‘Doctor Strange’ scores the biggest opening of 2022 — with help from Wanda and Spidey

A man in a rep cape looking up at the sky and a man in a purple costume looking up at the sky
Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, left, and Benedict Wong as Wong in Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
(Marvel Studios)

“Multiverse” has taken over the multiplex.

Disney and Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has scored the biggest theatrical opening of the year, grossing $185 million at the domestic box office this weekend, according to estimates from data-measurement firm Comscore.

Internationally, the superhero epic collected $265 million for a global cumulative of $450 million — the sixth highest worldwide debut of all time.

The second “Doctor Strange” film also posted the second-biggest opening of the COVID-19 pandemic — behind only Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($260 million domestically) and ahead of Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” ($134 million), which previously was the biggest domestic launch of 2022.


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Directed by “Spider-Man” veteran Sam Raimi, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” sees Benedict Cumberbatch reprise his role as the titular wizard opposite Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, also known as the Scarlet Witch. Rounding out the main cast are Benedict Wong as Wong, Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and franchise newcomer Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez.

As of Sunday, “Multiverse of Madness” posted a decent 75% positive rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes and a mediocre B-plus rating from audiences polled by CinemaScore.

“I don’t know that the reviews were ... particularly strong for this movie, but the Marvel brand is so strong that every movie becomes required viewing for fans around the world,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

“When you look at the the top movies of the pandemic era — all pretty much being superhero films — it seems that the very cinematic nature of the superhero movie ... requires that movie theater experience and audiences even in these inflationary times.”

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On the increasingly crowded Marvel timeline, “Multiverse of Madness” takes place after the events of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which also featured Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and likely gave the latest Marvel blockbuster a significant boost at the box office.

“If you saw ‘No Way Home,’ there’s no way you could sit out ‘Doctor Strange,’” Dergarabedian said. He added that the continuity of the characters and the stories — “the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole” — has created “an unstoppable moviegoing draw.”


“Multiverse of Madness” and “No Way Home” were released by rival studios that not long ago engaged in a fierce fight over Spider-Man, the most popular hero in the Marvel canon. Eventually, the warring distributors agreed to continue sharing the beloved character, played by Tom Holland in the live-action films and voiced by Shameik Moore in the “Spider-Verse” movies.

“No Way Home” is a Sony title and “Multiverse of Madness” is a Disney title, “but they’re inextricably linked,” Dergarabedian said.

“At the end of the day, I really do believe that ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ gave a tailwind that helped ‘Doctor Strange,’ and that’s why we’re seeing these numbers.”

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“Multiverse of Madness” also functions as a direct sequel to “WandaVision,” the Disney+ sensation starring Olsen as Wanda and Paul Bettany as Vision. The MCU’s flagship TV series — which received 23 Emmy nominations last year — was a hit with audiences and critics alike.

“These synergistic dynamics between Marvel’s big-screen offerings and small-screen offerings adds revenue — no question about it — to the bottom line,” Dergarabedian said.

“Each one of these properties is like an infomercial for Marvel. ... The crossover of characters on the big screen and the small screen ... that’s the future for big franchises.”

A woman with red hair wearing a red crown and costume
Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch in Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
(Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

In the all-time MCU rankings, “Multiverse of Madness” boasts the seventh biggest domestic debut — trailing “Avengers: Age of Ultron” ($191.3 million), “Black Panther” ($202 million), “The Avengers” ($207.4 million), “Avengers: Infinity War” ($257.7 million), “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($260.2 million) and “Avengers: Endgame” ($357.1 million).

Also playing in theaters this weekend were Universal Pictures’ “The Bad Guys,” which added $9.8 million in its third weekend for a North American cumulative of $57.6 million; Paramount Pictures’ “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” which nabbed $6.2 million in its fifth weekend for a North American cumulative of $169.9 million; Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” which made $3.95 million in its fourth weekend for a North American cumulative of $86 million; and A24’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which grossed $3.3 million in its seventh weekend for a North American cumulative of $41.6 million.

Daring to challenge “Multiverse of Madness” in wide release next weekend is Universal Pictures’ “Firestarter,” based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.