2021’s Eternals has just set a new record for Marvel Cinematic Universe films. After an initial theater-only release, the Chloé Zhao directed film has begun streaming on Disney+. According to reports, it has now had the biggest streaming premiere of any MCU film on the platform. Apparently the movie has now been viewed by 2 million households in its first five days. This puts it well over its predecessor, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This is all to be taken with a grain of salt, as neither Marvel Studios or its parent company Disney have officially reported viewership numbers as of date.
Still, this is quite the vindication for Chloé Zhao’s Eternals. When it was initially given a wide release in November of last year, it had the lowest opening weekend of the Phase Four MCU movies so far. That put it below Black Widow and the aforementioned Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It also grossed less than most MCU films as a whole, bringing in a worldwide total of $401 million (per Box Office Mojo).
But let’s put that all in perspective. That paltry $401 million box office still makes it the sixth highest-grossing domestic film of the year. And being outsold by Spider-Man: No Way Home, a movie that shatters records seemingly every other day, is not a shame. Plus, there is the whole aspect of a film being released during an ongoing global pandemic that has specifically been harsh on the theater industry as a whole.
It seems entirely likely that the soft opening numbers of Eternals can at least partially be accounted for by audience reluctance to attend theaters. Of course, there is the matter that the film dealt almost entirely with a cast of characters unfamiliar to audiences accustomed to Iron Man and Captain America. While the cosmic weirdness of original author Jack Kirby made for an interesting change of pace, it is easy to see why it was somewhat less accessible than some previous entries.
While Guardians of the Galaxy faced a similar obstacle with lack of public awareness, it had a lighter tone, and of course, this immortal dance sequence. Marvel Studios went a different direction with Eternals, as evidenced by recruiting an Oscar-winning director like Chloé Zhao. Given that they are now campaigning for a whole slew of Academy Awards for Eternals, it seems likely it was intended to be a prestige film rather than a blockbuster.
Whether Eternals will actually successfully net any of those Academy Awards is another story. While Chloé Zhao is still riding high on the accolades of her film Nomadland, her contribution to the MCU was not nearly as well regarded. It currently holds a 48% Critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That makes it the first MCU movie to settle at a “Rotten” ranking. It is still unknown whether Marvel Studios intends to follow up with an Eternals sequel, though it would seem unlikely at this point. But if these streaming numbers are accurate, they probably aren’t disappointed with how it’s doing.