There’s a Bigger Momentum Problem Opens to a Box-Office for Marvel

A box-office ecosystem dominated by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a $71 million domestic opening gross for “Eternals” ($171 million worldwide) is somewhat problematic.

The third Disney Marvel release in just over four months, it opened below “Black Widow” ($80 million) and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” ($75 million). Sony also opened “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” last month, to $90 million.

“Eternals” opening gross fell about 10 percent beneath already-skittish expectations. That may reflect ongoing uncertainty about theatrical exhibition recovery, but some common sense is in order.

Three top Marvel releases, plus “Venom,” in such a short window should mean a decrease in interest. In that context, $71 million is very much in range of normal.

That doesn’t even include the bad omens: the weakest reviews ever for an MCU release, social media dominated by controversy over two minor characters, limited interest from much of the core audience and a B Cinemascore — an all-time MCU low.

This was touted as an important entry in Marvel evolution, a bridge to the future. Instead, $71 million falls below their two most recent early November MCU openings (“Thor: Ragnorak”/$123 million in 2017, “Dr. Strange”/$85 million in 2016).

This suggests a box-office plateau after October, which saw a return to 75-80 percent of normal business. Momentum is critical at a time when studio decisions around production and distribution remain fluid.

Eternals” almost certainly will provide the largest gross in November. “Encanto” (Disney) could ultimately prove bigger, but it only plays for a week this month. November 2019 saw $959 million for all films, with “Frozen” providing $269 million.

Theaters have total dependence on Marvel and a handful of other franchises. The best this year is “The French Dispatch,” which is #27 in MCU history. “Antlers” might not do much more than $150 million. These are not signs of momentum.

On its own, this week is comparatively strong. Its $108 million total is 88 percent of the same weekend in 2019, which pushes the four-week rolling average to 78 percent of two years ago. In 2019, this weekend saw four new films open — all under $20 million, with five at $10 million or more. Now? One dominant gross, nothing else above $8 million. That’s unhealthy.

Dune” dropped 51 percent in its third weekend, hurt by the loss of premium-format theaters as well as “Eternals” competition. It’s headed for a domestic total of around $110 million, tops for an HBO Max same-day film. Both “No Time to Die” (United Artists) and “Venom” held better, both down 20 percent or close (the Bond film adds PVOD on Tuesday). With few family alternatives, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Disney) dropped only 4 percent.

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“Spencer” (Neon), with Kristin Stewart a strong Best Actress contender, opened in 996 theaters to $2.1 million. The film received extensive attention, which could help sustain its award chances and elevate the home platform release where it will likely see its best return. “Jackie,” director Pablo Larrain’s earlier biopic, grossed $14 million, though via a traditional slow roll out.

A much different specialized film, “The Most Reluctant Convert” (Trafalagar), grossed over $1.2 million as a one-day special event November 3 in 400 theaters. A faith-based drama below cinephile radar, its per-theater average 50 percent higher than “Spencer.”

That Neon, as capable in marketing specialized titles as anyone, saw this tepid result reflects the challenge to get adult audiences into theaters, even for core awards titles.

“The French Dispatch” (Searchlight) added 417 theaters (now 1,205) to gross $2.6 million, same as last weekend’s total. Wes Anderson’s latest is now just under $8.5 million.

Manhattan’s Film Forum once again proved its worth as a key element in opening films. “Hive” (Zeitgeist) from Kosovo, the World Cinema winner at Sundance 2021, opened to a strong $13,775. That’s close to what would be expected pre-Covid, a rare happening.

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