Doctor Strange Movies the World Never Got to See – Collider

Doctor Strange Movies the World Never Got to See – Collider

It took a lot of tries before ‘Doctor Strange’ was able to make it to the big screen.
Ever since he headlined his first solo outing in November 2016, Doctor Strange has become one of the most prominent figures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even before his second feature, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, premiered, Strange appeared in five separate Marvel Cinematic Universe installments. Though it’s now become a common sight to see Doctor Strange on the big screen, there was a time when filmmakers were struggling to figure out how to bring this sorcerer to the big screen. These struggles were so pronounced that they spanned multiple decades, a testament to how long it took to get this mystical superhero just right in a cinematic form.
The pursuit of a Doctor Strange movie began back in the 1980s, roughly a decade after a long-forgotten TV movie had served as the character's first foray into live-action storytelling. The aim now was to make something a touch more extravagant than that threadbare production and the ambitious hopes for the character were reflected in an iteration of the feature that came courtesy of screenwriter Alex Cox. None other than Stan Lee himself was involved in cracking the screenplay for this iteration of Doctor Strange, which would seem like a pretty good guarantee that it would see the light of day.
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But not even Lee’s influence could get Doctor Strange made in this era, with the key problem preventing the film from existing coming down to movie studio squabbling. Regency Enterprises was keen to make Doctor Strange, but at the time, the company distributed its movies through Warner Bros. That larger movie studio was in a spat with Marvel at the time and that pretty much assured that Cow and Lee’s vision for a Doctor Strange film was kaput. With this version of the project on the back burner, a new player entered the field to produce Doctor Strange: Charles Band.
The man behind Full Moon Entertainment and franchises like Puppet Master, Band was a unique choice to shepherd a Doctor Strange film, though audiences never got to see the results of his plans for the character. Full Moon failed to make a feature before their film rights to the character expired. This is where the company’s movie Doctor Mordrid came in, which repurposed the plans for the outfit’s Doctor Strange movie but with totally original characters that weren’t owned by Marvel.
Even with these two iterations of Doctor Strange going down in flames, the Sorcerer Supreme wasn’t out yet. In 1992, news broke that Wes Craven was going to be tackling a Doctor Strange movie for Savoy Pictures, a short-lived distribution outfit best-known for releasing titles like Tales from the Hood domestically. This would also fizzle out without much hype, though, and five years later Variety casually mentioned Doctor Strange as a production that Columbia Pictures was actively developing with screenwriter Jeff Welsh.
In the 21st-century, the renewed interest in movie adaptations of Marvel Comics properties spurred by X-Men led to studios trying their hand again at adapting Doctor Strange. Dimension Films was now the one in charge of Doctor Strange, an interesting development given their notoriety for handling horror properties like Scream. Given that Doctor Strange had also been recently handled by other notable figures associated with the genre like Full Moon Entertainment and Wes Craven, it appeared that Hollywood’s solution to making Doctor Strange work was to intertwine him with the world of horror cinema.
Dimension Films wouldn’t be the cinematic home of Doctor Strange for long, though. Sister company Miramax took over the property in 2001. Bouncing between these two studios reflected how both Miramax and Dimension Films were determined to make headway into the merry world of Marvel in this era, as seen by the studio also securing the film rights to Ghost Rider in this era. David S. Goyer had varying degrees of involvement in this incarnation of Doctor Strange thanks to his connections to the Blade franchise, but he’d eventually drop out. This new Doctor Strange movie was suddenly rudderless creatively. The fluctuating nature of the project was reaffirmed by producer and Marvel Studios CEO Avi Arad in 2004, who observed that Doctor Strange was not a priority for the company at the moment. However, he also noted that it could happen down the road and that the studio was keeping its eyes open for potential screenwriters.
Only a year later, the prospect of what a Doctor Strange movie would look like changed drastically when Marvel Studios announced it would be making solo independent films. Though Doctor Strange wasn’t being prioritized like Iron Man and The Hulk, the character was still being eyeballed as part of the studio's slate of features it would make outside of the traditional Hollywood system. While old-school studios had struggled to nail down what a Doctor Strange movie could or even should look like, the hope here was that Marvel Studios would be able to turn the concept of this sorcerer being a movie star into a reality.
Shortly after this initiative was announced, some high-profile artists apparently approached Marvel Studios with a concept for Doctor Strange that the company passed on. Those artists were none other than director Guillermo del Toro and writer Neil Gaiman. Gaiman didn't unveil a ton of details on their concept for this solo superhero film, but he did note that he was hoping to make the sorcerer Clea a major part of the movie. Given del Toro’s filmmaking sensibilities, it’s also likely that this would have been another iteration of Doctor Strange that would have taken some cues from the world of horror cinema.
As for why Marvel Studios turned down the opportunity to work with del Toro directly after his work on Pan's Labyrinth, it's difficult to say. Perhaps the studio just wanted to initially focus on the superheroes it was planning to use in the then-upcoming production The Avengers. Or perhaps, like so many studios before, Marvel just didn't see the value of Doctor Strange as a cinematic property at the time. Of course, that’s all changed now, with Doctor Strange becoming one of the most common faces in the Marvel Cinematic Universe pantheon. But the multitude of challenges that the character faced in getting his first solo movie made certainly show how that wasn’t always the status quo.
Douglas Laman is a life-long movie fan, writer and Rotten Tomatoes approved critic whose writing has been published in outlets like The Mary Sue, Fangoria, The Spool, and ScarleTeen. Residing both on the Autism spectrum and in Texas, Doug adores pugs, showtunes, the Wes Anderson movie Fantastic Mr. Fox, and any music by Carly Rae Jepsen.
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