After the box office briefly ceased to exist during 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic, the theaters have fought back, and audiences are starting to pile back in front of the silver screen.
Marvel Studios hasn't missed a beat, setting the standard with its Black Widow release in July and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in September. The former cashed in $80 million on opening weekend and the latter grossed $94 million over the 4-day Labor Day weekend.
There is reason to believe that Chloe Zhao's Eternals will have the first $100 million weekend, and other reasons indicate it could be a major flop. Let's start with the positive.
Why Eternals Can Make Over $100 Million
Fans are heading back to the theaters for real this time (we think). The Hollywood Reporter published via Comscore that the October box office brought in $637 million in North America, the most since the pandemic began.
Sony's Spider-Man Universe film Venom: Let There Be Carnage, released on October 1, has grossed $190 million domestically and nearly $400 million at the global box office. Marvel Studios Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings has brought in a 2021 record of $222 million in North America during its two months in theaters. Marvel is back to owning the box office.
Besides a blossoming landscape, Eternals has a loaded cast featuring Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, and Brian Tyree Henry. Jolie joining the MCU is probably worth the price of admission for some viewers, and the reunion between Robb Stark and Jon Snow may peak some Game of Thrones fans' interests.
Eternals also set the 2021 record for day-one advance ticket sales with AMC theaters, a more tangible piece of evidence pointing toward its success. On the surface, this should indicate a huge opening weekend, as it is outperforming the three aforementioned Marvel flicks from this year.
Additionally, for the first time in Marvel Studios history, its marketing team can say "Academy Award Winning Director" after Zhao took Best Director at the 2021 Oscars for Nomadland.
The marketing for Eternals is also in full swing, with a bevy of clips, featurettes, and trailers posted to social media, along with playing in front of every tentpole film since its teaser trailer was released in late May.
Another factor added to the discussion in 2020 and 2021 is day-to-date streaming options. Luckily, for its box office outlook, Eternals will exclusively play in theaters for 45 days. Black Widow looks like the only Marvel Studios movie to simultaneously release on Disney+ Premier Access, for now.
Finally, the promise of this film opening up a new chapter to the MCU could get fans in their seats. Eternals promises to be a massive story full of history and knowledge, changing the way fans view the MCU up until this point. Marvel Studios has always had success with its team stories. With the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy movies, why would Eternals be any different?
How Eternals Could Flop at the Box Office
Critically, Eternals is breaking records with how poorly it is being received. Zhao's MCU debut recently dipped into the "Rotten" category on Rotten Tomatoes with a 59%, the lowest in Marvel Studios history.
Via Rotten Tomatoes, critic Dana Stevens from Slate wrote that Zhao might be an ill fit for comic book movies:
"Zhao, a director whose previous three films have all centered on the everyday lives of working-class rural outsiders, seems ill-suited to a movie of this scale and frankly uninterested in the fight scenes."
The Daily Wire's Megan Basham said Kumail Nanjiani is the only reason to see the movie:
"This sounds kind of fun. And I wish it were. But with the exception of Kumail Nanjiani who offers, without question, the only real reason to see the movie, the story takes itself far too seriously for fun or, really, even logic."
Furthermore, there is a political push against Eternals and the LGBTQIA+ representation present in the film. As described by The Direct's Klein Felt, "The act of 'review-bombing' takes place when any group swarms to online reviewing forums and leaves unfounded, low reviews of a given movie as a form of protest towards something that the film in question says or does. In most cases, those participating haven't even watched the movie that they're "reviewing" so harshly."
Brushing the line between freedom of speech and hate speech, the bottom line for the box office is an anti-gay community rallying behind boycotting this film doesn't look good for short-term business. "Review Bombing" also will further the negative reception of this film at first glance.
In addition to poor reception and political pushback, Eternals is a brand-new and unknown franchise to Marvel fans. In October, audiences filled theaters to see the sequel to Venom, despite mediocre reviews. Sequels historically bring in more money than their predecessors in comic book movies. After the 2014 surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy, its successor in 2017 made almost $50 million more opening weekend in North America.
On top of being a new set of heroes, Denis Villeneuve's Dune was just released in theaters and on HBO Max. Why is that important? Both films have ensemble casts, space travel, a runtime of over two and a half hours, and share the same IMDB description as "Action," "Adventure," and "Drama." Needless to say, for a casual movie-goer that only sees one or two movies every month, one may view both these films in a similar way. If someone had a bad experience with Dune, they could be slow to sign up for another 150-minute journey two weeks later.
It also needs to be said that the pandemic is still ongoing and will continue to remain a factor. However, October gave studios confidence that many film fans are comfortable heading back to their local theater.
Final Predictions for Eternals
Could Eternals prove once again that Marvel is the most dominant force at the box office? Of course. Is it possible that casual fans will pass on this November flick after an overwhelming (by MCU standards) amount of negative reviews? Absolutely.
Taking into consideration the contradiction of poor reviews and record-setting advanced ticket sales heading into November 2021, The Direct's prediction is that Eternals will make $84 million at the domestic box office opening weekend with a long-term prediction of $180 million during its 45-day theatrical release in North America.
Side note: Eternals has no release date set for China, and there isn't any indication that there will be one. Eternals will look to match Shang-Chi and get $200 million in international markets. Non-domestic markets are still incredibly hard to predict at this time due to the pandemic. Hopefully, by December's release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, there will be more clarity on non-domestic markets.
Shang-Chi was a surprise. Eternals was supposed to be the juggernaut. This weekend, audiences will find out whether Marvel Studios has another hit franchise on its hands or if Ikaris once again will fly too close to the sun.