By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, they’re actually making a Doctor Strange movie! Sinister’s Scott Derrickson will direct the film, but as of this writing, Marvel has yet to cast Stephen Strange himself, the surgeon who becomes an all-powerful warlock and defends earth from interdimensional threats. Instead of speculating on who might play the role now (which would inevitably lead to disappointment when they don’t), we thought it would be more fun to do another of our occasional dream-casting through-the-decades lists (in the past, we’ve done Indiana Jones, the Invisible Woman, and Lex Luthor). In this case, we’re going from the ’60s, when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko first created Doctor Strange in the pages of Strange Tales, through the 2000s. Here are five supremely talented actors who would have made awesome Sorcerer Supremes.
The 1960s: Peter Cushing
The original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run of Doctor Strange stories introduced many of the concepts and characters that continued to be a major part of the magician’s identity, but the Lee/Ditko team’s greatest contribution was coming up with a mystical spin on the “cosmic” stories Lee and artist Jack Kirby were starting to tell in Fantastic Four and the “mythic” stories they were telling in Thor. Those early Dr. Strange adventures were mind-bendingly freaky, but felt rooted in real folklore. In addition to having the gaunt frame and broad forehead to impersonate the Ditko Doctor, Peter Cushing had experience with black magic from his many Hammer horror pictures. Plus he’d fought evil as Sherlock Holmes, and he’d been the time-traveling Dr. Who in a pair of 1960s movies inspired by the TV series of the same name. So Cushing was the guy for a 1960s Doctor Strange movie. Put him in a high-collared cape, and he could’ve cast spells against the dread Dormammu all damned day.
The 1970s: Bruce Dern
The Doctor Strange comics of the late ’60s and early ’70s were wildly psychedelic, and frequently followed their hero into gaudy, lysergic dimensions of consciousness. A Doctor Strange movie of that era would have meshed nicely with the style and flavor of the drug movies churned out by American International Pictures during that time, many of which starred Bruce Dern, one of his generation’s trippiest character actors. Dern’s intensity and quirky tics from that era would have been perfect for a freewheeling Strange who leaves his body behind to explore the cosmos in astral form, and as shown in the science-fiction classic Silent Running, Dern had no problem carrying a movie where he was the only human being onscreen for long stretches of time.
The 1980s: David Bowie
David Bowie has played supporting characters (or even cameo roles) more often than leads, but in his prime, he had the otherworldly quality of a man who’d just spent hours staring into The Orb Of Agamotto in his Sanctum Santorum. Bowie would’ve been spot-on in a 1980s version of a Doctor Strange movie, directed by someone like Tony Scott or David Cronenberg—someone who would’ve embraced both the mystical atmospherics and the demon-laced weirdness of a Doctor Strange story. And as someone who’d performed for screaming crowds as the rocker/spaceman Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was very familiar with playing a character who communes with the beyond, and occasionally sparkles.
The 1990s: Denzel Washington
Doctor Strange is a bit of a tortured soul; he’s a wealthy, pompous neurosurgeon whose hands are destroyed (and whose career is effectively ended) by a devastating car crash. He squanders his fortune searching for a cure, and eventually meets a powerful wizard named the Ancient One, who teaches him the mystical arts and sets him on a new path. But the Strange of the early portions of his origin story—the man wracked by depression and grief—seems tailor-made for the Denzel Washington of the late 1990s and early 2000s, who frequently played broken men searching for redemption in films like He Got Game, The Bone Collector, and Man On Fire. No one plays a quest for absolution like Washington, and he has more than enough action chops to square off with Baron Mordo or Nightmare. Frankly, he isn’t too old to play the character now. Are you listening, Marvel? King Kong ain’t got shit on Denzel for this role.
The 2000s: Daniel Day-Lewis
There’s a good reason why Daniel Day-Lewis hasn’t joined so many of his peers and taken part in the superhero movie boom: He doesn’t have to. As the greatest actor of his generation, Day-Lewis works when it suits him. But still: Wouldn’t the man who made such a kick-ass Hawkeye, such a menacing Bill The Butcher, and such a likable Abraham Lincoln also command the screen as a sorcerer who can float between dimensions? Naturally he would; he’s Daniel Day-Lewis. But it’d mainly be great to see Day-Lewis as Strange to find out how he prepares. Would he hike the Himalayas in search of the Ancient One? Read the entire Book Of The Vishanti? Learn to command the Crimson Bands Of Cyttorak?