fully based on him. Edward Norton's Banner broods way more than he speaks … if not for that, Hulk may have ended up higher on the list. Still, he ends up with 472 lines (in 7 appearances).
There is a character who beats both Thor and Hulk when it comes to the appearance count, but falls short in terms of lines. Natasha Romanoff has 8 appearances, yet only has a line tally of 463. Winter Soldier helps (123), and once again, Infinity War hinders (15). She also has very (very) high counts when it comes to physical fighting, but again, next time. Romanoff is the only female character who comes anywhere close to having a number that high.
If you’re curious, rounding out the original Avengers roster is Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who has 148 lines in 4 films.
Doctor Strange (a very talky guy) makes an effort with a 3-film line tally of 383, but Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) also only appears in three films and has a tally of 606. Also with three films? Peter Quill, who quipped his way to an even 500, and Peter Parker, who ended up with 624. Most of that is thanks to a Stark-level amount of talking in his solo movie. (Parker and Lang take the fourth and fifth highest totals, respectively, followed by Quill.)
Gamora has a decent showing with 281, but even in terms of just the Guardians, Rocket beats her easily with 351. Wanda Maximoff nabs 107 in four films, which oddly enough is exactly equal to Shuri, who got the same number with only 2 movies. (This is mostly thanks to Black Panther, where T'Challa himself racked up 164, to give him an MCU total of 219.)
Where does the latest addition to the MCU stand? Carol Danvers grabbed 249 lines in her origin film. This is nothing to sneeze at, as it beats each and every "solo" film outing by Steve Rogers. She doesn’t match the New-Thor talk of Ragnarok, however, nor does she come close to any Stark totals in the Iron Man films. Stark never gets out of his own movies without talking at least 400 times, usually more.
What does all of this really tell us? Something big. Something we already knew, but now confirmed beyond a shadow of any doubt by cold, hard data, revealed fully in the bright light of day. Get ready for a shock: Equality in the MCU is a sorry state of affairs, at least in terms of spoken lines.
I'll give you a moment to register your lack of surprise.
Yes, the arrival of Carol Danvers is a step forward, but that was movie #21 out of 21. Romanoff may appear a lot, but it’s never been her show. Even when a character shares the title, like the Wasp (in Ant-Man and the Wasp), things aren’t remotely close to being balanced — Hope Van Dyne takes 187 lines in that film, and Scott Lang takes 276. Wasp has a grand total of 289 for 2 films, so she actually beats Gamora.
Characters like Gamora, Nebula, and Valkyrie help even things out a little, but they are often pushed to the sidelines. If they are given something to do, it’s mostly in the realm of kicking ass, which is … something, at least. If you’re looking for scenes that feature two women speaking to each other one on one, forget it — you've got Iron Man Three (barely), Nebula and Gamora in Guardians Vol. 2, Black Panther (where T'Challa is usually the one who is being discussed), and Captain Marvel.
Non-white characters were given a boost by Black Panther, but before that you mostly have War Machine and Falcon, throwing in the occasional bit of banter in between blowing stuff up. War Machine has a line tally of 342 for 7 films (Iron Man 2 being the most), and Falcon sits with 173 lines in 5 showings. Black women are helped by Shuri, Okoye (2 films, 73 lines), and Valkyrie (87 lines in 1 film), but it’s not much. For your fill of Asian characters, there are four minor ones spread across three out of 21 movies. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is in much better shape on that front, but it's not a movie.
In terms of LGBTQ+ characters? Those characters would have to exist for them to be able to talk. Post-Ragnarok chat about Valkyrie is as close as we come there.
Why did we not count the love interests? For the sake of my sanity, for one reason. For another, the assignment was Avenger-level heroes. Thirdly, it wouldn't really help things. Counting Pepper Potts or Hela might have assisted a little, but when it comes to most women of the MCU, they are relegated to the role of "girlfriend" and almost never have an arc apart from their man. They would never have been contenders.
Pepper is always all about Tony, Jane is almost always all about Thor, Betty is always all about Bruce. Even one of my favorite MCU characters of all time, Peggy Carter, doesn't get much of her own Cap-free arc until we see her in her own too-good-for-this-world TV series. Both Agent Carter and the aforementioned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would help the stats tremendously, but again, the mission was film, not television. If I could be celebrating Melinda May and Daisy Johnson, believe me ... I would be.
There’s another big angle to all of this, though, one that I've already alluded to a couple of times. When it comes to these heroes, is their bite as good as their bark? Do they match their words with deeds? Do some characters talk way more with their fists and weapons than they do with their mouths? Do things even out a little bit when this is taken into account? This was the other major part of the project.
Action sequences are where most characters with low line tallies (especially Bucky Barnes) get a lot more to do.
Stay tuned for a breakdown of every punch, kick, toss, weapon attack, magic attack, shield hit, shield toss, hammer hit, hammer toss, arrow shot, Hulk smash, Thor smash, Black Widow takedown, and more. To give a quick preview, I'll just say this: I'll probably never be able to enjoy the airport scene in Civil War ever again. The things we do for love.
Avengers: Endgame is ready to do whatever it takes on April 25. Will Tony continue his winning streak, or will Cap finally triumph? Will Natasha finally get her due, or will Carol Danvers blast them all into speechless spunk? Will blowing away into a cloud of dust be enough to shut Peter Quill up? I can answer the last one, I think— no, it will not be enough. He'll quip from beyond the grave if he has to.