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Eternals: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts From Chloé Zhao's Marvel Movie

Eternals poster art
(Image credit: Disney)

Over the course of the past decade-and-a-half, there have been more than two dozen Marvel movies that have given longtime comic book fans moments they once thought could never leave the elaborate splash pages they studied growing up. But these eye-popping scenes that make audiences leap into the air with joy or cover their mouths in shock aren’t easy to put together and take years of work from writers, directors, and actors who bring these stories to life, like what we see in Chloé Zhao’s Eternals

The movie that featured a few of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe moments of 2021 while also giving the franchise yet another victory at the box office can now be purchased on Digital or pre-ordered on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD ahead of its February 15 release. Included with the home release is a great deal of bonus and behind-the-scenes content breaking down how some of those scenes came to be, some of which is featured below. There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s dive right in…

Ikaris and Sersi in Eternals, Richard Madden and Gemma Chan

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Director Chloé Zhao Insisted On Using Practical Effects And Shooting On Location For Eternals

Prior to directing Eternals, Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao made a name for herself by capturing the beauty of humanity and the natural world with movies like The Rider and Nomadland, but helming one of the most highly anticipated Marvel Phase 4 movies is something entirely different than a low-budget indie film, or so you would think. 

In the behind-the-scenes featurette “Immortalized” accompanying the home release of Eternals, Marvel Studios Vice President of Production and Development Nate Moore explained that Chloé Zhao pressed the studio to shoot at practical locations, and that despite the challenges the decision presented, it gave the movie an aesthetic that was entirely different from everything else.

Arishem in Eternals

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Writers Ryan Firpo And Kaz Firpo Took Elements Of Jack Kirby’s Original Version And Neil Gaiman’s Run Of Eternals

The Eternals’ comic book history is one of the richest of all the Marvel properties, which made crafting a story about the team of god-like figures a rather arduous task for writers Ryan and Kaz Firpo when they were first tasked with writing an adaptation. In the “Immortalized” featurette, the writers revealed they were given around 800 pages of comics, notes, and other pieces of information to help them in their research. 

After pouring through everything they had been given, the writing team became “endlessly inspired” by all of Eternals’ creator Jack Kirby's original comics as well as Neil Gaiman’s 2006 miniseries, and used that information to adapt what some fans would call the perfect comic for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to adapt.

Lauren Ridloff in Makkari in Eternals

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

How Angelina Jolie Helped To Make The Eternals Set A More Accessible Place For Co-Star Lauren Ridloff

There’s a lot that can be said about Lauren Ridloff’s portrayal of Makkari in Eternals, especially with what the actress has said about the importance of the role as well as her character’s impact on the American Sign Language community. Even though the role was empowering for Ridloff, the experience wasn’t without its own set challenges. But as she explained in a New York Times interview, Ridloff got some support from one of her co-stars:

In some scenes, I had to face a wall. As a deaf person, how do you cue me? At one point, I was sharing my frustration with Angie — Angelina Jolie — at a holiday party after a day of shooting. And she immediately made a suggestion, ‘why don’t we use a laser pen that special effects can easily erase?’ It was an ‘Aha, wow’ moment. Whenever I’m looking at a wall, the interpreters would use a laser pen to make a circle on the wall — ‘rolling, rolling, rolling’ — and once it went away that meant, ‘Action!'

A little kindness goes a long way.

Hiroshima in Eternals

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

The Eternals Production Team Studied Photographs And Weather Records To Recreate The Hiroshima Bombing Scene

There’s a brief interaction between Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Ajak (Salma Hayek) not long after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II that really shows Chloé Zhao’s attention to the detail. In the director’s commentary track that accompanies the Eternals home release, Zhao revealed that when she and her team were planning out the scene, they studied photos of Hiroshima in the aftermath of the bombing as well as weather records from August 6, 1945 to better imagine what the landscape looked like that day.

Kumail Nanjiana as Kingu

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

Kumail Nanjiani Felt It Was Important To Get In Superhero Shape For Eternals

In late 2019, nearly two years before Eternals even landed in theaters, the movie got all sorts of attention when a picture of an absolute jacked Kumail Nanjiani surfaced online and raised some eyebrows. The topic has come up time and time again over the years and brought a lot of attention to the former Silicon Valley star. And while it could very much seem like something to make the actor feel better about himself and his looks, he told The Hollywood Reporter in July 2020 that it was about more than that.

