In April 2018, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that a film based on the Eternals had begun development, with Ryan and Matthew K. Firpo hired to write the script in May. Zhao was set to direct the film by late September, and was given freedom to use her own style when making the film such as filming on location more than previous Marvel Studios films. Zhao re-wrote the screenplay, which Burleigh was later revealed to have also contributed to. Starting in March 2019, a diverse cast was hired to portray the Eternals which include Marvel Studios' first depiction of an LGBTQ superhero. Principal photography took place from July 2019 to February 2020, at Pinewood Studios as well as on location in London and Oxford, England, and in the Canary Islands.
Eternals is scheduled to be released in the United States on November 5, 2021, as part of Phase Four of the MCU.
The cast of Eternals at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con (L to R): Madden, Nanjiani, Ridloff, Henry, Hayek, McHugh, Lee, and Jolie.
Gemma Chan as Sersi: An empathetic Eternal with an affinity for humankind who can manipulate matter. She has been in love with Ikaris for centuries, and poses as a museum curator on Earth. Feige described Sersi as the lead of the film. Chan previously portrayed Minn-Erva in the MCU film Captain Marvel (2019).
Richard Madden as Ikaris: The tactical leader of the Eternals who can fly, project cosmic energy beams from his eyes, and has superhuman strength.
Lia McHugh as Sprite: An Eternal who can project lifelike illusions. Sprite appears to be a 12-year-old child, but she is stronger and cleverer than she looks.
Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos: An Eternal and an intelligent cosmic-powered inventor who secretly helps humanity progress technologically. He is the first superhero to be depicted as gay in an MCU film.
Lauren Ridloff as Makkari: An Eternal who uses her cosmically powered super-speed to scout planets. She is the first deaf superhero in an MCU film and, as such, she is not affected by the sonic booms she creates.
Barry Keoghan as Druig: An aloof Eternal who can use cosmic energy to control the minds of others. He becomes withdrawn from the other Eternals because he disagrees with their interactions with humankind.
Don Lee as Gilgamesh: The strongest Eternal who can project an exoskeleton of cosmic energy. He becomes Thena's partner in their exile from the other Eternals.
Salma Hayek as Ajak: The wise and spiritual leader of the Eternals, who has aided the advancement of human civilization and is able to use her abilities to heal. Ajak can communicate with Celestials.
Angelina Jolie as Thena: A fierce warrior Eternal who can form any weapon out of cosmic energy, and develops a close bond with Gilgamesh over the centuries.
Director Chloé Zhao promoting Eternals at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said in April 2018 that the studio was actively developing a film based on the Marvel Comics series Eternals, created by Jack Kirby, to release as part of their Phase Four slate of films. Marvel Studios had met with multiple screenwriters, and was believed to be focusing on the character Sersi in the film. Marvel set Ryan and Matthew K. Firpo to write the script a month later, with their outline including a love story between the characters Sersi and Ikaris. In June, Feige said Marvel was interested in exploring the "ancient aliens kind of sci-fi trope" by having the Eternals be the inspiration for myths and legends throughout the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
During late August, Marvel's director search for Eternals narrowed to a shortlist that included Chloé Zhao—who had also been in the running to direct Marvel's Black Widow (2021)—Nicole Kassell, Travis Knight, and the pair of Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra. Zhao approached Marvel Studios about making the film as she had been a fan of the MCU. She wanted to work with the studio to bring her own take and world-building to the franchise, and impressed them with a presentation that Feige described as fascinating, with "reams of visuals". Zhao worked with producer Nate Moore to develop her pitch. The presentation left Marvel concerned that she might take on a different big-studio project instead of Eternals, forcing them to move quickly to secure her, and Zhao was hired as director in September. Zhao hoped to push the scope of the film further than Marvel's Avengers: Endgame (2019), but also wanted it to have intimacy. Zhao described the film as a melting pot of influences, from Kirby's original work, previous MCU projects, Zhao's fandom of the MCU, and her love of science fiction and fantasy films and manga. Speaking specifically to her love of manga, she hoped those influences would create a "marriage of East and West".
