Two of our finest genre storytellers might have brought us the tale of the Sorcerer Supreme if things had gone a bit differently.
Marvel started production on Doctor Strange last month, with Scott Derrickson (Sinister) directing from a script by Jon Spaihts (Passengers) and a top-notch cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen. That collection of talent already has us eagerly anticipating the movie, but what would you say if we told you that the film could have been written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Guillermo del Toro?
That scenario might have happened a few years ago, as it turns out. According to an interview that Gaiman did with Premiere (via Bleeding Cool/Slashfilm) in 2008, he had discussions back then with Marvel about writing a Doctor Strange film and had brought del Toro into the conversation:
“I would love to write Doctor Strange. It would be absolutely one of my dream jobs [to write] a Doctor Strange movie. Last year I was out in Budapest for three weeks on the set of Hellboy II with Guillermo, and I mentioned to him that I’ve been, in very very early sort of 'I would to do this' talks with Marvel about doing a Doctor Strange movie, and Guillermo’s reaction was, ‘Neil, I want to direct it!’"
Gaiman had actually included Strange as a major character in his 1602 comic series for Marvel, so he was already well acquainted with the doctor. But at the time, del Toro was still slated to direct the two-film version of The Hobbit, and Gaiman assumed that the director would be years away from seriously considering doing Doctor Strange. Del Toro himself confirmed that he and Gaiman had discussed it, later that same year in an interview with Empire:
"I talked with Neil Gaiman [about writing it]. I said, that’s an interesting character because you can definitely make him more in the pulpy occult detective/magician mold and formula than was done in the Weird Tales, for example...the idea of a character that really dabbles in the occult in a way that’s not X-File-y, where the supernatural is taken for granted. That’s interesting...But I wouldn’t use the suit!"
Del Toro later told Collider in 2012 that a possible collaboration with Gaiman on Doctor Strange never got past the stage of the two of them just talking about it, but somebody's memory is faulty, because according to this tweet from Gaiman posted just three days ago (Nov. 27), there were talks with Marvel -- and the studio passed:
So what happened? We know that Doctor Strange has been on Marvel head Kevin Feige's to-do list almost as far back as the inception of the current Marvel Studios in 2006, but it's easy to assume that with the initial focus on building up the Avengers, Doctor Strange simply got put on the back burner at the time and both Gaiman and del Toro moved onto other things.
Or it's quite possible that the pair, as brilliant and creative as they both can be, offered a take on Strange that simply didn't line up with what Marvel wanted. For example, if del Toro was truly not interested in having Doctor Strange wear his outfit from the comics, that might have been a red flag for Marvel, which likes to keep things like its heroes' costumes largely traditional for the most part.
I suppose we'll never really know unless either Gaiman or perhaps Feige speaks more extensively about it at some point, but the idea of the former and del Toro creating a Doctor Strange movie sounds like one of those great lost film projects that one can dream about. How do you think their take on the Sorcerer Supreme might have turned out?
Doctor Strange is out in theaters on Nov. 4, 2016.