Doctor Strange doesn’t rank among the A-list of superheroes. He’s not rubbing shoulders with Captain America or Spider-Man, nor is he mixing it up with Thor, Wolverine, and the other be-spandexed elites.
Yet such is the power of the Marvel brand that “Doctor Strange,” the first cinematic adventure featuring the Sorcerer Supreme, is looking like a juggernaut as it barrels towards its opening weekend. The comic book adaptation should open to $70 million when it debuts across 3,882 locations in the U.S. That’s higher than the openings of “Ant-Man” ($57.2 million), “Thor” ($65.7 million), and “Captain America: The First Avenger” ($65 million), some of which featured comic book characters with higher name recognition.
“Marvel’s bread and butter has become turning lesser-known characters into tier-one characters,” said Shawn Robbins, senior analyst at BoxOffice.com. “I’m having a hard time finding any negative signs for this one.”
Robbins predicts that “Doctor Strange” could serve as a blockbuster breakout for Benedict Cumberbatch, the Oscar-nominated British thespian who plays the good doctor, much as “Iron Man” popularized Robert Downey Jr. with the masses. Reviews for the film have been sterling, the social media buzz is heating up, and “Doctor Strange” touches down on these shores having already done boffo business abroad. Last weekend, the film topped the foreign box office, earning $87.7 million. By this weekend, it will be in 94% of the international market, including such major territories as Russia, China, and Brazil.
In addition to Cumberbatch, “Doctor Strange” stars Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Tilda Swinton, and is directed by Scott Derickson (“Sinister”). It follows a brilliant surgeon who turns to mysticism following a devastating car accident. “Doctor Strange” will be widely available with extra bells and whistles, as befitting a film that relies heavily on CGI spectacle — it will unfold across 3,530 3-D locations, 379 IMAX, and 516 premium large format venue. 189 D-Box locations. The film carries a $165 million price tag. After all, that magic doesn’t come cheap.
Not that “Doctor Strange” will have the marketplace to itself. DreamWorks Animation will try to corner the family crowds, releasing “Trolls,” a big screen adventure that stems from the popular toyline of fluorescent, wispy coiffured creatures. The animated offering is eyeing a $38 million debut when it bows on 4,060 locations. The film should get a lift from the ubiquity of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!,” the vivacious Justin Timberlake anthem that pops up not once, but twice, in the picture. Timberlake also voices one of the lead characters, along with Anna Kendrick. In the film, the happy-go-lucky life of the Trolls is upended after a group of large creatures called the Bergens invades their land. The film has a $125 million production budget.
The weekend will also see the release of “Hacksaw Ridge,” a World War II drama about a conscientious objector (Andrew Garfield) who won the Medal of Honor for his work as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa. Lionsgate will release the film, which marks Mel Gibson’s return to the director chair after a ten-year absence. Gibson remains a controversial figure after he made anti-Semitic comments during a 2006 arrest for drunk driving. He apologized for those remarks, but his career has never recovered. “Hacksaw Ridge” may represent his best shot at professional rehabilitation. The film received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, critics have been kind, and it is expected to factor into the awards race. “Hacksaw Ridge” should open to $12 million on 2,800 locations.
“Doctor Strange” is another reminder of Disney’s dominance. The entertainment giant owns Marvel, Pixar, and LucasFilm, giving it an arsenal of entertainment properties that includes “Star Wars,” “Toy Story,” and “The Avengers.” There’s a reason everyone else in Hollywood finds themselves punching up.