Since there’s only one new wide release this weekend, and a halfhearted affair at that, there was little doubt that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would keep the domestic box office crown. The MCU sequel earned $16.739 million on its second Friday, down a frankly huge 81.5% from its $90.7 million opening day. That initial Friday gross had $36 million worth of Thursday preview grosses, but the drop is still on par with Black Widow’s 79% second Friday drop last summer and is the biggest Friday-to-Friday drop ever for a Disney MCU movie.
It’s essentially tied with the 81.6% second-Friday drop of Batman v Superman in April of 2016, and we’re probably looking at a near-identical 67% second-weekend drop and $61 million weekend gross. We’re still talking about a $247 million eight-day domestic gross and a likely ten-day cume of around $288 million. And heck, Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home dropped 83% on its second Friday (Christmas Eve) and 67.5% on its first weekend and still earned 1.71x its $470 million ten-day total. That’s not happening here, as the buzz isn’t anywhere near as high and kids don’t have two weeks of “no school” weekdays, but I didn’t want you to think I forgot.
Black Widow (which was concurrently available on Disney+ for $30) dropped 68% last summer, a record for an MCU movie ahead of the 62% drops for Spider-Man: Far from Home and Ant-Man and the Wasp, both of which legged out to over 1.6x their ten-day cumes after their second-weekend plunges. Conversely, Black Widow, Eternals (-62% after a $70 million debut), Captain America: Civil War, Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man; 3 all earned 1.38-1.4x their respective ten-day domestic totals. If Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness plays likewise, it’ll still be looking at a $398 million-$405 million domestic finish.
However, if it plays like Dawn of Justice and earns just 1.269x its ten-day total, it’ll end up below The Batman’s $369 million domestic cume. While the grosses are still objectively huge, the big drop is frustrating amid a massively frontloaded opening weekend ($187 million from a $90 million Friday) and a mere B+ Cinemascore (just the third MCU movie to earn below an A- along with Thor and Eternals). In terms of second-weekend competition, it’s not like Firestarter is competition on the level of The Great Gatsby against Iron Man 3 in 2013 or Neighbors against Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014.
This does imply that some moviegoers weren’t any more into it than were the perpetually online contingent who wanted a less evil Wanda, more fan-bait cameos and Easter Eggs, and less of a standalone sequel. That may be mere grim speculation, it might just be that these MCU movies are becoming “for fans only” events whereby those who still care show up in the first week. That’s fine if the “fan ceiling” remains high, as was the case for the Twilight Saga sequels or the later Harry Potter and Hunger Games sequels.
However, it may point to a challenge after the next two years of MCU sequels (Thor: Love & Thunder, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantomania and The Marvels) when it’s time to introduce new characters for new franchises. Moreover, the MCU became a dominant Hollywood blockbuster force precisely because it played to the fans and to general audiences who would casually choose to show up on Saturday night. If it no longer has that advantage, then it may be closer to just being another big-deal brand/IP in a sea of big-deal brands and IPs.