We Now Know Why Joaquin Phoenix Decided to Leave ‘Doctor Strange’

“It became clear to me that Joaquin didn't really belong in Doctor Strange.”

Doctor Strange looking intently at something off camera in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
Image Via Doctor Strange


  •  Joaquin Phoenix was considered for the role of Doctor Strange, but he and director Scott Derrickson agreed he didn't belong in the MCU.
  •  Initially having a scheduling conflict, Benedict Cumberbatch was eventually cast as Doctor Strange after Derrickson convinced Marvel to shift shooting schedules.
  •  Phoenix's specific acting goals didn't align with the MCU vision, leading to the decision to cast Cumberbatch as Sorcerer Supreme instead.

Nearly ten years ago, during the golden era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the hype surrounding Phase 3, Marvel Studios embarked on a quest to find an who could truly embody the iconic character that would soon become one of the franchise's most beloved superheroes: Doctor Strange. Back then, it seemed like Joaquin Phoenix, renowned for his mesmerizing performance in “Joker: Folie à Deux,” was the perfect fit for the role. The Oscar-winning actor even made significant progress in the casting process for this blockbuster sensation. However, fate took an unexpected turn, and Phoenix ultimately departed from the project. Curious to know what transpired? In a captivating interview with SlashFilm, the director of Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson, delved into the intricate journey of finding the ideal actor and shed light on the circumstances surrounding Phoenix's departure.

Derrickson shared during the interview that, although he was thrilled to work with Phoenix, he had initially envisioned Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of the Sorcerer Supreme. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, Cumberbatch was unable to commit to filming during the timeframe set by Marvel Studios. While Phoenix was excited about the opportunity to portray Stephen Strange, he had concerns about committing to a long-term contract with Disney.

Despite this, Phoenix still met with Derrickson and took the to listen to what the filmmaker had to share. According to Derrickson, they spent several lengthy afternoons together, and he was genuinely impressed by Phoenix's approach to the role and his thoughtful mindset. In fact, Derrickson even expressed his belief that Phoenix was beginning to embrace the of becoming the iconic Doctor Strange.

Joaquin Phoenix “Never Belonged in the MCU,” Scott Derrickson States

Derrickson couldn't shake the of Cumberbatch joining the team, even though he had a deep admiration for Phoenix. It was becoming evident to both of them that some decisions needed to be made.

“I met with a bunch of actors, and Joaquin was the one that I spent the most time with. As we continued to talk, it became clear to me that Joaquin didn't really belong in that movie and probably never belonged in the MCU. He's a very specific guy with very specific goals as an actor, and a very specific way of performing. I think it became clear to both of us that this might not be a good fit, really is what it came down to.”

It's quite easy to understand the level of engagement Phoenix desired in the realm of superheroes. Once you've seen Joker, it becomes evident that the actor sought something that allowed him greater flexibility to experiment and explore, without feeling overly constrained by the established character canon. On the other , Derrickson managed to persuade Marvel Studios and Disney to rearrange the entire shooting schedule for Doctor Strange, in order to accommodate Cumberbatch. It's crystal clear that this decision was absolutely spot-on.

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