“Are our littlest kids going to be OK at Doctor Strange? Seeing it described as a horror movie.”
I hadn’t given too much thought to the family-friendliness of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness until a friend messaged me with that question. As the parent of a toddler myself, I’m surprised at how heavily director Sam Raimi swerved away from Marvel’s typically all-ages fare. But I’m not carting a two-year-old off to any movie, so it was a concerned friend who got me thinking about the actual reality of a parent bringing their kid along for this unhinged multiversal adventure.
Before we get going, let’s manage expectations. First, this is not a spoiler dump. I’m going to share some minor specifics here and there, but nothing that will ruin plot points, casting surprises, or blockbuster moments. That’s not what we do here.
Second, this is just an information pipeline. Every kid is different, every parent-child dynamic is different. I wouldn’t dream of telling another mom or dad how to manage their family. I just want to make sure you have the knowledge you’d need to make an informed decision so your small ones can have a nightmare-free rest.
If you’re looking for a rundown of the questionable details that includes crowd-sourced insights from other moviegoers and a formal content rating system, check out Common Sense Media’s review. That’s a website every content-loving parent should have bookmarked.
A quick Sam Raimi rundown
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness director Sam Raimi may be best known to Marvel fans as the filmmaker behind the Tobey Maguire trilogy of Spider-Man movies from the early aughts. But as any fan of Hollywood’s greatest cult favorites will tell you, some of Raimi’s most well-known past work has gone to much darker places.
The Evil Dead (1981) and its two sequels, Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992), are indisputably rooted in the horror genre. While they’re all comically low-budget affairs, with latter two in particular embracing campy comedy, the whole trilogy is replete with blood and guts and brutal acts of violence.
The Evil Dead series is hardly an outlier in Raimi’s body of work. If anything, the three movies amount to a proof of concept for the signature visual style that would define much of what followed from the filmmaker. Raimi has a particular knack for filling his films with unsettling imagery. It’s rarely outright scary, since he’s also adept at filling the tension build-up into a fear moment with excitement and ass-kicking metal vibes. But as calling cards go, this one is an odd fit for the Marvel way of doing things.
Kids and Doctor Strange 2: How’s the violence?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the level of violence is turned way, way up in Raimi’s Doctor Strange sequel. It’s definitely not blood-soaked but it’s not exactly bloodless, either.
More than a few people die in this Marvel movie, and not in the generalized collateral damage kind of way like the Battle of New York in Avengers, where it’s all happening in an assumed way off screen. In Multiverse, multiple pivotal characters are killed, and in graphic fashion. There’s a healthy amount of gunplay and some light violence-inflicted gore, including an early close-up of a nasty-looking leg wound. But it’s the death visuals that I’d be most concerned about.
At one point, a character’s neck gets snapped, with a close-up shot framing the moment. Another death, which keeps the camera at more of a distance, sees a person ripped apart as if their body were run through a meat grinder. It’s entirely an all-CGI moment that’s completely devoid of blood, but it makes for an upsetting visual.
Credit: Marvel Studios
The most disturbing onscreen death shows us a character’s face in an extreme close-up as something seems to explode inside their skull. There’s minimal blood here, it’s nothing like the exploding head moment in Scanners. But the up-close look at a person’s head suddenly and unnaturally expanding in a very wrong direction is the kind of visual that sticks with you.
There’s also a number of bigger fight scenes that cut to gruesome deaths more than once. No effort is made to hide the collateral damage. People get smashed and crushed by overwhelming concussive force in large groups. At least one character is graphically hurled across a room, with their head and neck emitting a resounding crunch as they hit the ground. Another character is completely immolated by fire, with a lingering look at their charred corpse in the aftermath.
Even with the more disturbing imagery having a somewhat sanitized feel, it’s all nonetheless there. Computer generated effects can only clean up so much when they’re capturing graphic death sequences.
Kids and Doctor Strange 2: How’s the horror?
While Multiverse of Madness isn’t a work of pure horror and not something I’d kneejerk describe as “scary,” there are moments and visuals that may not agree with all kids. Most of it is plain, old unsettling imagery, but there’s a healthy amount of gore that’s not the immediate result of onscreen violence and more than one jump scare.
There’s no way to really set up the jump scares, beyond telling you they exist. I counted at least three or four, and depending on the viewer it could be more than that. The Raimi factor often makes these startling moments work in a viscerally exciting way, but they are built using the language of horror filmmaking. If nothing else, prepare for the possibility of a freaked out kid leaping into your lap.
The horrific imagery is even more pronounced. Multiple trailers have featured brief looks at a character that is best described as “Zombie Strange” — it’s the eponymous Avenger, but his face is ashen, riddled with open wounds, and partially decayed, like that of a less-than-fresh corpse.
Setting aside the particulars of who that is and what role they play in the story, the so-called Zombie Strange gets enough screen time for everyone to soak in the extent of the damage to his face and body. And it is rough. Chunks of skin and muscle are simply missing from his lower jaw and one cheek, and extreme close-ups make it impossible to look away.
Raimi does some unexpected things with the character, so it’s fair to say that Zombie Strange isn’t a creature of pure horror. But that doesn’t make his deathly visage any easier to behold.
At another point, one of the movie’s major threats magically hunts another character in their family home. The whole unsettling sequence is played as a tension-builder, with everyday objects — such as a happy photo of the homeowner — seemingly coming to life, and with murderous intent. In an earlier moment, we also see that same villain impossibly contort their body as they emerge from an unlikely object in a manner similar to the girl from the well in The Ring.
These are the standout examples, and they amount to an extended rundown of what I laid out for the parent friend who initially asked for advice. In that case, the kids ended up doing fine and the movie prompted no nightmares (so far). But as I said at the top — and as all parents will tell you — every kid is wired differently. Is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a horror movie? No, definitely not. But it is a massive step away from Marvel’s typical all-ages fare, making it perhaps the first MCU release that merits age-appropriateness consideration.