|Marvel Cinematic Universe character|
|First appearance||Doctor Strange (2016)|
|Portrayed by||Benedict Cumberbatch|
|Voiced by||Benedict Cumberbatch (What If...?)|
|Full name||Stephen Strange|
Stephen Strange is a fictional character portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) media franchise—based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name—commonly known by his academic title of Doctor Strange. He first appeared as the main character in the eponymous film (2016), as a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon, who, after a career-ending car crash, discovers magic and becomes a Master of the Mystic Arts, using his newfound powers to protect the Earth. He later becomes the new Sorcerer Supreme following the Ancient One's death, and allies with the Avengers.
As of 2021, Strange has appeared in four films and will appear in Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). Alternate versions of Strange also appear in the animated series What If...? (2021), most notably a version called Doctor Strange Supreme.
Cumberbatch has received critical acclaim for his performance as Strange and was nominated for several awards.
Concept and creation
The character of Doctor Strange was originally created in the 1960s. Artist Steve Ditko and writer Stan Lee have described the character as having been originally the idea of Ditko, who wrote in 2008, "On my own, I brought in to Lee a five-page, penciled story with a page/panel script of my idea of a new, different kind of character for variety in Marvel Comics. My character wound up being named Dr. Strange because he would appear in Strange Tales." In a 1963 letter to Jerry Bails, Lee wrote:
Well, we have a new character in the works for Strange Tales (just a 5-page filler named Dr. Strange) Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him-- 'twas Steve's idea and I figured we'd give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much. Little sidelight: Originally decided to call him Mr. Strange, but thought the "Mr." bit too similar to Mr. Fantastic – now, however, I remember we had a villain called Dr. Strange just recently in one of our mags, hope it won't be too confusing!
Following a 1978 film adaptation also titled Dr. Strange, various incarnations of a Doctor Strange film adaptation had been in development since the mid-1980s, until Paramount Pictures acquired the film rights in April 2005 on behalf of Marvel Studios. In the mid-2000s, Kevin Feige had realized that Marvel still owned the rights to the core characters of the Avengers, which included Strange. Feige, a self-professed "fanboy", envisioned creating a shared universe just as creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had done with their comic books in the early 1960s. In 2004, David Maisel was hired as chief operating officer of Marvel Studios as he had a plan for the studio to self-finance movies. Marvel entered into a non-recourse debt structure with Merrill Lynch, under which Marvel got $525 million to make a maximum of 10 movies based on the company's properties over eight years, collateralized by certain movie rights to a total of 10 characters, including Doctor Strange. Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer were brought on board in June 2010 to write a screenplay. In June 2014, Derrickson was hired to direct and re-write the film with Spaihts. Cumberbatch was chosen for the eponymous role in December 2014, necessitating a schedule change to work around his other commitments. This gave Derrickson time to work on the script himself, for which he brought Cargill on to help. The film began principal photography in November 2015 in Nepal, before moving to the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, and concluding in New York City in April 2016.
Fictional character biography
Becoming a Master of the Mystic Arts
In 2016, Stephen Strange is a wealthy, acclaimed but arrogant neurosurgeon, who severely injures his hands in a car crash while en route to a dinner, leaving him unable to operate. Fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer tries to help him move on, but Strange ignores her attempts and vainly pursues experimental surgeries to heal his hands, at the cost of his wealth. Strange learns about Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic, who he had refused to treat earlier due to perceiving him having little chance of recovery but had mysteriously regained use of his legs. Pangborn directs Strange to Kamar-Taj, where he is rescued from a band of thieves attempting to steal an expensive watch of his and taken in by Mordo, a sorcerer under the Ancient One.
