Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness lit the box office on fire last weekend with the highest opening gross of the year and the seventh highest for an MCU movie ever (not to mention the 11th highest opening of all time). Worldwide, it took in nearly $450 million and has since been rapidly gaining momentum as it now stands at $532 million with over $222 million domestic. It seems to be another surefire hit for Marvel. However, as we discussed last weekend, there are some interesting factors in the mix that suggest that Multiverse of Madness may be slowing down and might not have the strength that it appears to have. The big test will be this weekend’s drop, which will show just how much gas this new Doctor Strange film really has in the tank. Otherwise, it looks like smooth sailing for our holdovers, particularly for Everything, Everywhere, All at Once as it pulls itself toward a potential $50 million domestic haul.
So, to recap, while Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness did indeed do very well last weekend, there is reason to believe that the tide could turn very much against it. Reviews for the film are, not lackluster per se, but definitely lacking in the luster that most MCU films tend to have. I wrote my own review, but the general consensus seems to be that the film, while fun and kookier than most other MCU titles, has story issues (namely that it’s overstuffed) and has some pretty flawed and inconsistent characterizations, specifically with regard to Wanda/Scarlet Witch. That sentiment seems only to be growing as more reviews pile in and more of the general audience sees the film. Its B+ Cinemascore, while not bad, is telling as scores in that range tend to signify that general audiences were met with some issue in the film that was too big to shrug off. As result, the film is being compared to more divisive MCU pictures like that of Thor: The Dark World, Eternals (both of which also had B Cinemascores), and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The question now is, will this affect the box office in any significant way?
At the moment, it would seem that its unlikely as Multiverse of Madness has continued to play like gangbusters throughout this past week. After its opening, the film managed to add $35 million in three days, taking its total domestic haul to $222.7 million (I’m sure there is some kind of record it broke by hitting $200 million domestic that fast). Its international numbers are even more robust as its taken in $309 million total since this weekend, tracking only 17% behind Spider-Man: No Way Home at this same point in the release cycle and tracking ahead of The Batman by a massive 160%. Granted, The Batman, which had the highest opening weekend of the year until Multiverse of Madness usurped it, was hobbled by weak international grosses due to rising infection rates overseas, but the fact that Multiverse of Madness has already taken in about 70% of The Batman‘s lifetime worldwide gross with $532.5 million is still staggering no matter the context (for the record, Multiverse is also tracking 35.8% of The Batman domestically). I would argue that much of this can be attributed to the fact that Multiverse of Madness plays less like a straight-Doctor Strange sequel (or even a WandaVision follow-up for that matter) and much more like a Marvel “event” film akin to that of an Avengers movie or, perhaps more accurately, Captain America: Civil War which used the third film in that character’s ostensible franchise as a “de facto” Avengers film by bringing in multiple other characters and creating a feeling that it was moving the entire MCU’s narrative forward. Multiverse of Madness only really brings in one other character into Doctor Strange’s corner of the MCU (the cameos may make it feel like more, but they don’t add nearly as much), but the introduction of multiversal elements into the live-action films thanks to the Scarlet Witch’s presence makes the film like a major world-altering moment for the franchise, so it’s no surprise that the film is flying 114% of the original Doctor Strange and is likely to outgross its predecessor’s worldwide haul by this weekend.
Given this “eventizing” of Multiverse of Madness alongside its more mixed reception compared to other MCU entries, the best comparison that has emerged for the film so far has been that of Age of Ultron (intriguing given that it was the film that introduced Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff into the MCU). The two films did open similarly (with Ultron overtaking Multiverse slightly, $191 million to $187 million) and are so far tracking almost identically to each other with Multiverse right on Ultron‘s tale, $222 million to $225 million, respectively. All evidence would suggest that the two films should share a similar second weekend drop, which in the case of Age of Ultron was -59%. That would give Mutliverse of Madness about a $76.8 million second weekend and likely take it to roughly $308 million through the end of this coming weekend, just behind Age of Ultron‘s $313.4 million at that same point in its release. That would be phenomenal for the film, especially because, should it continue to play like Ultron, it would suggest that mixed reception would not be that big of a deterrent as Ultron ended up holding relatively well throughout the rest of its run (it actually opened May 1st, close to Multiverse‘s May 6th release, further cementing the connection and suggesting that’s how it will play). It ended its domestic run with a x2.4 multiplier and $459 million, so Multiverse of Madness, following suit, would finish with about $450 million domestic.
