Doctor Strange cast a bigger-than-expected spell on the box office.
Disney/Marvel’s magic-filled latest conjured $85 million its first weekend, according to tracking firm comScore, besting predictions of a $70 million take.
The debut is on par with Marvel's 2013 sequel Thor: The Dark World, which opened with $85.7 million. While it couldn't top the opening weekends of first installments Iron Man ($98.6 million) and Guardians of the Galaxy ($94.3 million), it got off to a stronger start than Thor ($65.7 million), Captain America: The First Avenger ($65.1 million) and Ant-Man ($57.2 million).
Boosted by 3-D and IMAX ticket sales, Strange also notched the 13th-best November opening of all time and the 14th-consecutive No. 1 debut for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (out of 14 films). The film has grossed $325.4 million worldwide in just 13 days, after opening in international markets last month.
Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as an arrogant surgeon-turned-sorcerer supreme, who learns the mystic arts from the androgynous Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Co-starring Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Chitwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen, the movie was embraced by both critics (90% positive reviews on aggregate site RottenTomatoes.com) and audiences (91% liked it).
"It just proves once again that Marvel really does have that magic," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. "Compared to the bigger-ticket superheroes" such as Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, "Doctor Strange is a more esoteric character. But add in the stamp of the Marvel brand and the star power of Benedict Cumberbatch" and Strange should have long-term playability.
In second place, animated musical Trolls sang a satisfying tune of $45.6 million. Based on the children's doll, the PG-rated movie features the voices of Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake, who also co-wrote songs for the film with producers Max Martin and Shellback.
Bolstered by decent reviews (74% on Rotten Tomatoes), and with little competition for young audiences until Disney's Moana arrives Nov. 23, Trolls should hold strong in weeks to come, performing on par or better than other November family fare such as last year's The Peanuts Movie ($130.2 million total) and 2014's Big Hero 6 ($222.5 million).
"They picked a perfect release date," Dergarabedian says. "This is a fall that hasn't provided a lot of options for families. It's been some pretty deep, dark stuff going on (at the multiplex), and Trolls is perfect escapist entertainment."
Mel Gibson's well-reviewed awards hopeful Hacksaw Ridge marched to third place with a respectable $14.8 million. Based on a true story, the grisly R-rated war drama stars Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) as Desmond Doss, a devout Christian who is credited with saving 75 soldiers during one of World War II's bloodiest battles in Japan, all without firing a single shot.
Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween continued to scare up big business in fourth place with $7.8 million and $65 million total. Rounding out the top five, Tom Hanks vehicle Inferno, the third entry in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code series, drew little heat with just $6.3 million ($26.1 million total).
Jeff Nichols' awards contender Loving earned an impressive $169,000 its first weekend in just four theaters ($42,300 per screen). The true-life drama stars Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as Mildred and Richard Loving, whose illegal interracial marriage in 1958 became grounds for a landmark Supreme Court case.
Final numbers are expected Monday.