‘Dr. Strange’ is a big test for how theaters will fare this summer

Apr 6, 2022, 12:16 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:16 pm

Benedict Cumberbatch appears as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange in the Multiv...

Benedict Cumberbatch appears as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney)

(Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney)

(CNN) — COVID is in a lull in the United States: Masks are often an afterthought, people are going out again and some of the worst-hit industries during the pandemic — like movie theaters — are starting to get back to normal.

That’s why so much is riding on one particular blockbuster: “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Tickets just went on sale for the May 6 opening, and the Marvel film may act as a bellwether of moviegoers’ demand for big-screen entertainment when the world looks much like it did before everything shut down in March 2020.

“Multiverse of Madness” not only has the star power of Benedict Cumberbatch, but also the best timing as it relates to COVID, compared to other recent Marvel films.

Other titles in the Marvel universe, including “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” came out in July and September of 2021. Both films made more than $300 million worldwide, but COVID concerns all but certainly curbed those totals. Even record-breaking Marvel movies likely made less than they typically would have: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” blew out box office records, making nearly $2 billion globally, but it opened right in the middle of December’s omicron outbreak.

The skies are generally sunnier for the opening of “Multiverse of Madness.” Although the pandemic is still a very real threat — and a new variant could crop up at any time — much of the U.S. Frank Pallotta, CNN Businessis well into reopening. With schools back in person, restaurants serving customers inside and many employees back in the office, consumers are feeling more “back to normal” than they have in two years.

That could be a boon not only for “Multiverse of Madness” but also for theaters’ summer movie season. Historically the industry’s most lucrative period, summer box office returns are built on momentum: If the summer kicks off strong, it usually bodes well for the films that follow.

And after a brutal two years, theaters need that kind of blockbuster summer. Warner Bros.’ “The Batman,” which opened in early March, brought back some normalcy with a great opening weekend and more than $700 million at the global box office so far. A strong summer could go a long way in shoring up theaters’ profits.

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‘Dr. Strange’ is a big test for how theaters will fare this summer