Box Office: ‘Doctor Strange 2’ Aims for Massive $175 Million-Plus Opening Weekend

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the latest timeline-bending installment in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, looks to start the summer movie season with a sizzle.

The comic book movie — the second standalone superhero adventure to spotlight Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange — is projected to collect a mighty $160 million to $180 million when it opens in 4,400 North American theaters over the weekend. Some box office experts believe that excitement for all things Marvel could propel the film’s three-day tally closer to $200 million. That’s a benchmark only a handful of films have reached in a single weekend.

Overseas, “Doctor Strange 2” debuts day-and-date in most countries (excluding China, Russia and Ukraine), where it’s targeting $125 million to $140 million. Based on those estimates, “Doctor Strange” could clear an impressive $285 million to $340 million in global ticket sales through Sunday. Like its Marvel brethren, “Doctor Strange 2” cost $200 million to produce, not including hefty marketing fees.

Already, “Doctor Strange” has racked up $65 million in domestic pre-sales, which is significant because that is more money than many pandemic-era releases have grossed in their entire theatrical runs. Advance ticket sales for Marvel and other major franchise films tend to be front-loaded because fans want to be among the first to see the movie — lest spoilers appear online and ruin the fun.

Should domestic estimates hold, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” would deliver the biggest opening weekend of 2022 and the second-biggest debut in COVID-19 times. Currently, “The Batman” stands as the year’s biggest opening weekend with $134 million and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ranks as the pandemic’s biggest opening weekend with $260 million.

An opening weekend above $150 million will mark a return to form for Disney’s MCU after COVID-era releases “Black Widow” ($80 million, plus $60 million on Disney Plus) and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” ($75 million), and “Eternals” ($71 million). Those films, hindered by the pandemic and other factors, had softer starts than their franchise predecessors, which have mostly managed to make at least $100 million in their opening weekends.

Marvel movies rarely miss at the box office (and all 27 have opened to No. 1 in North America with ease), but the follow-up to 2016’s “Doctor Strange” is far better positioned than its 2016 predecessor to thrive in theaters. The first “Doctor Strange” opened to $85 million in North America and ended its theatrical run with $232 million domestically and $677 million globally. The sequel should fly past those box office receipts in a matter of weeks, if not days. That’s because “Doctor Strange 2” fortuitously trails the events of Sony’s box office behemoth “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which became a must-see movie event and grossed $1.89 billion worldwide. Given that film’s ubiquity, it could have a spillover effect on the already-popular Marvel character played by Cumberbatch.

Imax, 3D and other premium format screens will likely contribute to higher grosses for “Doctor Strange 2.” As an added bonus for moviegoers, the trailer for James Cameron’s long-awaited “Avatar 2” will play exclusively in theaters prior to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

Directed by Sam Raimi of Tobey Maguire’s “Spider-Man” fame, “Doctor Strange” picks up as the eponymous neurosurgeon-turned-Avenger casts a dangerous spell that forces him to travel into the multiverse to face a mysterious new adversary and alternate versions of himself. Along with Cumberbatch, the film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, Benedict Wong as Wong and Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, a teen who can travel between dimensions. Michael Stühlbarg and Rachel McAdams round out the cast.

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman described the film as ” an unhinged ride, a CGI horror jam, a Marvel brainteaser and, at moments, a bit of an ordeal.”

“If you’re the kind of viewer who surveys the Marvel landscape and thinks, ‘Nope. Sorry. Not busy enough,’ the MCU has good news for you: It’s going to get even busier,” Gleiberman wrote.

The movie has a 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a lower score than the average Marvel movie. But with Disney’s marketing machine heavily teasing some big surprise cameos, reviews will likely not matter in its opening weekend. What… are fans not going to find out who pops up next in the sprawling MCU?