Dr. Strange 2 has a big opening weekend

Poster for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had an opening U.S. weekend of $185 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office data.

The outcome reflects something of a comeback for Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, released in 2019, was a huge hit but also saw the death or retirement of important Marvel characters.

Since then, Marvel has released movies with lesser-known characters such as Shang-Chi and the Eternals. The one big exception was Spider-Man No Way Home, but that was a co-production with Sony, which holds the Spider-Man film rights. Marvel can’t do Spider-Man movies without Sony.

The new Dr. Strange movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the sorcerer. Cumberbatch was in the first Dr. Strange film in 2016 as well as Avengers movies in 2018 and 2019 and Spider-Man No Way Home.

Can Dr. Strange restore Marvel’s momentum?

Poster for Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Until 2019, Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios was a juggernaut. The Marvel brand seemingly could do no wrong beginning with 2008’s Iron Man and running through 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.

Since then? Marvel has had more than a few bumps in the road.

Some of that can be attributed to a pandemic. Marvel had to delay some movie releases.

At the same time, Marvel saw some of its best-known characters fall by the wayside. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron was killed off in Avengers: Endgame. Chris Evans’ Captain America retired in the same movie.

Since then, Marvel has, mostly, relied on lesser-known characters in its catalog. Shang Chi. The Eternals. The one major hit was Spider-Man No Way Home, which Marvel made for Sony (which holds the film rights to the character). That 2021 film was a huge success, generating almost $1.9 billion at the global box office.

On May 6, Marvel gets another shot with Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Dr. Strange is an unlikely choice to hang the future of a big franchise. The character was created by artist Steve Ditko in the early 1960s. Even in those days, the sorcerer was never the most popular Marvel character.

Still, Dr. Strange was a significant character in Spider-Man No Way Home as well as two Avengers films plus his own 2016 movie.

The leaders of Marvel Studios may or may not have chosen Dr. Strange to spearhead a comeback for the studio. But it has worked out that way.

As ever, we’ll see how it plays out.

Spider-Man No Way Home gets off to hot start

Spider-Man No Way Home poster

Spider-Man No Way Home, the third movie starring Tom Holland as the web-slinger, this week got off to a blistering start in both the U.K. and U.S.

The film had an opening day box office of 7.6 million pounds ($10.1 million) in the U.K., The Hollywood Reporter said, citing the U.K. Cinema Association. That beat out No Time to Die on its opening day and was “the biggest opening day of all time for a Wednesday,” according to THR.

On Thursday, the movie generated $50 million in preview showings, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office data.

That was No. 3 all-time for U.S. preview showings, although an asterisk was involved — the preview showings began earlier than normal for Spider-Man No Way Home.

Still, the results are welcome news for both Sony, which has the rights to the character, and Marvel Studios, which since 2017 had made Spider-Man films with Sony.

Spider-Man No Way Home adopts a “multi-verse” approach featuring villains (and the actors who played them) from Sony-made Spider-Man films of the past. Also present is Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Marvel sorcerer who appeared in one solo Marvel movie and two Marvel Avengers films.

Dr. Strange was created by artist Steve Ditko and his earliest stories were by Ditko and Stan Lee. The Lee-Ditko team also created Spider-Man.

Since Avengers: Endgame in 2019, Marvel has come out with movies featuring lesser-known characters, Shang Chi and the Eternals. Spider-Man is the most popular Marvel character but one Marvel Studios has to share with Sony.

The release of Spider-Man No Way Home also comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, including a new COVID variant. COVID had forced the delay of various movies, including No Time to Die.

NTTD to be 2021’s box office champ, Puck says

No Time to Die poster

No Time to Die will end up 2021’s box office champion ” with a big asterisk” among major studio films, the digital Puck news service said in an analysis.

No Time to Die is now projected to cross F9’s $721.1 million global number sometime around Thanksgiving, according to both MGM, its domestic distributor, and Universal, which handled most overseas territories,” wrote Puck’s Matthew Belloni, a former editor of The Hollywood Reporter and a one-time entertainment lawyer.

“With neither Eternals nor Venom: There Will Be Carnage getting a China release, and nothing major coming before year’s end (except Spider-man: No Way Home, which drops Dec. 17 and will earn mostly in 2022), it’s safe to say the Bond film played a long game and came out on top.”

