Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / © Marvel Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Marvel’s Eternals.
Chloé Zhao’s Eternals movie almost had a decidedly darker conclusion.
The Oscar-winning director, 39, revealed to Empire magazine that her Marvel movie, which hit theaters early last month, had an original ending that proved to be too “bleak” for mainstream audiences.
“We actually had another ending that is really bleak. Bleak. I didn’t hate it because I’m used to films that are more melancholy. But I don’t think it went down well with audiences,” said Zhao, who also directed Nomadland and The Rider.
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Eternals ends with the heroes preventing the giant Celestial Tiamut’s emergence from destroying Earth, but soon Arishem, the all-seeing creator of the Eternals, calls the surviving main characters up into space, scolds them for intervening, and takes them to another planet. Whether they were right for saving Earth remains to be seen.
“It used to end with everybody back on the ship, minds erased and just going on to another planet, like The Twilight Zone,” Zhao told Empire. “I remember when it goes to black, everyone was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ And also, it’s the [Marvel Cinematic Universe], and you want to be excited for what’s next.”
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Eternals stars Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok and Lia McHugh.
“I have never made a film where the ending is what I wrote. You find it in the edit,” Zhao said. “Editing is a third of the filmmaking process, and when you show it to people, that’s when you find the ending. I don’t think I’ve made a single film where the opening and ending stay the same as the script, just because the scenes are fluid as we shoot.”
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The filmmaker also said it was “brave” of Marvel Studios to allow her to do a superhero movie climax that involved the characters banding together to thwart evil by joining together in love, rather than a raucous big battle.
“I remember reading the treatments thinking to myself, ‘Oh man, this is gonna be… really? So the climax moment of a superhero film is two people looking at each other, remembering that they love each other?’ I thought, ‘This is the most exciting thing ever, and boy, am I gonna get myself in trouble,'” she recalled.
“But I just give a lot of props to Marvel and also to the actors. It’s a very brave thing to do in today’s climate — for Gemma to come in to the superhero genre as a woman, an Asian woman, who is not afraid to remain gentle and vulnerable, and not feel like she has to punch and be loud,” added Zhao. “That’s a brave thing to do.”
Eternals hits Disney+ on Jan. 12.