Our long national nightmare is finally over.
No, not the election, which still has a couple more days to irritate us all. But hey, the box office slump that has plagued the multiplex all autumn is over, thanks largely to "Doctor Strange" and "Trolls." So, there's that.
The good doctor's new movie opened at the higher end of expectations, with an estimated take just $11,000 shy of $85 million. So did "Trolls," with the cartoon bringing in an estimated $45.6 million. Even "Hacksaw Ridge," the brutal new World War II drama from the long-off-the-radar Mel Gibson, performed at the top of its predicted range, debuting in third place with an estimated $14.8 million.
That's all good news, especially after such a disappointing week last weekend, when the surprise meltdown of "Inferno" led to the lowest total box office weekend of 2016 so far, with North American theaters selling just $88.8 million worth of tickets. This weekend's sales rebounded 114 percent, to an estimated $189.9 million.
Most of the credit goes to the surgeon-turned-sorcerer at the top of the chart. Even though his box office victory was pretty much a sure thing, he still cast his spell in some surprising ways. Here are the five steps on his unusual path to success.
1. Because Marvel
Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has pretty much been a license to print money, and all 14 of the movies so far have debuted at No. 1.
Still, "Doctor Strange" stands out among MCU movies that launched individual characters. At $85 million, the movie boasts a stronger opening than "The Incredible Hulk" ($55 million), "Ant-Man" ($57 million), "Captain America: The First Avenger" ($65 million), and "Thor" ($66 million). Only "Iron Man," a much better-known character, had a higher single-character launch ($98 million). The "Strange" debut also puts it in the same ballpark as sequel "Thor: The Dark World" (a nearly identical $85.7 million opening), the only other MCU movie with a November premiere date.
2. The Crazy Visual Spectacle
The film's "Inception"-like kaleidoscopic cityscapes made for eye-astonishing spectacle that really had to be seen on the big screen. And not just any big screen, but one equipped with 3D, IMAX, or other premium formatting.
Disney took advantage of the film's visual appeal by booking it into seemingly every possible auditorium offering a giant screen or rental glasses. Of the 3,882 screens showing "Strange," 3,530 projected it 3D. There were 379 IMAX screens, 516 other premium large format screens, and even 189 D-Box screens, with the seats jostling along to the picture. Usually, grosses from all these surcharge formats count for 10 to 30 percent of a film's debut take, but with "Strange," Disney reports that they amounted to a tremendous 51 percent.
3. Cumberbatch, the Internet's Boyfriend
For a guy who's been on the radar of international moviegoers for only the last five years, Benedict Cumberbatch has a remarkable following. The Internet loves him, of course, but he's also reached the point where that fandom is actually translating into ticket sales.
Two years ago, he managed to turn "The Imitation Game" -- an indie biopic about a gay World War II code-breaker, who spends a lot of time just sitting and thinking -- into a $91 million domestic hit. As much as the Marvel name alone sells tickets, it certainly helped that it was the cerebral and charismatic Cumberbatch playing the mysterious and obscure character, rather than, say, whoever is the next Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans.
4. Disney Can't Stop, Won't Stop
The studio on a record roll. Recently, the Mouse House boasted that it had already earned more in global ticket sales in 2016 (with two months still to go) than in any previous year. Thanks to "Doctor Strange," which has grossed another $240.4 million abroad, for a worldwide total of $325.4 million, Disney announced Sunday that its global sales have topped $6 billion so far this year. And that's despite the studio's various disappointments like "Pete's Dragon" and "Queens of Katwe."
Disney may stumble with such lower-profile releases, but the studio certainly knows how to sell its big pictures, including 2016's "Zootopia," "The Jungle Book," "Captain America: Civil War," and "Finding Dory." With "Moana" and "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" due out before Christmas, Disney could well have a $7 billion year by the time the New Year's ball drops.
5. The Rest of the Multiplex
The rising-tide-lifts-all-boats theory got some proof this weekend; if the movie you wanted to see was sold out, there was probably still something you wanted to see at the multiplex.
"Trolls" was the first major family cartoon since "Storks" a couple months ago, and "Hacksaw Ridge" the first real wide-release drama in a while for grown-ups with discerning taste -- the ones who made a point of ignoring "Inferno," "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back," and "The Girl on the Train" in October.
By the way, if you were wondering, Mel Gibson has apparently been forgiven -- by Hollywood, by critics, and by audiences -- all of whom flipped for the director's combat tale. "Hacksaw" may have played to older viewers (68 percent of its audience was age 35 or above), but it also played equally to men and women. It's probably a safe bet that the draw for those older men and women wasn't former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield.
Of course, the other thing this weekend's three new hits had in common was favorable buzz, from both the critics and the public. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movies were all certified fresh (ranging from 73 percent positive reviews for "Trolls" to 90 for "Strange), while at CinemaScore, paying customers gave all three movies an A grade.
And that could be the simplest reason why "Strange" and its fellow new wide releases ended the slump. We keep saying that if Hollywood would just release well-made movies, people would come see them, but until this weekend, the studios hadn't put that idea to the test for quite a while.