While Eternals saw a fairly tame box office return and quite the polarizing reception from fans, Chloé Zhao's Marvel Studios directorial debut planted the seeds for galactic consequences on a scale hitherto undreamt of. The film concluded with Gemma Chan's Sersi and company defying the Celestial gods by purposefully preventing the Emergence, an event that would have destroyed Earth and killed all of its inhabitants. Oh, and Harry Styles debuted as Eros.
Eternals has not seen a #MakeTASM3 or #ReleaseTheSnyderCut demand from fans for a sequel, but all narrative signs indicate one is on the way. Even if the immortal ensemble isn't as big of a box office draw as the Spider-Mans and Captain Americas of the MCU, Marvel Studios has made enough billion-dollar flicks to prioritize some storylines over profits.
That said, the status of an Eternals 2 remains unknown. Star Angelina Jolie has spoken definitively about "the sequel" in past interviews, but Zhao has emphasized a follow-up is very much a "we'll see" at the moment.
With no public urgency on a second installment, when can fans expect a potential Eternals 2?
MCU's Sequel History
Despite beginning with a bit of regularity when it came to spacing out sequels, recent MCU releases have been anything but. Some franchises like Iron Man and Captain America saw their trilogies begin and end within a five-year period, but most come without any sense of a pattern.
Thor: Ragnarok seemed like a distant four years since the previous Thor: The Dark World, but that sequel gap has been overtaken numerous times over. When Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hits theaters this May, it will have been almost six years since the first Doctor Strange film. November's Black Panther: Wakanda Forever arrives 4.5 years after the first Black Panther, and 2023's expected slate of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will arrive five and six years after their predecessors, respectively.
That said, those aforementioned films kept their characters relevant by having them pop up in various other franchises between their sequels. While Stephen Strange's six-year gap between solo films seems lengthy, Benedict Cumberbatch has suited up as the good doctor in four MCU films during that time, which includes one film in every year of that gap. If Eternals 2 arrives sometime in the later 2020s, do any members of Marvel's immortal ensemble show up in other franchises during the in-between time?
The likeliest option is Kit Harington's Dane Whitman, who interacted with an off-screen Mahershala Ali making his (verbal) debut as the MCU's Blade. Placing Whitman and partner Sersi in Blade gives Marvel the opportunity to keep members of the Eternals in the spotlight without rushing a sequel.
An Ant-Man Situation
Development on future MCU installments often begins before their predecessors even debut. For a quite recent example of this, just look to Peter Parker.
Still, some Marvel franchises are in wait-and-see situations. During Marvel's Phase 3 reveal in fall 2014, a sequel to the then-upcoming Ant-Man was noticeably absent. Ant-Man and the Wasp would find its way onto the Phase 3 release slate shortly after Ant-Man's successful summer at the 2015 box office, but the delayed confirmation made it clear that Marvel Studios was monitoring Scott Lang's critical reception and profits before publicly greenlighting a sequel.
Eternals may find itself in a similar spot. While Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige often touts Zhao's pitch as the best he's ever heard, the thousand-year epic was not a guaranteed hit based on the concept alone.
The film's $400 million dollar return is far from a flop, but it is modest by Marvel Studios standards. With a production budget of $200 million and likely a similar marketing campaign cost, Eternals likely had trouble breaking even financially.
Critically, Eternals is Marvel's most divisive film. It's the only Marvel Studios release to receive a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes, yet still boasts an impressive 78% audience score.
Neither the reviews nor box office give Eternals 2 any sense of urgency. Regardless, its potential to further the MCU's cosmic narrative outweighs other concerns.
With no Avengers film for Marvel to currently build towards, the MCU has slowly been sprouting B-tier bigger picture narratives on its various scales. Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Val appears to be assembling an array of antagonists for grounded heroes like Sam Wilson and Yelena Belova to eventually team up against, while Loki introduced fans to Jonathan Majors' Kang the Conqueror, a Thanos-level antagonist who promises to wreak havoc across the Multiverse for years to come.
The Eternals find themselves among Marvel's realm of cosmic stories. While some of the roster remains on Earth, Thena, Druig, and Makkari have ventured out into deep space on the Domo. This gives that trio the potential to factor into any of the space narratives Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Thor: Love and Thunder, or The Marvels set up.
Even if there is no set pattern to how Marvel spaces out their sequels, they are strategic when it comes to balancing their various bigger picture storylines.
Both 2013 (Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World) and 2014 (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy) had one Earth-based and one space film each. When the scales tip towards one side, like 2017's two space stories (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok) to the one grounded narrative (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Marvel balances it out the very next year, as 2018 saw the majority of its MCU screentime on Earth (Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and half of Avengers: Infinity War).
All that is to say that Marvel is most likely placing Eternals 2 in a year not already populated by cosmic stories. 2023 already has two space-based films in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and The Marvels, which all but rules out next year for an Eternals sequel. No films are set in stone for 2024, but signs point to Blade and Fantastic Four filling two of Marvel Studios' four untitled release dates for that year.
Goals of Eternals 2?
If the past ten years have taught fans anything, it's that Kevin Feige values storytelling over everything. Regardless of how much a movie makes at the box office, Marvel is not going to fast-track a sequel just because it's in high demand. Avengers 5 would make ten figures in its sleep, but it's not on the current release slate because current narratives don't warrant it.
The same goes for Eternals 2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp were essential stepping stones to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, respectively. What is Eternals 2 building towards?
The Road to Galactus
Kang may be the present, but the Devourer of Worlds is the future.
While Galactus is not a Celestial in the comics, many fans are pointing to the big bad becoming one in the MCU. His larger-than-planet presence bears a significant resemblance to Arishem, and Eternals writers Kaz and Ryan Firpo have already teased integrating the character into a potential sequel.
2014's Guardians of the Galaxy showed fans a universe-uniting villain can have a featured role while saving his best stuff for the future. Considering Galactus will likely be used as an Avengers antagonist in the MCU, Eternals 2 can introduce him in a similar capacity to how Thanos was used in Guardians of the Galaxy. This allows Eternals 2 to focus its standalone narrative on Harry Styles' Eros while simultaneously planting the seeds for their eventual integration with Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
On top of that, this gives Eternals 2 a connective thread to Fantastic Four. Galactus is often linked to Marvel's first family on the page, and even if he doesn't show face in Marvel Studios' upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, the idea of him can be planted.
When Will Eternals 2 Release?
Based on the bigger picture possibilities and the effort to retain Marvel's balance of grounded and cosmic narratives, Eternals 2 seems most likely to arrive in late 2024 if it's greenlit.
Director Chloe Zhao currently has her teeth sunken into a Dracula project, likely keeping her occupied for the majority of this year. Giving her 2023 to develop and film Eternals 2 makes that currently untitled Marvel Studios release date of November 8, 2024, a probable landing spot for the sequel.
Eternals is now streaming on Disney+.