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What Doctor Strange’s big numbers mean for the future of the MCU

Marvel’s streak of hits continued with Doctor Strange this past weekend. The latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe took in $85 million in its opening weekend, outperforming the first entries from Captain America and Thor.

Sure, the MCU is much more mature now than it was in 2011 when these earlier Marvel films debuted, but getting folks out into the theaters without Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor is no easy feat. Marvel’s newest superhero movie, Ant-Man, opened to just $57 million last year, slightly better than The Incredible Hulk’s $55 million—the lowest debut for an MCU movie.

In a savvy move by Marvel, it anticipated a possible tepid performance for Ant-Man due to the low awareness for the character and cut the budget down to $130 million. Doctor Strange, on the other hand, cost $165 million and featured a big production that erred on the side of epic. This was Marvel’s first big gamble without the help of its stars and hit it out of the ballpark. In just one week, Benedict Cumberbatch’s first go as the doctor turned mystical hero has taken in over $300 million worldwide and it’s already been labeled a success.

The numbers are fine and all, if a bit boring, but what does it all mean for the future of the MCU?

First of all, the future looks bright without any Iron Man and Captain America films planned in the foreseeable future. The arcs of these two characters culminated in Captain America: Civil War, which was the biggest non-Avenger movie in the MCU. But their story arcs are prepping for a probable conclusion at the end of Avengers: Infinity War Part 2, and the highly profitable franchise needs to find new characters to fill the void.

Guardians of the Galaxy is gearing up to build off the momentum the first film garnered back in 2014. We may see similar levels of anticipation once Doctor Strange rolls around for a sequel in three or four years.

Secondly, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and any future original Marvel movie might not reach Iron Man status or success, but they will get really close if done right. The first Iron Man movie grossed nearly $100 million in its opening weekend, earned rave reviews and catapulted the MCU into the biggest franchise ever.

Dr. Strange didn’t quite eclipse that, but it came close with a trippy storyline involving multi-dimensional travel. Benedict Cumberbatch is also the best person to lead the MCU beyond Phase 3 and into the unknown without Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Evans.

Lastly, although there are 14 films and counting in the Marvel universe, audience interest hasn’t waned in this genre—but there’s still plenty room for improvement. Deadpool was the first comic book adaptation to deviate from the tried and true formula and it blasted off into the stratosphere, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history. Doctor Strange follows similar concept-defining tricks that Marvel hopes will breathe fresh life into the studio’s future movies.

The future of the MCU looks to be in good hands

Until the last (of the planned) Avengers film hits theaters in 2019, Marvel will continue to roll with its star-studded line-up of heroes into more records. But the unknown beyond 2019 was a little murky until Dr. Strange became a hit, and now the future looks brighter. Given how awesome Black Panther also looked in Civil War, it won’t be crazy to predict that to be a hit too.