All that said, however, I can’t help but wonder just how much the mixed reviews will indeed hamper the film. After all, Age of Ultron was a highly anticipated sequel to the original Avengers movie, one of the all-time best superhero films ever (not just in the MCU), a box office juggernaut, and also a movie that surprised with its sheer level of quality. Age of Ultron may not have lived up to its predecessor’s quality level (it’s not bad, just noticeably not as good), but the sheet anticipation definitely helped it power past any misgivings at the box office. Today, however, we’re seven years and 17 films removed from Age of Ultron‘s release at a time when the MCU was still relatively fresh. So much has evolved in the intervening years, not only for the franchise but also for the moviegoing market as a whole. Release windows are tighter and there is more content than ever on multiple platforms meaning that even the biggest of films tend to burn out faster than they would’ve nearly a decade ago. It takes a special kind of film with strong word-of-mouth to hang out these days, with strong reviews and a savvy distributor backing the film (case in point, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once). Multiverse of Madness has a very strong distributor in Disney, but its reviews are noticeably mixed and word-of-mouth is bound to be weaker. Without the same level of freshness the MCU had a decade ago, the film is much more susceptible to flaming out faster than it otherwise would’ve. As a result, a performance like that of Age of Ultron is less a solid comp and more of an aspiration.
What would a worst case scenario look like? Hard to tell exactly. In my last post, I went on a deep dive into the nature of the weekend multiplier (the total opening weekend gross divided by the opening day gross) versus the domestic gross multiplier (the total domestic gross divided by the opening weekend total). I noted that Multiverse of Madness turned out to be incredibly frontloaded with a weekend multiplier of x2.06. This is as opposed to Ultron‘s multiplier of x2.26 (weekend multipliers are not usually as robust as domestic gross multipliers) and it was even surpassed the box office flop that was Eternals, which managed a x2.31 multiplier. In other words, Multiverse of Madness made half the money it made over the weekend in a single day, suggesting that the audience massively tapered off through Saturday and Sunday. While this usually suggests huge anticipation for a film given that hardcore fans will see it on opening day, it can also foreshadow not-so-great word of mouth and poorer legs for the film. Eternals may have had a better weekend multiplier than Multiverse of Madness, but it still wasn’t great, and the film’s mixed reception resulted in it only legging out with a x2.31 multiplier and a total domestic gross of “just” $164 million (granted, the pandemic also was a factor, but if No Way Home proved anything, if people really wanted to see the film, they would’ve, pandemic or not). On the other hand, the one that suggests great fan anticipation, Captain America: Civil War had a similar weekend multiplier to Eternals (x2.37), but was highly anticipated by fans and managed a $179 million opening (the eighth highest opening in the MCU right after Multiverse of Madness). The fan anticipation and rave reviews from audiences actually resulted in a fantastic domestic run of $408 million, but the film actually ended up burning out relatively quick due to that anticipation, resulting in the worst legs for an MCU film ever with a domestic gross multiplier of x2.27.
So what does this say about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Well, while it doesn’t provide super conclusive evidence as to what will happen this weekend, it does present some pretty unique paths forward. Should the film’s mixed reception truly overwhelm its box office momentum and drag it down, it could perform like Eternals (which, as a reminder, similarly got a B Cinemascore to Multiverse‘s B+), which would see it drop -62-65% this weekend for a gross of somewhere around $65-71 million. A multiplier similar to Eternals would see Multiverse of Madness end with a domestic total of $432.9 million and a potential worldwide haul of $1.035 billion. Meanwhile, a drop like Civil War (which actually opened on the same day as Multiverse in 2016) would see it holding by -59% (as with Ultron) for a gross of $76.8 million while its multiplier (the one suggesting massive fan anticipation and faster burn out) would have it finishing with $425.4 million domestic and a likely $1.017 billion worldwide (both worldwide grosses assuming that it Multiverse maintains a similar 41.8%/58.2$ domestic-to-international split in its grosses). The good news is that in any of these cases, including the Ultron-like one, Multiverse of Madness will hit $1 billion worldwide. The bad news is that, given the film’s distinct similarities to all these films in opening grosses, release date positioning, and audience reception, there is a distinct possibility of Multiverse flaming out. Given its positioning as this summer’s first big movie, its Avengers-level-adjacent construction, and its mixed-but-still-positive-leaning reception, I am personally predicting the film to play like Age of Ultron (-60ish% drop and smooth sailing through the rest of the summer to solid domestic legs). No matter what, however, this weekend will be very telling for Doctor Strange’s future.
With all of that out of the way (if it wasn’t obvious, Multiverse of Madness will come in first place this weekend, no question), we can talk about our holdovers. I do like this point in the releases of many of these films, where they have been out long enough to have had their audiences stabilize and the drops will be relatively predictable. What makes it all the sweeter, however, is that most of these films look to continue to do very well.
Second place will likely remain with The Bad Guys as the film will likely continue to hold very well. It put up a fantastic fight against the onslaught of Doctor Strange last weekend and managed a -41% hold so I firmly believe that a -35% hold and a gross of $6.22 million is in the cards. It will probably be at $65 million domestic by the end of the weekend. Meanwhile, our other kid-friendly title, the famed Sonic 2, will also likely hold well with around a -40% drop and a gross of $3.61 million.
