10 Directors Who Should Helm Marvel's Doctor Strange

In May 2016, Marvel is beginning the summer movie season with an as-yet-untitled film. Speculation abounds as to what the film might be, but it is the most lucrative release date of the year. Marvel has been holding out on announcing what the movie might be, and there would be some disappointment if it’s just another retread like Thor 3. Most have pegged this date for Doctor Strange, which would be Marvel’s Phase 3 answer to the Iron Man movies, a franchise possibly put to pasture by star Robert Downey Jr.

If this is true, then Marvel’s going to pull out all the stops in selecting A-List talent to start the next big Marvel series. Rumors circulated recently that Johnny Depp was a possible casting choice, and while those rumors were specifically dealing with a meeting that may or may not have happened, their mere existence suggests the possible scope this project might encompass. But who would steward this ship, and how?

We decided to put together a list of people perfect for the job. This is not an ideal list, naturally: some possible choices were too expensive (Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Jackson). Others were ideal, but unlikely based on the interest level of the director (David Cronenberg, Alejandro Jodorowsky). Some were too busy (James Wan, Sam Mendes) and some just too crazy (Baz Luhrmann). Herein lies the 10 likeliest picks for the Doctor Strange director’s chair.

Neil Burger

Why It Might Happen: Burger’s a smart director who has been earmarked for several franchises, recently attached to an adaptation of the video game Uncharted. Execs are so confident in his latest, the YA sensation Divergent, that they’ve already scheduled the sequels and will develop them so quickly they won’t wait for him to complete post-production on the first film before they move ahead. Burger also directed The Illusionist, about a magician played by Edward Norton that Norton reportedly based on the Sorcerer Supreme himself.

Why It Might Not: Wait, they AREN’T bringing him back for Divergent sequels? Sounds pretty fishy. Burger’s a good director, but there’s much less heat surrounding his career than there used to be. His experience with special effects and tentpole budgets is pretty limited, so he might be the best choice if a few top selections say no.

Joe Cornish

Why It Might Happen: Cornish has been flirting with the blockbuster field since his rowdy debut, the sensationally entertaining Attack The Block. Since then, he’s been linked to the director’s chair for sequels to Die Hard, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and, for a hot minute, Star Trek 3. He’s also an in-house option: Cornish has reportedly been writing Ant-Man with Edgar Wright since 2006.

Why It Might Not: Cornish has been very outspoken about his reluctance to jump onto a studio picture, and we can imagine him facing a heavy intimidation level in assembling a major effects blockbuster. He’d be affordable, but would his heart be in it?

Panos Cosmatos

Why It Might Happen: Cosmatos is maybe the cheapest option on this list, given that he’s only done the low budget sci-fi chiller Beyond The Black Rainbow. Any five minutes of that audacious debut would be trippier than the entirely of all the Marvel films combined, but Doctor Strange would require a commitment to, at some points, vex, confuse and startle the view. Cosmatos already proved he could handle it.

Why it Might Not: He’s still only got one movie under his belt, and for those that love Beyond The Black Rainbow, they’d have to acknowledge that there’s not much coherent visual language on display. This is ultimately going to be a PG-13 broad-appeal blockbuster, and Cosmatos might be a little too edgy for the part.

David Gordon Green

Why It Might Happen: No one’s been as outspoken as Green about switching genres so drastically. Green’s Joe is poised to re-assert his position as an arthouse guy, a separation from his recent frat-boy-film persona (and a return to his roots) that might require another sudden left turn. Green’s a veteran who works cheap and fast, and his work with the practical effects of Your Highness suggest a built-in interest in the material.

Why It Might Not: We did mention Your Highness, right?

Adrian Lyne

Why It Might Happen: Lyne hasn’t directed since 2002’s Unfaithful, but Marvel has a reputation for digging up guys like Joe Johnston and Shane Black, skilled filmmakers who were not being hired by a single person in Hollywood. He made his name with erotic thrillers, but some forget how terrifying his work on Jacob’s Ladder was, a film almost entirely predicated on horrific, haunting imagery. Given that film as something of a calling card, Lyne seems like a fitting, and super-affordable choice.

Why It Might Not: Lyne’s 72, and Jacob’s Ladder was almost a quarter of a century ago. Does Lyne even want to work anymore? And does the youthful Marvel even want to team with someone of such an advanced age for their big crossover blockbuster?

