Why did Doctor Strange view exactly 14,000,605 different futures in Avengers: Infinity War? In one of the film’s most important scenes, Stephen Strange used the Time Stone to peer into millions of alternate futures and work out a way for the heroes to beat Thanos. He emerged from the experience shaken, revealing that he had witnessed 14,000,605 different ways things could play out. And he’d only found one way to win.
In narrative terms, this was a smart trick on the part of the scriptwriters. It meant that fans have a ready-made response for anyone who suggests a different way Thanos could have been stopped; none of those ideas would have worked out fully, otherwise Doctor Strange would have seen them. This is clearly intended to signpost just how remote the odds really are of saving the universe, and at the end of the film – even as he crumbled to dust – Strange told Tony Stark there was no other way. He had deliberately guided history down this one in 14,000,605 shot, albeit at a terrible cost. But why did Strange view exactly that number of futures?
Reddit user ArenLuxon has suggested a possible reason. They suggest that Doctor Strange’s plan hinges on a specific combination of heroes surviving both their battle with Thanos and the subsequent snap. As he points out, during Avengers: Infinity War one group of heroes did come within a hair’s breadth of beating him, so it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest another combination could pull it off. That would also explain why Strange intervened when Thanos was on the verge of killing Tony Stark; he knew that Stark was one of the heroes who needed to be left alive if Thanos was to ultimately be defeated.
Assuming this really is all about which heroes who survive, there are 21 characters in play by this point in the film: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, Doctor Strange, War Machine, Falcon, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier, Drax, Groot, Nebula, Star-Lord, Rocket, Shuri, Okoye, Gamora, and the Vision. The survivors’ numbers will also be bolstered in Avengers: Endgame by Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, and Ant-Man. That’s a total of 24 different heroes. Every hero can either live or die; that means there are 2^24 combinations, or 16,777,216.
However, the Vision is a somewhat more complicated case, and throws this calculation off a little. In the eventual outcome, he died because Thanos reversed time and tore the Mind Stone from his forehead, which should reduce the futures to 2^23 = 8,388,608 combinations. But it’s entirely conceivable that, in many of these defeats, the Vision survived; perhaps the Avengers succeeded in holding the Black Order back a little longer, and Shuri was able to extract the Mind Stone. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t guarantee that the Vision would make it out of Avengers: Infinity War alive. He was the Avenger most committed to the Mind Stone’s destruction, even willing to sacrifice himself; no doubt he’d wind up in Thanos’ line of fire. So his odds of survival are pretty low; the Redditor assumes Vision has a 1 in 3 chance of living. This adds another 5,592,405 futures (two-thirds of 2^23).
When these two numbers are added together, we get 13,981,013 combinations where specific heroes are left to attempt to put the universe to rights. This is less than 200,000 away from Strange’s 14,000,605, a 1% margin of error. It’s certainly compelling evidence that this is all the variances Doctor Strange was seeing.