It should come as a shock to exactly no one that Doctor Strange, arguably the best movie that Marvel has released since Iron Man 3, held onto the top spot at the box office this weekend. Critical praise, tremendously positive word of mouth, and simple brand recognition all converged here to make another bonafide hit for Marvel, with its second-weekend tally rising to $43 million, easily blotting out impressive second-week numbers for Trolls and a fantastic debut weekend for Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival, a cult classic in the making that has given Paramount something to celebrate after a year littered with a lot of box office upsets.
As Variety reports, Doctor Strange‘s full domestic gross is now $153 million and it’s worth remembering that, with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them out next weekend, this will almost certainly be its last weekend on top. Arrival took in some $24 million, well over predictions of $16 million from tracking, and is the sort of movie that could prove to have impressive legs, even if it never hits #1. Meanwhile, Trolls took the second-place spot over Arrival with $35 million, bringing it’s cumulative take to an admirable $94 million domestically. Almost Christmas, again outpacing tracking, came in fourth with $15.6 million and if it has another good weekend, it will easily make back its $17 million budget. Fifth place, as I suspected, went to Mel Gibson‘s Hacksaw Ridge, bringing in $10.8 million for the fascinating war picture.
One could easily look at all of this as continued proof of Marvel’s dominance over the industry, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. That being said, the triumphs of Arrival and, for better or worse, Hacksaw Ridge suggest that studios would do well to hire more great actors and let them make the movies they want to make, rather than forcing their artistry into a simplified, endlessly compromised format. For all its amazements, Doctor Strange still has a lot of easily recognizable moments that make the entire enterprise feel episodic, thin, and weightless. Arrival has familiar notes, especially toward the end, but on the whole, it’s a unique visual and storytelling experience that’s hard to dust off. It’s success, much like Villeneuve’s Sicario, remains proof of the power of a singular artistic, expressive mind to create a work that tilts towards universal yet remains inarguably personal.