The asterisk cited by Belloni is how the COVID-19 pandemic shrunk the movie-going audience in 2021. In 2019, Avengers: Endgame generated almost $2.8 billion at the global box office. That is “between three and four times the likely Bond number,” Belloni wrote.

The No Time to Die global box office, he added, is “still notable, given the geezer-skewing audience for the franchise. Studio research showed that 25 percent of the over-35 audience said this was their first movie back in theaters, I’m told.”

No Time to Die debuted in the U.K. in late September and in the U.S. in early October. Australia saw the film released on Nov. 11.

The Box Office Mojo website listed the Bond movie’s global box office at $709.2 million as of Thursday morning.

Two films released in Asia, The Battle at Lake Changjin and Hi, Mom, each have box office totals above $800 million.

About that No. 1 spoiler for No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster

YES, there be spoilers. So if you’re spoiler sensitive, stop reading now. This is your last warning. To make what seems like an obvious point to me, spoilers are necessary for this post. I gave this post the most bland title to avoiding giving things away.

No Time to Die wraps up a five-movie arc featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond. It’s a self-contained Bond universe that (mostly) doesn’t concern the previous 20 Eon Productions movies.

Eon Productions got the idea in the middle of the arc (in between Skyfall and SPECTRE). Still, it’s now official these films are their own thing. That’s much the way that Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies are their own thing, not related to any other Batman films.

Whether Eon wants to admit it or not, the makers of the Bond film series are following the same path set by Fox and Marvel movies featuring Marvel comic book characters

With 2015’s SPECTRE, Eon specifically adapted interconnected storytelling featured in movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. With No Time to Die, Eon has doubled down on that concept.

2017’s Logan (made by Fox before it was absorbed by Disney), we had the final Hugh Jackman adventure as Logan/Wolverine. In 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, we had the concluding tale of Tony Stark/Iron man (Robert Downey Jr.), ending an arc of more than a decade.

The concept, of course, is The Hero’s Last Stand. The hero falls, but falls heroically. The audience weeps.

When executed well, it works.

To be clear, The Hero’s Last Stand goes back a long time. It was included in genres as diverse as Biblical epics (Samson and Deliah) and Westerns (Ride the High Country and The Shootist). But Bibical movies and Westerns aren’t popular anymore.

But comic book films are.

For example, Tony Stark makes the ultimate sacrifice to save those who matter the most to him. Sound familiar?

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron about to make the ultimate sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

You may respond that’s a coincidence. No, it’s not.

The tabloids ran stories in 2018 and 2019 speculating about whether Bond 25 would kill off Craig’s Bond. They also had stories asking whether Eon or Danny Boyle, No Time to Die’s original director wanted to kill Bond off.

The Sun said in August 2018 that Boyle quit because he did not want to kill off Bond. The Daily Star said in April 2019 that it was Boyle who wanted Bond “to die in the arms of returning Bond girl Lea Seydoux in the 25th spy movie Shatterhand.” (Oops.)

Regardless, we now know that somebody did. The notion of Bond dying has been in plain sight for more than three years.

To be sure, movies can have similar themes and still be good. High Noon and Rio Bravo featured western lawmen who were outnumbered by the bad guys. But the two movies had considerably different takes on the same notion.

Many Bond fans despise Marvel films. Many fans are in denial that Bond has been adapting Marvel film concepts (including Eon boss Barbara Broccoli).

Of course, it also works the way around. Both Nolan’s Batman movies and Marvel’s film output have been influenced by Bond. Example: Look at casino scenes in 2012’s Skyfall and 2018’s Black Panther, for example.

Regardless, all still comes down to execution. So how does No Time to Die’s version of The Hero’s Last Stand compare?

When I finally saw it, I’d have to say very well. The ending had been spoiled for me. Not in a, “I stumbled it while surfing the internet” way but hearing it presented to me full on. Nevertheless, watching it for the first time, it felt genuinely emotional.

You may disagree. And that’s fine. The thing is, Bond’s exit in No Time to Die is not brand-new territory.

About those billion-dollar movies

Poster for Skyfall, the first $1 billion Bond

Over the past decade, claiming the title of being a “billion-dollar” movie has become a thing.

