‘Doctor Strange’ sequel summons $185 million at North American box office

The latest Marvel epic notched the second-largest domestic debut of the pandemic era and the 11th-highest opening in Hollywood history.

This image released by Marvel Studios shows, from left, Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in a scene from "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." (Marvel Studios via AP) (Uncredited, ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)

“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 $265 million more in foreign markets for a worldwide 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 U.S. film industry, sandwiched between “Incredibles 2″ ($182.7 million) and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” ($191.3 million), 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 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 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 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.