Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness earned less in its second domestic weekend than did Matt Reeves’ The Batman. The WB action drama earned $66 million in weekend two, dropping just 51% from a $134 million opening weekend. Disney’s MCU fantasy earned $61.755 million in weekend two for a $292 million domestic/$688 million global cume. It fell 67% from its $187.4 million opening weekend. That’s almost tied with the 67.5% drop for Spider-Man: No Way Home, with the disclaimer that No Way Home opened with $260 million, took a dive in weekend two due to Friday falling on Christmas Eve and had the luxury of the year-end holiday (where weekdays play like weekends) and almost no competition either from new wide releases or Oscar season breakouts. The Multiverse of Madness may not have those kinds of legs. It may not even crack $1 billion worldwide.
For the record, earning over $1 billion was not the bar for success for The Batman and it’s not the bar for Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness (or Thor: Love and Thunder). The $200 million wizarding flick should still end up with a $391-$409 million domestic cume. At worst, if it plays like Batman v Superman from this point onward, it’ll end with around $370 million, essentially tied with The Batman’s $369 million North American cume. Presuming a continued 42/59 domestic/overseas split, the Benedict Cumberbatch/Elizabeth Olsen fantasy should end its global run with $872 million-$963 million worldwide. So even with concerns about the drop, it’s still a pre-Covid China release away from $1 billion, to say nothing of lost revenue from Russia and Ukraine. I’ve long argued that China has done little more than artificially enhance the global grosses of already successful movies, and this is another example of just that.
Even using worst-case scenario guestimates, $370 million/$872 million, Doctor Strange 2 will jump 59% domestically and 29% worldwide versus the first $232 million/$677 million-grossing Doctor Strange. That will be a bigger “part one to part two” jump than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (+17% and +13%) and on par with that film’s box office ($390 million/$869 million, including $100 million from China). The extent to which Doctor Strange 2 is being viewed as a relative disappointment is only a matter of Black Panther ($700 million/$1.346 billion including $106 million in China) and Captain Marvel ($426 million/$1.128 billion with $154 million in China), Spider-Man: Far from Home ($390 million/$1.131 billion with $199 million from China) and Spider-Man: No Way Home ($804 million/$1.891 billion) overperforming. Take away China and Doctor Strange 2’s likely global gross is about on par with or just below most of those solo MCU movies.
Before 2018, Marvel’s biggest “no Iron Man” flick was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with “just” $869 million global. That Spider-Man: No Way Home massively overperformed, partially due to multigenerational nostalgia, does not mean Doctor Strange 2 shouldn’t be allowed to play like a Doctor Strange sequel no matter how much the Internet convinces itself that the movie is going to be a Civil War-level mythology episode and/or a No Way Home-style cameo fest. Avengers: Infinity War earning $2.048 billion didn’t stop Ant-Man and the Wasp from “only” earning $620 million. The worst thing that can happen to Marvel is for every film to be expected to perform at Black Panther levels, just as The Force Awakens’ $937 million domestic and $2.068 billion worldwide gross wrongly convinced Lucasfilm and/or Disney that Episode VII-level earnings were possible on the regular with a little reverse engineering.
As for “what happened” last weekend, the MCU may be becoming more of a fan-driven franchise akin to the Twilight and Harry Potter sequels. The B+ Cinemascore points to a more divisive buzz. Some audiences perhaps disliked Scarlet Witch’s villainous turn and/or the horror elements. Some hoped for more cameos and/or a “huge status quo shift” MCU movie. They, alongside those who disliked the movie for whatever reason, sat alongside those who liked it. Second, Captain America: Civil War‘s $179 million opening weekend may have been inflated by those who only cared about Avengers-level MCU events. The rest of the frontloaded-for-Marvel theatrical run ($408 million domestic) was populated by audiences who didn’t mind if it was “just” Captain America 3. Multiverse of Madness may have served those who only cared about the “viral” events and is now serving those satisfied by it being a Doctor Strange sequel.
I am less concerned about the raw grosses for this MCU sequel, which are objectively “huge, actually” and more concerned about what the reaction might be from those in charge of making the next batch of MCU movies. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness may be earning less than it might have due to the very things that made it mischievous fun, its stand-alone nature, its downright subversive treatment of cameos, the bits and pieces of Raimi-ish horror imagery, and its unapologetically “problematic” heel turn for Scarlet Witch. However, for the long-term health of the MCU, Disney cannot afford to react to this performance by insisting that future Marvel movies emphasize the very things, interconnectivity, Easter Eggs, all-ages spectacle, cameos and future tense clues, that have mostly remained in the background. Because for a Doctor Strange sequel, Multiverse of Madness is doing great.