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Feature Christmas 2021: What if . . . ?

Anticipating the ageing trajectories of superheroes in the Marvel cinematic universe

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 13 December 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:e068001
  1. Sarah T Fox, PhD candidate,
  2. Natasha Reid, research fellow,
  3. Ida Tornvall, PhD candidate and research technician,
  4. Shavini Weerasekera, geriatric medicine registrar,
  5. Emily Gordon, research fellow,
  6. Ruth E Hubbard, masonic chair of geriatric medicine
  1. Centre for Health Services Research, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: R E Hubbard r.hubbard1{at}

Ruth Hubbard and colleagues examine the personal traits and health behaviours of five of Marvel's superheroes and envisage the challenges this extraordinary cohort might experience during ageing

Old age can be a time of great contentment, increased wisdom, and personal growth.1 In healthy ageing, functional ability is developed and maintained and enables wellbeing in older age.2 Environmental and socioeconomic setting determine ageing trajectories at a population level, but evidence from large longitudinal studies also highlights the importance of individual factors. Some of these, such as genetics, are fixed, yet others are potentially modifiable.

Superheroes are a remarkable cohort whose distinct powers, personalities, behaviours, and life events have been documented in films. Most attention focuses on their superpowers and outstanding natural abilities, rather than their ageing. It is likely that superheroes might have longevity that substantially outlasts most people. Excluding outliers (Spiderman, who recently graduated from high school, and Thor, who has lived for several millennia), most of the superheroes are estimated to be aged between 30 and 55 years. It is therefore timely for us to reflect on their health status and associations with ageing trajectories and outcomes. We examine their collective health assets and risks as a group. We also examine the personal traits and health behaviours of five of the superheroes. Our “method” is outlined in box 1, and, to avoid plot spoilers, a future is envisaged in which all superheroes survive to old age.

Box 1


Search: Audio-visual material was reviewed by all authors (range 8 hours to >50 hours per author) at home or in cinemas in Australia, with concentrated periods of study during lockdown in 2020 and 2021.

Inclusion and exclusion: 24 Marvel movies released between 2008 (Iron Man) and 2021 (Black Widow) were included. We selected five superheroes for case studies because they …

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