‘Eternals’ debuts with $71 million despite being the worst-reviewed Marvel movie

When Marvel boss Kevin Feige hired Chloe Zhao to direct “Eternals,” he probably didn’t expect the centuries-spanning superhero franchise starter to receive the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s worst reviews ever. But Zhao’s follow-up to Best Picture winner “Nomadland” — at least in release date; “Eternals” was filmed before Zhao’s 2020 drama — was raked over the coals by critics, earning an even worse aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes than previous MCU duds like “Thor: The Dark World” and “The Incredible Hulk.” Not that any of this mattered to audiences: “Eternals” opened with an estimated $71 million over the weekend, the fourth-best opening during the pandemic behind in North America. Globally, “Eternals” has earned $161 million so far, the second-largest worldwide debut during this era behind only “F9.”

Of course, not everything about that above picture was fully rosy: “Eternals” was expected to debut with a larger figure — closer to $75 million. “Eternals” is also the lowest debut for any Marvel release this year, behind “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (a Sony film not part of the official MCU), “Black Widow,” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” One point in favor of “Eternals” as compared to those other films: it has the longest runtime at 157 minutes, making multiple showtimes per day slightly more difficult to schedule. (“Venom 2,” by contrast, is just over 90 minutes.) The audience was also slightly mixed on the result, giving “Eternals” a B grade on Cinemascore.

“You have to keep things in perspective,” Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations, told Variety. “For for any other studio, this kind of result would be a major, major hit. But the disturbing news for Disney is the critical reception for ‘Eternals’ and how that will impact word-of-mouth going forward. You could see a steep drop in the box office in its second or third weekends.”

That potential outcome aside, “Eternals” has relatively smooth sailing as the top blockbuster option for ticket buyers through the rest of the month and into next month. The next superhero movie coming to theaters is “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in December.

In second place this weekend was “Dune,” which earned an estimated $7.6 million for a North American total of $83.9 million overall. The Denis Villeneuve Oscar contender is closing in on the top-10 list of domestic releases in 2021.

“No Time to Die” finished in third with an estimated $6.1 million for a total so far of $143.1 million. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” was in fourth place as it inches to $200 million in North America, which it should crack this week. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” closed out the top five.

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