“fantastic beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”, a sequel with a budget of 200 million dollars in the “Harry Potterspin-off series, is an anomaly in JK RowlingThe Magic World. At just $405 million at the worldwide box office, it’s the first film in the blockbuster franchise, of 11, to barely break even. on his theatrical tour.
The reality that “Fantastic Beasts” is experiencing diminishing returns after three movies is especially painful, not just for Rowling, who envisioned the prequel story as a five movie franchisebut also to your sponsor Warner Bros., which ran big on the assumption that all things Hogwarts would still be relevant at the box office, whether or not Harry, Ron, and Hermione were involved in the adventures that unfold on screen.
However, that has not been the case. Although the second installment, 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” failed to gross $654 million at the global box office, its rocky performance put the future of Newt Scamander, the lead played by Eddie Redmayne, and company in jeopardy. Question. Ticket sales were down 20% from 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which grossed more than $800 million worldwide.
There was still no script for the fourth or fifth entry in April 2022, when the third “Fantastic Beasts” movie was released in theaters. Warner Bros. executives hoped to see the reception of “Dumbledore’s Secrets” before injecting resources into the final chapters of the wizarding saga. Unlike the original eight-film “Potter” franchise, which was adapted from a large number of novels, Rowling only has flimsy source material for “Fantastic Beasts”. So while the spinoff’s story was heading towards the full-scale Wizarding War being waged between beloved Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, à la Voldemort (you don’t have to be a “Harry Potter” fan to know how the battle ends), Rowling and Steve Kloves, who co-wrote “Dumbledore’s Secrets,” don’t have a clearly laid out plan for reaching the big conclusion.
Months later, Warner Bros. doesn’t seem to be prioritizing another chapter in the “Fantastic Beasts” universe. With “Dune” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” two recent Warner Bros. hits, the studio waited only a few days after those movies were released to announce plans for sequels. So the curious silence in another chapter of “Fantastic Beasts” isn’t exactly encouraging. However, it’s worth noting that “Dumbledore’s Secrets” was released around the same time that Warner Bros. Motion Pictures group was undergoing a regime change, one that saw the departure of boss Toby Emmerich and the rise of former MGM Film Presidents Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy.
Warner Bros., as well as Rowling’s representatives, declined to comment.
Unless the “Fantastic Beasts” film crew manages to get the cameras rolling in the next six months, and that seems unlikely since there’s no script yet, the fourth movie won’t be released until 2025 at the earliest. There was a longer gap between the second and third movies, which were released four years apart, but the “Harry Potter” fandom isn’t getting any younger. That’s a problem, especially since spinoff stories don’t appeal to new Muggles, as evidenced by dwindling ticket sales for subsequent installments.
There is also less incentive to invest time, energy and money in the series that is already fighting because, well, Rowling has become increasingly controversial for her repeated comments against transgender women. The study has been clear does not want to go out of the billion-dollar relationship, but heightened sensitivity around the controversial author means Warner will be selective about the projects it needs her to promote.
And it’s not like the movie theater landscape has been forgiving in the COVID era. Even acclaimed big-budget blockbusters have failed to generate the kind of currency expected in pre-pandemic times, as China and Russia, two major movie markets, are almost completely closed to Hollywood movies. That makes any tent with a budget of $200 million a riskier proposition than ever.
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav hinted in a recent earnings call about the potential to do “something” with Rowling in another Wizarding World franchise story “in the future.” However, he fell short on details. An obvious choice would be to turn to the “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” stage show, which begins right after the epilogue to “Deathly Hallows” and focuses on Harry, Ron, Hermione, and their children. Adding to the potential fervor: It’s not out of the realm of possibility to ask the original cast to reprise their roles. Warner Bros. is an investor in the Tony Award-winning play, but Rowling owns the rights to “Cursed Child,” so the big-screen version requires the author’s approval.
Given the lackluster reception to the three existing films, it may not be surprising that Warner Bros. has yet to say definitively whether the fourth and fifth “Fantastic Beasts” movies will be completed as planned. But the state of limbo is still unexpected considering “Harry Potter” has positioned itself as one of two flagship franchises (DC Comics being the other) to buttress Warner Bros.’ feature film strategy at a time when blockbuster properties budget reign supreme at the box office.
Presumably, that means the company has no choice but to devote inordinate attention to DC Studios, which is newly headed by filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran. But DC’s film output hasn’t matched the consistency or popularity of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, the idea is for Gunn and Safran to right the ship. Realistically though, it could take years to build a successful list of superhero stories.
In the meantime, it may take a little more than magic, and a lot of liquid luck, to find a delightful way to bring the Potterverse back to life on the big screen.