We love to see an underdog story, don’t we folks? Triumph over adversity. Victory in the face of overwhelming odds. A plucky little movie making its way in the world, climbing to the top of the Thursday night box office previews with nothing pushing it up that hill but a little spirit, a lot of heart, and the full combined marketing might of the most powerful entertainment conglomerate on Earth.
Which is to say that Benedict Cumberbatch sequel Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is doing rather well for itself today, after having been in theaters for approximately 18 hours at this point. Variety reports that Sam Raimi’s film—which sees the former Sorcerer Supreme bouncing across the multiverse in an effort to battle a rising evil (i.e., Disney’s draconian review spoiler policies)—managed to bring in a massive $36 million on Thursday night, apparently the 8th highest preview night winnings of all time.
By the weird magic of movie box office predictions, that apparently means the film is on track to earn $175 million in its opening weekend, making it the second-biggest opening since the start of the pandemic, after Cumberbatch’s last outing as everyone’s favorite practitioner of close-up reality magic, Spider-Man: No Way Home.
What’s most interesting about these numbers is that this is, decidedly, not the reception the first Doctor Strange movie, directed by Scott Derrickson, got back in 2016. That film ended up clocking about $680 million worldwide, which, while not mystical chicken scratch, put it firmly in mid-tier Marvel performance territory, alongside movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($714 million) and Thor: The Dark World ($644 million).
Of course, the last six years have seen the profile of Cumberbatch’s magical super hero rise considerably, considering his major parts in three of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time. Multiverse also has hype flowing into it from multiple directions, seeing as it’s functionally a sequel to both No Way Home, and the critically acclaimed WandaVision, and its own Strange predecessor. And then there’s also the whole “pandemic” thing; audiences are clearly, finally feeling comfortable risking the theater again, as long as it means they get to see a shot of that one bald guy that Disney has been teasing the hell out of in all those trailers.
We also can’t help but hoping, in our heart of hearts, that a small fraction of that future performance comes from Sam Raimi fans just excited to see the guy score a win with his return to film-making after nearly a decade away. Multiverse has some stiff competition if it wants to become the biggest performer of Raimi’s career—the first Spider-Man made $825 million back in 2002, the equivalent of $1.3 billion today—but it’s certainly likely to be a step up from Drag Me To Hell and Oz The Great And Powerful, his last two features.