“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the 28th entry in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, conjured a commanding $185 million at the North American box office over the weekend, making it the biggest theatrical debut of the year so far, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The elaborately titled fantasy epic, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen, summoned another $265 million in foreign markets for a total opening weekend gross of $450 million, according to Walt Disney Pictures, the corporate parent of Marvel Studios.
The sequel’s $185 million domestic haul makes it the 11th-biggest opening in American film industry, between “Incredibles 2” ($182.7 million) and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” ($191.3 million) in 2015, according to Disney.
The film also notched the second-largest domestic debut of the pandemic era — behind only Marvel’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which earned $260 million in North American ticket sales when it swung into theaters in December.
The movie “carries on a summer season Marvel tradition with this massive debut by igniting the spark that will set in motion what promises to be a very strong summer movie season in theaters,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, a company that tracks box office data.
The movie is a sequel to “Doctor Strange,” a psychedelic origin story released in 2016, and a continuation of the main storyline from 2021’s “WandaVision,” a Disney+ streaming series starring Olsen as a grief-stricken sorceress known as the Scarlet Witch.
The commercial triumph of “Multiverse” is the latest sign that audiences’ appetite for Marvel-branded entertainment remains insatiable — even after the release of nearly 30 superhero sagas dating back to 2008’s “Iron Man.”
Marvel’s box-office hegemony often comes at the expense of other Hollywood releases, including adult-skewing dramas and independent fare that have largely struggled to draw ticket-buyers en masse during the pandemic. In some cases, studios have diverted non-blockbuster titles to their owned-and-operated streaming platforms.
The new “Doctor Strange” was directed by Sam Raimi, an offbeat visual stylist who helped catapult comic book movies to commercial riches and critical esteem with the original “Spider-Man” trilogy released in the early 2000s. The new “Strange” script was penned by Michael Waldron, who created the Disney+ show “Loki.”
“Multiverse” is likely to have staying power at American multiplexes in the weeks to come, although it will face competition from another big-budget spectacle over Memorial Day weekend: “Top Gun: Maverick,” a flashy Tom Cruise vehicle due in theaters on May 27.