With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier now streaming on Disney+, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is back, back, back! As universes go, it’s way more interesting than the regular universe that we all currently live in – it’s not even close. Naturally, we’re fascinated with every aspect of the MCU – not just the heroism and the villainy and the hilarious weekly antics of our favourite bickering sidekicks, but the day-to-day workings of the Avengers corporate behemoth. How might such an organisation operate on an annual basis? In other words, how much would it cost to bankroll the Avengers?
Sure, the Avengers’ number crunchers aren’t as glamorous as your Iron Men or your Thors or your Hulks – and, to a certain extent, your Hawkeyes – but the money men at Stark HQ are the real superheroes of the organisation: their superpower is financial responsibility. We expect nothing less than a six-part Disney+ series in 2022 dedicated solely to the Avengers budget nerds. If nothing else it’d be cheap to make.
It’s important to contextualise the wheres and the whens of this thought experiment, so for the avoidance of doubt, we’re talking about the Avengers at their peak – post-Battle of New York, pre-Ultron Sokovia booboo. You know, the good old days of Avenging, before it got such a bad name and the band started to break up. (Anything post-Endgame – and therefore post-Tony Stark – would have had Pepper Potts controlling the purse strings, and we always got the sense she’d be a little more fiscally conservative; more ‘equal pay with full pension plans for all employees’ than ‘let’s create an army of AI robots to put a suit of armour on the world’).
With all the zeal of killjoy General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross gleefully going through the Avengers’ yearly budget line by line looking for an overdue expense report, let’s break down the monetary cost of Avenging. Of course, with our diplomatic hat on, you can’t really put a price on world peace (except you absolutely can, because that’s exactly what we’re doing).
Sam Wilson admits as much in the opening episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: the Avengers don’t get paid. They do not have wages. They do not receive any kind of remuneration for their heroic deeds; as Sam says, “There’s a tremendous amount of goodwill… because of that, people are inclined to help”. In other words, if you’re in it for the benjamins, Avenging is not the job for you.
I’m sure the Avengers all have wonderful accountants who ensure they have all kinds of points on the back end of merch deals and likeness rights, but there’s no pay packet waiting for them at the end of the month. You just know Cap wouldn’t accept a salary anyway, he’d probably donate it anonymously to the Museum of American History or something, the do-gooder.
No, the Avengers do not take a salary – but presumably, the thousands of staff that work for them do. The behind-the-scenes teams are largely an unsung workforce in Avengers lore, but they are there: scientists filling the Stark labs, janitorial staff cleaning up after another Hulk-out, caterers catering for Happy Hogan‘s every last whim. It takes a village, so to speak, but a well-paid village.
Where to look for a price comparison for a hugely popular and fully manned superhero organisation with locations around the globe? There’s something of the Manchester United about the Avengers: the brand is known from Macclesfield to Mumbai, the superstar faces adorning lunchboxes and T-shirts, the diligent behind-the-scenes staff keeping the ship afloat while the boss publicly splashes the cash.
Man United have approximately 1000 staff on their books, so let’s say the Avengers facilities have a similar workforce. The average American wage is $40,000, so let’s bump that by 50% to $60,000 – that’s danger money, given how often Avengers facilities tend to be targeted by supervillains. That means you’re looking at an annual wage bill of at least $60 million. No small potatoes, but then if you’re going to spend six billion dollars on property you should probably fill them with people.
Like any good scumbag landlord will tell you, the property game is where the real money is made – if Thanos had channelled his evil into being an estate agent, he could have satisfied his megalomaniacal tendencies quicker than he could click his fingers. The Avengers have the kind of real estate to rival anyone in Big Tech: they’ve got inner-city skyscrapers, remote compounds and goodness knows how many secret underground bunkers in their portfolio. And something tells us Tony Stark and pals aren’t paying rent on any of it: it’s all owned and Avengers branded, baby.
First up, you have the original Avengers HQ: Avengers Tower, formerly known as Stark Tower, in Manhattan, New York City. I’m not sure if you’ve tried buying a place in downtown Manhattan lately, but it ain’t cheap. This high-rise building complex is 93 floors of pure ego rendered in steel and glass, plus it’s run on clean energy which probably costs a pretty penny.
It’s not exactly a property you can browse on Zillow so the valuation is top secret, but for a comparison we should look south to the newly constructed One World Trade Center aka the Freedom Tower, built on the former site of the Twin Towers. The eight-year construction project cost somewhere in the realm of $4 billion, so let’s say that Avengers Tower would be costed at around $5 billion – because Tony Stark is never knowingly cheaper than anyone else.
