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Benedict Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Image Credit: Marvel Studios

The summer movie season is off to a blockbuster start thanks to ‘Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.’ The superhero extravaganza grossed an estimated $185 million in ticket sales in its first weekend in US and Canadian theatres, the Walt Disney Co. said Sunday.

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Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved. Image Credit: AP

Not only did it more than double the opening of the first ‘Doctor Strange,’ which opened to $85 million in 2016, it’s also the biggest opener of the year, ahead of ‘The Batman’s’ $134 million” the second biggest of the pandemic, behind ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’s’ $260.1 million, and the sixth biggest of all time globally.

Internationally, it’s doing even better with an estimated $265 million since opening Wednesday. In total, ‘Doctor Strange 2’, screening now in UAE cinemas, has already made $450 million.

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Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved. Image Credit: AP

Spider-Man is at least partially to thank for the massive debut. Benedict Cumberbatch’s powerful sorcerer appeared prominently in ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ which has become the third biggest movie of all time since opening in December. ‘Doctor Strange 2’ picks up several months after the events of ‘No Way Home,’ and brings in Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, who became even more popular thanks to the recent Disney” series ‘WandaVision.’

The film also has a gigantic footprint. It’s playing in 4,534 theaters in the U.S. and Canada alone, which according to Disney is the seventh widest opening ever. Premium format screens, including IMAX and 3D, accounted for 36 per cent of the overall box office.

“Summer blockbuster season is off to a roaring start with ‘Doctor Strange’ — an excellent sign for the phenomenal slate ahead,” Rich Gelfond, the CEO of IMAX, said in a statement.

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Director Sam Raimi attends the premiere of the film "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" in Los Angeles, U.S. May 2, 2022. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni Image Credit: REUTERS

Hollywood’s summer movie season typically kicks off in early May and runs through the end of August and — aside from the last two years — regularly accounts for over $4 billion in ticket sales (or about 40 per cent of the year’s grosses).

Sam Raimi stepped up to direct ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,’ which reportedly cost around $200 million to make — though that number doesn’t account for the many more millions spent on marketing and promotion.

Over the weekend, the film has trended on social media for everything from its many cameos to a spirited debate over its PG-13 rating and whether or not the horror elements warranted something more restrictive.

“This is a total win for the industry for whom the last two summers almost didn’t exist in terms of box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “Marvel has been kicking off summers for over a decade. This is a return to normalcy.”

There was little left for other movies playing in theatres. Part of that is due to the fact that many multiplexes chose to pack their theaters with wall-to-wall ‘Doctor Strange’ screenings. Film Critic Matt Singer tweeted a photo a Manhattan AMC offering 70 screenings on Thursday alone.

Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s ‘The Bad Guys’ fell to second place in its third weekend with an estimated $9.8 million, while ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2,’ from Paramount, landed in third with $6.2 million.

A still from Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
A still from Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ took fourth with $3.9 million, bringing its domestic total to $86 million. And in fifth place was another multiverse-themed film, ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once.’ It had a slight dip in its seventh weekend, but is still speeding along with an additional $3.3 million from 1,542 screens in its seventh weekend in theaters. The A24 film has grossed $41.6 million total.

The success of ‘Doctor Strange 2’ only helps build momentum for the big summer movies on the way, like ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ on May 27.