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The films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are usually set roughly around the time they are released (barring flashbacks) or at least in a chronological order congruent to their release order. They often reference events from past MCU films or foreshadow future films (e.g. in post-credits scenes). However, with Doctor Strange there seem to be some discrepancies with this approach.

  • At first, it seemed a reasonable assumption. There even seems to be a reference to Rhodie's accident in Captain America: Civil War, when his assistent presents Dr. Strange with some potential patients and mentions something similar to (quoting from memory)

    an Air Force Colonel paralyzed from the spine in a special protective suit.

    And then there's also the post-credits scene with Thor, which seems to be a foreshadowing of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarök.

  • However, someone pointed out, that the reference to the paralyzed Colonel might as well refer to the guy we see in Justin Hammer's failed attempt at copying the Iron Man suit in Iron Man 2. Besides that, we don't exactly know how much time actually passes in Doctor Strange, considering how he seems to go through significant rehab treatment and spends his fortune trying various healing methods before getting involved with sorcery (let alone the time he actually spends studying at Kamar-Taj).

  • And then I noticed something really interesting in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where Sitwell is interrogated about HYDRA's plans and says:

    Zola's algorithm is a program for choosing Insight's targets...You! A TV anchor in Cairo, the Under Secretary of Defense, a high school Valedictorian in Iowa City, Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange, anyone who's a threat to HYDRA.

    And I wondered if Dr. Strange actually already had his magic powers at the time of The Winter Soldier. Or why else would he be a threat to HYDRA, as much as we know he's just a really good neurosurgeon.

  • Then there's also the tidbit that for a Phase 3 movie the film seems a quite traditional origin story, resulting from the possibility that Dr. Strange's inclusion in the MCU might have been decided much later than the other plans for the MCU, based on its overall success and the motivation to take higher risks with less mainstream-famous characters. This might either point to an earlier setting of the film. Or it might as well render the above statement in The Winter Soldier somewhat of a premature blabbing which is now being retconned.

So is there any secured information about the setting of Doctor Strange within the MCU's timeline or at least more conclusive hints from this or other MCU movies? If not or if we are to assume it's released roughly chronologically, then what explains the above statement from The Winter Soldier about Stephen Strange being a threat to HYDRA before his involvement with magic? Or was this really just a throwaway comic reference without much thought or significance put into it?

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    Hydra is targeting potential threats before they are threats. They figure Strange a potential threat based on some algorithm. – cde Nov 7 '16 at 2:35
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    google.com/amp/moviepilot.com/posts/4136034/amp. Basically, Hydra's algorithm is just really broad. I mean, it targeted highschoolers, and probably not superhero highschoolers. Of course, the movie do – Obie 2.0 Nov 7 '16 at 4:38
  • @cde & Obie 2.0 I considered that, but then again, Dr. Strange's accident was entirely coincidental and unforeseeable. – Napoleon Wilson Nov 7 '16 at 11:08
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At most, Doctor Strange is set over a period of 3 and a half years.

Between out-of-universe information and in-universe references, we can safely assume that between the start of the movie and the first end credits scene, no more than 3 and a half years have elapsed.

The first thing we need to do is ignore a reference to an experimental armour that we hear before Stephen Strange crashes his car. Director Scott Derrickson recently confirmed that this is not meant to be Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes, meaning that we cannot use this as evidence for when the film is set.

This answer from @phantom42 includes a link to an interview with Kevin Feige that confirms that at the time of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Stephen Strange is just a highly talented neurosurgeon.

"He is very well-known as a surgeon," Feige said during a recent visit to the set of Doctor Strange. "He has got various awards and plaques you're going to see over there; he attends various galas, might be driving at one point in this movie. He has name recognition and a talent and certain Hydra computers identified him as somebody that could cause trouble for their agendas."

So the answer is, Strange wasn't an immediate threat to Hydra in any meaningful way, but as a brilliant and famous person whose agenda didn't mesh with theirs, he stood a high probability of being a problem for them if they successfully took over government. Think of it like a politician targeting Bruce Springsteen or Ted Nugent because they might use their concerts as a platform to spread a message the politician in question didn't like.

This conclusively proves that as of spring 2014, Stephen Strange has not yet had his car crash. This means that we know for sure that he does not start his training until some point after spring 2014.

Our "end point" comes in the form of a post-credits scene in which;

Doctor Strange offers to help Thor and Loki find Odin on Earth.

This is a teaser for;

Thor Ragnarok, which is set to come out in autumn 2017.

Assuming that the film above is set in roughly the same time period that it is released (as tends to be the case with most films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), then we know for sure that Doctor Strange ends by autumn 2017.

As such, at the very most, Doctor Strange takes place between spring 2014 and autumn 2017, a period of 3 and a half years. It's worth noting that there are some people reporting that they saw trophies/awards in his apartment at the start of the movie dated 2016 (which would obviously severely reduce the period the film is set over to around about 18 months), but as I cannot verify those claims I have not taken them into account in this answer.

As for the word of God answer, when asked about this on Twitter, director Scott Derrickson simply replied;

"Time is relative"

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    I saw the movie a few days ago. Some of the awards are indeed dated 2016, the year is clearly visible – Luciano Nov 7 '16 at 9:26
  • Also, I thought it was pretty obvious that it was supposed to be Rhodey, I thought they specifically called him an air force colonel. – KutuluMike Nov 7 '16 at 13:16
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    @KutuluMike I think they do, but does that preclude the guy in Justin Hammer's suit from being an air force colonel? He was working with the air force at the time, remember. – Dr R Dizzle Nov 7 '16 at 13:29
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  • @KutuluMike The US Air Force is known for being officer-heavy (relative to other US armed forces). Do you have any idea how many colonels there are? Furthermore, conversationally lieutenant colonels are just called "colonel", too. – T.J.L. Feb 20 at 14:03

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