It's been nearly six years since Benedict Cumberbatch debuted as Doctor Stephen Strange. 2016's Doctor Strange seems like just a touchstone of the master magician's impact on the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cumberbatch has appeared as Marvel's premiere wizard three times since his first and only solo venture: Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.
At long last, a proper sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, hits theaters (exclusively) on May 6. This comes off the heels of one of the most successful films of all-time, Spider-Man: No Way Home. The Tom Holland threequel grossed the sixth highest worldwide total ever ($1.89 billion) and the third most at the domestic box office ($804.4 million). Multiverse of Madness won't reach the heights of No Way Home, but it does promise to be another multiversal adventure with surprises that'll draw big audience reactions.
Before his solo sequel, a quick trip down memory lane is in order. Doctor Strange, directed by Scott Derickson, grossed $232.6 million domestically and totaled $677.8 million worldwide. It opened at $85 million domestically, the 19th highest total in MCU history. In other words, Strange did adequate its first time in theaters, especially for a brand new character for the silver screen. It set the studio up for much bigger paydays down the line. One global pandemic later, that day has arrived.
Doctor Strange 2 Set to Smash the Box Office
Sequels normally generate more box office success than their predecessors in the MCU. For Multiverse of Madness, it will be the same, and likely one of the more significant improvements at the box office at that. Something to keep in mind with this release is that it is the first Marvel Studios release in May since 2019 (technically 2017, Infinity War and Endgame were released in late April). May is normally the month allocated to Marvel's biggest releases of the year, kicking off the summer season.
A major factor in why Multiverse of Madness will be a smash hit is that it is essentially a sequel to three separate projects: Doctor Strange, WandaVision, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Keeping fans invested through multiple projects is possibly Marvel Studios' greatest strength. The film will continue the more personal Stephen Strange story from the 2016 origin, pick up on Wanda Maximoff's journey as the newly awakened Scarlet Witch, and deal with the direct ramifications of Strange's spell-casting in No Way Home.
Indirectly, the events of Loki could have a huge impact on Multiverse of Madness. Not only was the Disney+ series about the God of Mischief, but it was also fans' first look at the Multiverse in the MCU. Uncoincidentally, the two projects share the same writer, Michael Waldron. He recently confirmed the ties between the two projects, saying, "...one thing certainly informs the other."
In a way, Multiverse of Madness is already a success, earning a reported $42 million already in advanced ticket sales. This relates to the overall state of the North American box office. April 2022 was the most normal time for exhibition since about February 2020. Big studio and IP films like Morbius, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Fantastic Beasts were released (to mixed monetary results), and a sprinkling of smaller releases like Everything Everywhere All At Once, The Bad Guys, and The Northman added to the mix.
A healthy box office is unsurprising when breaking down some recent data based on 2,500 filmgoers. Casual fans are back up to 31% of total moviegoers, up from 18% in an October 2021 study. This is significant because it shows how more people are feeling comfortable going back out to the theater and participating in pre-COVID activities (like a packed movie theater).
Doctor Strange 2 also welcomes back director Sam Raimi. It's been 15 years since his last superhero film, Spider-Man 3, and nine years since his last theatrical release as director, Oz the Great and Powerful. Raimi took over for Scott Derickson after the Doctor Strange director left over creative differences. It's not the biggest reason, but many fans of the original Spider-Man trilogy are excited to see Raimi get another shot at the comic book movie genre.
Another minor factor is that the surprisingly short runtime of Multiverse of Madness, 126 minutes, will put the MCU sequel on as many screens as possible. The Batman was 50 minutes longer and still had a healthy run at the box office, earning a $134 million opening and 368.8 million total domestically.
How Multiverse of Madness Could Struggle
The latest sign trending downwards for Multiverse of Madness is the LGBTQIA+ controversy. The film will not release in Egypt, and Saudi Arabia requested that Marvel remove a scene - since then, it has now been banned from being released in the country.
Not directly related to the recent backlash, but it is unlikely that the film will release in China, a massive percent of MCU box office earnings before 2020. From a global box office perspective, there is a cap placed on this film if it is not released in as many countries as once assumed.
A reason for the success of No Way Home was the mind-blowing cameos and the general feeling of living up to, or surpassing, audience expectations. Part of that was the satisfaction were cameos, specifically Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire's return as their respective Spider-Mans. Multiverse of Madness promises to have several jaw-dropping moments, but what happens if that doesn't happen?
Fair or unfair, if Multiverse of Madness is perceived as a standard, average, MCU flick, the word of mouth won't hold much weight. However, fans exiting the theaters on opening Thursday and Friday buzzing over the latest revelations could go a long way for the most possible casual audiences going out to the theater.
Chaos magic is headed to the box office. The official prediction for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an opening weekend gross of $205 million, totaling $520 million domestically, and a worldwide haul of $1.1 billion. This would only be the sixth MCU film to earn at least $200 million on opening weekend and gross $500 million or more domestically. Doctor Strange 2 would be the 11th MCU film to break the billion-dollar barrier.
Let the summer season begin. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in theaters on May 6.