Strangeways Here We Come: A History of Marvel’s Doctor Strange on Film

Summoning of the Ancient Ones

As technologically innovative and visually stunning as it was, Doctor Strange has to be the most polarizing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. Cultural appropriation and truncated and rote, well-worn origin territory aside, we found ourselves in the nerd minority on this one, amazed that a big budget feature based on such “Strange” source material ever got made, and made so competently at all. After all, as with most superheroes, it took a long time to get the Sorcerer Supreme even close to “right” in live action, as you’ll see. In honor of the MCU Strange‘s recent bow on Blu Ray, we honor his long trip from the House of Ideas to the Multiplex:

 

In Animation

Strange has turned up in just about every cartoon that Marvel has produced in recent memory, from 80’s cheese fest Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends to currently airing Disney XD shows Avengers Assemble, Ultimate Spider-Man and Hulk and the Agents of SMASH, where he typically shows up for an episode or two, does some Doctor Strange type stuff, and then leaves without making too much of a lasting impact on the ongoing storylines.

His most remarkable appearance, though, was in the otherwise unremarkable syndicated 1996 Incredible Hulk series, where he was portrayed by voice acting superstar Maurice LaMarche, best known as The Brain of Animaniacs/Pinky & The Brain fame.

 

Dr. Strange (1978)

Voted the Dr. Strange most likely to play drums for Boston (yes Dr., not Doctor, we’re too busy doing blow and having guilt free, pre-AIDS sex with strangers in the 70’s to actually spell out the word “Doctor”), this Sorcerer Supreme came to life as part of the same Marvel deal with Universal and CBS that brought the beloved, iconic Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk to life.

Unfortunately poor reviews and worse ratings (if Disney money in 2016 couldn’t produce a universally beloved Strange what hope did CBS have in 1978?) put Strange on the chopping block with fellow contemporary live action debacles Spider-Man, Hulk and Daredevil, failing to connect with Carter era audiences in the way that the Green Goliath did. Stan Lee was a huge proponent of the project though, claiming it to be his favorite of Marvel’s 70’s TV output, and that it only failed because it initially aired opposite Roots.

 

Doctor Mordrid (1992)

From the 70’s and the Hulk to the 90’s and the Fantastic Four, Puppet Master creators Full Moon Entertainment held an option to create a Doctor Strange film just as Roger Corman did with the FF. Unfortunately, unlike Corman, Full Moon’s Charles and Albert Band didn’t get their film into production before the option ran out. So what did they do? Remixed the names and story just enough to avoid a lawsuit from Marvel, and churned out an affably cheesy but decent little post-Burton Batman direct to VHS action fantasy, with Re-Animator‘s Jeffrey Combs perfectly cast as their not-Sorcerer Supreme.

 

Doctor Strange (2016)

As if you couldn’t tell from the intro, we liked last year’s big budget MCU Strange film a lot, and we said as much in our Review, stating: “Strange (the film) surprisingly, reassuringly carves out as intelligent and sensible a niche as possible for Strange (the character) in the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel proving themselves once again to be the kings of the both faithful and accessible comic adaptation, even when dealing with Stan Lee’s most esoteric and self-indulgent 60’s material.” We continued “Marvel takes its most ancillary, eye roll worthy characters and settings and makes them totally accessible for the layman while also remaining perfectly reverent of decades old source material, creating films as entertaining in their own right as they are perfectly interlocking world and franchise building enterprises

Even those who yawned at the prospect of ANOTHER origin story,  hated the idea of an English woman as the Ancient One and clutched their pearls when comics villain Baron Mordo was introduced as a hero have to admit that the first film at least left Strange in a great place to interact with the larger universe. The expertly cast Cumberbatch’s involvement has only increased my anticipation for Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War, and we hope his inevitable solo sequel can win over even the most vehement of Strange haters, with the set up out of the way and a deeper focus on more of the profoundly otherworldly spectacle straight from the original comics.

Kevin Hawkey is the co-founder, head writer and editor of Riot-Nerd. He enjoys Fighting Games, Metal, Marvel, Horror and all the weird shit in between. A lifelong Philadelphian just as comfortable in a circle pit at Underground Arts as he is drooling over the new Hot Toys figures at Brave New Worlds, Kevin’s idiosyncratic sensibility gives this site it’s unique dichotomy between “riot” and “nerd”.
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