Is Benedict Cumberbatch going to star in the upcoming Dr. Strange movie? Is he or isn’t he?

Barring a catastrophic leak over at Marvel Studios, we won’t know for sure until San Diego Comic-Con at the earliest. But since Cumberbatch was just announced as a Comic-Con guest, those Dr. Strange rumors are back yet again.

Cumberbatch is ostensibly attending the convention to promote Penguins of Madagascar, in which he voiced one of the main characters. It’s also fair to assume that he’ll show up at the panel for the final Hobbit movie.

Still, the fact that this is Cumberbatch’s first Comic-Con is leading fans to wonder if he’s about to be announced for the lead role of Dr. Strange, the next new Marvel franchise after Ant-Man. He and Tom Hardy are both rumored to be in the running for the role, although Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez (who has worked with the Dr. Strange director in the past) already confirmed that he spoke with Marvel about the movie.

Cumberbatch’s surprise Comic-Con appearance already has many fans convinced, but we were surprised to notice that their reactions are often far less positive than expected.

Cumberbatch has an enormous worldwide fanbase thanks to Sherlock, but it looks like a lot of Marvel fans are dubious over whether he’d make a good Dr. Strange. This may simply be a matter of Cumberbatch fatigue, or it may be due to the unpopularity of his turn as Khan in the last Star Trek movie. While this had little to do with Cumberbatch’s own performance, Khan was perceived by many to be a betrayal of the original character, and there’s a lot of overlap between the Star Trek and Marvel audience.

As for the veracity of the rumors, the question is whether he’d actually take the role. This kind of Marvel franchise gig likely requires a three-picture deal, at minimum, for a series of films that each take several months to film and then promote.

Production on Dr. Strange will reportedly begin this fall for a release date in 2016, but Cumberbatch already has a slew of movie, radio, theater and TV jobs slated for the next year or so. This includes publicity for The Hobbit and an Alan Turing biopic this winter, a mob movie with Johnny Depp in 2015, the next season of Sherlock over the next two years, a high-profile production of Hamlet for three months in fall 2015, and a BBC adaptation of Richard III in 2016. 

This doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of Dr. Strange, but it does go against Marvel’s habit of hiring lead actors whose schedules they can control. 

With the exception of Robert Downey Jr., who launched the Avengers franchise with Iron Man, Marvel Studios has tended to cast leading men who are either unknown to blockbuster audiences (Sebastian Stan, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston), whose careers are stuck in a rut (Chris Evans), or who are looking for a step up into the big leagues (Chris Pratt). In other words, actors who won’t demand a huge paycheck, and are willing to spend the best part of a year filming and promoting a single movie. And then repeat the entire process three or four more times.

Difficult as it is to imagine Tom Hiddleston or Chris Hemsworth as a Z-lister, they were not household names until the Thor movies came along. Cumberbatch, with his huge fanbase and busy schedule, would be the most famous leading man Marvel has hired since Robert Downey Jr. himself.

So yes, Cumberbatch is a plausible Dr. Strange, and his surprise decision to attend Comic-Con adds a little weight to the ongoing rumors. But we won’t be putting any money on him until we’ve heard something from the horse’s mouth.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons