The numbers from the weekend box office are in, and they aren’t good for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, no matter which parallel universe you’re from. The highly-anticipated Marvel film has a lot riding on it, as Disney is hoping Marvel films can still deliver strong returns without characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Captain America. The film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen, managed to gross approximately $61 million at the box office in its second weekend (May 13-15), a nearly 68% drop from its opening weekend. Marvel stans will argue that the drop is insignificant, and will point out that Spider-Man: No Way Home suffered an almost identical drop in its second weekend (-67.5%), on its way to a $1.8 billion worldwide box office take. As Deadline points out, however, the Doctor Strange 2 numbers are much more troubling in context.
First, it must be said that Doctor Strange 2 had a $187 million opening weekend following its May 6 premiere. That was good enough to be the third biggest May opening of all time, and the current box office haul now stands at nearly $292 million. That’s impressive on its own; however, Disney is counting on the film to propel Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the post-Avengers era. They have already seen box office (and critical) misfires with Black Widow and Eternals, and since Sony controls Spider-Man movies, Disney can’t count on the web-slinger to carry the Marvel franchise.
What is most troubling about Doctor Strange 2‘s diminishing returns is that it is coupled with mixed reviews and a fanbase split on its opinion. Despite having Sam Raimi on board as director, many fans were turned off by his style, and others disliked the controversial direction of the story. That means it may not have the “legs” for a stronger, longer box office run, and may mirror the path of Black Widow’s box office. That film also had the negative pull of day-and-date streaming availability, something Doctor Strange 2 does not. Spider-Man: No Way Home was still selling tickets on over 1,000 screens more than 100 days after release, even as the Blu-ray/4K home release loomed.
The critics aren’t too keen on Doctor Strange 2, which is likely affecting moviegoers on the fence. It has a 74% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and CinemaScore only rates it a B+. Comscore/Screen Engine PostTrak polls show that only 27% of moviegoers said they plan on seeing it again, below the 36% who said they would see No Way Home again. That lack of moviegoer enthusiasm is a problem for the movie, and for Disney.
All is not lost for theaters hoping for big movies to bring back moviegoers, however. Even if Doctor Strange 2 doesn’t have the legs Disney was hoping for, its strong opening bodes well for future releases. Top Gun: Maverick is the next blockbuster to emerge from COVID-related delays purgatory, and the strong early reviews could translate into good word-of-mouth and a longer window for ticket sales. As far as Marvel films go, the next test for the franchise will be on July 8, when Thor: Love and Thunder hits theaters. The lighter tone of that film and stronger fan support could mean a bigger box office.
However, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens in November, and there are already concerns about the appeal of that film, which is facing the loss of its star, Chadwick Boseman, who passed from cancer in 2020. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 hits at Christmas, which should do well, so long as fans are not continually turned off by sub-par Marvel films in the interim.