Summer is off to a sizzling start at the box office.
Marvel Studios and Disney’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, grossed $185 million in its debut to land one of the biggest openings of all time domestically — and the second best of the pandemic era — for a global start of $450 million.
The sequel’s performance is a huge victory for Hollywood and theater owners as the 2022 box office season officially kicks off. After more than two years of fits and starts due to COVID-19, studios are finally ready to release a parade of delayed tentpoles.
Director Sam Raimi’s movie landed the 11th biggest domestic launch in history and the seventh biggest opening for any Marvel Cinematic title behind Avengers: Age of Ultron ($191.3 million), Black Panther ($202 million), The Avengers ($207.3 million), Avengers: Infinity War ($257.7 million), Spider-Man: No Way Home ($260.1 million) and Avengers: Endgame ($357.1 million), not adjusted for inflation. The latter three top the overall list of biggest openings.
Doctor Strange 2 is already the second-biggest domestic release of 2022 behind The Batman, which has grossed $369.1 million to date.
Overseas, Marvel’s latest tentpole opened to an equally impressive $265 million for the early global total of $450 million. And, when comparing like-by-like territories, it ranks sixth on the list of all-time worldwide launches for a Hollywood title and fourth among MCU global opening weekends, according to Comscore.
The pic opened No. 1 in all major markets overseas, where COVID-19 restrictions have lifted in recent weeks across a raft of key territories, including South Korea. The movie opened to a huge $30 million in that country to land the No. 6 debut of all-time for a Hollywood title. Asian markets such as South Korea and Japan are gaining more importance now that many films, including Doctor Strange 2, aren’t getting a berth in China.
Friday’s domestic haul of $90 million for Doctor Strange 2 — which included $36 million in Thursday previews — was the seventh biggest opening day of all time and gives the Marvel Cinematic Universe five of the top 10 opening days ever. It was also more than the entire opening weekends of 10 MCU titles, including the first Doctor Strange, which opened to $85.1 million in 2016, not adjusted for inflation.
Doctor Strange 2 is playing in 4,545 theaters, the widest location count of the pandemic era and the fifth-biggest of all time, another sign that the movie business is emerging from the pandemic. While overall attendance is still down compared to “normal” times, moviegoer confidence is at an all-time high.
Another draw: Imax and other cinema operators heavily promoted the fact that the first teaser trailer for James Cameron’s sequel Avatar: The Way of Water is premiering exclusively in theaters before Doctor Strange 2.
Raimi’s generally well-reviewed superhero pic earned a B+ CinemaScore in the U.S., and is being fueled by moviegoers under the age of 34 (74 percent), including 57 percent between ages 18 and 34and 15 percent between ages 10 and 17. Males made up 59 percent of all ticket buyers.
Doctor Strange 2 did huge business in Imax and other premium large-format screens, or 36 percent. Imax’s global haul alone was $33 million, a May record. (Raimi used Imax digital cameras to shoot the film.)
After the first Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch’s character gained even more visibility when he appeared in Avengers: Infinity War and, much more recently, Sony and Marvel’s $1.9 billion blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home, which grossed a near-record $122 million on its first Friday (including $50 million in previews) on its way to a $260.1 million domestic debut.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness picks up where No Way Home left off, with Stephen Strange coming to the assistance of a young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who can jump across various universes. Now, however, a demonic force is trying to steal her powers.
Part sentimental, part horror, part comedy and always action-packed, the adventure that ensues sees the quirky superhero face-off with the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), meet up with an old flame (Rachel McAdams), enlist the aid of a former sidekick who has now transformed into the Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Wong) and encounters Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). There are also key cameos regarding other MCU properties, but readers won’t find any spoilers here.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is rated PG-13, as is The Batman.
May 7, 7:55 a.m. Updated with Friday grosses and revised estimates.
May 8, 8:40 a.m. Updated with revised weekend estimates.