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Marvel's Eternals opens with US$71m at US box office but audience response mixed

The film is the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to rank "rotten" in Rotten Tomatoes' aggregate critic score, with only 47 per cent of reviews considered positive.

Marvel's Eternals opens with US$71m at US box office but audience response mixed

A screengrab from the movie Eternals. (Photo: Marvel)

Eternals, one of Marvel's most ambitious efforts to expand its superhero universe, arrived in North American theatres with about US$71 million (S$96 million) in ticket sales over the weekend, according to studio estimates. 

By most studios' box-office standards, the opening was enviable. Only three other films have debuted better during the pandemic: Black Widow (US$80.3 million), Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (US$75.3 million) and Venom: Let There Be Carnage (US$90 million). But for Marvel's well-oiled blockbuster machine, the Eternals launch in some ways constituted a bump in the road in an unparalleled 26-film streak. 

Going into the weekend, forecasts had been only slightly higher at about US$75 million domestically. More concerning for the Walt Disney Co was the mixed audience response to Chloe Zhao's 157-minute movie about an immortal race of superheroes. The film is the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to rank "rotten" in Rotten Tomatoes' aggregate critic score, with only 47 per cent of reviews considered positive. Audiences also gave it a lower grade a "B" CinemaScore than any previous MCU entry. 

But from the start, Eternals was a less charted direction for Marvel. By enlisting Zhao, whose Nomadland earlier this year won best picture and best director at the Academy Awards, the comic-book factory tapped a lauded filmmaker more associated with arthouse realism than computer-generated spectacle. The story, too, introduces a lesser-known alien class of superheroes, whose existence spans all of human history. With a teeming, diverse cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani, Eternals dared numerous introductions including the MCU's first deaf superhero in Lauren Ridloff and the first superhero sex scene not tried before in the franchise. 

David A Gross, who runs the movie consultancy Franchise Entertainment Research, estimates the negative reception to Eternals cost it a modest 10 per cent in box office. He still sees superhero films as driving the recovery of theatres. Marvel movies account for the the top four openings of the pandemic. 

"Eternals is by no means a problem," Gross said in an email. "The film isn't connecting the way every other Marvel film has, but the box office performance is solid and it maintains October's level of business." 

Eternals, which cost about US$200 million to produce, opened strongly overseas, grossing US$90.7 million in 46 international territories. The film, however, didn't open in China and isn't expected to be granted a release in the future despite being directed by a China-born filmmaker. The previous Marvel release, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, the studio's first Asian superhero movie, also hasn't received permission to open in China. 

The reasons for the refusal aren't clear, but China heavily censors the films it clears for release. US-China relations have grown more tense in recent years. It's also been widely noted that Zhao said in a 2013 interview that China is "where there are lies everywhere". In April, her Oscar wins went unreported by China state-run media outlets and mentions of them were scrubbed from the internet in China. 

The weekend's other major new release was Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana. The acclaimed drama, which is expected to land Stewart her first Oscar nomination, launched in 996 locations and grossed US$2.1 million for Neon. 

The rest of the weekend's top draws were holdovers. 

In its third weekend of release, Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi epic Dune took in US$7.6 million for a cumulative total of US$83.9 million. Warner Bros, which has announced a sequel to Dune, released the film simultaneously on HBO Max. 

MGM and United Artists Releasing's James Bond entry No Time To Die grossed US$6.1 million in its fifth weekend of release, bringing its domestic haul to US$143.2 million. After 31 days exclusively in theatres much shorter than the three months most Bond films have had on the big screen before being available in the home No Time To Die will be released on video-on-demand on Tuesday (Nov 9) for US$20 rentals. 

Source: AP/sr