Now just how well will it do?
It’s time! Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is finally upon us, ready to claim box office dominance (as Marvel titles tend to do) as well as suck the life out of everyone else in the top ten. That’s a bit of an exaggeration as I actually think there are a few movies that will actually hold relatively well, but given that Marvel movies are generally four-quadrant movies with very broad appeal, it can be expected that most other titles in the top ten are going to to see bigger drops than they normally would. That said, I am curious to see just how well Doctor Strange 2 really does end up performing as Marvel has promised us something a bit different with this outing. Reportedly positioned as the MCU’s first “horror” film, a fact cemented by Sam Raimi taking over directing duties after Scott Derrickson left the project, it won’t be R-rated but I am curious to see if this horror angle will make the film more niche than other Marvel movies of its ilk. The multiverse stuff would’ve originally been considered a stretch for any fans who weren’t as into comic book lore, however, the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Everything, Everywhere, All at Once do a lot to dispel the notion that this film might be too confusing for general audiences.
With all that said, however, there has been some doubt creeping in around the feature over this past week as critics have begun to see the film as the reviews, while not bad (I wouldn’t even say that they’re mixed), are not a strong as one would expect of a Marvel movie. Debuting to an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, that percentage has begun to lightly dwindle over the course of the week as it is now at a 77% with an average score of 6.6/10. That’s not bad at all, but it is noticeably lower for an MCU entry than we have come to expect. Generally, critics seem to enjoy the film overall, specifically the fact that it breaks from conventional MCU aesthetics (duller colors, flat cinematography and camera angles, a heavy reliance on quippy humor, etc…) quite a bit in favor of a more exaggerated style reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s prior horror films. That said, there seems to be a general atmosphere of letdown amongst the reviews which can easily be attributed to heavy speculation on the plot of this film and how it ties into the greater MCU. It had been reported from very early on that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be the culmination of a story arc that began on Disney+’s WandaVision (though apparently, you do not need to have seen the show to understand the film), tied into fellow series What If..? and Loki, followed through Spider-Man: No Way Home (which showcased the effects of multiversal meddling), before finally coming to a head with Multiverse of Madness. May rumors swirled (some confirmed, some not) about extensive cameos from alternate versions of characters we already know, potentially played by big-time actors, and buzz about the film only grew with each passing announcement.
Of course, it’s also well-known that the pandemic threw a wrench in many of those plans. Release dates were shuffled, filming pushed back, stopped, and restarted, and extensive reshoots were done throughout the last year to accommodate story changes as well as actors whose availabilities were altered by pandemic working conditions. For what it’s worth, all of this happened with Spider-Man: No Way Home (which was actually supposed to feature Emma Stone and Kirsten Dunst returning in their respected roles as Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane) and that didn’t affect the box office at all, but I worry for Multiverse of Madness as Doctor Strange, while a fan favorite, does not have the same level of brand appeal as Spider-Man. Many reviews say that the film tries to do an awful lot in terms of MCU world-building and connecting narrative dots and it strains under that weight, and I can’t help but wonder if a lack of certain elements that were heavily speculated on by audiences well result in them feeling underwhelmed leaving the theaters.
Now, on the bright side, speculations and letdowns are more of a future problem for the film’s overall legginess at the box office. With regards to opening weekend, the anticipation is still strong and the film will likely deliver. Predictions have ranged wildly from $160-220 million for this weekend the closer the film gets. Now, right off the bat, I don’t think a $200+ million opening is necessarily in the cards (though never say never). Like I said, Spider-Man is a bigger deal character for Marvel than Doctor Strange, hence why No Way Home opened to $260 million with the help of a Christmas market. The original Doctor Strange opened to $85 million in 2016, but in the time since, Strange has appeared memorably in Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame, and has had a very shocking turn in What If..?. Plus, with the pairing of Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen’s fan-favorite Scarlet Witch (officially cemented with that title from WandaVision) is likely to be a pretty big draw alongside the promise of a grander scope and scale for this sequel compared to the original film. All in all, I’m expecting a base $180 million opening (largely between the $160-220 million prediction) given the anticipation. It could overperform as it’s already doing so overseas with $27 million from 20 international markets. Deadline reports that that is only 4% behind No Way Home and a staggering 210% ahead of The Batman which opened just a few months ago to $134 million (the highest opening gross of this year). Still, I’ll my expectations in check with $180 million as I am curious how well the film hold from day to day as word of mouth begins to settle in. For all my worries about fans being let down, there is a distinct likelihood that the promise of world-building and meta-commentating cameos mean very little to general audiences who just want to see a majorly entertaining Marvel movie. I know I’m likely to love it as the first Doctor Strange is my favorite MCU film (outside of the original Avengers) and I’ll be seeing it tonight. All I need from it is a sorcery-filled adventure that it’s afraid to be “strange” and delivers on the fun, so if anyone agrees with me, I think they’ll have a good time