NOTE: All box office figures are as of December 1, 2016
Over the past eight years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has established itself as one of the most lucrative film franchises in all of Hollywood. To date, the fourteen installments have collectively grossed $10.8 billion at the worldwide box office, and most of them have been both critically and commercially successful. The only real outlier is 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, which grossed $263.4 million globally and earned generally positive (though not very enthusiastic) reviews. Marvel Studios has done an incredible job of taking arguably second and third tier comic book properties and turning them into international movie stars that can carry a massive blockbuster series.
Their most recent offering, Doctor Strange, is no exception to this. The film opened back in early November to widespread acclaim praising everything from the performances to the jaw-dropping visuals. Arriving in theaters after an extended slump to begin the fall season, Doctor Strange was just what the general public needed, and it was able to parlay its strong word-of-mouth into an impressive $85 million opening weekend domestically. Now that its time at the top of the charts is winding down (thanks to Moana, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), we’re analyzing its overall performance to determine if Doctor Strange is a box office success.
Though everything from Iron Man to Doctor Strange falls under the same umbrella, it’s important to keep in mind that not every MCU film is created equal. Certain projects are invariably going to have higher box office expectations than others. Captain America: Civil War was conceived to be a $1 billion movie with all of the familiar characters it featured, but something like Ant-Man does not have such aspirations. That’s important to keep in mind when trying to set the right barometer for Doctor Strange. Even though it starred an A-list ensemble that included fan-favorites like Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen, the source material is not as widely known as, say, Spider-Man, which could have impacted its appeal. Given that this was the Sorcerer Supreme’s introduction to the MCU, observers never thought it would be one of Marvel’s biggest movies.
Still, Doctor Strange was able to exceed the expectations; projections prior to its debut suggest an opening weekend of $65 – 70 million, but it ended up with $85 million. That’s a considerable difference that can probably be attributed to the film’s status as a must-see theatrical experience and positive reactions. Doctor Strange scored the 10th highest start in the franchise’s history, well surpassing Ant-Man‘s $57.2 million and falling just short of Thor: The Dark World‘s $85.7 million. Granted, Doctor Strange was riding the goodwill of the MCU as a whole (Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger grossed $65 million during their first three days), but those are still great numbers that show the MCU is as viable as ever and can turn anything into a hit.
In its second United States weekend, Doctor Strange made $42.9 million, which is a 49.5 percent decrease. That’s a very strong hold for an anticipated tentpole. The Dark World took a 57.3 percent hit following its debut, while Ant-Man fell 56.5 percent. Even Civil War, which had nothing in the way of realistic competition as it kicked off the summer, dropped 59.5 percent after its huge opening. That illustrated Doctor Strange’s pull with audiences, indicating that many liked the film and wanted to support it. Some comic book films this year collapsed by nearly 70 percent in their second weekends, so Marvel had plenty of reasons to feel great about the way Strange was performing.
Obviously, Doctor Strange couldn’t contend with the arrival of Fantastic Beasts, but it has still managed to do well over the course of its run. So far, the film has made $208.8 million domestically, placing it ninth on the MCU’s all-time charts. It is within striking distance of Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s $259.7 million U.S. total, and could be able to reach it as the multiplex has some downtime before Rogue One. It’s currently $50.9 million away from that mark, and while it will need a couple more strong weekends to get there, the chances of that happening are fairly strong. Business is starting to go down, but the low-profile Incarnate and Office Christmas Party serve as the wide releases prior to Star Wars. Either way, finishing near (or in) the top 10 for the year would be an excellent result.
Of course, in this day and age, the domestic box office is only a small piece of the pie. Studios are more and more prioritizing the worldwide numbers to determine how successful a project ultimately is. Certain movies that barely make an impact in the U.S. (Warcraft, for instance) can actually turn a slight profit if they are large enough overseas. So how did Doctor Strange stack up internationally? Its production budget ran for $165 million, so following the general rule of thumb (break even point = production budget x 2), the film needed to make $330 million in order to make all its money back.
It’s safe to say the good Doctor passed that test with flying colors. So far, Marvel’s latest has brought in $620 million globally, meaning it has theoretically turned a sizable profit of $290 million as of this writing. Like on the domestic charts, it currently ranks ninth amongst all MCU releases, but it has very good odds of sliding up a couple of spots before it leaves theaters. Doctor Strange trails Iron Man 2 by only $3.8 million and Thor: The Dark World by $24.5 million. There’s also a decent possibility it ends its run with $700+ million, which would make it the seventh film in the franchise to hit that milestone. For comparison’s sake, Ant-Man, which was considered viable enough to get a sequel, ended at “only” $519.3 million globally. Stephen Strange is going to be a big part of the MCU moving forward and will have a followup for Phase 4, undoubtedly.
Doctor Strange‘s box office performance once again spotlights the importance of the growing foreign film market, particularly China. Strange has grossed $107.8 million there, which is more than half of its domestic total. As many know, the Chinese film officials only allow a select number of outside works to play in their theaters, so it’s a big deal when a studio secures a release there. Ghostbusters was banned from the nation over the summer, and it mustered just $229.1 million globally and fell short of becoming profitable. Some viewers may be upset when executives try to tailor their films for the Chinese audience, but it’s evident just how pertinent China has become in the grand scheme of things – Deadpool notwithstanding.
What’s great about these numbers is that it shows Marvel interest is high in seeing the studio grow and expand their already extensive shared universe. Mainstays like Iron Man and Captain America will still be a part of things, but if the MCU is to thrive through Phase 4 and beyond, the filmmakers will have to turn over the roster at some point and give new characters their moment to shine. Fortunately, audiences have voted with their wallets that they would like to see more of Star-Lord, Scott Lang, and Stephen Strange, which bodes well for whenever Robert Downey, Jr. and the original Avengers decide to step away from their iconic roles. All these “risks” have paid off handsomely.
Just glancing at the numbers, the verdict is that Doctor Strange is definitely a box office success. It has impressed both domestically and internationally, serving as one of the few bright spots in a year that has seen several high-profile commercial disappointments. Regardless of where it ends up, it has already left its mark on the industry, launching yet another sub-franchise for Marvel to explore in the years to come. It’s interesting to consider how Doctor Strange might have turned out if it was one of the first MCU movies, but as it stands, it’s another winner for their already stellar résumé.
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