9 Years Ago, the Last Director You'd Expect Almost Made a Wild Marvel Series

What if... Eternals had been good?

Sprite (Lia McHugh) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) in Marvel Studios' ETERNALS
Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios has become synonymous with a synthesized, interconnected world, but that ironclad brand image is still relatively new. Back when Marvel’s cinematic universe was finding its legs, the franchise was all over the place. Apart from the “main” universe of the films, there were vaguely canonical TV shows distributed across Disney’s many platforms: ABC, Freeform, and even Hulu. It was something of a Wild West for the MCU, but it was also an era of innovation and individuality.

That variety allowed Marvel to produce content for different audiences, and court filmmakers with stronger visions. One such filmmaker was John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave. Ridley has worked across comics, novels, and film, and back in 2015 he was approached to develop a Marvel series for ABC.

Ridley worked on the mysterious series for years, but its subject matter was never revealed, and the project was shelved before it was officially announced. Neither Ridley nor Marvel ever came forward with any intimate details, but nine years later, that’s finally changed.

Ridley recently appeared on the Comic Book Club podcast (via TVLine), where the writer-director broke his silence on his short-lived Marvel project. Ridley revealed he’d been working on a TV series based on the Eternals, “but good.”

Ridley said the Eternals are “a really hard property” to adapt, which could explain the lukewarm reception to their MCU debut.

Marvel Studios

Ridley didn’t love the Eternals movie that eventually got the green light. “I don’t think that version was particularly good,” he said, “and for all kinds of reasons.”

The Eternals are “a really hard property” to adapt, Ridley added. The characters go back to the days of Jack Kirby, and it’s not easy to synthesize their role in the larger Marvel universe, or to balance the history, myth, and pure gonzo sci-fi of the comics.

For those reasons, Ridley’s take on the Eternals was “so f***ing weird.” His pitch focused on a younger group of alien misfits on Earth: his pilot opened with a teen pushing a power drill into his ear, and would introduce “another kid who has to sleep in the bathtub.” It was “just a really weird story about these people,” and in hindsight, Ridley isn’t sure it would have worked within Marvel’s established universe.

“It was good to me, which also means very little,” Ridley said. “What’s entertaining to me is often not populist, which is great for a lot of the work I do — but this needed to be more popular.”

Eternals was certainly a departure for the MCU, but it wasn’t quite “weird” enough to cut through the noise.

Marvel Studios

Cholé Zhao’s Eternals tried to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, but in doing so it failed to tell a truly compelling story. Marvel doesn’t seem to know what to do with its oddball properties: most have struggled on the margins of the MCU in series like Inhumans and Cloak & Dagger.

Ridley’s Eternals might have met the same fate, which can be a frustrating conclusion given how stagnant the MCU feels today. But Ridley doesn’t seem to have many regrets about his time with Marvel. His weirdness could have brought something really interesting to the MCU, but it may be a while before the franchise is ready to let creators tell stories on their own terms.

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