LOS ANGELES — Doctor Strange and his questionably effective book of spells has summoned a blockbuster $185 million at North American movie theaters over the weekend, reaffirming the box office dominance of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe after a shakier, pandemic-battered year for the franchise.
The timeline-bending Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness represents a return to form for Disney’s MCU after COVID-era releases Black Widow ($80 million debut, plus $60 million on Disney Plus), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($75 million debut), and Eternals ($71 million debut). Due to the pandemic and other extenuating circumstances, those installments failed to live up to their franchise predecessors in terms of ticket sales.
Those box office returns mark the 11th biggest opening weekend in history. Given the anomaly of reaching those box office heights, Doctor Strange 2 easily delivered the biggest opening weekend of 2022, as well as the second-biggest debut in COVID-19 times. Prior to this weekend, The Batman stood as the year’s biggest opening weekend with $134 million. Spider-Man: No Way Home still ranks as the pandemic’s biggest opening weekend (and the second-biggest ever) with $260 million.
Overseas, the film earned $265 million from 49 territories, taking the global total to $450 million. Since Doctor Strange 2 is not likely to play in China, Russia, or Ukraine, the film will rely on repeat viewings from audiences around the globe to push ticket sales past the coveted $1 billion mark. Only Spider-Man: No Way Home has been able to cross that threshold since COVID took hold.
At the domestic box office, the Doctor Strange follow-up outgrossed its predecessor’s entire opening weekend tally in a single day. Doctor Strange 2 raked in $90 million on Friday alone, while the 2016 adventure Doctor Strange brought in $85 million between Friday and Sunday. Marvel and other major franchise films tend to be front-loaded in terms of ticket sales because fans want to be among the first to see the movie — lest spoilers appear online and ruin the fun. Still, the sequel will quickly blow past the final box office tally of the original Doctor Strange, which ended its theatrical run with $232 million domestically and $677 million globally.
Doctor Strange 2 is benefitting as the follow-up film to Sony’s box office behemoth Spider-Man: No Way Home, which became a must-see movie event and grossed $1.89 billion worldwide. With Peter Parker’s tantalizing adventures as a precursor, plus Disney’s marketing machine heavily teasing some big surprise cameos, Doctor Strange landed in rarified air — even for a Marvel movie.
Imax, 3D, and other premium format screens also contributed to higher grosses for Doctor Strange 2, which cost $200 million to produce, not including hefty marketing fees. According to Disney, 36% of overall box office ticket sales came from premium formats. With $33 million from Imax alone, Doctor Strange ranks among the company’s top 10 global opening weekends.
“This is another sensational Marvel opening, by Marvel’s own dominant standard,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “Doctor Strange is growing its audience with a stronger follow-up release.”
Sam Raimi, the mastermind behind the original Spider-Man trilogy, directed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The film picks up as the eponymous neurosurgeon-turned-Avenger, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, casts a dangerous spell that forces him to travel into the multiverse to face a mysterious new adversary and alternate versions of himself. Along with Cumberbatch, the cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, a teen who can travel between dimensions.
Doctor Strange 2 kicks off the summer blockbuster season with a bang. In the coming months, Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World Dominion, and Thor: Love and Thunder should keep theaters bustling with foot traffic. — Reuters