Marvel Studios' "Doctor Strange" was the right antidote, when paired with 20th Century Fox's "Trolls," to treat a bruising fall box-office season.
The picture from Walt Disney Co. pulled an estimated $85 million in the U.S. and Canada, surpassing even the most liberal analyst expectations of $80 million. It's also a massive hit internationally, earning an amazing $203.7 million globally this weekend. After opening internationally last week, the film's global gross after just 13 days is $325.4 million.
"I think it all is a testament of Marvel Studios' unbroken streak of critical and commercial success, proving that Marvel remains the best of the best in the superhero genre and beyond," said Dave Hollis, Disney's distribution executive.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, "Doctor Strange," based on the comic book character, is about a former neurosurgeon who harnesses mystical powers. Directed by "Sinister" helmer Scott Derrickson, the picture explores concepts such as alternate dimensions and the multiverse, unusual territory for the Marvel franchise, where action fare such as "Iron Man" and "The Avengers" are more standard.
But critics and audiences (58% male; 81% adults, 10% families, 8% teens) are in favor. The flick has 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and received an A CinemaScore from moviegoers.
"Doctor Strange's" performance is another win for the studio, in fact its 14th consecutive No. 1 debut for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film came in significantly higher than last year's "Ant-Man" ($57 million), though shy of the 2014 surprise smash "Guardians of the Galaxy" ($94 million). It carries a production budget of $165 million.
"Doctor Strange" did very well on 3D screens, with 47% of its domestic opening weekend gross coming from such locations. While RealD 3D accounted for an estimated $24 million of the gross, IMAX pulled $12.2 million domestically.
"'Doctor Strange' is exactly the kind of imaginative and energetic event 3D programming that gets audiences excited to buy tickets to experience this enhanced visual format," said Anthony Marcoly, president of worldwide cinema for RealD, in a statement.
Greg Foster, chief executive of IMAX Entertainment, added: "As the lines blur [between film and television], it becomes essential for those in cinema to differentiate. ['Doctor Strange'] demands to be seen in theaters."
And for those who saw it on IMAX screens, they were treated to 60 minutes of exclusive IMAX expanded aspect ratio footage. "Strange" also became the picture with the biggest November IMAX weekend ever, domestically, internationally and globally. (Previous best was 2014's "Interstellar.")
Hollis agreed, noting that "Doctor Strange" "is a movie that movie theaters exist for."
"It's a completely different experience [in theaters] than any other way you'd want to experience it," he said. "It's meant to be a theatrical experience."
And for a marketplace that has generally been down, creating a unique theater experience unlike others before is the key to boosting the box office, which "Doctor Strange" has done.
While fall movie performance (since Sept. 6) has been down about 10% from the same period last year, this weekend marks the third consecutive "up" weekend (now by about 19%) versus last year. Overall, this year's to-date gross ($9.4 billion) is only about 4.4% above last year's ($9 billion).
Also helping the fall box office was fellow new release "Trolls," which grossed $45.6 million in its first week. The DreamWorks Animation picture beat analyst expectations of $35 million to $40 million.
"Ultimately, it's a feel-good movie," said Chris Aronson, 20th Century Fox's distribution head. "This is one of those, 'Yeah, you can't stop the feeling' type of movies, and that feeling is feel good."
Based on the quirky Danish dolls with the long, colorful hair, "Trolls" stars the voices of major celebrities including Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick. Zooey Deschanel, Gwen Stefani and Russell Brand also voice characters.
Though the toys aren't as popular as they once were, the computer-animated offering, which cost about $125 million to make, benefited from mostly positive early reviews. Additionally, the lead single from Timberlake, "Can't Stop the Feeling," which was intentionally released almost six months ahead of the film's release, was a summer hit, setting the stage for the original film idea.
Attracting a primarily family audience (72%, and 61% female), the film has a 74% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and audiences have gifted it an A CinemaScore.
Comparatively, "Trolls" performed better than DreamWorks' previous film, "Kung-Fu Panda 3" ($41 million). It did, however, come in slightly worse than the studio's 2015 hit "Home" ($52 million).
The film has pulled in an international gross to date of $104 million.
Taking the weekend's third spot was the last of new wide releases, "Hacksaw Ridge" from Lionsgate. The World War II tale garnered $14.8 million, beating analyst expectations of $12 million. Directed by Mel Gibson, the film tells the story of a real-life conscientious objector who refused to take up arms during the Battle of Okinawa.
The film, which stars Andrew Garfield as Army medic and Seventh-day Adventist Desmond T. Doss, was well received by critics and audiences alike. It has a 87% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and moviegoers gave it an A CinemaScore.
Rounding out the top five were holders: Lionsgate's "Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween," which added another $7.8 million for a gross of $65 million, and Sony's "Inferno," which added $6.3 million for a gross of $26.1 million.
On the limited-release front, Focus Features' "Loving" debuted to $169,000 from just four theaters. That's a strong per-theater average of $42,250 for the film about the true-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who stood up for their civil rights in 1958 Virginia and took their case to the Supreme Court to battle for their right to marry as an interracial couple.
Additionally, A24's acclaimed R-rated drama "Moonlight" continues to do well. After adding 83 theaters this weekend, the Barry Jenkins-directed flick pulled in another $1.3 million -- an impressive per-theater average of $16,053 -- for a gross to date of $3.1 million.
Coming to theaters next week are Paramount's "Arrival," Universal's "Almost Christmas" and EuropaCorp's "Shut In." Sony's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" will debut in limited release.
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10:11 a.m.: This article was updated with studio figures.