"Doctor Strange," Marvel Studios latest box-office superhero, proved the hit-maker's magic touch is as powerful as ever.
The story about surgeon Stephen Strange's journey to become the Marvel Universe's Sorcerer Supreme falls into the camp of lesser-known comic book franchises. But as the space adventure "Guardians of the Galaxy" and superhero-heist movie mashup "Ant-Man" have proven, Marvel packed in moviegoers in droves, with "Doctor Strange" earning around $84 million in its weekend run.
The movie has a 90 percent "Fresh" rating on the movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes after more than 200 critics weighed in. That makes it one of the top four best reviewed Marvel Studios film ever. Marvel and its parent company Walt Disney are no doubt hoping the positive press helps sell tickets.
The film already pulled in nearly $133 million in its first week overseas and took in $9.4 million at the U.S. box office on Thursday night alone.
"It's a little bit higher than some of the tracking out there, but I feel like there's some upside to it, especially with the reviews. That sort of cemented our optimism in it," said BoxOffice senior analyst Shawn Robbins.
The goodwill Marvel has built with a string of hits made for bullish forecasts of how the movie would perform, as is what Robbins calls the elements of breakout genre movies. These are typified by Christopher Nolan films like "Batman Begins" and "Inception": an origin story, mind-bending visuals and a character deliberately shrouded in mystery.
"It just kind of continues to expand on what people expect and want from comic book movies, and that's some balance between familiarity and originality," he said.
Trailers for "Doctor Strange" have focused almost as much on the visual spectacle of worlds folding in on themselves as they have on the story itself. That effect has given audiences a taste not just of the narrative, but the experience.
The previews gave Tweeters something to post about. "Doctor Strange" garnered the most mentions in the final week of September on the heels of a new TV spot, besting heavy hitters like "Wonder Woman" and "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," according to BoxOffice.com.
Last week, "Doctor Strange" dominated the box office conversation on Twitter, topping the charts with nearly 40,000 tweets. It also had the biggest jump in likes on Facebook, up by nearly 27,000 thumbs up.
Data from comScore's PreAct shows "Doctor Strange" has been one of the biggest social media conversation drivers among fall movie releases over the last year, second only to the Harry Potter franchise prequel "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" from Warner Bros.
The movie "is posting really strong numbers. A point even made more impressive by the lackluster fall season we've been having and a lack of momentum in the marketplace," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.
"Doctor Strange" experienced some early stage turbulence as some commentators accused the filmmakers of whitewashing — or casting white actors in the roles of people of color — after it was announced Caucasian actress Tilda Swinton would play the Strange's mentor, the Ancient One. In the comics, the character is a man who hails from a fictional Himalayan kingdom in Tibet.
The comScore data does show some negative sentiment still lingering in the Twitterverse. Overall, however, positive mentions of "Doctor Strange" have been on the rise in the last 90 days, while negative comments have remained flat, according to social media measurement firm Spredfast.
To no one's surprise, the top term associated with Doctor Strange's Twitter chatter is Benedict Cumberbatch. The leading man is well known in genre circles for his roles as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock" and the villain Khan in "Star Trek: Into Darkness."
The British star also holds something of a cult following among young women. Like Ryan Gosling and Oscar Isaac, Cumberbatch has had his turn as "the internet's boyfriend," an actor who dominates Tumblr blogs and serves as fodder for memes and GIFs.
The Twitter conversation around "Doctor Strange" is fairly evenly dispersed between men and women, with the split currently at 57 percent to 43 percent, respectively.
If the hype turns into box office dollars, "Doctor Strange" could prove to be just the medicine an ailing Hollywood needs, said comScore's Dergarabedian.
"This could be the start of a renaissance at the box office, which has been very slow since the end of summer, and this'll really I think get us going," he said.
--Reuters contributed to this article.