The biggest question mark in Marvel’s upcoming Phase Three slate is Doctor Strange. It’s the mighty MCU’s first foray into something that doesn’t involve iron men, captains of a particular set of continents, Norse gods, gigantic green dudes with anger issues, and so on. More importantly, it isn’t as grounded in semi-reality as the other movies (notwithstanding the the maybe-interdimensional shenanigans of the Avengers flicks). It wasn’t until Ant-Man introduced the possibility of magic into the MCU that things could truly and rightly get weird, and it’s all leading to Doctor Strange. Thus, it needs a righteously weirdo director. Marvel seems to have nailed the hire on that.
Do people know who Scott Derrickson is? You might not know his name, but you’ve probably caught his work. His first non-direct-to-video movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, blew up in 2005, when horror fans threw $144 million at a movie that cost $19 million to make. But it was his next few movies that inadvertently and unofficially got him the Doctor Strange gig.
Derrickson’s 2008 remake of the seminal 1951 sci-fi movie The Day the Earth Stood Still isn’t particularly memorable. It did, however, have the wherewithal to cast Keanu Reeves as a stiff, emotionless alien messenger that warns mankind of doomsday, and wind up an early Mad Men Jon Hamm as a suited-up NASA official, so at least Derrickson showed an eye for casting. It also proved that he could competently direct and deliver a big budget sci-fi flick, no small feat when reprising one of the touchstones of the genre.
Derrickson’s next movie, 2012’s Sinister, the micro-budget horror movie he wrote and directed for Blumhouse Productions, solidified his genre cred. The supernatural scare-fest about a true-crime writer and his family terrorized by a pagan deity named Bughuul made an even bigger splash in horror circles, and more importantly proved to Marvel that he and co-screenwriter C. Robert Cargill (with whom he would re-team on Strange) could create and maintain a mythology around the paranormal.
“I would say you can certainly look at the past work of the filmmakers we hire as a bit of an indication for the tone of the movie, but not necessary everything,” Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige told Empire after he hired Derrickson, adding, “I wouldn’t say just because he has only done horror movies means that Doctor Strange is going to be a horror movie. It means he is a talented filmmaker who we think could add something unique and very fresh to the particular franchise.”
That Derrickson trifecta of relative successes seems to have tipped Marvel off in the same way James Gunn strode from humble beginnings to genre cult classics before totally rocking Guardians of the Galaxy. Derrickson’s charge will be to lead Marvel into seriously psychedelic genre territory. Lots of mystical shit happens in a movie about a guy whose mythology labels him the “Sorcerer Supreme,” so a dude well-versed in messed-up horror vernacular is in charge for a reason.
And it looks like he’s definitely not being held back. “I’m perpetually awestruck that I’m getting to make this movie,” Derrickson told Entertainment Weekly when Marvel revealed the first looks at Doctor Strange last December. “I keep waiting for the knock on the door when somebody says, ‘This movie’s too weird, we can’t make this.’” Gunn broke the mold with Guardians of the Galaxy, and Marvel took note. Now it’s time for Derrickson to dial up the strange.