Marvel films have already contributed significantly to the pandemic era’s box office recovery during the second half of 2021, and Eternals is hoping to join the chorus of big comic book movie openings in recent months.
As we previously outlined in long range tracking a few weeks ago, the film has a number of advantages in its favor — not the least of which is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s unprecedented level of goodwill among a wide variety of audiences from die hard fans to casual viewers. Similar to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings two months ago, Eternals is in the position of introducing a new corner of the franchise to the uninitiated.
Unfortunately, one aspect of tracking for Eternals has distanced itself from that film, July’s Black Widow, and most other MCU entries in recent years. The film is currently hovering at just a 53 percent critics’ score from 176 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest of any theatrical release from the sprawling brand since Thor: The Dark World‘s 66 percent in 2013 and its first ever “rotten” classification after 26 films over the course of 13 years.
It’s an unusual development for a Marvel Studios film throwing a possible wrench into box office modeling. Eternals had been off to a hot start in the pre-sales window three weeks ago with very positive social media sentiment to back it up. At the time, the theatrically exclusive film’s trajectory suggested it was very likely to out-open hybrid release Black Widow‘s $80 million July weekend and potentially contend for the first $100 million-plus frame of any domestic release since December 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The latter might not the case now as trends began to soften last week when reviews piled in, denting social traction and pre-sales momentum. It may have been a lofty goal to begin with, though.
With that said, the Marvel brand can never be counted out. Reviews are generally embracing certain elements of writer/director Chloé Zhao’s ambitious visual approach, something well-represented in marketing. Fandango reported on Wednesday that the film was out-selling Shang-Chi through that point in the sales cycle, while trailing only Black Widow among all 2021 releases.
An unknown factor for any franchise release is always centered around what share of box office business the built-in audience will generate. For the MCU, many films have classically spilt over into the general masses with great success even after front-loaded preview and opening day showings. Those films usually had the benefit of very positive reviews and early screening buzz, though.
Some benefits remain. This film is now a few weeks separated from the last tentpole release to hit domestic theaters in a benchmark October, so pent-up demand for another trip to cinemas among a variety of demographics could still drive an interest to check Eternals out. The aforementioned exclusivity to theaters prevents any siphoning of the audience off to a streaming platform this weekend, and a diverse ensemble of well-known and recognizable actors could offset the lack of familiarity with the characters themselves.
Of course, the film also has complete control over premium screens (opening at 400 IMAX auditoriums, 850+ PLFs, 1,600 3D locations, and 250 specialty D-Box/4D screens). It will retain those for two weeks until Ghostbusters: Afterlife opens on November 19. Even after that, Eternals will face minimal direct competition until the middle of December — meaning there’s plenty of time for legs to develop, pending reception.
Internationally, the film has already earned $7.6 million from 14 markets, led by $2.6 million from Korea and $1.6 million from France. The studio reports overall first day results are 85 percent ahead of Shang-Chi and 20 percent ahead of Black Widow on a like-for-like basis.
For the sake of historical precedents, November is a period the MCU has visited only a few times before, but successfully each time: first with 2013’s Dark World ($85.7 million debut), then 2016’s Doctor Strange ($85.1 million) and 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok ($122.7 million).
Although those are pre-pandemic benchmarks, the former two of that trio could still be reasonable targets for Eternals if it proves to be mostly critic-proof during opening days — and if internal weekend word of mouth is positive enough to allay Saturday and Sunday drops of a sharper nature than those previous releases. This time of year, Marvel films usually ease less from Friday than they do during summer.
Advance shows for Eternals begin at 6pm on Thursday evening. Current metrics indicate the film is still on pace for a preview gross north of $8 million, and potentially upward of $9 million, but walk-up business will be key toward to building out the kind of momentum Shang-Chi enjoyed over its Labor Day weekend debut in early September. That film earned $8.8 million from previews as part of a $29.5 million overall opening day gross before topping out at an over-performing $75.4 million holiday-inflated, three-day frame.
Comparisons to Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which owns the pandemic era opening record thus far with $90 million in early October, should be avoided. The Sony film’s target audience proved to be far more walk-up friendly than Disney’s MCU releases typically are, and as such, doesn’t make for a reliable measuring stick when it comes to Eternals projections.
Also opening this weekend is NEON’s Spencer at 996 locations, considerably less than the 1,500 estimate projected by the studio a few weeks ago. Nonetheless, pre-sales are respectable in certain markets at the moment with interest building around Kristen Stewart’s potentially award season-friendly performance as Princess Diana.
We’re not currently providing forecasts on the film, but it’s a candidate to break into the top ten if it beats expectations and brings back more of the arthouse crowd that Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch has rallied in recent weeks, which itself will see an expansion from 788 to 1,205 locations this weekend.
As holdovers go, Halloween weekend makes comparisons a bit wonky since the holiday fell on a Sunday for the first time since 2010. It’s safe to expect Eternals will cut into the audience of films like Dune, No Time to Die, Halloween Kills, and Venom: Let There Be Carnage to a fair extent. Dune will notably lose IMAX screens — its strongest box office contributor.
Sophomore performances from Antlers, Last Night in Soho, and My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission will likely see sharp declines from each. Notably, Funimation has not reported weekday grosses or an estimated location count for the Academia film, but we expect it will prove quite front-loaded. Its location count below is based on Showtimes Dashboard projections.
Opening Weekend Range: $68 – 88 million
Boxoffice projects a 65 to 75 percent increase for this weekend’s top ten films from last weekend’s $61.9 million top ten aggregate.
|Film||Distributor||3-Day Weekend Forecast||Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, November 7||Location Count||% Change from Last Wknd|
|Eternals||Disney / Marvel Studios||$78,000,000||$78,000,000||4,090||NEW|
|Dune||Warner Bros. Pictures||$7,200,000||$83,100,000||3,546||-53%|
|No Time to Die||MGM / EON / United Artists Releasing||$4,600,000||$141,500,000||3,007||-41%|
|Venom: Let There Be Carnage||Sony Pictures / Columbia||$2,900,000||$195,400,000||2,640||-50%|
|The French Dispatch||Searchlight Pictures||$2,600,000||$8,400,000||1,205||<-1%|
|Ron’s Gone Wrong||20th Century Studios||$2,400,000||$16,200,000||2,650||-36%|
|Halloween Kills||Universal Pictures||$2,300,000||$89,700,000||3,098||-74%|
|Antlers||Disney / Searchlight Pictures||$1,900,000||$7,400,000||2,800||-55%|
|Last Night in Soho||Focus Features||$1,800,000||$7,600,000||3,016||-57%|
|My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission||Funimation||$1,700,000||$9,900,000||~1,425||-73%|
All forecasts are subject to revision before the first confirmation of Thursday previews or Friday estimates from studios or official sources.
Theater counts are updated as confirmed by studios. The above table does not necessarily represent the top ten as some studios do not finalize weekend location counts and/or an intent to report box office returns prior to publishing.