The Ancient One demonstrates her power to Strange, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. She reluctantly agrees to train Strange, whose arrogance and ambition remind her of renegade sorcerer Kaecilius, who had recently stolen pages out of a vital book from the Kamar-Taj library. Strange studies under the Ancient One and Mordo, and from ancient books in the library that is now guarded by Master Wong. Strange learns that Earth is protected from threats from other dimensions by a shield generated from three buildings called Sanctums, in New York City, London, and Hong Kong, which are all connected and accessible from Kamar-Taj. Strange uses his impressive memory and progresses quickly, secretly reading the text from which Kaecilius stole pages, learning to bend time with the mystical Eye of Agamotto. Mordo and Wong catch Strange in the act and warn him against breaking the laws of nature, drawing a comparison to Kaecilius' desire for eternal life. After Kaecilius uses the stolen pages to contact Dormammu of the Dark Dimension and leads an attack on the New York Sanctum, killing its guardian, Strange holds off the attackers with the help of the Cloak of Levitation until Mordo and the Ancient One arrive. Mordo becomes disillusioned with the Ancient One after Strange reveals that the Ancient One has been drawing power from the Dark Dimension to sustain her long life. Kaecilius later mortally wounds the Ancient One and escapes to Hong Kong. Before dying, she tells Strange that he too will have to bend the rules to complement Mordo's steadfast nature to defeat Kaecilius. Strange and Mordo arrive in Hong Kong to find Wong dead, the Sanctum destroyed, and the Dark Dimension engulfing Earth. Strange uses the Eye to reverse time and save Wong, then enters the Dark Dimension and creates a time loop around himself and Dormammu. After repeatedly killing Strange to no avail, Dormammu finally gives in to Strange's demand that he leave Earth and take Kaecilius and his zealots with him in return for Strange breaking the loop. Strange returns the Eye to Kamar-Taj, and takes up residence in the New York Sanctum to continue his studies and keeps a watchlist of various threats to Earth.
In 2017, when Thor and Loki arrive in New York, Strange traps Loki in a portal and invites Thor to the New York Sanctum, where he questions his motives for bringing Loki to Earth. Thor explains they are searching for their father, so Strange locates Odin, releases Loki, and sends the two into a portal to Norway.
Infinity War and resurrection
In 2018, Strange and Wong are talking in the New York Sanctum when Bruce Banner crash-lands through the roof. He informs Strange and Wong of the imminent threat of Thanos. In response, Strange recruits Tony Stark to help. Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian, members of the Children of Thanos, arrive to retrieve the Time Stone kept by Strange in the Eye of Agamotto, and end up drawing the attention of Peter Parker, who arrives to help. Maw captures Strange, but fails to take the Time Stone due to an enchantment, so he takes him to his spaceship to be tortured until he breaks the spell. However, Stark and Parker infiltrate the ship, kill Maw, and rescue Strange. Landing on the planet Titan, where Maw is supposed to meet with Thanos, the trio meet Peter Quill, Drax the Destroyer, and Mantis and together form a plan to combat Thanos once he arrives. While waiting for him, Strange uses the Time Stone to view millions of possible futures, seeing only one in which Thanos loses. The group, along with Nebula, fight Thanos and are nearly successful in removing his Infinity Gauntlet with the Infinity Stones, until an enraged Quill unintentionally breaks their hold on him. After a brief duel with Thanos, Strange is defeated while Stark is severely wounded, but is spared when Strange surrenders the Time Stone. Once the Blip occurs, Strange tells Stark there was no other way and disintegrates.
In 2023, Strange is restored to life by the Avengers and he along with Wong and the other Masters of the Mystic Arts transport Peter Parker, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Wakandans, the Asgardians, and the Ravagers via a portal to Earth to join the final battle against an alternate Thanos and his army. During the battle, Strange keeps the battlefield from being flooded by the sea and he hints at Stark that this is the one future in which they win. After Stark sacrifices himself to defeat Thanos, Strange attends his funeral.
Several alternate variants of Strange appear in the animated series What If...?, in which Cumberbatch reprised the role.
Doctor Strange Supreme
In an alternate universe, Strange sought out Kamar-Taj and became a Master of the Mystic Arts after Palmer died in a car crash while he was left uninjured. Strange learns of the Eye of Agamotto's ability to manipulate time and attempts to prevent Palmer's death. However, the Ancient One explains that Palmer's death is irreversible as it is the reason that Strange learns the mystic arts and the resulting paradox could damage the fabric of reality. Strange refuses to listen and flees to the Library of Cagliostro, where he spends centuries learning that he can prevent Christine's death by absorbing magical beings, becoming a monstrous version of his former self called Doctor Strange Supreme. He learns that the Ancient One used a spell from the Dark Dimension to splinter him into two beings to divide his power; the other half having come to terms with Palmer's death. Strange Supreme seeks out his counterpart and eventually absorbs him before resurrecting Palmer, who is repulsed by his appearance while their universe unravels. Strange Supreme begs aid from the Watcher, an omniscient observer of the multiverse, only to be refused as the Watcher condemns him for not heeding the Ancient One's warning and that he is vowing to not interfere at any reality. As his universe finally collapses, Strange Supreme helplessly watches as the resurrected Palmer fades away from existence and he grieves alone in the void.
