Editor’s Note: The following story contains spoilers for “Eternals.”
Oscar winner Chloé Zhao tried to shake up the Marvel Cinematic Universe with her debut in the franchise, “Eternals.” The cosmic, time-spanning epic about an advanced race of aliens living on Earth in secret netted a respectable pandemic box office, topping $300 million worldwide. While the film had its fans and detractors, no MCU entry from the director of such vérité, magic hour–burnished tone poems as “Nomadland” and “The Rider” was going to please everybody.
But as Zhao revealed in a new interview with Empire (via The Playlist) the film had the potential to be even more alienating, with an original alternate ending the director described as “really bleak.”
Those who’ve seen the film know it ends with surviving members of the Eternals crew teleporting to a ship in space after saving the Earth and humanity with it. There, they’re met by Eros (Harry Styles, in a surprise cameo) and Pip the Troll (Patton Oswalt, in a perhaps even more surprising one). The spacey new compatriots appear on the Eternals’ ship, because they too know that something bad is afoot and that they need to assist their brethren. (More on the film’s final scenes here.)
But the original ending was played in a far more minor key. “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,” Zhao said.
When asked about the particulars, Zhao said, “It used to end with everybody back on the ship, minds erased and just going on 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.”
Zhao added that they found the ending along the way in post-production (and via the usual test screenings). “I have never made a film where the ending is what I wrote! You find it in the edit. 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,” she said.