The Box Office Mojo website, currently lists 48 movies with a global box office of $1 billion or more. The list isn’t adjusted for inflation. But the $1 billion mark has become a sign of box office success.

The list includes 2012’s Skyfall at No. 28 ($1.11 billion), the first billion-dollar Bond film. Regardless what was once rare (The Dark Knight in 2008, Avatar in 2009) has become almost common place.

Until COVID-19, that is. But more on that in a moment.

The New Standard

The thing about achieving billion dollar status is that suddenly becomes the floor. If you fail to match it, that almost becomes failure.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) got a lot of attention. It scored an opening weekend in the U.S. of more than $200 million and $1.5 billion globally. Marvel films, after four years of build up, had arrived.

Yet, when 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron came out with a $1.4 billion box office, it was almost seen as a disappointment. Marvel followed up with a two-part Avengers adventure (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) which generated more than $2 billion for each installment.

Keeping this to the cinema world of James Bond, 2015’s SPECTRE generated $880.6 million. By any reasonable standard, that would be seen as popular. But it’s not a billion dollars!

At the same time, this isn’t just hype. So-called “tentpole” movies are getting so expensive a billion-dollar box office is almost a necessity. No Time to Die, the 25th Bond film, had generated production costs of almost $290 million as of mid-2020, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. Making a “tentpole” movie is not cheap.

Life Changes

All of that was before COVID-19 hit in the first months of 2020.

With the pandemic, movie theater attendance plunged. Theaters were closed or had severe limitation on attendance. Some movies got released on streaming.

The industry is changing. Theaters had enjoyed a 90-day window to show films before home video kicked in. After COVID, that window is tightening even when films come out “exclusively in theaters” (now an advertising tagline)

Industrywide, the financials are shifting. There’s a legitimate question whether an expensive No Time to Time can even make a profit on its theatrical release.

This post isn’t a matter of being doom and gloom. It’s more a description of an industry in change.

Want to hear doom and gloom? Veteran entertainment executive Barry Diller told The Hollywood Reporter this month that he expects only 10 percent of movie theaters to survive.

Again, keeping this to Bond, No Time to Die was made while one world existed. It will debut after a new world has taken hold.

Pinewood sells its stake in Atlanta studio

Pinewood Group PLC logo

Pinewood Group is selling its stake in Pinewood Atlanta, Deadline: Hollywood reported on Aug. 21.

The Atlanta operation, which opened in 2013, was a joint venture between Pinewood and a trust of the Cathy family. Pinewood sold its stake to its partner, Deadline said.

None of this affects the Bond films produced by Eon Productions. Those movies are made out of Pinewood’s home base near London. However, Pinewood Atlanta has been the base for major films, including Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

A brief excerpt from the Deadline story:

Pinewood will provide sales and marketing support for the (Atlanta) studios for a period of up to 18 months during which time the operation will remain branded and operated as a Pinewood facility. The partners say there will be no impact on productions shooting at the studios, which will continue to be led by Frank Patterson, president of the facility.

Marvel, Sony snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

Spider-Man: Homecoming poster from 2017

Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures entered in a partnership which included, among other things, the highest-grossing (unadjusted) film Sony history while Marvel featured its best known character in its own movies.

What next? Perhaps end the partnership.

That’s apparently what’s happening. This week saw numerous reports about the split. (See THIS STORY from Variety, THIS STORY from The Hollywood Reporter and THIS STORY from The Wrap, among others.)

Essentially, Marvel film boss Kevin Feige produced two Spider-Man movies for Sony while Marvel got to use the Tom Holland version of Spidey in three Marvel films (Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame).

All of the films were enormously successful. Spider-Man: Far From Home, released earlier this year, passed Skyfall in unadjusted worldwide box office for Sony. Still, things apparently not successful enough.

Marvel, owned by Walt Disney Co., reportedly wanted to co-finance Sony’s solo Spider-Man films. Sony issued a statement on Twitter that Feige is getting overextended because of the studio’s “newly added Marvel properties.”

Marvel has gotten control of the X-Men and Fantastic Four as a result of Disney acquiring most of the assets of 20th Century Fox. It’s also launching new TV series on Disney’s new Disney + streaming service.

