The Marvel movies are some of the most successful Hollywood blockbusters of all time. Sure, Avengers: Endgame can’t seem to beat Avatar for the all-time crown, but hey, you’d be hard-pressed to find another collection of properties capable of pulling in numbers like the Avengers and its associated origin stories.

But why are they so popular? Is it just the big-name stars that pack the cast, or is there a pattern at work that we just can’t see? That’s what researchers from the ARC Center of Excellence For Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS) wanted to find out.

In a new study, the research team applied statistical models to the Marvel universe films in an attempt to determine whether cast size plays a role in how well each movie performed. This approach is often used in ecological research, but did it work for superhero flicks?

“We’re huge fans of the recent suite of Marvel movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s called,” researcher Matthew Roughan explained to TechXplore. “We feel that the producers, directors, actors and the rest of the large production family are doing something unique in the history of movie-making, so we set out to quantify that.”

Plotting each movie based on the “effective number of characters,” the researchers were able to show that not only do sequels to each storyline tend to boost the number of characters in subsequent movies, but that the profitability (taking into account gross revenue and budget) of the movies trended upward as well with very few exceptions.

The strategy of releasing a foundation of origin stories and then building on the larger Avengers cast as the various Marvel phases progressed proved to be an ideal strategy for building hype. It took over a decade to gain the moment the series carried into Endgame, but it appears to have been well worth it.