Eternals Proves Marvel Is Still Bulletproof At The Box Office, Relatively Speaking

Marvel once again brought its brand of blockbuster entertainment to audiences around the world this weekend with the release of "Eternals." The sweeping epic centered on a group of largely unknown characters, created by the legendary Jack Kirby, topped the box office, easily trampling the competition. While there are many ways to look at the numbers in the early going, it seems to prove that the Marvel brand is relatively bulletproof in the modern marketplace. Let's dig into the numbers.

Eternals Prevails Despite Mixed Reviews

According to Box Office Mojo, "Eternals" debuted with $71 million domestically, serving as the fourth-best opening weekend of the pandemic era to date. It is behind only "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" ($90 million), "Black Widow" ($80.4 million), and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" ($75.4 million). The commonality here is that all of these movies are based on Marvel Comics characters, and most of them are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Venom 2" was produced by Sony and does not technically exist in the MCU – though the multiverse might change all of that.

In any event, the numbers strongly indicate that Marvel superheroes are box office gold, despite the slow recovery at the box office throughout 2021. We still have yet to see any movie crack $100 million on opening weekend since theaters shut down around the world in March 2020. And that is something Marvel Studios did with frequency and relative ease before the pandemic.

The thing that "Eternals" had to contend with that no other MCU movie to date has faced is mixed critical opinion. As it stands, the Chloe Zhao-directed film holds a 48% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, ranking well below "Thor: The Dark World" as the worst-reviewed MCU movie so far. It also earned a B Cinemascore, the lowest of any MCU movie. The point is, taking the reviews and the unproven characters into account, the fact that this movie got close to "Shang-Chi," which was roundly touted as a huge success, proves the strength of the brand.

It's All Relative

The relativity of these numbers is so important. For one, we are still grading on a COVID curve, meaning that what a blockbuster used to make, versus what they make now, is not the same. And it may well never be what it used to be, though 2022 will be the true test of that. So the fact that "Eternals," despite its challenges, did what it did, should probably be taken as a good sign, especially when we look at the $161.7 million global debut. Those are numbers most studios would be ecstatic about. It's just that Marvel Studios had such a tremendous track record that the expectations are higher all around.

Another thing to consider is that "Shang-Chi" was also based on a lesser-known character, so it wasn't reasonable to expect that movie would make $100 million or more, even under ideal circumstances. Though it may have been possible. And "Black Widow," a movie based on a tried-and-true character, was released on Disney+ Premier Access as well. So its numbers are a bit skewed. As for "Venom 2," the inclusion of Carnage, a very well-known villain, pushed that one over the top. It's all relative and that is important to keep in mind to offer perspective as we try to make sense of this post-pandemic world.

Smaller Movies Continue to Struggle

"Spencer," which stars Kristen Stewart as the late Princess Diana, was the other big release this weekend. Unfortunately, the Oscar contender earned just $2.1 million from nearly 1,000 theaters. This further cements that smaller movies are having an exceedingly tough time asserting themselves as must-see events for moviegoers. Ridley Scott's "The Last Duel," Edgar Wright's "Last Night In Soho," and Scott Cooper's "Antlers" have also suffered in recent weeks.

A (somewhat) bright spot is Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch," which has been doing relatively well in its slower rollout, having earned $15.8 million to date. Given its $25 million budget, it still has a long way to go, but there may still be a path for specialty cinema in the future beyond the streaming world. It's just tough right now. "Spencer" may benefit from an awards season push, meaning it can potentially earn for weeks — if not months — to come, but it got off to a rocky start.

And the Rest...

"Dune" took another steep dive in its third weekend, taking in $7.6 million, dropping another 50.6% compared to last week. That was good enough for a distant second place. It now sits at $330 million worldwide and might be able to hit $400 million before it's all said and done. Either way, we're getting a sequel, which begins filming next summer.

"No Time to Die" continued to do well, taking in another $6.1 million, dropping just 20.3% in its fifth weekend. Daniel Craig's final James Bond flick sits at $667 million worldwide. "Venom 2" came in the four spot with $4.4 million, dropping just 22.4 percent, bringing its global total to $424 million. Good news for the potential "Venom 3." Rounding out the top five was "Ron's Gone Wrong" with $3.6 million. While the latest from Disney's 20th Century Studios held great, dropping less than 4%, it's only made $46 million worldwide. Not a great result for a presumably expensive family-friendly animated flick.

Of note, "Halloween Kills" fell off a cliff, dropping 73.1% in its fourth weekend. That's hardly surprising, given the competition — and it also hardly matters. The sequel has earned just shy of $127 million worldwide despite also being available to stream on Peacock. Anything now is icing on the cake.

Looking ahead to next week, we need to look for how well "Eternals" can hold week-to-week. Will it suffer a huge drop-off? Or will audience word of mouth offset the mixed critical response? As for new releases, the live-action "Clifford the Big Red Dog" arrives, though it will probably be fighting for second place.