Keanu Reeves

Why It Might Happen: Reeves actually acquitted himself quite well behind the camera for Man Of Tai Chi, a martial arts throwback that featured clear, concise, straightforward storytelling and action sequences. When reshoots for the troubled mega-budget blockbuster 47 Ronin were held, Universal requested it be Keanu behind the camera. Reeves is a sincere guy who takes genre filmmaking seriously, and you’re not likely to find another director with a more dedicated attachment to the mystical elements of the Strange character. Plus, he’s acted once or twice.

Why It Might Not Happen: Reeves would probably want to play the lead as well, which wouldn’t be terrible considering the somber nature of the character. But Reeves is getting older, and his box office clout is diminishing: there’s also the suspicion that the guy just wouldn’t look that great with Strange’s pencil mustache.

Rupert Sanders

Why It Might Happen: Sanders impressed executives with the engaging fantasy visuals of Snow White And The Huntsman, suggesting he’d be a savvy choice to bring to life the mysticism and magic of the Doctor Strange story. He’s also young and inexperienced enough that they could sign him cheaply to multiple movies, a plus considering the heavy turnover for directors on Marvel movies thus far.

Why It Might Not Happen: Snow White kind of blew, and most around the industry consider the bad buzz from Sanders’ extramarital affairs to overshadow the middling profit made by the expensive tentpole. He’s the type of guy a studio might pursue, but Marvel tends to make wiser, more informed choices.


Why it Might Happen: No one is a visual stylist in modern film quite like Tarsem, the eclectic director of The Cell and The Fall. When capturing the many realms Doctor Strange would enter, you won’t find a better choice moreso than him, a filmmaker who, visually, paints with a broader palette than anyone else being employed by the studio system thus far. Get him an appropriate script, and there’s no limit to the possibilities.

Why It Might Not Happen: Immortals and Mirror, Mirror proved that Tarsem could play within the confines of a genre. But those were one-offs: here, he’d be stepping into an onscreen universe that has cemented a consistent onscreen appearance. Why would the studio allow him to break away from that?

Ben Wheatley

Why It Might Happen: Wheatley is one of the industry’s most exciting new filmmakers, and so far his work defies categorization. His sensibilities are crooked, but his films also feature more conventional crowd-pleasing elements than you’d expect from someone who has tackled some pretty bent narratives. It would be a surprise to see him move in this direction, but a guy like him is definitely on studio radars.

Why It Might Not Happen: Wheatley’s interests run dark. This might be the case of an exciting filmmaker walking into the room and pitching a bunch of great but ultimately inappropriate ideas for a big summer blockbuster.

Robert Zemeckis

Why It Might Happen: If Doctor Strange is the big ticket blockbuster Marvel is banking on for May ’16, they might try to land the big fish. Zemeckis is a guy who’s played the game by his own rules in recent years, to mixed success: the motion-capture animated films he made were middling successes that never turned fans on to his burgeoning technology. With the Oscar-nominated Flight, he showed that he still had the chops to work with human beings, a refreshing step for a guy most thought was lost in his tech. But there are few directors as infatuated with the ability to visually push things forward effects-wise quite like the Back To The Future director, and now that he’s older than many of his peers in the blockbuster business, maybe he wants to challenge himself and try to create entire worlds and landscapes with the storytelling conceit of magic as a matter of explaining it all. Someone like Zemeckis is probably frustrated in how much must be done to get a greenlight in Hollywood: jumping on a franchise is a way to avoid that problem. Also, Beowulf was actually sort of awesome.

Why It Might Not Happen: Zemeckis would be the most expensive name on this list. Marvel’s in the business of working with guys who’ll play ball with their collaborative filmmaking spirit, and Zemeckis is the sort of guy who asks for the keys and doesn’t give them back until the movie is done. Hiring him would be a tremendous change in how they usually do business, and with a release date to make, it’s not the sort of gamble a studio like this would make.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Gavin O’Connor (too modest), Neil Jordan (too arthouse), Gore Verbinski (too powerful), Ben Stiller (too left-field), Philip Noyce (too brainy), Justin Lin (too busy), Joon Bong-Ho (too uninterested), Kim Jee-Woon (not successful enough).

If you have any other suggestions, feel free to chip in through the comments section.