Eternals Was Over Budget Says Marvel

Marvel Studios has revealed that its 2021 movie Eternals was over budget with its costs coming to $272.6 million (£226 million).

The movie is one of the biggest failures of the 30 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as it was the first to be rated ‘Rotten’ on Rotten Tomatoes and has the fourth-lowest worldwide gross with takings of $402.1 million according to industry analyst Box Office Mojo.

The film is named after a team of human-looking aliens from the planet Olympia who were genetically engineered to be perfect and have been hiding on earth for centuries. So the story goes, they have been locked in a war with the villainous Deviants for thousands of years even though they both have the same creator – a powerful ancient race known as the Celestials.

On paper the flick looked like a sure-fire hit thanks to its glittering array of stars led by Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden and Kit Harington. It even featured a cameo from singing sensation Harry Styles.

The movie seemed like it was in safe hands as it was helmed by Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao whose movie Nomadland won best picture at the 2021 Academy Awards. However, Eternals divided fans with some criticising its confusing plot and the characters’ gaudy costumes which seemed incongruous with the real-world setting of many other Marvel movies.

Others praised it for its inclusivity as it also starred South Korean–American actor Don Lee as the powerful Gilgamesh whilst Pakistani-born Kumail Nanjiani plays Kingo, an Eternal who can project cosmic energy from his hands and has the alter ego of a Bollywood film star. Notably, deaf American actress Lauren Ridloff also has a part as the MCU’s first deaf superhero, the super-fast Makkari.

The obscurity of the characters made the movie a gamble, despite the caliber of its stars, and this wasn’t lost on Marvel Studios’ head honcho Kevin Feige. In 2019 he told The Hollywood Reporter that “it is a very big movie. It is a very expensive movie. And we are making it because we believe in [Zhao’s] vision and we believe in what those characters can do and we believe we need to continue to grow and evolve and change and push our genre forward,” He added “that’s a risk if I’ve ever heard one.” It has now come to light exactly how much was on the line.

Movie budgets are usually kept a closely-guarded secret as studios tend to absorb the cost of individual pictures in their overall expenses. However, the costs of movies made in the UK are consolidated in single companies which file annual financial statements. These companies must be responsible for everything from pre-production to delivery of the movie and paying for services relating to the finished film. It is a condition of receiving the UK government’s Film Tax Relief which allows production companies to claim back up to 25% of their costs in Britain. Eternals made the most of it.

Principal photography took place from July 2019 to February 2020 at Pinewood Studios on the outskirts of London as well as on location in the city. Harington’s character Dane Whitman works at London’s Natural History Museum where he meets Sersi, an Eternal who is played by English actress Gemma Chan and has superhuman strength, speed, stamina, reflexes and healing. Sersi can also modify matter which comes into its own in London’s hip Camden district where she turns a traditional red double decker bus into rose petals during a battle with the Deviants.

The English countryside also stood in for other parts of the world to show where the Eternals hide out. Black Park near Pinewood Studios was the site of an Aztec pyramid whilst Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire was the setting for a South Dakota ranch and Swinley Forest in Berkshire substituted for Alaska.

To avoid raising attention when filing for permits to film off-site, UK production companies have code names. Eternals was made by a Marvel subsidiary named Olympia Productions in a nod to the Eternals’ home world and its financial statements reveal that “the estimated final cost did exceed the production budget”. It wasn’t due to Covid.

The pandemic pushed the film back from its original release window of November 2020 but it didn’t have a significant impact on its costs as production was approaching completion when Covid started spreading. Between September 2018 and November 2021, when the movie was released, Olympia Productions spent a total of $272.6 million but that’s just the start of the story. It also got a staggering $36.4 million (£30.2 million) back from the UK government giving Eternals net production costs of $236.2 million.

It was nearly $40 million more than the movie was estimated to have cost and it cast a powerful spell on the UK movie industry.

Filming in the UK drives employment and the financial statements reveal that $19.2 million (£15.9 million) was spent the production crew which peaked at 288 staff without even including freelancers and self-employed workers who make up the majority of the workforce. Movie production also brings business to UK travel and equipment firms as well as special effects studios. The bus scene in Eternals was created by German company Scanline’s new London facility whilst Disney’s Industrial Light & Magic also worked on the movie in the UK capital.

The Mouse has become a force to be reckoned with in the UK movie-making market over the past decade. In 2019 Disney signed a long-term deal to occupy most of Pinewood which plans to spend $1.6 billion (£1.3 billion) on new facilities including a studio tour. In June Shepperton Studios, which is also located on the outskirts of London, will open a 1.2 million square feet expansion making it the world’s second-biggest studio. And next year the doors will swing open to a $360 million (£300 million) complex in Dagenham which will be London’s biggest film and television production campus.

However, cinemas haven’t had such a happy ending. They typically keep half of the proceeds from films with studios retaining the remainder. A dearth of blockbusters combined with competition from streaming sites and tightening purse strings brought the curtain down on the US operations of the world’s second-largest cinema chain, Cineworld, last year. Weighed down by $8.9 billion of debt and lease liabilities, the US arm of the London-listed company filed for bankruptcy protection in September. Two months earlier Europe’s biggest privately owned operator, Vue, resorted to a debt-for-equity swap to stay afloat.

Their plight raises questions over whether UK taxpayers’ cash would be better spent on stricken local companies than profitable foreign studios like Disney. In the year to October 1 2022 its media division generated $55 billion of revenue and made $4.2 billion of operating income. It doesn’t appear that Eternals contributed to this.

Disney’s share of the box office gross is estimated at $201.1 million which leaves a $35.1 million deficit after deducting the net production costs of the movie. Eternals wasn’t helped by being released in the midst of the pandemic though this didn’t stop Spider-Man: No Way Home from grossing $1.9 billion just one month later.

Likewise, just five months after that, Disney debuted Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness which had a net production cost of just $172 million and made an estimated $305.9 million profit as we recently revealed. In contrast, Eternals cost 37.3% more to make and does not seem to have been profitable.

This doesn’t appear to have held back Kevin Feige’s world-building plans as Eternals’ producer Nate Moore told in October that “we have not seen the last of those characters.” Time will tell whether they reappear in a sequel or another Marvel movie but there is no doubt that the the most anxious to know will be Disney’s investors.

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