Why ‘Eternals’ underperformed—and what it means for Marvel

A part of what makes superheroes tremendous is the aura of invincibility. Armed with mythic powers, they’re the final line of protection when extra fallible of us fail humanity.

It wouldn’t be a lot enjoyable to observe superheroes in motion, nonetheless, in the event that they didn’t have not less than some vulnerability. With the discharge of Eternals final Friday, Marvel Studios, the long-dominant drive for cinematic superheroes, lastly revealed an Achilles’ heel of its personal.

Eternals, the much-hyped twenty sixth (!) entry within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), debuted to the worst reviews within the franchise’s historical past (48% on Rotten Tomatoes), the MCU’s worst-yet CinemaScore rating (a B, one notch under Thor’s B+ in 2011), and lower-than-expected box office ($71 million, down almost 10% from already-lowered earlier expectations.) As of this second, the movie is by no means a straight-up flop. It’s already grossed $90 million on the more and more essential worldwide market, and it could get a bounce from Thanksgiving audiences or late-breaking contrarian phrase of mouth.


What is for certain simply from the opening weekend, although, is that Eternals will not be a win for Marvel, and it could have a long-lasting influence on the studio’s plans for the long run.

The third movie within the MCU’s Part IV, Eternals tells a narrative that ought to really feel acquainted to followers of Netflix’s 2020 superhero film, The Previous Guard, starring Charlize Theron. In it, divine entities generally known as Celestials created a bunch of immortal beings known as Eternals, who’re tasked with safeguarding the human race, and a separate group of immortal beings known as Deviants, who’re tasked with being crucial antagonists for some purpose. This isn’t a overview, so happily I shouldn’t have to expend keystrokes explaining who all 10 Eternals are and what powers they’ve. (On the latter rating, nearly any random guess would show correct for one or two of them.)

The solid is high-profile—that includes Angelina Jolie, a number of Sport of Thrones alumni, and Gemma Chan—and Eternals was helmed by Chloé Zhao, who received a number of Oscars directing this yr’s Greatest Image winner, Nomadland. On paper, it seems like a blockbuster with brains, the most recent line-drive proper down the plate for the Marvel juggernaut.

So what went improper?

The pandemic is undoubtedly an element, however folks have confirmed themselves prepared to go away the home for a scorching superhero film just lately, with the Marvel adjoining Venom 2 scoring a COVID-19 era-high $90.1 million opening only a month in the past. The runtime is a bladder-testing 2 hours and 37 minutes, longer than many of the Avengers films. Audiences confirmed up in document numbers for that three-hour finale, Endgame, in 2019, although, so that may’t be what stored extra folks away this time.

Right here’s what did.

Marvel was merely due for a miss

It was certain to occur someday. No franchise will get to its twenty sixth entry with out incurring just a little put on and tear, and solely so many superfans will routinely come out for the MCU each single outing with out participating their crucial colleges in any respect beforehand. Marvel Studios achieved one thing nobody else ever had earlier than with its overarching, interconnected superstructure, however simply on a statistical stage, the franchise was overdue for a bomb, if not an outright fiasco.

Marvel exhaustion is actual

Marvel followers are by no means left hungry for lengthy. They’ve an infinite provide of comedian books, digital content material, and podcasts to tide them over between MCU initiatives. Recently, although, that in-between time has shrunk to almost nothing.

Eternals is the third MCU film in 2021, with the fourth one, Spider-Man 3, due in about six weeks. Earlier than then, followers might be handled to the debut of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, which is actually the fourth MCU sequence to debut on Disney Plus this previous yr. The deluge of premium Marvel initiatives was already tough to maintain up with for informal followers earlier than this all-new set of interwoven sequence started trickling out on a brand new platform. Now, it’s extra overwhelming than ever. Extremely acclaimed and extensively considered as new sequence like WandaVision and Loki have been to this point, maybe Eternals is the primary actual indication that even Marvel followers have a saturation level.

Too many heroes directly

Watching the countless, aggressive advertising and marketing push for Eternals—which made it really feel as if the movie was arriving imminently nearly every single day of the previous six months—informal Marvel followers had been left with one query: Who the hell are the Eternals and why do I care? Probably the most apt comparability within the MCU is 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, one other deep lower from the comics, with a complete new crew needing introduction. However the obvious distinction between the 2—it would take far too lengthy to unpack the tonal variations—is that whereas Guardians boasted 5 new heroes, Eternals has a full 10.

That’s too many!

Even individuals who have already seen the film are prone to have bother retaining straight which one is Druig (Barry Keoghan) and which one is Gilgamesh (Don Lee) and what powers they’ve. To not point out that every one the powers available are so superhero boilerplate as to be scarcely distinguishable from one another. In a single scene, a baby within the universe of the film calls out the similarity between Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Superman. In response, Ikaris quips, “I don’t have a cape.”

If a superhero film has to hold a lampshade on the samey-ness of its superheroes, maybe it ought to take into account merely being a unique and altogether higher superhero film?

Tenuous connection to the bigger MCU story

One other main distinction between Eternals and Guardians of the Galaxy is that the latter had way more connections to the bigger story at hand. Each the plot and characters driving it had been rigorously woven into the Infinity Saga, which ended with Endgame. Whereas Eternals is the fourth MCU film launched since then, the following overarching plot has but to be revealed, so audiences do not know if and the way Eternals elements into it.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which got here out in September to surprisingly good box office numbers, incorporates a equally lesser-known hero from the Marvel vault and a equally self-contained story. Nevertheless, Shang-Chi not less than has appearances from a personality important to the Physician Unusual wing of the franchise, pointing towards future prospects, whereas Eternals, outdoors of its many post-credits scenes, merely references the existence of different Marvel characters, in a cringey try and account for why the Eternals by no means stepped in to assist throughout the occasions of Endgame.

What may be subsequent for Marvel

Now that Marvel has incurred its first main letdown, its architects could resolve to retool components of its technique. This pivot might take many types. It might resolve to pump the breaks on the tempo of product rollout, and restrict the output of sequence and movies per yr. It might resolve to cease recruiting scorching indie administrators to carry a contact of status to their blockbusters, though that appears unlikely given how Destin Daniel Cretin (Brief Time period 12) and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) have just lately delivered the products (Shang- Chi and Captain Marvel, respectively.) If extra Eternals films had been within the pipeline, they could possibly be jettisoned over to Disney Plus as a substitute of theaters. The probabilities are as countless and different because the Marvel canon itself.

Whereas the model’s leaders could be sensible to do an intensive forensic evaluation within the wake of Eternals’ relative crash-landing, although, the studio clearly has no have to panic.


The MCU is a uniquely and traditionally profitable phenomenon that would stand up to a number of subpar releases earlier than having to do any form of main overhaul. Within the near-future, Marvel is again to fundamentals with rabidly anticipated new Spider-Man and Physician Unusual films on deck, and the MCU-ification of the Fantastic Four simply over the horizon, together with Mahershal Ali’s tackle Blade.

Simply because the mighty Marvel Studios has proven itself to be able to weak spot, doesn’t in any approach imply it has misplaced its powers.