Doctor Strange’s Big Opening Tells Marvel to Keep It Weird

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This weekend, Doctor Strange made more than $85 million at at the US box office. This might not seem like a lot in the era of nine-figure openings, but for a November debut it’s a resounding success—especially for a movie that, as WIRED pointed out last week, isn’t a typical superhero tentpole. The protagonist is little-known outside of comic-book circles, the Avengers are only mentioned once, and outside of a mid-credits scene you’d hardly know the movie is related to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. The fact that Doctor Strange not only handily beat box office expectations, but pulled in great reviews, is a clear message to Marvel: keep things weird.

It’s also proof that the demand for Marvel’s junior varsity roster is only increasing. When Ant-Man, another movie based on a relatively obscure character, dropped last summer, its opening weekend was a respectable $57 million. Benedict Cumberbatch’s hero did 40 percent more business in its opening weekend, and—if the trend continues—Ant-Man and the Wasp could easily break $100 million in its opening weekend.

And it should. If the last year or so has taught us anything it’s that audiences are inching toward shiny superhero fatigue. Movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse performed well—$166 million and $66 million in their US opening weekends, respectively—but largely lacked the holy shit levels of excitement and box-office longevity that their predecessors received. Meanwhile, left-of-center flicks like Suicide Squad ($745 million worldwide, despite being pretty sucky) are eating their lunch.

Which brings us, of course, to Deadpool, 2016’s hard-R proof that audiences aren’t afraid to get masturbating-with-a-unicorn weird—in traditionally-dead February. Over the weekend, Deadpool’s creator Robert Liefeld noted on Twitter that Doctor Strange’s success “proves what’s possible” for movies based on comics “that aren’t household names.” He’s right, though the folks behind the franchise based on his work should probably take note of that. The Deadpool sequel just lost director Tim Miller and composer Junkie XL. Presumably the movie will recover—it still has Ryan Reynolds, after all—but if Fox doesn’t take the success of Strange as a sign that it needs to stay in the Quirky Hero game, they’re fools.

The other studio that shouldn’t, and won’t, ignore this Strange success is Marvel. It’s spent nearly a decade building up its cinematic universe, and now it’s finally gotten to the point where it can afford to have a little fun. A Strange sequel seems like a given (hey, director Scott Derrickson already has a villain in mind!), but the movie’s success needs to open the door for even deeper cuts. In other words, Marvel, it’s time you decided to figure out just how unbeatable Squirrel Girl can actually be.

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