Thanos snapped half of all living beings out of existence at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. He dusted millions of people including a number of the Avengers. His goal was to bring balance to the universe by mass murdering billions. Common knowledge would indicate Thanos was completely in the wrong. However, many have speculated that Thanos is the true hero in the story because he brought peace to the universe. Now it appears there’s some data to back up their love for the Mad Titan, which indicates superheroes are much more violent than their villain counterparts.

The Study

In a newly released study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 National Conference & Exhibition reveals Thanos might be on to something. The abstract of the study titled “Violence Depicted in Superhero-Based Films Stratified by Progatonist/Anatgonist and Gender reveals superheroes actually perform more acts of violence per hour than their villain counterparts.

In the study, the researchers watched and took into account ten of the top-grossing superhero movies between the years 2015 and 2016. They also solely focused on DC and Marvel movies. This means films like Suicide Squad, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were some of the movies included in their study.

The study used a rather generic approach to classify good guys and bad guys. If the character was the protagonist they were the good guy, if they were the antagonist they were the bad guy. Obviously, with Suicide Squad being part of the films they studied, there’s already some problems given the team is made up of known criminals who are actually serving jail time. After determining whether the characters were good guys or bad guys they studied each action and marked ones that were violent. The findings as you’d imagine were quite interesting.

The Results

The heroes saw on average 23 violent acts per hour. Sounds like a normal family reunion to me! But here is the shocker. The villains performed less violent acts. They only performed 18 violent acts per hour. But it gets worse. Heroes were more often than not seen committing acts of violence at almost double the rate of villains. This includes property damage and the use of lethal weapons.

The bad news doesn’t stop there for heroes. The study saw them commit acts of murder at almost twice the rate as their villainous counterparts. The study found that superheroes committed 168 murders compared to the villains only committing 93.

There was some good news for the heroes. They performed a whole lot less acts of bullying, torture, and intimidation. Heroes only performed this type of action 144 times while the villains did it 237 times.

What does all of this mean? Lead author and Penn State professor Robert Olympia explains:

“Based on our sample of superhero-based films, acts of violence were associated more with protagonist characters compared with antagonist characters, and were associated with male characters more than female characters. Therefore, pediatric health care providers should educate families to the violence depicted in this genre of film and the potential dangers that may occur when children attempt to emulate these perceived heroes.”

Not the Full Picture

However, cold numbers don’t tell the whole story and there appear to be some major flaws in how they analyzed heroes and villains. It’s unclear what exactly qualifies as murder to them. It’s quite possible that a murder could include the death of Ultron robots when the Avengers fight to save the people of Sokovia from Ultron.

As I mentioned earlier the films they looked at also include many characters who are actually villains as protagonists as seen in Suicide Squad. However, Deadpool also came out in 2016, and he’s not really your ideal hero. In fact, Deadpool is what many consider an anti-hero, and more often than not he plays the role of villain to the X-Force in the comics.

If they removed Deadpool and Suicide Squad from their list of films, I wonder what that murder count would really look like. It would probably decrease significantly since Deadpool goes on a major killing spree throughout the film.

Even more intriguing is the fact that you have Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War on the list. Given their definition for bad guys, are they claiming that Superman and Iron Man are bad guys?

In fact, the events in both of these movies are manipulated by outside forces. Lex Luthor uses lies and manipulation to pit Batman against Superman. And while Batman does go on a killing spree towards the end of the movie, it’s to rescue a hostage, Superman’s mother, from Luthor’s gang of thugs. If Luthor hadn’t kidnapped Martha Kent, there would be no reason for Batman to mow down his thugs.

It’s more than likely the film also looked at X-Men: Apocalypse and my bet is that they classified Magneto as a protagonist instead of an antagonist. If you remember he murders an entire factory of employees. However, he only does this after one of his co-workers rats him out to authorities. Those authorities end up killing his daughter in a stand-off in the woods. Is his murder of these people justifiable? No, but there is context that is missing from the cold numbers in this data. There’s a reason he commits this murder, and the movie doesn’t portray it in a good light.

And that’s the biggest issue with this study. It appears to not take into context any of these superhero films and why the violence occurs. Superheroes are usually only fighting because they are trying to prevent the villain from killing mass amounts of people. They are trying to stop people from getting killed. They are working on saving people.

One of the key scenes from Captain America: Civil War sees the heroes fail in their duties as Scarlet Witch is unable to contain a bomb that ends up killing around a dozen people. It was a bomb used by Crossbones, but my guess is the researchers probably applied this to the heroes and Scarlet Witch because she was the last to interact with the bomb.

What do you make of this study? Do you think superheroes are bad role models and pediatricians should warn children of emulating their behavior? Or do you think this study missed a whole lot of context?