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Doctor Strange is a 2016 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Scott Derrickson from a screenplay he wrote with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as neurosurgeon Stephen Strange along with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton. In the film, Strange learns the mystic arts after a career-ending car crash.

Various incarnations of a Doctor Strange film adaptation had been in development since the mid-1980s, until Paramount Pictures acquired the film rights in April 2005 on behalf of Marvel Studios. Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer were brought on board in June 2010 to write a screenplay. In June 2014, Derrickson was hired to direct, with Spaihts re-writing the script. Cumberbatch was chosen for the eponymous role in December 2014, necessitating a schedule change to work around his other commitments. This gave Derrickson time to work on the script himself, for which he brought Cargill on to help. Principal photography on the film began in November 2015 in Nepal, before moving to England and Hong Kong, and wrapping up in New York City in April 2016.

Doctor Strange had its world premiere in Hong Kong on October 13, 2016, and was released in the United States on November 4, as part of Phase Three of the MCU. The film grossed over $677 million worldwide, was met with praise for its visuals, musical score, and cast, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects. A sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, is scheduled for release on March 25, 2022.

Plot

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

In Kathmandu, the sorcerer Kaecilius and his zealots enter the secret compound Kamar-Tajand behead its librarian. They steal a few pages from an ancient, mystical text belonging to the Ancient One, a long-lived sorcerer who has taught every student at Kamar-Taj, including Kaecilius, in the mystic arts. The Ancient One pursues the traitors, but Kaecilius and his followers escape.

In New York City, Stephen Strange, a wealthy, acclaimed, and arrogant neurosurgeon, severely injures his hands in a car crash, leaving him unable to operate. Fellow surgeon Christine Palmer tries to help him move on, but Strange vainly pursues experimental surgeries to heal his hands. Strange learns about Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously regained use of his legs. Pangborn directs Strange to Kamar-Taj, where he is taken in by Mordo, a sorcerer under the Ancient One. The Ancient One demonstrates her power to Strange, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. She reluctantly agrees to train Strange, whose arrogance and ambition remind her of Kaecilius.

Strange studies under the Ancient One and Mordo, and from ancient books in the library that is now guarded by Master Wong. Strange learns that Earth is protected from threats from other dimensions by a shield generated from three buildings called Sanctums, in New York City, London, and Hong Kong, which are all directly accessible from Kamar-Taj. The sorcerers' task is to protect the Sanctums, though Pangborn instead chose to channel mystical energy only into walking again. Strange progresses quickly, and secretly reads the text from which Kaecilius stole pages, learning to bend time with the mystical Eye of Agamotto. Mordo and Wong warn Strange against breaking the laws of nature, drawing a comparison to Kaecilius' desire for eternal life.

Kaecilius uses the stolen pages to contact Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, where time is non-existent. Kaecilius destroys the London Sanctum to weaken Earth's protection. The zealots then attack the New York Sanctum, killing its guardian, but Strange holds them off with the help of the Cloak of Levitation, only to be critically injured during a skirmish. He teleports himself back to the hospital where Palmer saves him. Upon returning to the Sanctum, Strange reveals to Mordo that the Ancient One has been drawing power from the Dark Dimension to sustain her long life, and Mordo becomes disillusioned with the Ancient One. After a fight in the Mirror Dimension of New York, Kaecilius mortally wounds the Ancient One and escapes to Hong Kong. Before dying, she tells Strange that he too will have to bend the rules to complement Mordo's steadfast nature in order to defeat Kaecilius. Strange and Mordo arrive in Hong Kong to find Wong dead, the Sanctum destroyed, and the Dark Dimension engulfing Earth. Strange uses the Eye to reverse time and save Wong, then enters the Dark Dimension and creates a time loop around himself and Dormammu. After repeatedly killing Strange to no avail, Dormammu finally gives in to Strange's demand that he permanently leave Earth alone and take Kaecilius and his zealots with him in return for Strange breaking the loop.

