DOCTOR STRANGE 2: The MCU’s Marvel Universe Numbering System, Explained

Spoiler Alert

When you watch a Marvel movie in the theaters you can expect to get some gasp out loud moments. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is full of them. One of the most surprising comes in its second act. There, Stephen Strange speaks with a multiverse variant of his sometime lover Christine Palmer. As the pair discuss the Multiverse, she reveals that she’s designated each universe with a different number. It’s something that comic book fans, who have over the decades been key to designating and organizing the fictional worlds they love, will immediately recognize. But it’s more than a simple nod. Christine goes on to confirm something many fans have long wondered. She has designated the main MCU timeline as the 616. That’s a name that’s long been the controversial and long-standing descriptor of the main line Marvel Universe. Here’s everything you need to know!

What Is 616 in the Comics?
A still from the Daredevils issue seven shows a witch Saturnyne saying 616 for the first time
Marvel Comics/Alan Moore/Alan Davies/Dave Thorpe

This is the sort of question that could honestly fill a book, but here’s the potted version. British comics creator Dave Thorpe came up the notion of Earth-616, and introduced by Alan Moore and Alan Davis in The Daredevils #7 story “Rough Justice.” A universe-hopping, portal-opening witch named Saturnyne said it first. In Thorpe’s mind, this universe was a terrible place. “Earth-616 was the one that was holding everything back because it was basically the worst-performing of all the other Earths,” he told Where did the number come from? According to Thorpe, “666 minus 50.” Intended to allow the writers to easily tell stories about different characters in different universes, 616 soon took on a whole new meaning in the hands of iconic comic creator Alan Moore. 

Stephen Strange faces the tentacled monster Gargantos as it holds a bus in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Marvel Studios

Since then fans have popularized it as the term for talking about the main Marvel timeline. It also inspired those same fans to begin to designate the many, many other Earths within the Marvel Universe. But historically Marvel Comics had long denied and rejected the term. 

Marvel editor Tom Brevoort once said, “I can tell you for sure that those of us actually working on the books virtually never use the term—and I kind of wince inside whenever I hear somebody use it. It just sounds so stupid to my ear, and so counter to the kind of mindset we try to foster in regard to the stories we create and the thinking we try to employ.” But it seems since then the thinking has changed. 

Didn’t Mysterio Say the MCU Was the 616 in Spider-Man: Far From Home?
Peter Parker meets the MCU's Mysterio, a part of the Sinister Six, for the first time.
Marvel Studios

Yes, he did. During his first big exchange with Peter, Mysterio claims to be a multiversal traveler. He says he’s from Earth-883, and that the Earth in the MCU as we know is 616. According to that same movie, though, Mysterio is just a liar who made that up as part of his ploy. So Christine—who states her world is numbered 838—is definitely the first one to confirm this as canon on screen. Still, it is a very big coincidence, so don’t be surprised if we revisit Mysterio’s story sooner rather than later. 

Why Does It Matter That Christine Called the Main MCU Timeline 616?
Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer, Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, and Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Marvel Studios

Well, aside from it confirming the existence of these designations in the MCU, it actually poses an intriguing problem. Fans have already designated an Earth number to the MCU. Originally, it was Earth-199999. Interestingly, during a chat with the Ringer-Verse podcast in 2021, Marvel Studios’ Nate Moore off-handedly stated, “You will not see T’Challa in the MCU 616 Universe.” That implies that within Marvel Studios the term is used as shorthand like fans do for the comic. 

This new reveal in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness brings that shorthand to the MCU. So what does that mean for the 616 of the comics? Technically, the notion of both of them sharing the designation would mean that the comics and movies are in the same universe. But the more realistic reasoning is that Marvel Studios is echoing and reflecting the designations from the comics, but they aren’t afraid to reuse numbers like 616 in a separate MCU-based multiverse. What does it mean for the rest of these designations? Well, there’s always the chance the Illuminati universe Christine is wrong, and it was just a nod to the fans. We’ll have to wait and see where the story and the 616 go to really get the answer. 

What Do These Designations Mean for the MCU Going Forward?
A triptych of panels from the 2015 Secret Wars event shows Molecule Man and Doctor Doom talking about how Molecule Man was created to destroy universes
Marvel Comics/Jason Aaron/Esad Ribić/Ive Svorcina/Clayton Cowles

If you’re a comics reader you’ll likely have an inkling after this film that something big is coming to the MCU. What do I mean by that? Well, order in comics usually leads to chaos. If the MCU is taking cues from there then we’re likely learning about the multiverse because soon worlds are going to collide. The film further hints at with the mention of “incursions,” which is Marvel Universe language for “a contraction in the Multiverse’s timeline,” leading to death and destruction. The recognition of the different universes also hints at a possible adaptation of Secret Wars, something we’ve long suspected could come to the MCU. Whether or not the MCU is punking us again is yet to be seen. But whatever comes of it, it’s an exciting moment for comic book fans everywhere. 

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