Marvel’s ‘Eternals’ Eyes Heroic $75 Million-Plus in Domestic Box Office Debut

Disney’s “Eternals,” the latest installment in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, will tower over the domestic box office when it debuts on Friday in more than 4,000 theaters.

The comic book adaptation — starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie — is estimated to collect $75 million to $80 million in its first three days of release. Some box office prognosticators have indicated that ticket sales could reach or surpass $85 million, which would give “Eternals” the biggest pandemic-era launch for a Marvel movie. Earlier in 2021, MCU entries “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” opened to $75 million in September and “Black Widow” opened to $80 million (it also picked up $60 million from rentals on Disney Plus) in July. Overall, Sony’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” holds the pandemic-era opening weekend record with $90 million in October.

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In a COVID-battered moviegoing landscape, opening weekend expectations are vastly different than pre-plague times. Industry experts say that even for a $200 million-budgeted tentpole like “Eternals,” inaugural ticket sales above $70 million could be considered a triumph these days. Prior to the pandemic, most Marvel films had no trouble clearing at least $100 million in their debuts.

“Eternals” has already collected $13 million in advance ticket sales, pacing 10% behind “Black Widow” and 23% above “Shang-Chi” at the same point in their sale cycles. Fandango, a popular online ticketing service, backs up those figures, reporting that “Eternals” is outpacing “Shang-Chi” in advance ticket sales and ranks as the year’s second-biggest pre-seller behind “Black Widow.”

Internationally, “Eternals” will touch down in 93% of overseas markets and looks to generate $55 million or more. By comparison, “Shang-Chi” opened to $53 million in similar markets and “Black Widow” grossed $69 million in similar markets.

“Eternals” has been lauded for breaking new ground in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the property’s first entry to feature a gay couple and a deaf superhero. Despite the historic feel, it will serve as an interesting test in the seemingly unassailable Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s been no shortage of superhero fare on the big and small screen in 2021, with “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” in theaters and “WandaVision,” “Loki” and “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on Disney Plus. But it’s not the deluge of comic book content that puts the spotlight on “Eternals.” After all, “Shang-Chi” opened over the Labor Day holiday and stands as the year’s highest-grossing movie in North America. So far, there hasn’t been a detection of franchise fatigue.

Rather, “Eternals” is the rare Marvel movie that has been plagued with mixed reviews. Film critics have taken issue with its complicated plot and near-eternal runtime (it clocks in at two hours and 37 minutes), landing “Eternals” a mediocre 57% Rotten Tomatoes average. Its score is considerably lower than recent MCU entries like “Shang-Chi” (92% average), “Black Widow” (79% average), “Avengers: Endgame” (94% average) and “Captain Marvel” (79% average). In “Eternals,” part of the challenge is having to introduce a number of new characters, who aren’t as ubiquitous as Iron Man, Spider-Man or Thor, while balancing, you know, the actual plot of the movie. Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman describes the film as “very standard” but, nonetheless, calls it “a squarely fun and gratifying watch.”

At the same time, Marvel has cultivated a fanbase unlike any other — and reviews (the good and the bad) rarely play an outsized role in enticing comic book loyalists. Given the series’ interconnected nature, fans have something of an unspoken obligation to watch every new installment to understand how the overarching story fits together. “Eternals” sets up the MCU’s Phase 4, which includes big-screen sequels to “Black Panther,” “Thor,” “Captain Marvel” and “Doctor Strange.” So even if critics don’t endorse the film, Marvel loyalists will likely turn out in force…and bring friends. Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro, advises it would be unwise to count out Marvel and its “all-audience appeal.”

“I suspect a great number of fans will still turn out for the movie given the franchise’s enormous goodwill, and with consideration to the fact that critics and audiences don’t always agree,” he says. But, he adds, as the box office continues to recover from the pandemic, “audiences remain selective about what they’re spending their money on.”

“Eternals” is playing only in theaters, a factor that should help box office revenues in the long run. An exclusive theatrical release benefitted “Shang-Chi,” which had a slightly smaller debut compared to “Black Widow” but ultimately outpaced its fellow MCU chapter at the box office. “Shang-Chi” has grossed $222 million in North America, while “Black Widow” tapped out with $183 million. Scarlett Johansson, who stars in “Black Widow” later sued Disney in a bombshell lawsuit, asserting that the decision to simultaneously release “Black Widow” in theaters and on Disney Plus cannibalized the film’s box office revenue and cost her tens of millions of dollars in backend deals. Disney has since announced its upcoming slate will play exclusively on the big screen before moving to premium video-on-demand platforms.

Another positive is lack of box office competition. “Eternals” is opening two weeks after Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic “Dune” and two weeks prior to Sony’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” on Nov. 19, hopefully giving all three tentpoles enough time to prevail on movie theater marquees. “Eternals” is this weekend’s only new nationwide release.

Directed by newly minted Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”), “Eternals” spotlights an immortal alien race sent to protect Earth from the evil Deviants. The supporting cast includes Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan and Kit Harington.

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