Stark would eventually sell Avengers Tower (to whom we do not know; it’s entirely possible it’s now a 93-floor Starbucks) and would move the gang to the New Avengers Facility in upstate New York. Less pointy and therefore presumably less susceptible to alien attack (shhh, no spoilers), the Avengers campus is no less swish. It boasts a hundred acres of land, with several aircraft hangars, warehouse storage for Stark’s toys, as much R&D workspace as the Science Bros can handle, and its own lap pool and screening room.
If we may hop back to our own boring universe ever so briefly, the New Avengers Facility is actually the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and can be found in Norwich, in the UK. It’s a Norman Foster creation, and although there’s no publicly available price tag for the building, we can use another one of the architect’s prominent buildings for comparison. The Gherkin in East London cost approximately £138 million when it was given the go-ahead in the early 2000s and most recently sold for £700 million in 2014, probably around the sort of time Tony Stark was looking for an upstate getaway. That puts the New Avengers Facility at a value of around $971 million – a mere snip compared to Avengers Tower.
So, all in all, not counting the proceeds from the sale of Avengers Tower, and throwing in the more mundane property deals for the various out-of-state Avengers facilities and safehouses, we’re probably looking at a bill of around $6 billion for all associated Avengers property. That’s almost enough to rent a one-bedroom flat in central London.
We’ve got the basics covered up to this point: a place to work, and a workforce to work in it. Now we’re getting into the specifics of the job at hand, and Avenging is not a pastime that comes cheap. Another way of saying this is that the Avengers spend the rough equivalent of the GDP of a first-world country on cool-looking gadgets and gizmos. You can’t save the world without draining a few hundred Swiss bank accounts, guys.
Where do you start? Look to the sky: above you is a Helicarrier, basically a floating aircraft carrier with all the might of a marching mobile infantry, and it has the kind of price tag that would make even Elon Musk consider buying now and paying later. The world’s most expensive non-airbound aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R Ford, was priced at $13 billion but you’d have to take Tony Stark’s repulsor technology additions into consideration, so you’re probably looking at a minimum of $20 billion. Per Helicarrier. Let’s just say that officially, there is only one Helicarrier on the books. For the sake of our poor beleaguered accountant friends back at HQ. God knows what the insurance is like on these things.
The Quinjet is like the Avengers’ town car: a much nippier mobile option that allows them to get from A to B quickly and quietly, without having to mobilise a small island nation of machinery to do so. The closest comparison we have here is the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, a US Air Force stealth bomber, with anti-radar detection and all-altitude attack options. These babies will set you back around $2.1 billion each, so that’s as good an indicator as any on how much a Quinjet would cost. Don’t forget to save a few bucks to fill up the gas tank.
Tony Stark has a bunch of classic cars taking up room in his own garage, including a 1967 Shelby Cobra, a bright orange Saleen S7, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and his beloved Audi R8 among others, with a total value of around $2.5 million. However, this is his own personal collection and shouldn’t be charged to the rest of the Avengers. They’re hardly suitable vehicles for crime-fighting; poor old Hulk wouldn’t be able to ride shotgun in any of them.
So, all in you’re looking at approximately $22.1 billion of hardware in the Avengers garage. It’s fair enough though, you can’t have the Avengers Ubering to the scene of the crime.
WEAPONS & TECH
Use of force is always a touchy subject when it comes to superhero groups, but to be honest when your enemies boast alien armies and killer AI robots and magical space gauntlets possessing the ultimate power in the universe, a clutch of Nerf guns isn’t really gonna cut it. Therefore, the Avengers weapons budget dwarfs their entire real estate and workforce budgets combined. This, this is the price of freedom and liberty and all that stuff.
It’s hard to get a proper measure on exactly how much is being splurged on weapons and R&D at Avengers HQ. Iron Man’s explosive line of tech doesn’t come cheap, ditto War Machine‘s arsenal – even second-tier Avengers like Black Widow and Hawkeye, with no superpowers to speak of, require an expensive tooling up to keep them in explosive arrows and, um, those little zappy electric stick thingies. You think Wakanda lets the Avengers Initiative take home free samples of Vibranium every time they pop round? That stuff is worth more pound for pound than printer ink.
Back in the real world, America’s annual Department of Defense budget for 2020 ran to an astonishing $721.5 billion, marking perhaps the only expenditure on this list to be more expensive than its comic-book counterpart.
We can’t see the Avengers spending quite that much per annum, given that they don’t have a permanent military presence in any middle-Eastern nations, but it’s not unrealistic to think that a $100 billion price tag would cover the various weapons and technological applications needed to keep mad titans and mischievous gods at bay. At least Hulk is cheap.
Point: superhero costumes are silly and overly theatrical and are mostly for show. Counterpoint: you can’t fight the forces of evil wearing T-shirts and jeans. Let’s just say that superhero costumes are a necessary expenditure, and that sometimes it’s nice to dress up for work.
