Marvel and Walt Disney’s Doctor Strange kicked off its domestic theatrical run last night with the standard Thursday night previews. With shows starting at 7:00 pm, the Benedict Cumberbatch/Tilda Swinton/Chiwetel Ejiofor/Rachel McAdams fantasy earned $9.4 million to begin its Fri-Sun debut. That is more than Ant-Man ($6.4m) and Thor: The Dark World ($7.1m) among the (comparatively) smaller-scale MCU debuts, although it’s not far off from Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($10.2m) or Guardians of the Galaxy ($11.2m). Of note, Thor: The Dark World also opened in Nov. to kick off the holiday season.
Of note, when comparing the previous 13 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, you’ll note that the percentage of the weekend gross made up via Thursday preview figures (or, once upon a time, Thursday at midnight preview grosses) has steadily risen since 2008.
Iron Man made 3.4% of its eventual $102.1 million opening weekend ($3.5m) via Thursday night screenings back in May of 2008 while Iron Man 2 pulled in $7.5m (5.8%) of its $128.1m before the start of the regular Friday business day. Thor made 4.9% ($3.25m midnight/$65.7m debut weekend) and Captain America: The First Avenger earned a then-frontloaded 6.1% of its $65m debut ($4m) in the summer of 2011.
Now The Avengers pulled in a 9% figure ($18.7 million at midnight/$207.7m for the weekend) which was more front-loaded than usual for the MCU but a leggy performance for such a big tentpole-ish franchise offering. Iron Man 3 earned 8.9% of its $174.1m via Thursday night showings ($15.6m) while Thor: The Dark World earned 9.4% of its $85.7m weekend ($8.1m) via Thursday night showings in 2013. Captain America: The Winter Soldier cracked the 10% barrier ($10.2m Thursday/$95m weekend) while Guardians of the Galaxy earned $11.2m on Thursday towards a $94m weekend (11.8%).
In 2015, Avengers: Age of Ultron made 14.4% of its $191.2m debut via $27.6m worth of Thursday previews. And even though Ant-Man was a “smaller” picture, it still earned 11.1% of its $57.2 million opening weekend grosses via its $6.4m Thursday haul. Captain America: Civil War earned $22m (12.2%) of its $179.1m weekend back in May via Thursday previews. While I once argued that the “average” Marvel Thursday-to-weekend percentage was around 9%, it’s now closer to 11%. So, if Doctor Strange earned $9.4 million in Thursday previews last night, then its opening weekend will probably be between $77m and $94m.
The straight 11% “average” gets Doctor Strange to a terrific $85 million debut weekend. If it plays like Age of Ultron,, it gets to $66m for the weekend. Thor: The Dark World may be the most likely “comparison” because of the release date and the comparative lack of foaming-at-the-mouth anticipation. But it had its first Monday fall on Veteran’s Day, which skews the comparison just a bit.
That arguably explains why it still has the MCU’s leggiest opening weekend (2.69x) and why it had what turned out to be the last MCU movie with a Thursday-to-weekend percentage under 10%. That also partially explains it’s not one of the MCU’s leggier pictures (2.4x) since it took up a lot of demand in those first four days. Of course, Thor: The Dark World isn’t the most beloved of the offerings. The one-two punch of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen didn’t help much either.
It is entirely possible that Doctor Strange will parlay good reviews and strong buzz in regards to its trippy visuals into an under-10% Thursday-to-weekend figure, in which case we’ll be looking at an over/under $100 million+ debut weekend. It will be interesting to see to what extent Benedict Cumberbatch, basically the Internet’s boyfriend and a highly respected thespian, will get general audiences into the theaters this weekend.
Moreover, this film is filled with older/more prestigious stars which turned out to be a winning combo for Iron Man once upon a time. But this movie is a little more fantastical than that more grounded “arms dealer’s redemption” origin story. By the way, in case you wondered, there is zero correlation between these Thursday-to-weekend percentages and where the film ends up in total at the end of its domestic run.
Guardians of the Galaxy had a then-record high (for the MCU) 11.8% Thursday-to-weekend figure only to turn into their leggiest domestic release (3.53x) by a mile. Ant-Man also had an 11% figure and legged it to 3.15x ($57m/$180m). Iron Man 3 made less of its weekend total on Thursday (8.9%) than The Avengers (9%) but had a much lower (2.35x) weekend multiplier than The Avengers (3.0x).
All this math is about where the film will end up on its opening weekend, not with what kind of weekend-to-final multiplier it will end up. So the question is whether it plays like a “conventional” Marvel movie or whether its fantastical (and stand-alone) origin story offering plays more to the fans than the casual moviegoers. But yeah, Doctor Strange is off to a… (opens up the page with synonyms for the word “magic)… spellbinding start at the domestic box office.
Banner Photo Credit: Marvel Studios