Disillusioned by Strange and the Ancient One defying nature's laws, Mordo renounces his sorcerer career and departs. Strange returns the Eye to Kamar-Taj and takes up residence in the New York Sanctum to continue his studies with Wong. In a mid-credits scene, Strange decides to help Thor, who has brought his brother Loki to Earth to search for their father, Odin. In a post-credits scene, Mordo confronts Pangborn and steals the mystical energy he uses to walk, telling him that Earth has "too many sorcerers".

Cast

A neurosurgeon who, after a car crash that led to a journey of healing, discovers the hidden world of magic and alternate dimensions. Cumberbatch described Strange as arrogant, with the film "about him going from a place where he thinks he knows it all to realizing he knows nothing." He compared the character to the version of Sherlock Holmes that he portrays in Sherlock, calling both characters "intelligent" and having "smatterings of the same colors". The film's mysticism resonated with Cumberbatch, for whom spirituality has been important since he spent his gap year teaching English at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Darjeeling, India. Strange's abilities in the film include casting spells with "tongue-twisty fun names", creating mandalas of light for shields and weapons, and creating portals for quick travel around the world. Strange is also aided by a Cloak of Levitation for flight, and the Eye of Agamotto, a relic containing an Infinity Stone that can manipulate time. Cumberbatch took great care in defining the physical movements and gestures for the spells, knowing that they would be noted and studied by fans. He described these gestures as "balletic" and "very dynamic", and received help with finger-tuttingmovements from dancer JayFunk.

A Master of the Mystic Arts, close to the Ancient One and a mentor to Strange. This version of Mordo is a combination of different characters from the Doctor Strange mythos, and unlike in the comics is not introduced as villainous. Ejiofor noted this, calling Mordo "a very complex character that, really, I don't think can be nailed down either way". Director Scott Derrickson added that the change in character stemmed from casting Ejiofor and conversations the director had with him. Ejiofor described Mordo's relationship with the Ancient One as "long and intense", while noting a "growing respect" between the character and Strange, until "things get complicated". Derrickson felt Mordo was a fundamentalist, saying "When someone gives themselves over to an extraordinarily strict moral code, the process of breaking out of that is a violent one. He becomes disillusioned with the Ancient One's [moral contradictions]. The difference is Strange can accept that contradiction. Mordo cannot cope with it," which leads to the "antagonism between Mordo and Strange" to explore in future films. Discussing the diversity of the film's cast when addressing the controversial casting of the characters the Ancient One and Wong, Derrickson was confident that the decision to cast Ejiofor as Mordo, and thus changing the character "from white to black", was the right one to make.

An emergency surgeon initially written as a love interest for Strange, but shortly before filming, Derrickson suggested that this trope be subverted by making the two characters lovers as part of their backstory and coming "out the other side of it as friends". McAdams described this dynamic by saying, "The love is between them no matter what stage they're at in the actual relationship." With this change in characterization, producer Kevin Feige described Palmer as a "lynchpin to [Strange's] old life, once he steps into the role of a sorcerer. She is someone he connects with at the beginning, and reconnects with, and helps anchor his humanity." He explained that having this character be a "connection to Strange's life in New York City, in the normal world" after his journey was important to the studio, which is why Palmer was chosen for the character over the more prominent, but more fantastical character Clea. Palmer is also known as the hero Night Nurse in the comics, a storyline that does not play into the film, but that Feige hinted could be explored in future films. Rosario Dawson portrays another Night Nurse character, Claire Temple, in Marvel's Netflix television series.

A Master of the Mystic Arts, tasked with protecting some of Kamar-Taj's most valuable relics and books. The character is depicted in the comics as Strange's Asian, "tea-making manservant", a racial stereotype that Derrickson did not want in the film,and so the character was not included in the film's script. After the non-Asian actress Tilda Swinton was cast as the other significant Asian character from the Doctor Strangecomics, the Ancient One—which was also done to avoid the comics' racial stereotypes—Derrickson felt obligated to find a way to include Wong in the film. The character as he ultimately appears is "completely subverted as a character and reworked into something that didn't fall into any of the stereotypes of the comics", which Derrickson was pleased gave an Asian character "a strong presence in the movie" Actor Wong was also pleased with the changes made to the character, and described him as "a drill sergeant to Kamar-Taj" rather than a manservant. He does not practice martial arts in the film, avoiding another racial stereotype. Derrickson added that Wong will have "a strong presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe" moving forward.