Marvel considered Eternals to be a perfect transition into its next phase of films along with projects such as Captain Marvel (2019), allowing the studio to cast a diverse group of actors to portray the various Eternals. Moore's initial planning documents for the project including the swapping of genders, sexualities, and ethnicities of some characters from the comic books, with Zhao further advocating for this approach. In February 2019, Feige reiterated that Marvel was interested in the Eternals due to Kirby's epic, century-spanning story, with the film version spanning 7,000 years and exploring humanity's place in the cosmos. Marvel also wanted to create more ensemble films that were not crossover films, like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), while introducing relatively unknown characters to audiences as they did with that film's title characters and the Avengers.
I wanted it to reflect the world we live in. But also I wanted to put a cast together that feels like a group of misfits. I didn't want the jocks. I want you to walk away at the end of the movie not thinking, 'This person is this ethnicity, that person is that nationality.' No. I want you to walk away thinking, 'That's a family.' You don't think about what they represent.
At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Feige officially announced The Eternals with a release date of November 6, 2020. He officially announced the casting of Jolie as Thena, Nanjiani as Kingo, Lee as Gilgamesh, Madden as Ikaris, and Hayek as Ajak, along with Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, and Lia McHugh as Sprite. Feige added that one of these actors was portraying an LGBTQ character, with actor Haaz Sleiman later revealing that Phastos is depicted as gay in the film. Sleiman portrays the character's husband, and the pair have a child in the film. Sleiman felt it was important to depict "how loving and beautiful a queer family can be" rather than the "sexual or rebellious" depiction in some previous media. Feige said the relationship was "always sort of inherent in the story" and he felt it was "extremely well done" in the film, while Sleiman said it was a "thoughtful" depiction.
By the film's official announcement in July 2019, principal photography had begun at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England.Ben Davis served as director of photography, after doing so on several previous MCU films. Zhao said Marvel Studios allowed her creative freedom to shoot the film on location, "exactly the way [she] wanted to shoot" it. She was able to use a similar style to her previous films, including 360° shots and working with the same camera and rigs as was used for her film Nomadland (2020), which Zhao was set to complete back-to-back with The Eternals. Zhao felt that she "got lucky in that Marvel wants to take risks and do something different." Zhao cited The Revenant (2015) as a primary influence when composing the film's action sequences.
Gemma Chan and Barry Keoghan were in talks to join the cast in August 2019. Chan previously portrayed Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel, but reports noted that she was potentially being looked at by Marvel to play a separate character in this film. Since Minn-Erva dies in that film, Chan had felt that it was unlikely she would return to the MCU, but after working on the film she was told by Feige that the studio wanted to "make better use" of her in a future project. This led to Chan auditioning for Sersi, one of the last actresses to be considered for the role. Chan later described Sersi as the most difficult role for the film to cast. Chan and Keoghan were confirmed to be cast in the film at the D23 Expo in August, in the roles of Sersi and Druig, respectively, along with Kit Harington as Dane Whitman. Chan said she and Marvel Studios were surprised by how soon after Captain Marvel her new MCU role came, with both assuming that it would have been a project further in the future.
By early November, filming took place in the Canary Islands. The filming cast and crew, including Jolie and Madden, had to be evacuated from a shooting location on the island of Fuerteventura when an explosive device was found there. The device was thought to be a remnant armament from a Nazi base. Later that month, Zain Al Rafeea joined the cast. In early January 2020, filming took place outside the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in Oxford, England, as well as Hampstead Heath and in Camden in London, under the working titleSack Lunch. Chan said the filming process felt very different to what she experienced on Captain Marvel, explaining that Eternals shot more on location and utilized natural light while Captain Marvel had more studio work and bluescreen. Filming wrapped on February 4, 2020.
