'Doctor Strange's' Box-Office Bonanza: How an Obscure Superhero Won Big

The Marvel Studios movie opened well ahead of expectations, making a sequel almost a foregone conclusion.
Benedict Cumberbatch in 'Doctor Strange'   |   Courtesy of Marvel/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The Marvel Studios movie opened well ahead of expectations, making a sequel almost a foregone conclusion.

Notch another victory for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Doctor Strange opened to a far better-than-expected $85 million in North America over the weekend, despite featuring a lesser-known superhero in Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. And overseas, where the pic began rolling out less than two weeks ago, the Marvel Studios and Disney movie has earned $240.4 million for a rowdy 13-day global haul of $325 million.

No one was quite sure how Doctor Strange would stack up in comparison to other first installments in the Marvel franchise stable. Prerelease tracking suggested the movie would open in North America anywhere between $65 million and $70 million.

Instead, the film posted the third-best opening for a first installment in the MCU behind the $98.6 million domestic debut of Iron Man in 2008 and the $94.3 million bow of Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. (This excludes superhero team-up The Avengers, since it featured characters who had already been introduced in the MCU.) To boot, both Iron Man and Guardians had the advantage of opening in summer rather than in November. 

The pic's success has made a sequel almost inevitable, although nothing has been officially announced.

Doctor Strange was no doubt buoyed by stellar reviews, an A CinemaScore and Cumberbatch's growing star power — as well as the ever-increasing clout of the Marvel brand.

By week's end, Doctor Strange will pass the $370.4 million grossed by Captain America: The First Avenger over its entire run.

In the film, Cumberbatch plays a top surgeon who, after his hands are injured in a car accident, seeks out the help of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a master of the mystical arts. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mordo, a character that a post-credits scene teases will take on an even larger role in the MCU in movies to come. Rachel McAdams also stars in Doctor Strange, which marks the biggest domestic opening for all four actors.

Cumberbatch's Strange is rumored to cameo in next November's Thor: Ragnarok (a mid-credits scene featured Chris Hemsworth's God of Thunder) and he is confirmed to appear in 2018's Avengers: Infinity War, which also will see characters from Guardians of the Galaxy teaming up with the Avengers.

For Marvel, director Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange represents a creative victory as it looks to expand its roster of MCU characters to prepare for the inevitability that some of the original Avengers cast will retire from their roles. For now, the core Avengers cast is set to appear in Infinity War, as well as an untitled fourth Avengers film in 2019 — with both directed by the Russo brothers. 

The MCU has a healthy upcoming lineup set, which also included Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 2017), Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 2017), Black Panther (February 2018), the Paul Rudd sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 2018) and Brie Larson starrer Captain Marvel (2019).

"Marvel is the hottest brand out there right now, and is widely considered to be in the same league as Pixar," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock. "Audiences no longer need to be even vaguely familiar with the source material as Marvel is one of the most trusted production entities when it comes to new films. That type of overwhelming critical and fan support has unleashed a new wave — call it a tsunami — of fanboys and fangirls, and led to the golden age of comic book movies."