Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Opens This Week. Let’s Talk about It.
Lets take you back to May 4th, Marvel fans get something they haven’t had much lately. A new MCU movie enters theaters. It’s only the third one during the pandemic, and one of the other two was the disappointing Eternals.
Counting Black Widow, a Disney+ release, the MCU has added three films to its library over the past two years. Spider-Man: No Way Home (technically not an MCU release) earned more box office than the rest of them combined….and by more than 50 percent.
For this reason, the upcoming release matters a great deal to Disney executives. Yes, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness debuts in theaters this week. We need to talk about it.
What’s at Stake?
Disney recently expanded its agreement with Sony to allow that studio to continue licensing films in the so-called Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. What nobody could have expected at the time of that deal was that the MCU would struggle afterward, at least at the box office.
In 2019, Disney held all the negotiating power and drove a hard bargain with Sony. Six months later, the pandemic threw all the MCU’s plans into chaos. Even now, Disney is still struggling to catch up. To wit, I’m confident that the studio would have made changes to Eternals if it had more test screenings.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man: No Way Home turned into a perfect project, the rare film that can do no wrong at the box office. As I type this, it’s the number three movie in domestic box office. As such, Sony currently holds a claim to the most popular Marvel character.
Is that statement accurate? Yes and no. Everyone loves Spider-Man, but they probably prefer Iron Man and possibly even Wolverine. Also, the recent box office failure of Morbius shows that Sony owns something of a one-trick pony with Spider-Man…two if we count Venom.
Conversely, Disney has expanded the MCU impressively thanks to new programs on Disney+. Audiences are clamoring for a Hawkeye movie or possibly a Hawkeye/Black Widow team-up because of the Hawkeye series.
Similarly, Captain America 4 should do quite well since viewers loved The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And then there’s WandaVision…
About Wanda Maximoff
In Avengers: Endgame, the Scarlet Witch proved that she was the most powerful superhero. She went toe to toe with Thanos and wrecked him. Even Captain Marvel and dual-Mjolnir-wielding Thor couldn’t win a fair fight with him.
Conversely, Wanda Maximoff beat him so badly that Thanos had to call down an air raid on his own troops as a distraction. In WandaVision, we better appreciated her pain, as we learned the suffering she’d endured throughout her life.
At a young age, Wanda and her twin brother lost their parents in a bombing. Later, she watched her brother sacrifice himself to save the Avengers. After that, the same thing happened with her noble lover, Vision. By the end of Endgame, Wanda had no one left in her life.
The Scarlet Witch went mad when she discovered the government in possession of Vision’s body and repossessed it, leading to the events of WandaVision. Toward the end of that series, Wanda claimed her throne as the Scarlet Witch of prophecy. Along with it, she took possession of the Darkhold, a spellbook.
At this point, the most terrifying entity in the MCU has gone mad and acquired more power. You see how this is bad, right? Enter Stephen Strange.
About Doctor Strange…
By this point, people have forgotten that Dr. Stephen Strange has only starred in one Marvel movie. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch has appeared as the character so many times that it’s impossible to believe that to be true.
To wit, Strange just showed up in No Way Home and somehow managed to screw up the entire multiverse. It was a reckless move with devastating ramifications.
Due to the events at the end of the film, Strange won’t even remember the specifics. He probably will notice the thinning walls between universes, though.
As the former – but not current! – Sorcerer Supreme, Strange is in charge of policing that stuff. Sure, Wong has the gig now, but they’re a team. When Strange learns about Wanda’s possession of the Darkhold, it’s gonna be a problem. In fact, it’s a conflict that likely resolves quickly in the film.
Marvel’s producers aren’t running away from two facts about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. One is that Wanda’s the “villain.” The other is that Wanda appears in the film as much as Strange, if not more.
This is like an old-school Marvel superhero team-up, only the heroes are working at cross purposes. Wanda hears the voices of her (fake) children. Strange notices a mad sorceress overflowing with power and feels like he must intercede.
The glory of Doctor Strange 2 is that it works like a magical version of Captain America: Civil War. Two of the most beloved Avengers are gonna fight…a lot. And that’s not all.
Due to the nature of the multiverse part of the story, other Avengers will appear, including some we haven’t seen in the MCU before. It’s gonna be Fantastic. No, wait! It’s gonna be X-cellent! No, it’s gonna be Illuminati-ng! Okay, those all suck, but you get the point.
What’s Disney Expecting?
Okay, let’s remember something that happened with Morbius. Sony refused to let critics post reviews until less than 24 hours before the movie was in theaters. Generally, that’s a huge warning sign that the movie is bad…but not always. Dr. Strange 2 will allow reviews starting on Tuesday, May 3rd.
That’s technically three days before release, but all movies of this scale debut on Thursday evening anyway. I’m not on any screener lists these days. So, I bought tickets for a 4 p.m. show on Thursday.
I’m obviously not alone with this approach. Online vendors have suggested that Multiverse of Madness has already earned $42 million in presales. That number alone would make it one of the most successful movies of the past calendar year. I wish I were joking but…pandemic.
Realistic expectations for the opening weekend of Doctor Strange 2 start in the $150 million range and go as high as $205 million. My suspicion is that Disney will be happy with anything over $160 million. Sure, they’ve done better in the past, but we’re still in strange times.
The Batman recently opened to $134 million. While I hated it, that seems like the floor for an MCU movie of this scale. I wouldn’t expect the same of, say, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
That’s not a film directed by Sam Raimi that works as a sequel to Disney and Sony movies and a Disney+ TV series, though. The sense of scale on Multiverse of Madness feels bigger. Also, as we saw with No Way Home, people are ready to get out of the house for a while.
So, a big Marvel movie fits the bill. For this reason, I’m expecting at least $400 million in final domestic box office, which would make it MCU’s biggest pandemic release.