Eternals Box Office Sees Marvel’s Lowest Opening Since Ant-Man in 2015

In fact, even with its soft premiere, Eternals is still the fourth highest North American opening of 2021, with two of the other three films above it also being Marvel products. Nonetheless, when the highest debut of the pandemic is currently a non-Marvel superhero movie called Venom: Let There Be Carnage, it’s easy to imagine someone is grimacing within the bowels of the Walt Disney Company.

The debut also comes at what is increasingly feeling like a crossroads for the Marvel Studios assembly line. As Phase 4 began in earnest in 2021—and after the pandemic caused the most popular franchise in the world to take a year off—the company had finally achieved its goal of having four films out in a single calendar year, as well as five Disney+ television series when you count the animated What If… ? and this month’s forthcoming Hawkeye. Some might think Marvel would thus be nearing a saturation point, yet the studio has managed to keep its popularity high. Their movies remain the most reliable thing at the cinema during the pandemic, and the company has successfully launched genuine “water cooler” TV shows, most notably WandaVision and Loki.

Additionally, the company has also used the beginning of Phase 4 to experiment with its formula in increasingly more ambitious ways. Their biggest success in this regard has been on the small screen with WandaVision. That show was incredibly well-received, including with Emmy nominations, because for at least its first handful of episodes it did not feel like something off the Marvel conveyer belt, and brought in a TV audience that might normally not buy a ticket to an Avengers movie, never mind Eternals. Still, the new Zhao movie similarly pushed the boundaries of what a “Marvel movie” looks like, with Zhao’s signature interest in cinematography bathing the film in natural light and a more somber tone.

Yet that unusual quality of Eternals is something audiences and even critics have rebelled against. There’s been a common complaint that the movie is not “fun” enough or fails to feature Marvel’s typical sitcom-like litany of punchlines and one-liners. Thus it’s worth wondering if the muted reception toward Eternals could give Disney pause about moving too far afield from Marvel’s winning formula, at least with their theatrical releases where audiences have been conditioned to expect a consistently familiar (and sometimes interchangeable) product.

In any event, if you were disappointed with Eternals but still want to make a second pilgrimage to the cinema this week, there’s plenty of other options at your local multiplex. For instance, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel both debuted to higher critical notices and CinemaScore ratings from audiences, and they could both use some deserved attendance after last month. Just a thought.

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