  • Michael Stuhlbarg as Nicodemus West, a rival surgeon to Strange.
  • Benjamin Bratt as Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who learned from the Ancient One how to heal himself through the mystic arts.
  • Scott Adkins, as Lucian, one of Kaecilius' followers.
  • Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius:

A Master of the Mystic Arts who broke away from the Ancient One. A combination of several antagonists from the comics, Kaecilius was used in the film to drive the introduction and development of bigger villains for the future, including "certain individuals who live in other dimensions". Derrickson compared this dynamic to that of Saruman and Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, giving the film a "huge and fantastical" villain like Sauron, but also having "human relateability" with Kaecilius, like Saruman, for Strange to face throughout the film. Derrickson admitted that Marvel's villains are often criticized, and noted that MCU films dedicate little time to developing antagonists. For Doctor Strange, he just hoped to show "Kaecilius's point of view and what makes him tick" in the time that he could, feeling that the character is a "man of ideas" with "watertight logic" like John Doe from Seven and the Joker from The Dark Knight. On these motivations, Feige explained that Kaecilius believes the Ancient One is a hypocrite, protecting her own power base, and that the world may be better off "if we were to allow some of these other things through." Mikkelsen's makeup took between 2–3 hours to apply.

A Celtic mystic who becomes Strange's mentor. The character is a Tibetan man in the comics, and co-writer C. Robert Cargill said adapting the character as the comics portrayed him would be realizing the major Asian Fu Manchu stereotype while involving the film with the Tibetan sovereignty debate. However, not giving one of few significant Asian roles to an Asian actor would also understandably be received negatively; Cargill compared this situation to the Kobayashi Maru, an unwinnable training exercise from Star Trek. Derrickson wanted to change the character to an Asian woman, but felt an older Asian woman would invoke the Dragon Lady stereotype, while a younger Asian woman would be perceived as exploiting Asian fetish and be a "fanboy's dream girl". He also wanted to avoid the stereotype of a "Western character coming to Asia to learn about being Asian", and decided to cast a non-Asian actor in the role. Derrickson still wanted to take the opportunity to cast an actress in the previously male role, and wrote the character with Swinton in mind as he felt she was the obvious choice to play "domineering, secretive, ethereal, enigmatic, [and] mystical". Additionally, though the film uses the terms "her" and "she", Swinton chose to portray the character as androgynous, while Feige explained that the Ancient One and Sorcerer Supreme are mantles in the film held by multiple characters through time, so a more comic-accurate Ancient One could still exist within the MCU. Despite this, Swinton's casting was widely criticized as whitewashing. Derrickson said he was pleased with the diversity of the film's cast, in terms of both gender and ethnicity, but acknowledged that "Asians have been whitewashed and stereotyped in American cinema for over a century and people should be mad or nothing will change. What I did was the lesser of two evils, but it is still an evil." Looking back at the casting in May 2021, Feige said the studio thought they were being "so smart and so cutting-edge" when they avoided the wise old Asian man stereotype, but the criticism of the casting was a wake-up call that made them realize they could have cast an Asian actor in the role without falling into stereotypes.

Cumberbatch also portrays, uncredited, the villainous entity Dormammu. The actor suggested he take on the role to Derrickson, feeling that having the character be a "horrific" reflection of Strange would work better than just "being a big ghoulish monster". The director agreed, elaborating that the casting implies that Dormammu does not have a normal physical form in his own dimension, and so is simply imitating Strange for their confrontation. To create the character, Cumberbatch provided motion-capture reference for the visual effects team, and his voice was blended with that of another uncredited British actor, whom Derrickson described as having "a very deep voice". The producers also had Tony Todd record voice over for Dormammu as an alternative to Cumberbatch, but ultimately decided on using Cumberbatch for the voice.

