Why Did Marvel Pass On ‘Dr. Strange’ With Guillermo Del Toro And Neil Gaiman At The Helm?

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Over the next few years, the blockbuster juggernaut known as Marvel Studios will be reaching deeper and deeper into its catalog of comic book heroes, giving us characters we never thought we’d see on the big screen a mere decade or so ago. Seriously, if you’re one of those people who thought an Iron Man movie would never work, brace yourselves, because the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to get a whole lot weirder.

Among the characters bringing the Weird to Marvel’s movie machine is Doctor Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel Comics universe. Strange — a surgeon who, after an accident that damages his hands and prevents him from working, goes in search of a cure and instead finds a world of magic and astral weirdness — will get his own movie next fall, courtesy of director Scott Derrickson (Sinister), with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. It’s an exciting step for Marvel Studios, and a dream come true for many of Strange’s comic book devotees.

Here’s the thing, though: It could’ve happened much sooner, and it could’ve been in the hands of fantasy titans Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods).

The revelation that these two visionaries would’ve liked to work on a Strange flick isn’t exactly new. Here’s Gaiman talking to the now-shuttered Premiere magazine back in 2008 as retrieved by Bleeding Cool:

“I would love to write Dr. Strange. It would be absolutely one of my dream jobs [to write] a Dr. Strange movie. Last year I was out in Budapest for three weeks on the set of Hellboy II with Guillermo, and I mentioned to him that I’ve been, in very very early sort of “I would to do this” talks with Marvel about doing a Dr. Strange movie, and Guillermo’s reaction was, “Neil, I want to direct it!” [doing Guillermo del Toro imitation] being wonderfully Guillermo and getting all excited and having all sorts of magical and wonderful ideas about this, and Marvel, I think, were very excited too.”

Now remember, this was 2008, the year Iron Man was released, a time when Marvel Studios clearly had big ideas (remember the “Avengers Initiative” final scene?) but no one was sure if they’d be able to move forward yet. We weren’t even sure if we’d see The Avengers yet, let alone Doctor Strange, and Gaiman went on to say that, because Del Toro had a very full plate at the time (this was back when he was still going to make The Hobbit), the collaboration was uncertain at that point. Years passed, Marvel went on with its plans while Del Toro and Gaiman went on with their own projects, and everyone just kind of assumed the idea evaporated because no one could make the scheduling work or something like that.

Well, according to Gaiman (in a Twitter conversation with fellow comics author Kurt Busiek on Friday) what really killed the project was lack of interest from Marvel.

So, now the question is why? Why did a burgeoning film studio looking for attention pass on the chance to make a movie with these nerd icons? Gaiman didn’t elaborate, but this 2008 Del Toro quote from an interview in Empire where he talks about his approach to such a film may shed some light:

“I talked with Neil Gaiman [about writing it],” he tells us. “I said, that’s an interesting character because you can definitely make him more in the pulpy occult detective/magician mould and formula than was done in the Weird Tales, for example…the idea of a character that really dabbles in the occult in a way that’s not X-Filey, where the supernatural is taken for granted. That’s interesting…But I wouldn’t use the suit!”

Though they’ve certainly been known to take liberties, the Marvel Studios films share a very particular connection to the core of the company’s comic book history. The studio doesn’t shy away from things like Cosmic Cubes and Super Soldier Serum and charismatic robots named Ultron. It also doesn’t shy away from Marvel iconography. A few tweaks aside, the Iron Man in the movies looks like the Iron Man in the comics, and the same goes for Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and the rest. So, given what we know about the Marvel approach, it’s possible that an occult detective movie that ditched the Doctor Strange suit just wasn’t for them.

(Via Empire / Bleeding Cool)