It was back during the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con that we first heard that Joaquin Phoenix was being eyed to headline Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange comic book movie. Phoenix was thereafter said to have entered final talks for the role, though more recently the rumor mill indicated he may've started to backtrack on making the deal. Looks like those claims was accurate after all, as Phoenix is no longer in talks for the project.
What happened? Well, Phoenix was always a dubious prospect to star in a Marvel Studios superhero film, from a business perspective. He has generally stuck with non-mainstream fare - preferring to collaborate alongside such filmmakers as P.T. Anderson (The Master, Inherent Vice) or Spike Jonze (Her) - rather than work on studio projects. No surprise, Phoenix was reported to have balked at signing the standard Marvel Studios' multi-picture contract, in order to play Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange.
Doctor Strange is expected to begin filming around May 2015 in order to make a 2016 release date reserved by Marvel; which is to say, the studio is looking cast someone as the Sorcerer Supreme sooner than later. Deadline, which has confirmed that Phoenix is no longer in the running, is claiming that recent talk of Ethan Hawke - who teamed with Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson on the horror film Sinister - circling the role is just that - (empty) talk. Similarly, we can scratch out Jack Huston as a possibility for the title role, since the Boardwalk Empire actor will be working on Ben-Hur around the same time that Doctor Strange begins shooting.
Other contenders for Doctor Strange mentioned prior to Phoenix include Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, and Jared Leto. Cumberbatch and Hardy have jumped in the studio tentpole pool before - Cumberbatch on Star Trek Into Darkness and Hardy on his collaborations with Christopher Nolan - but both are pretty busy right now, with smaller, more independent fare. Leto, by comparison, is like Phoenix; the Oscar-winner, for Dallas Buyers Club, isn't necessarily someone that seems inclined to sign on for multiple Marvel Studio films at once. (Though, never say never...)
At this point, however, it appears to be something of an open contest, with regard to who could ultimately end up actually striking a deal to play Stephen Strange. As such, feel free to pitch us your dream candidate(s) for the role, in the comments section below. (Who wants to re-juvenate that fan push for Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal?)
The Avengers: Age of Ultron hits U.S. theaters on May 1st, 2015, followed by Ant-Man on July 17th, 2015, Captain America 3 on May 6th, 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on July 28th, 2017, and unannounced films for July 8th, 2016 (probably Doctor Strange) and May 5th, 2017, November 3rd, 2017, May 4th, 2018, July 6th, 2018, November 2nd, 2018 and May 3rd, 2019.