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Why 'Eternals' is a box-office disappointment for the blockbuster MCU

LA Times logo LA Times 11/7/2021 Christi Carras

Disney and Marvel's epic "Eternals" fell just short of early domestic box office projections this weekend, opening at No. 1 across North American markets with $71 million, according to estimates from measurement firm Comscore.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe tentpole — initially expected to gross $80 million to $85 million domestically — fared better overseas, collecting $90.7 million internationally for a global cumulative of $161.7 million. By pandemic (and non-Marvel) standards, "Eternals" is a domestic box-office success — securing fourth place among all titles released during the COVID-19 crisis.

But compared with other Marvel entries launched during and before the public health emergency, the superhero film's domestic box office performance is lackluster.

Marvel and Sony's "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" still holds the pandemic-era opening-weekend record at $90 million, followed by Marvel-Disney properties "Black Widow," which launched at $80.4 million in July, and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," which opened at $75.4 million in September.

"Black Widow" likely lost some box office revenue because of its simultaneous streaming launch on Disney+, whereas "Venom," "Shang-Chi" and "Eternals" all opened exclusively in theaters.

After Marvel's sweep of the top four spots at the pandemic box office, No. 5 is Universal's "F9: The Fast Saga," which grossed $70 million during its opening weekend in June. Other major post-COVID-19 debuts include United Artists Releasing's "No Time to Die," Universal's "Halloween Kills," Paramount's "A Quiet Place Part II" and Warner Bros.' "Dune."

Directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao, "Eternals" centers on a team of immortal extraterrestrial beings tasked with repeatedly saving humanity from monstrous forces over thousands of years.

The film's star-studded ensemble — the most diverse in MCU history — includes Angelina Jolie, Lauren Ridloff, Don Lee, Kumail Nanjiani, Barry Keoghan, Brian Tyree Henry, Lia McHugh, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden and Salma Hayek.

Stacked up against other MCU movies distributed by Disney since 2012, "Eternals" has outperformed only "Ant-Man," which opened domestically at $57.2 million in 2015.

On the other end of the MCU box-office spectrum, the "Avengers" movies reign supreme: "The Avengers" opened at $207.4 million in 2012, "Infinity War" launched at $257.7 million in 2018 and "Endgame" debuted at a whopping $357.1 million in 2019.

Multiple factors might have contributed to a relatively disappointing domestic box office opening for "Eternals." After a long, pandemic-induced MCU drought ended on Disney+ with "WandaVision" in January, it's possible audiences are experiencing some Marvel fatigue.

"Eternals" is the sixth MCU installment to premiere in 2021, following "WandaVision," "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," "Loki," "Black Widow" and "Shang-Chi."

Throw in Sony's "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," and that's a potentially overwhelming amount of Marvel content to cram into a single year — with Disney+'s "Hawkeye" and Sony's "Spider-Man: No Way Home" still to come.

(Before the pandemic completely upended every studio giant's release schedule, "Eternals" was set to arrive in 2020, after "Black Widow" and before "Shang-Chi.")

From a critical perspective, "Eternals" scored a mediocre 48% on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, which is significantly lower than "Shang-Chi" (92%), "Black Widow" (79%) or even "Venom" (59%).

On CinemaScore, "Eternals" nabbed a decent B rating from audiences, while "Shang-Chi" got an A, "Black Widow" notched an A-minus and "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" landed a B-plus.

Leading up to its release, "Eternals" was marketed and touted as a different kind of MCU film, unlike anything else in the franchise due to its slightly more serious tone, especially grand scale and complex narrative structure — yet another possible turn-off for diehard Marvel fans who prefer standard superhero fare.

Lagging "Eternals" this weekend at the domestic box office is "Dune," which grossed $7.6 million in its third weekend for a North American cumulative of $83.9 million; "No Time to Die," which collected $6.2 million in its fifth weekend for a North American cumulative of $143.2 million; and "Venom," which nabbed $4.5 million in its sixth weekend for a North American cumulative of $197 million.

On the independent film circuit, Neon's "Spencer" — starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana — opened at No. 8 with $2.1 million, on par generally with softer responses for adult-skewing arthouse titles. As usual, Netflix has not reported box office numbers for its new crime drama "Red Notice," starring Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot and Dwayne Johnson.

Next weekend is likely to be comparatively quiet, with only the Paramount family film "Clifford the Big Red Dog" opening in wide release — leaving some room for "Eternals" to play catch-up.

Times film editor Geoff Berkshire contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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