Why Marvel Chose To Make Less Money By Casting Benedict Cumberbatch As Doctor Strange [Exclusive]


Back in 2016, director Scott Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill's "Doctor Strange" walked so the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe could run. The underrated origin film might not have indulged in the same kind of cameo trend and crossover hype tactics as some of the bigger titles that followed in its footsteps, not to mention reaching the same heights at the box office, but the movie still established quite a few benchmarks the franchise would continue to rely upon. For one thing, Derrickson and his creative team clearly defined the visuals of the cosmic side of the MCU — something we've seen even in the latest "Deadpool & Wolverine" trailer. For another, taking the time to flesh out Stephen Strange's unique backstory allowed subsequent projects to hit the ground running (such as "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" or the Disney+ "What If?" series) and further delve into the fascinating psychology of a deeply broken character. But more than anything else, the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch proved to be a total coup that would end up paying dividends in the future.

It wasn't always meant to be that way, however. Fans know that A-lister Joaquin Phoenix came excruciatingly close to nabbing the role before parting ways just a few yards from the finish line. What we didn't fully grasp, however, was just how much this casting switcheroo altered the release of "Doctor Strange," as well. In a new, exclusive, and career-spanning interview with Derrickson, /Film's Ryan Scott asked exactly what went down in those early days of pre-production. Not only did the filmmaker reveal that Cumberbatch was always his first choice, but Disney went even further to accommodate him and delayed the film from its initial summer release — costing itself quite a bit of money.

Disney traded a summer release for Benedict Cumberbatch

Marvel couldn't have made a better choice if it had the Time Stone itself. Back when a "Doctor Strange" movie was far from a guaranteed hit, Scott Derrickson and Kevin Feige knew they simply couldn't afford to get the casting wrong. Despite their dalliance with Joaquin Phoenix, it ultimately became clear that Benedict Cumberbatch was the man for the job — no matter the (very literal) cost. In 2014, Marvel announced tentative release dates for its next batch of films, with "Doctor Strange" slated for a prime blockbuster opening on July 8, 2016. Making room for Cumberbatch's schedule, however, took top priority.

"So after giving [Joaquin Phoenix's casting] a shot — we didn't have a script, either. Keep that in mind. I think what he was very nervous about was he'd be committing to multiple movies, which is not the kind of thing he's ever done. I just went back to Kevin [Feige] and I just said, 'We have to move the date because it's got to be Benedict.' Kevin went to Bob Iger and Alan Horn, and told them what I said. To their credit, they moved the date and it became a fall movie."

Talk about a vote of confidence. Disney doesn't typically put art above commerce (on a completely unrelated note, have you checked out the trailer for the "Mufasa: The Lion King" prequel movie yet?), but it certainly made an exception here. For his part, Derrickson has nothing but gratitude: 

"In the end, it came down to the heads of Disney knowing they would make less money on the movie, but letting me as the director have the right actor for the movie." 

Be sure to read the full interview for more insights here.

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