Ranking Doctor Strange’s cinematic appearances
After making his cinematic debut in 2016’s origin film Doctor Strange, the title character, portrayed by English actor Benedict Cumberbatch, has appeared in six Marvel Cinematic Universe films, with several more appearances on the way. From small cameos to scene-stealing action sequences, Cumberbatch has made the role of the Sorcerer Supreme his own.
Here is our ranking of Strange’s cinematic appearances from least exciting to most.
4. Avengers: Endgame
Following the reversal of Thanos’ “snap” by the remaining Avengers, Strange returns for the final battle against 2014 Thanos. Mostly relegated to a background role in the final fight, Strange spends the majority of the fight stopping a tsunami from hitting the battle.
Strange’s role in the iconic “I am Iron Man” moment, however, stands out, as he subtly signals to Tony Stark that this is the one timeline where Thanos is defeated. This, of course, prompts Stark to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Strange’s appearance in the film is comparable to Professor X in the X-Men films. As one of the most powerful characters in the universe, he can’t be involved in the fight for too long, as his amazing skills would affect the fight’s balance.
3. Thor: Ragnarok
Teased in the post-credits scene for Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok marks a sophomore appearance for the Master of the Mystic Arts.
As Thor and Loki search for their father Odin, the trickster god Loki is noticed by Doctor Strange, who imprisons him as he diplomatically discusses with Thor the reason why they’re on Earth. The classically Taika Waititi-feeling sequence displays Strange’s comedic timing, his awe-inspiring powers, and his mysterious Sanctum Sanctorum. It feels ripped straight out of a comic. Strange wearing his comic-accurate yellow gloves is another lovely omen.
It may just be a brief cameo, but it perfectly encapsulates who Doctor Strange is and what he’s all about.
2. Doctor Strange
Strange’s cinematic debut is a thoroughly compelling story, slightly hampered by Originitis. The film follows Strange from his days as an arrogant neurosurgeon to crippled mess post-accident before embarking on his spiritual journey in Kathmandu.
It takes a while to warm to his journey, but Cumberbatch’s performance carries the film through its first act. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) works perfectly as a mentor and seeing Strange evolve makes him so compelling.
Once he gains his cloak of levitation, the movie really starts to shine. Strange’s magic capabilities lead him to arguably the smartest and most unique final battle in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. Upon using the Eye of Agamotto (powered by the Time Stone), Strange descends into the Dark Dimension to confront Dormammu to bargain.
The line “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain” became part of popular culture immediately after the film’s release, including a gag Twitter account that tweeted the aforementioned line every hour. As Strange uses the Time Stone to reverse time, he enters a continuous loop of dying in an attempt to bargain with Dormammu.
Instead of throwing a series of punches or offensive spells at the big bad, he uses his brain to win the day. Compare this to the average Marvel Cinematic Universe ending and it feels unique and refreshing. As Strange mutters, “Pain’s an old friend,” which also brings his origin full circle and makes it abundantly clear to the audience who he is and why he is.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
It’s quite surprising that in a movie that is mostly centered around the arc of Tony Stark / Iron Man just how much Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange has to do in Avengers: Infinity War.
As Cull Obsidian and Ebony Maw land in New York, Strange, his assistant Wong, and Stark begin their team-up. Displaying several new spells (which one would assume he learnt and practised while dying over and over again in Doctor Strange) and showing his fierce protective side, this Strange feels like he’s near the peak of his powers.
His characterization is perfect in Infinity War, with his oath to protect the Time Stone and attitude around achieving that goal being perfectly set up and executed. His discussion with Thanos on Titan, which leads to a bit of exposition, feels natural and also as if Strange had meticulously planned out ahead of time, as you’d expect from someone who saw 14,000,605 timelines.
His reportoire with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark feels natural, and the ego clash between Stark and Strange feels realistic. Strange’s combat encounter with the Mad Titan is (thus far) the ultimate all-out fight scene with Strange. Dubbed the “Sorcerer’s Battle” in the script, this really gives audiences the impression of what Strange can do, where he’s at, and (after watching Endgame) how much he’s holding back so that the Avengers can achieve victory five years later.
Doctor Strange is set to appear in at least two upcoming Marvel projects, with Cumberbatch returning in Spider-Man: No Way Home (Dec. 17, 2021) and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, due in May 2022.