That said, while conventional wisdom would see Sonic 2 and The Bad Guys sticking together near the top of the top ten, a new entrant into the fray will potentially be taking that third place spot beneath The Bad Guys. “What?” you say? What film would dare make an entrance as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of madness enters into its sophomore weekend? What studio would let its film get trampled like that? Well, Universal apparently, as they clearly don’t expect much from their new film: a modern day remake of Stephen King’s FireStarter. Did you know this film was coming out? I bet not, as I’ve seen one trailer for it. It was announced five years ago as a new Blumhouse production (a good label for the property) but only really began to take shape in 2020 when Zac Efron was cast as a lead. We didn’t hear any news on the film after that until the first trailer was released this past February. It’s not a bad trailer and seems to suggest that the film is a fun time at the movies, teasing Zac Efron as the father of a pyrokinetic girl (played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong) who takes her on the run as they evade government forces that want to capture and harness her dangerously unstable powers. The teaser positions the titular Firestarter with the superhero genre canon with the line “she’s a real-life superhero”, but it’s hard to tell if the line means the film is genuinely reveling in the trappings of the genre or ironically poking fun. In either case, I’m not expecting much from this film; not because it looks bad at all, but because it seems as though Universal has little faith it in. As mentioned above, I’ve seen a single trailer for it, one that explicitly states that the film will not only be in theaters but also available to stream on the paid tiers of Peacock a la Marry Me. That film opened to nearly $8 million, but with FireStarter position against another, more legitiment comic book superhero film, $6 million in third place looks like a best case scenario here.
Fifth place, after Sonic in a likely fourth, is probably going to Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. Multiverse of Madness‘ more surreal, arthouse cousin (though, shockingly, Everything, Everywhere‘s story is much better constructed and fleshed out than Multiverse of Madness‘) did indeed hold its ground last weekend with a fabulous -36% hold, so there is no reason to think it won’t be able to do so again this weekend with at least a -30% hold and a gross of $2.46 million. That would likely take it to $45 million domestic by the end of the weekend, which would get it even closer to its potential endpoint of $50 million. I’ve been skeptical for weeks, but I honestly think Everything, Everywhere is indeed going to make it!
As for the rest of the top ten, I’m better than Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore will continue to show last minute strength as it tumbles down the top ten with a hold of around -45% for a gross of $2.34 million in sixth place(it’s not much but a win is a win). A real interesting entry this weekend will be The Lost City, which I see continuing to hold well with a -40% drop and a $1.65 million gross in seventh place; but it will still be worth paying close attention to as the film became available to stream on Paramount+ this past Tuesday at no extra cost (on top of your subscription fee that is). The movie has been doing so well, and Paramount+’s subscriber base is so low that I don’t think the concurrently streaming availability alone could cause it to drop more aggressively. That said, if theaters decide to drop the film from their screens because of its concurrent availability, then the drop will be more substantial, just as what occurred when The Batman it hit HBO Max. The Lost City‘s per-theater average is still strong at $1,457 per theater, and it is specifically catering to an audience (older women) that theaters are actively trying to court, but you never know what might happen. We’ll just have to see.
The Northman will likely take eighth place with a drop of -65% as theaters begin to phase it out now that it is available to rent and most people who wanted to see it in theaters already have. I’m predicting a gross of $1 million. Closing out the top ten in ninth and tenth place are likely to be two grossers under $1 million (a byproduct of a colossal MCU film entering the fray). In ninth place, I predict Family Camp, a Roadside Attractions flick that is seeing a release in a little over 800 theaters and looks like a Disney Channel film. That’s not a criticism-hell, it stars Leigh-Allyn Baker, a fabulous comedic actress from Good Luck, Charlie, one of the last quality Disney Channel sitcoms of the 2010s-but I would not expect it to make much of a dent in theaters. We’re looking at likely somewhere around $790K. Tenth place will likely close out with Memory, dropping a likely -65% for a gross of $690K before heading into the ancillary market where it will likely make the bulk of its profits.
As for the specialty market, we’ll keep an eye on Petite Maman, The Duke, and Vortex as little of consequence looks to be released. That said, pay attention to a Warren Ellis/Nick Cave documentary from Andrew Dominik, This Much I Know to be True, which follows the duo’s creative partnership while crafting the albums Ghosteen and Carnage. This documentary is from Trafalgar Releasing which did such a good job with the C.S. Lewis biopic The Reluctant Convert that its one-day theatrical engagement was stretched over two weekends. Fathom Events is also releasing Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo this weekend for their annual Ghibli Fest, so that could make a splash.
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