In the interview, when asked about the significance of being the first Pakistani superhero in a Marvel movie, Kumail Nanjiani revealed that he got “ripped for Pakistan” and how he wanted to look like he could actually take on the likes of Thor and Captain America and make it look believable. The Stuber star went on to reveal in an October 2021 GQ profile that he also wanted to get in shape so that the entertainment industry would stop typecasting him in roles. 

Salma Hayek and the cast of Eternals

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The Eternals Cast Was Excited And Emotional When They Finally Saw Each Other In Their Costumes

The Eternals wear some of the more fascinating costumes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with each featuring intricate designs different from the others. The complexity of the suits, however, meant they took a considerable amount of time to create, and the Eternals cast didn’t get to see one another in them until months into production. In the “Immortalized” behind-the-scenes featurette, all of the cast members featured talked about how excited and emotional they were when they all first lined up in their outfits that first time.

Angelina Jolie in Eternals

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Thena Walking Into The Water With Gilgamesh’s Ashes Was A Tribute To Terrence Malick’s The New World

There are a lot of interesting things to know about Chloé Zhao, and of those is the fact that she takes a great deal of inspiration from visionary filmmaker Terrence Malick and his body of work. This is evident in all of Zhao’s movies, but when making Eternals, the director threw in an homage to one of Malick’s most beautiful films to date: The New World. In her director’s commentary track, Zhao revealed that the shot of Thena (Angelina Jolie) walking into the water with Gilgamesh’s ashes was her way of paying tribute to one of her favorite moments in Malick’s 2005 epic drama and that she was really excited she was able to capture that beautiful moment of Jolie walking into the water on film.

Gemma Chan in Eternals

(Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney_Studios_Motion_Pictures)

The Sunset Following The Emergence In Eternals Was A ‘Gift’ According To Chloe Zhao

Love it or hate it, there is no denying that Eternals is one of the most beautifully shot movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a lot of that has to do with Chloé Zhao’s filming techniques that she brought over from her indie days. One of the most eye-popping scenes of the entire film comes after the the Eternals stop the emergence by turning Tiamut into marble before it can rise from the ocean. The immediate aftermath shows the surviving members of the group embracing in the glowing light of a sunset, but this wasn’t something added in post-production.

In her commentary track, Chloé Zhao explained that the “magic hour” that day on the beach was the most colorful sunset she had ever seen before and that she felt like it was a “gift” given to the cast and crew 

Kit Harrington and Gemma Chan in Eternals

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Eternals Was Originally Supposed To End On A Much Bleaker Note

In the Eternals ending audiences saw in theaters, the Eternals save the planet from destruction but the heroes that stayed back on Earth are zoomed up into space by Arishem who takes them away to face judgment for their actions, though humanity lives to see another day. The original ending that Chloé Zhao wrote way back when, was supposed be a lot bleaker and didn’t all that much to set up a future for the characters. When speaking with Empire following the film’s home release, Zhao revealed her initial plans:

It used to end with everybody back on the ship, minds erased and just going to another planet, like The Twilight Zone. I remember when it goes to black, everyone was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ And also, it’s the MCU, and you want to be excited for what’s next.

That would have certainly put the MCU in a strange place with the franchise’s newest characters not being able to remember that they saved Earth or their shared experiences over the past 7,000 years.

Harry Styles in Eternals

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Chloe Zhao Was The One Who Pushed For Eros To Appear In The Eternals End Credits Sequence

If you were shocked, surprised, or happy to see Harry Styles taking on the role of Eros, aka Thanos’ brother in the first of two Eternals end credits sequences, then you have director Chloé Zhao to thank. When speaking with Empire in January 2022, Zhao explained that she always wanted Starfox to be in the movie in some form and that she would always hound on Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige whenever she would see him in the hallway because she loved the idea of Eros being an eternal.

At one point Eros was supposed to be on the ship with the other Eternals who had their minds erased, but when the ending changed, Chloé Zhao came up with another way of getting him into the movie: his interaction with the other surviving members in space. Now we just need to find out where his involvement is headed.

Hopefully all of this gives you a greater appreciation of Eternals and everything that went into making ambitious movie. If you want to see how the movie’s story fits into the big picture, take a look at our breakdown of all the Marvel movies in order.

Philip Sledge
Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.