Why Doctor Strange May Become the MCU’s First Failure

I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a film franchise that’s considered to be one of the most successful ones – it’s way up there with Star Wars and Harry Potter. To date, a total of thirteen films has been released for the MCU franchise and while each has had varying success, each release has been considered a success. Which is why I’m worried about Doctor Strange – they say there’s always a first time for everything and there are several reasons why I think Doctor Strange could be Marvel Studios’ first box office bomb.


The Most Successful Movie Franchises, based on data collected by Box Office Mojo in 2015.

Just to be clear – I’m not rooting for Doctor Strange to fail. I want it to succeed. I’m just really worried because the signs that I’m seeing are pointing towards a significant enough potential for failure. Let me go through these reasons.

Doctor Strange Doesn’t Have an “A-List” Superstar

There’s no question that Benedict Cumberbatch has enough “geek cred” given his roles in the beloved Sherlock BBC TV series, as the voice of Smaug, and as the main villain in Star Trek Into Darkness. But he’s untested – he’s never really been the lead of a successful film. Let’s look at his films from 2013 onwards:

cumberbatch box office

Benedict Cumberbatch’s highest grossing films are all part of established franchises and he’s only had a supporting role in them.

He’s only been the lead in two movies on this list; The Fifth Estate which had a lifetime gross of only $3.2M and The Imitation Game which had a lifetime gross of $91.1M but didn’t even earn half a million during it’s opening weekend. I’m not sure if the eventual success of The Imitation Game is enough proof that Cumberbatch’s “star power” can draw in audiences on its own.

To be fair, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth were relative unknowns when the first Captain America and Thor movies were released. But these films had the strong ties to the then-upcoming Avengers to boost its box office numbers, and even then both films are ranked low in terms of MCU box office earnings.

MCU box office

Cumberbatch’s highest earners won’t even be in the upper half of the MCU’s box office earnings list.

Will this mean that Doctor Strange will fail? Not immediately, but lacking that “A-List star power” definitely increases the chances of this film underperforming in the box office. Maybe this’ll be the film that will put Cumberbatch in the A-List, but he’s not there yet.

Doctor Strange Doesn’t Have Strong Ties to the MCU (Yet)

I already alluded to this earlier, so let me reiterate it. The MCU’s Phase One films all had the benefit of being an Avengers tie-in which I’m sure gave them a box office boost, whereas most of the Phase Two films had the benefit of continuing the momentum of a highly successful Avengers film that came before it.

Doctor Strange is, at least based on current marketing, is distinctly separate from the MCU. It didn’t even get the help of any end credits scenes to spark some interest in the film or the character. The other two MCU films that didn’t have direct tie-ins to the Avengers were Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man (whose cameo by an Avenger was hidden from marketing). But Guardians of the Galaxy at least had its connections to the Infinity Stones storyline working for it. Ant-Man didn’t. Guess which of the two did better? Not having strong ties to the MCU means not having the boost in viewership that comes with it.

Doctor Strange is Not a Comedy

In the past, it’s been said that Guardians of the Galaxy and/or Ant-Man would be the films that would serve as the “acid test” for the MCU. Both have a few things in common with Doctor Strange and both were relatively successful, so it goes to show that Doctor Strange will also be a success, right?

Not necessarily. While both Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man were films that introduced new MCU characters, they had one thing in common that I think really helped bring in audiences – they were both marketed as superhero comedies, which was quite different from other superhero films that came before. Another good example of this is Deadpool which was a really big hit as well. Doctor Strange is being presented as a fairly serious superhero film and reception to these kinds of films has been mixed as of date (X-Men: Apocalypse is a recent example).


doctor strange

Doctor Strange seems like it’s going to be a “serious” film.

Maybe I’m overvaluing the comedic aspects of the aforementioned films. Maybe Guardians of the Galaxy was a big hit because it was the closest to a Star Wars film that we could have when it came out. Maybe Deadpool succeeded because of it’s R rating. Ant-Man was seen as a success, but it ranks relatively low in the list of box office earnings despite being sold as a comedy/heist film.

Doctor Strange is Another Origin Story

When I saw the second Doctor Strange trailer, I was reminded of Batman Begins, Iron Man, and Ant-Man. The character of Stephen Strange has similarities with Tony Stark and goes through a similar soul searching journey that Bruce Wayne took before finding a Ra’s Al Ghul/Hank Pym type of mentor.

And that’s a bad thing. People have talked about “superhero fatigue”, and while box office numbers in general don’t really show enough of a decline to prove that audiences are indeed experiencing this, the recent box office performance of X-Men: Apocalypse shows that featuring superheroes is not a guaranteed success. If Doctor Strange is going to be similar to other superhero films that came before it, why are people going to come out and watch it?

strange origin

Stephen Strange’s “journey into mystery” looks similar to what we’ve already seen before.

Yes, Doctor Strange will introduce the world of “magic” as another aspect of the MCU. But is that enough of a difference? Beneath the surface, are we getting more than just another version of a Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark?

With all that said, I’d like to again say that I don’t want Doctor Strange to fail. I want it to succeed. I hope that I’m wrong, and that all the reasons I’ve talked about won’t affect how audiences feel about this film. I truly hope that the Marvel brand is enough to get enough people to see this movie.

How do you feel about Doctor Strange so far? Is it a must-see film for you or are you lukewarm towards it? Let us know how you feel by leaving a comment or two below!


2 thoughts on “Why Doctor Strange May Become the MCU’s First Failure

  1. It’s not going to fail. It’s a Marvel movie, people know that Marvel Studios makes quality films. I won’t be watching it, and I don’t care if it fails, because I refuse to support films that engage in whitewashing. But it’s going to be a success.

    • Thanks for the comment! I hope you’re right, that the Marvel Studios brand is enough to get people to buy Doctor Strange tickets.

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