Whatever the specifics, Sony is saying in effect it doesn’t need Marvel’s Feige to make successful films. Marvel seems to be signaling it still wants a better deal regardless of past success.

We’ll see what happens. The collaboration with Marvel was a shot in the arm for Sony’s Spider-Man franchise. Having Spider-Man in Marvel films was a boost for Marvel.

What’s more, Holland’s Spider-Man had been in position to be the “the face” of future Marvel films with the departure of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America. Nothing last forever, but this partnership may have reached a premature end.

Family model (Eon) vs. corporate model (Marvel): Update

Avengers: Endgame poster

Chalk up one for the corporate side.

After less than two weeks, Avengers: Endgame has generated almost $2.2 billion in worldwide box office.

What’s more, the mammoth production wraps up story lines from more than 20 Marvel Studios movies going back to 2008.

The inter-connected extended fictional universe has affected how films — at least “popcorn,” escapist movies — are made.

Warner Bros., the studio that’s home to DC Comics characters, has tried to follow Marvel’s path. It has had mixed results.

Some were big successes (Wonder Woman, Aquaman). Others, such as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, had decent box office but didn’t match the success of Marvel’s four Avengers films.

Meanwhile, in Jamaica, the family-led Bond 25 began filming late last month. The franchise is coming off a hiatus. In the words of lead actor Daniel Craig in 2016 at an event sponsored by The New Yorker, “(E)verybody’s just a bit tired.”

By the time the untitled movie debuts in April 2020, more than four years will have passed since the last 007 entry, SPECTRE.

The series has embraced inter-connectivity that Marvel has popularized. Skyfall originally was to have nothing to do with Quantum, the villainous organization in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. “It’s its own story,” Skyfall director Sam Mendes said at a 2011 press conference. “It doesn’t connect with the last two movies.”

Never mind. When SPECTRE was made, that was “retconned” (retroactive change in continuity).

Quantum was now SPECTRE (after the Eon side got back the rights to the organization and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld in 2013). Silva (Skyfall’s villain played by Javier Bardem) became part of the conspiracy. The new Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) was now “the author of all your pain” for Daniel Craig’s 007.

Director Cary Fukunaga has said that Bond 25 will continue the character arc for Bond that began with Casino Royale. Lea Seydoux, who played Dr. Madeline Swann in SPECTRE, is back. So the inter-connectivity appears to be continuing.

As the blog has stated before, both the family and the corporate model can be successful. But both are different. As Marvel moves into a new era, we’ll see next spring how Eon has adapted.

Avengers: Endgame, an epic about second chances

Avengers: Endgame poster

Only the mildest of spoilers but the super-sensitive to spoilers should go somewhere else.

The three-hour epic Avengers: Endgame is, in the end, a story about second chances. Not only in its extravagant story but it also appeals to the human desire for do-overs.

As a result, it’s an epic with a heart, frequently punctuated by emotional scenes. For a genre attacked by detractors as a lot of CGI (which it has), there are many human moments.

In last year’s Avengers: Infinity Wars, the superheroes had been beaten by Thanos, who wiped out half of living beings in the universe.

The story utilizes time travel as a plot device for the Avengers to try and undo their defeat. But it also becomes a way for key members of the team to address personal setbacks and regrets.

The result is a film that keeps topping itself in terms of spectacle. Just when the viewer thinks the stakes can’t get higher, they do. Just when it seems there can’t be another twist, there is.

The movie, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, also is self-referential to the 11-year, 22-movie Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you’ve seen all of the entries, it’s easier to follow along. But things move swiftly enough, late comers can enjoy the ride and go to Google later to catch up.

In the meantime, virtually every actor who’s had a significant role in any of the Marvel films gets to make an encore.

Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame were filmed back-to-back. Together, they comprise a mammoth $500 million (at least) undertaking. I had some misgivings about Avengers: Infinity War. They were all wiped away with this film.

It’s a cliche, but true. Things will never be the same for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios will face challenges where to go from here, although it has the laid the foundation for ways to proceed.

But that’s a discussion for another day. The film, its huge cast and creative personnel have delivered what seemed impossible: A spectacle with a heart and emotion. GRADE: A.