In March 2020, Scanline VFX, one of the companies working on the film's visual effects, confirmed that they would be working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early April, Disney shifted much of their Phase Four slate of films due to the pandemic, moving The Eternals' release date to February 12, 2021. In August, the film's title was officially shortened from The Eternals to Eternals, and the next month, the release date was pushed back to November 5, 2021. Reshoots had taken place by mid-November 2020.
In January 2021, Zhao revealed that she was also a writer on the film, with Patrick Burleigh soon revealed to have worked on the script as well. Additional filming occurred in Los Angeles in early February, also under the working title Sack Lunch.Dylan Tichenor and Craig Wood serve as co-editors of the film. Tichenor said Zhao usually edits her own films and has "strong opinions", but on Eternals she was relying on Tichenor and Wood due to the size of the production and the ongoing awards season for Nomadland. Tichenor added that Zhao respected the pair's editing experience and point of view, and they made their first cut of the film without much input from her. They began adjusting the film based on Zhao's feedback, and were still working on the editing in April 2021. At the end of the month, Zhao said editing for the film was in its "final stretch", and Jashaun St. John was revealed to appear in the film, after previously starring in Zhao's film Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015).
Harish Patel was revealed to be appearing in the film in early May. At the end of the month, with the release of the first teaser trailer and poster for the film, the official writing credits were revealed: Zhao was credited as the screenwriter, both as a solo contributor and as part of a writing team with Burleigh, while Ryan and Matthew K. Firpo received story credit. Additionally, Gil Birmingham was revealed to have been cast in the film.
The first footage of the film was released in May 2021 as part of a promotional video from Marvel Studios celebrating their films and a return to movie theaters. Though the footage was limited and "vague", Hoai-Tran Bui at /Film still felt it was "very exciting". Chaim Gartenberg of The Verge felt one of the biggest moments of the footage was seeing Jolie wielding a sword made of light. He was also encouraged that Eternals appeared to be one of Marvel's first films to "deliver on [their] years-long promise of creating films with more diverse casts".Nerdist's Michael Arbeiter said the footage was quick, but felt that it "manages an air of wonderment".
The first teaser for the film was released on May 24, 2021. Gartenberg felt the teaser was light on plot elements, with it instead focusing on the "civilization-spanning scope of the superhero team and its members throughout human history". He also believed the film was "a big swing" from Marvel Studios to entice audiences with a lesser-known comics property, but believed that it would succeed due to its diverse cast of well-known actors and Zhao's status as "one of the most exciting directors around".io9's Charlies Pulliam-Moore felt the trailer was a "multiple millennia-spanning recap of Earth's history", and said it was unclear how much the larger MCU would impact on the film outside of a brief reference to the Avengers at the end of the trailer. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Nick Romano felt the teaser was a combination of "thrilling, goosebump-inducing moments" and some jokes. Erik Adams of The A.V. Club felt the spot teased some fresh angles for the MCU in a similar way to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and he enjoyed the images of Kingo's Bollywood dance, Sprite performing karaoke, and the end scene of the Eternals eating together and joking about the Avengers. After seeing the teaser, Variety's Adam B. Vary described the film as "unquestionably a Chloé Zhao movie", but wished more action set pieces were featured in the teaser to see how Zhao would approach them in the film. Adele Ankers of IGN discussed the poster that was released at the same time as the trailer, highlighting how the Eternals appear in silhouette against a sunlit background which she described as "another taste of Chloé Zhao's signature filming style and the use of natural light to illuminate a frame" that would be seen in the film. Upon release, the teaser quickly became the number one trending video on YouTube and amassed 77 million global views in its first 24 hours.
Eternals is scheduled to be released in the United States on November 5, 2021. It was previously set for release on November 6, 2020, before it was shifted to February 12, 2021, and then to the November 2021 date, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be part of Phase Four of the MCU. In May 2021, a Chinese state media report excluded Eternals, as well as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, from its list of upcoming MCU films releasing, which Variety noted "added to rumors" that the films would not be released in China, especially since Zhao had become "an unexpected persona non grata" in the country following her Oscar wins for Nomadland.