Back in 2019, we looked at how much a Spider-Man super-suit would cost, bells and whistles and all, and based on materials, weapons, HUD and cutting edge computer AI, we estimated that one high-end Spidey costume would set back your average punter around $16 million in real life. Let’s use that as a springboard for costing out the full Avengers wardrobe.
Iron Man is your money pit: the costume is the hero, for all intents and purposes. Stark’s Iron Man suits are forever threatening to push the Avengers’ corporate bank balance into the red. It’s been approximated that Stark’s various Iron Man suits range from around $1.5 billion to $7 billion each, and he’s debuted around 80 armoured suits in the MCU since 2008. Conservatively (he says, without a hint of irony), let’s cost them at the lower end of that average – that’s still a total of around $120 billion, give or take the odd spare Hulkbuster. Wince.
Captain America has at least eight costumes that we know about – Stealth suits, golden age refits, and subsequent suit upgrades. Seriously, the man can’t resist an annual kit upgrade (that Manchester United comparison feels more apt by the minute). Cap’s serum-induced powers negate the need for tech support, but you can bet your ass the stitching on these things is LEGIT. Let’s call it $5 million per suit, with a total budget of $40 million for the whole rack.
As for Thor? Wardrobe is model’s own. Thank Odin. We’re sure he dips into the Avengers costume budget to replace his capes though. Let’s say he has a cape budget of approximately $5 million. It’s difficult to replicate that fine Asgardian silk – he can’t exactly use a bath towel and a clothes peg.
Black Widow and Hawkeye thankfully sport a more affordable attire, a couple of no-nonsense get-ups that do not require artificial intelligence or Vibranium inner linings or any kind of ‘instant kill’ mode. Still, let’s put aside $1 million for their wardrobes combined. Also, I don’t know how much Hawkeye pays for his haircuts, but he’s being overcharged.
Hulk, love him, is once again a dream employee, requiring nothing more than a drawer full of stretchy denim jean shorts, just $20 at boohooMAN. With a pair for every day in the working week and one extra pair for the weekend, that’s $120 of total expenditure – or one billionth or Iron Man’s wardrobe budget. God bless that large, cheap, shirtless idiot.
Total costume budget? A staggering $120,046,000,120. You could probably cut Hulk down to five pairs of shorts per week if you wanted to save some pennies.
And you thought your electricity bill was high? The mind boggles when considering how much juice the Avengers get through on an annual basis. You’ve got your Avengers facilities all running 24/7 on “clean energy” – those fancy 3D swipey monitor things aren’t run on AA batteries you know. You’d think Thor could maybe take one for the team and super-charge the power points with some good old-fashioned Asgardian lightning once in a while for a top-up.
Think of the processing power needed to keep JARVIS running and available remotely across all devices. Stark must need to run server farms the size of Uzbekistan, all of which need to be fully cooled. It’s enough to make your average Bitcoin operation look like a quaint little home server.
Let’s look to Big Tech for a price comparison. Google Inc is probably the closest thing to the Avengers in terms of processing power (and their former slogan: “Don’t Be Evil”), and their electricity bill for 2014 was alleged to be somewhere in the region of $523 million, based on their annual usage of 4,402,836 MWh of electricity. That sounds about right for Tony Stark’s operation, a man whom we doubt has ever opted for ‘Low Power Mode” in his life.
Throw in the rest of your utilities like water and gas, and you’re probably looking at an eye-popping annual bill somewhere in the region of $600 million just to keep the lights on.
TOTAL COST OF RUNNING THE AVENGERS
Are you sitting down? The total cost needed in order to get the Avengers Initiative up and running – including all property purchases, the entire annual workforce wage bill, development and production of all necessary weapons, technology, vehicles and costumes, and the highest quality WiFi – will set you back something like $248,806,000,120.
In other words, a quarter of a trillion dollars. Quite the chunk of cheese, as it were.
Reiterating what our man Falcon said, the Avengers aren’t really in it for the cash – they fight because it’s the right thing to do. However, it’s important to recognise they can only do what they do because they are bankrolled by a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist with Scrooge McDuck money pits on every continent. I believe it was Tony Stark’s cross-town rival billionaire Bruce Wayne who, when asked what his superpower was, once said: “I’m rich.”
You’d have to think the Avengers’ financial consultants would offset this cardiac arrest-inducing expenditure with some serious money-making ventures on the side – idea for next pitch meeting: The Avengers join Cameo – but there’s no denying the fact that effective superhero crime-fighting is really only an option for the 1%.
Catch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier every Friday on Disney+. For an exclusive insight into the creation of WandaVision‘s visual effects, check out our interview with the show’s VFX Supervisor, Tara DeMarco, below.
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