Sometime later, Strange is visited by the Watcher who seeks his help in defeating another universe’s Ultron.
Strange materialises a bar and meets Captain Carter, Star-Lord T’Challa, Thor, Gamora, and Erik Killmonger who were chosen by the Watcher from across the Multiverse to fight Ultron and becomes a member of the Guardians of the Multiverse. While on another universe’s planet to set up their plan, Thor prematurely alerts Ultron to their location, prompting Strange to transport all the zombies from another universe to distract Ultron so they could escape. On Ultron’s home universe, they meet Natasha Romanoff and Strange uses the Time Stone to undo Ultron’s actions allowing them to try and destroy the Stones. However, after that fails, Romanoff throws an arrow containing Arnim Zola’s analog consciousness into Ultron, killing him. Killmonger then betrays them and prepares to use the Stones to kill them but Zola stops him. Strange then traps them in a time loop, allowing him and the Watcher to seal them in a pocket dimension. Strange is then tasked to watch them in his universe.
In an alternate 2018, Strange became infected with a quantum virus and transformed into a zombie. After attacking Bruce Banner outside of the Sanctum, he is killed by Hope van Dyne and her army of ants.
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Stephen Strange in the MCU films Doctor Strange (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). Cumberbatch also a variant of Stephen Strange dubbed "Strange Supreme" in three episodes of What If...? (2021): "What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?", "What If... Ultron Won?", and "What If... the Watcher Broke His Oath?".
References in other media
- Strange is first mentioned in the MCU by Jasper Sitwell in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) as a possible threat to Hydra.
- In Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), Peter Parker asks Nick Fury why Strange is not handling the threat of the Elementals, to which Maria Hill states that Strange is "unavailable".
- In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) episode "The Star-Spangled Man", Strange is mentioned by Bucky Barnes while he and Sam Wilson are discussing wizards.
In his first feature-length appearance in the MCU, Dr. Strange is a neurosurgeon who, after a car crash that led to a journey of healing, discovers the hidden world of magic and alternate dimensions. Cumberbatch described Strange as arrogant, with the film "about him going from a place where he thinks he knows it all to realizing he knows nothing." He compared the character to the version of Sherlock Holmes that he portrays in Sherlock, calling both characters "intelligent" and having "smatterings of the same colors". The film's mysticism resonated with Cumberbatch, for whom spirituality has been important since he spent his gap year teaching English at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Darjeeling, India. Strange's abilities in the film include casting spells with "tongue-twisty fun names", creating mandalas of light for shields and weapons, and creating portals for quick travel around the world. Strange is also aided by a Cloak of Levitation for flight, and the Eye of Agamotto, a relic containing an Infinity Stone that can manipulate time. Cumberbatch took great care in defining the physical movements and gestures for the spells, knowing that they would be noted and studied by fans. He described these gestures as "balletic" and "very dynamic", and received help with finger-tutting movements from dancer JayFunk.
Later, Strange has become a Master of the Mystic Arts. Markus and McFeely described Strange in Infinity War as "[ending] up being the reasonable adult in the room" with the "widest perspective available". Aaron Lazar served as Cumberbatch's stand-in until the latter completed filming on The Current War (2017). At that point, Cumberbatch re-shot scenes where his face needed to be seen. Julian "JayFunk" Daniels once again assisted Cumberbatch with his finger-tutting movements.
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy called Doctor Strange "smartly cast", while Alonso Duralde, reviewing for TheWrap said that the film was "smart enough to bring in great British actors to make the predictable paces and life lessons feel fresh and fascinating". Mara Reinstein of US Weekly criticized the film but praised Cumberbatch's "alluring powers" in the role, while Adam Graham of The Detroit News said, "Cumberbatch is wildly charismatic in the lead role... But that's the thing: He's a better party guest than he is a host. Doctor Strange is a fine introduction, but by the end, you're not sad to be headed for the door".
For his performance, Cumberbatch was nominated in 2016 for a Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Actor in an Action Movie, and in 2017 for a Saturn Award for Best Actor in a Film, and a Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Actor in a Fantasy Film.
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