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On May 6, the reality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it is will shatter into a million tiny pieces with the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Following closely on the reality-bending heels of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange is expected to make Tom Holland’s third Spider-Man film look tame by comparison. The possibilities are truly endless — limited only by our imaginations and the Hollywood influence of Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige.
Head below for our guide on everything you need to know about the film before it portals onto the big screen.
When is it out?
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in theaters everywhere Friday, May 6. The project — which was first announced at San Diego Comic-Con back in the summer of 2019 — originally had a theatrical release date of May 7, 2021. That date was, of course, ultimately scrapped when the COVID-19 pandemic began to wreak havoc on Hollywood productions a little over two years ago.
Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Spider-Man: No Way Home comprised the complete MCU lineup for last year. In addition to the Doctor Strange sequel, 2022 will also see the release of Thor: Love and Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. And that's just the big screen titles. A number of Disney+ shows and specials — from Ms. Marvel, to She-Hulk, to a Halloween-focused project directed by Michael Giacchino — are also on the docket for 2022.
How can you watch it?
Multiverse of Madness will only be available to watch in theaters. Tickets are currently on sale. Within the first 24 hours, Fandango reported record sales for the year so far, with fan excitement superseding that of The Batman. More showtimes were added as a response. It was also the vendor's biggest day of sales since No Way Home tickets became available in late November of 2021.
“The epic first day of pre-sales for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness proves fans are beyond excited to experience all the thrills, chills and blockbuster surprises Marvel Studios is known to deliver,” Fandango Managing Editor Erik Davis said in a statement.
"Given the massive 'fan-ticipation' for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — and the strong tailwind provided by Spider-Man: No Way Home — the latest Marvel film will kick off what may feel like a normal summer after two sidelined years of the industry's most important corridor in theaters due to the pandemic," Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst at Comscore, tells SYFY WIRE. "As one of the coolest and most interesting characters in the multiverse, Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange has an appeal that goes beyond the traditional fan base and the creative freedom that the mind-bending, time-shifting, magic-conjuring powers this character can afford the filmmakers makes it a must-see epic for anyone looking for a massively entertaining couple of hours at the multiplex."
Strange's sophomore outing could be the second film to break $1 billion at the global box office since the pandemic first began. "Doctor Strange will most certainly cast an enormous box office spell that is not to be underestimated and a weekend debut well over $100 million will usher in a summer movie season that will finally see its fortunes turn for the better after a dismal 2021 that generated less than half the usual $4 billion plus domestic haul," Dergarabedian concludes.
When Marvel Studios first announced the sequel at SDCC 2019, Doctor Strange's Scott Derrickson was slated to return as director. Screenwriting greenhorn Jade Bartlett had been tapped to handle the script, though it was later revealed that Derrickson did write a draft with his usual cinematic collaborator, C. Robert Cargill.
Despite early assertions that Multiverse of Madness would be the MCU's first out-and-out horror movie, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige clarified the studio's intentions in late 2019, stating:
"I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a horror film, but it is, as Scott Derrickson — our director — has pitched it, a big MCU film with scary sequences in it. The way, when I was a kid in the ‘80s, Spielberg did an amazing job. There are horrifying sequences in Raiders of the Lost Ark] that I would, as a little kid, [cover my eyes] when their faces melted. Or Temple of Doom, of course, or Gremlins or Poltergeist. These are the movies that invented the PG-13 rating, by the way — they were PG and they were like, ‘We need another [rating].’ But that’s fun, it’s fun to be scared in that way and not a horrific, torturous way, but in a way that is legitimately scary because Scott Derrickson’s quite good at that. But scary in the service of an exhilarating emotion.”
Derrickson ended up bowing out of the project in early 2020 over creative differences with Marvel Studios, but decided to stay on as an executive producer. He didn't remain a free agent for very long, soon moving over to Universal Pictures to make an adaptation of Joe Hill's The Black Phone (out in theaters this summer) with Blumhouse.
