While Benedict Cumberbatch has become THE definite Doctor Strange for many, there was a time when Marvel Studios was eyeing Joaquin Phoenix to take on the role. He famously passed on it, as he wasn’t a big fan of their multi-film contract. A lot has happened since that day, as even Marvel Studios moved away from that model, and former production lead attorney Paul Sarker revealed in an interview with The Direct that the Phoenix situation was a key catalyst for their current strategy.
But to be perfectly honest, the Joaquin Phoenix thing was unique to me, because there was a deal and because it was pretty far along. And we were hopeful that it would close, but it didn’t. And that happens. And that to bring it back full circle, things like that may be why Kevin is saying we don’t want to do these super long-term deals because we want to see what works and if it works, and people want to do more than we’d love to have [them]. We don’t want someone to feel like they’re forced.Paul Sarker
While everyone still benefitted in the end, as Phoenix went on to make a splash with another comic book property in Joker and Cumberbatch became the de facto choice for anyone imagining what this character would look, sound, and be like. It would be fun if he does end up returning in a cameo as the multiverse continues to expand. Sometimes these things just fall into place and it also highlights once again that Marvel Studios is a studio that tends to learn with time.
Now, they have a bigger universe than ever and their talent is still interested in returning even without any real contractual obligations like in the past. Even Natalie Portman and Idris Elba returned after sharing their dismay with the contract in the past. So, who knows what else they might have started learning and adjusting.
Source: The Direct