Chris Hemsworth reprises his role of Thor from previous MCU films in the film's mid-credits scene. Additionally, Linda Louise Duan appears, unnamed, as Tina Minoru, Mark Anthony Brighton portrays Daniel Drumm, and Topo Wresniwiro portrays Hamir, all Masters of the Mystic Arts under the Ancient One. The latter is based on Hamir the Hermit, Wong's father in the comics, who was the Ancient One's personal manservant. The character is neither a manservant nor Wong's father in the film. Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, and Katrina Durden portray zealots under Kaecilius, and Pat Kiernan appears as himself. Doctor Strange co-creator Stan Lee makes a cameo appearance as a bus rider reading Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception. Amy Landecker was cast as anesthesiologist Bruner, but the majority of her role was cut from the finished film.

Reception

Box Office

Doctor Strange grossed $232.6 million in the United States and Canada and $445.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $677.8 million. The film became the biggest IMAX opening in November domestically ($12.2 million), internationally ($24 million), and globally ($24.2 million), overtaking Interstellar's records. By November 27, 2016, the film had become the biggest single-character introduction film in the MCU. Deadline Hollywood calculated the net profit of the film to be $122.65 million, accounting for "production budgets, P&A, talent participations and other costs, with box office grosses and ancillary revenues from" home media, placing it 11th on their list of 2016's "Most Valuable Blockbusters".

Doctor Strange earned $32.6 million on its opening day in the United States and Canada, including Thursday previews, with a total weekend gross of $85.1 million; IMAX contributed $12.2 million to the opening weekend gross, with 3D contributing $24 million. The film was the number one film for the weekend, and became the second largest opening in November for Disney. Initial projections for the film in late August 2016 had it earning as low as $50 million to as high as $88 million in its opening weekend, with projections revised to $65–75 million closer to the film's release. Doctor Strangeremained the top film in its second weekend, and fell to second in its third, behind Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In its fourth weekend, Doctor Strange was the third highest-grossing film, behind Fantastic Beasts and Moana. It fell to fifth in its fifth and sixth weekends, and by its seventh weekend had fallen to the ninth-highest-grossing place. It was projected to earn $255 million for its total domestic gross.

Outside the United States and Canada, Doctor Strange earned $87.7 million in its first weekend from 33 markets, becoming the top film in all markets except Lithuania and Finland. South Korea was the top market overall with $18.1 million, locally the biggest opening weekend ever for an original Marvel release, along with an all-time best opening for an IMAX film. IMAX garnered a record $7.8 million, the best international IMAX debut for a film in the month of October, with Russia seeing its biggest Saturday IMAX gross for a Marvel film. Additionally, Hong Kong ($3.2 million), Thailand ($2.5 million), Malaysia ($2.4 million), and Singapore ($2.2 million) also had the biggest opening weekend ever for an original Marvel film. In its second weekend, the film opened in 22 additional markets, becoming the top film in China with $44.4 million, the highest 3-day opening weekend for a first installment superhero film there. China's opening was also the third highest for an MCU film, behind Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, as well as the best 3-day opening for an IMAX film in November with $6.3 million. IMAX also set November opening records in India, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. Brazil was also a top market, earning $7.9 million. Doctor Strange remained the number one film in its third weekend for the third consecutive week in Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore, and number one for the second week in China and Russia. It also became the highest-grossing original MCU release in India, Hong Kong, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Its fourth weekend saw China's total gross surpass $100 million, "an increasingly rare feat in 2016." The next weekend, Doctor Strange opened in Argentina, where it was the number one film and earned $1 million. The film's fourteenth weekend saw it open in Japan, where it was number one with $4.5 million. As of December 4, 2016, the film's largest markets were China ($110.3 million), South Korea ($41.3 million), and the United Kingdom and Ireland ($27.9 million).

Critical Response

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an 89% approval rating with an average score of 7.29/10, based on 372 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "Doctor Strange artfully balances its outré source material against the blockbuster constraints of the MCU, delivering a thoroughly entertaining superhero origin story in the bargain." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 72 out of 100, based on reviews from 49 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it a 91% overall positive score and a 73% "definite recommend".

Sequel

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is scheduled to be released on March 25, 2022. Sam Raimi serves as director, with a script written by Jade Bartlett and Michael Waldron. Cumberbatch, Wong, Ejiofor, and McAdams reprise their roles, while Elizabeth Olsen reprises her role of Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch from other MCU media.

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