His Doctor Strange replacement was found several weeks later in the form of Sam Raimi, who had worked with Feige years before on the Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire. The Evil Dead filmmaker's talent of marrying his horror roots with indelible comic book characters made him the optimum choice for the gig. Plus, many fans will recall the brief shoutout to Doctor Strange in Spider-Man 2 almost two decades ago. It was always meant to be!
Derrickson and Cargill's screenplay was scrapped in favor of a brand-new one by Loki's head writer/executive producer, Michael Waldron, who had broken the concept of the multiverse wide open with the introduction of the Time Variance Authority and Jonathan Majors' Kang. Raimi and Waldron took advantage of the COVID shutdown "to start from scratch and really figure out what we wanted the movie to be," the latter revealed last summer. Production finally began in the United Kingdom in late 2020.
Taking place after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Multiverse of Madness (whose title is a nod to both H.P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter) will explore the fallout of Stephen's wayward spell that nearly destroyed the very fabric of reality. The world may not remember Peter Parker, but they sure as hell remember Strange's wanton abuse of his own dangerous abilities. It's exactly what Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was afraid of and goes a long way in justifying the villain's crusade of ridding the world of wizards.
We know that the titular Master of the Mystic Arts (once again played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is in serious trouble and turns to his allies for help. That includes Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) — the latter of whom has been living a quiet life of exile after holding an entire town hostage in the WandaVision television series on Disney+.
Waldron worked closely with Olsen and WandaVision head writer/executive producer Jac Schaeffer to do justice by Wanda's character in this follow-up project. "You’ve gotta honor what came before and also be bold in your own choices and just trust that you’re doing something cool," he explained to SYFY WIRE.
A third member of the team is newcomer America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young woman with the ability to hop between dimensions. According to a recent issue of Empire Magazine, America is chased into the MCU "by mysterious creatures intent on siphoning off her power and using it for their own nefarious ends."
"Given the nature of her powers and the fact that the title of the film contains the word 'Multiverse' in it, the reason for her inclusion seems obvious to me. She's had a strange journey in the comics in terms of her characterization," writer Joe Casey, who co-created America Chavez with illustrator Nick Dragotta, told us in February. "I suppose — as with anything that's being adapted — her introduction into the MCU is a chance to distill the character down to her basic essence and strip away some of the creative detritus that might've accumulated in the comics over the last decade."
Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg round out the cast as Dr. Christine Palmer and Dr. Nicodemus West, Stephen Strange's former medical colleagues.
Multiverse of cameos?
In late 2021, Multiverse of Madness underwent six weeks of "significant" reshoots, prompting some raised eyebrows among fans and industry insiders alike. Cumberbatch belayed those fears, stating that the added photography was simply a way in which to add more goodies the production wasn't able to nab during its strict pandemic shoot.
"We're working incredibly hard to make a schedule work to realize the full potential of the film — bits we want to do better, but also bits that were just impossible to do on the day because logistics, COVID, etc," the actor explained. "We were so delayed in production, because of that. Luckily, not during production too much. Although everything is just a little slower."
There's been plenty of speculation that the movie will feature cameos from the likes of Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier), Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool), Tom Cruise (Superior Iron Man), Hayley Atwell (Captain Carter), Tobey Maguire (Raimi-era Spider-Man), Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider), and more. It's obviously the perfect opportunity to not only revisit familiar worlds we never thought we'd ever see again, but also explore what the MCU might have looked like if casting choices turned out a little differently.
These hypotheses gained even more momentum after the release of the Super Bowl trailer, which seemed to hint at Stewart's Professor X sitting on the council of the MCU's version of the Illuminati. At first, Stewart completely denied his involvement with the film before admitting that it was indeed his voice audiences heard in the trailer. However, he remained mum on character details.
"I had my phone turned off as it happened and so I didn't hear anything," Stewart said. "It wasn't until the next morning when I woke up and looked at my phone and found that I had been bombarded with responses, and that my PR people had sent me reactions that they had detailed and passed on to me. I actually didn't recognize my own voice. It sounded different. Whether I had a cold or something at the time, I don't know. But, I was astonished. And all they saw was the back of my shoulder, and I think my earlobe, nothing else. That there would have been so many connections made, it pleased me."
None of the other rumored cameos have been confirmed.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hits theaters on May 6.