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Fantastic Beasts 3 release date, cast, plot and theories

When Harry Potter fans first caught wind that we would all be transported back to the wizarding world via a brand new franchise, the general response was excitement mixed with trepidation. After all, how do you follow the fourth highest-grossing movie franchise of all time, a story that conjures not just millions of dollars but very strong emotions and an almost cult-like following? Could the fans who know what Hogwarts house they're in, what their patronus is, and the correct way to pronounce wingardium leviosa possibly feel as deeply about a new story?

At the moment, the answer is foggier than a convention of Dementors. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them earned a respectable worldwide box office take of $814 million in 2016. On the other hand, the 2018 sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald took a less impressive $653 million, and failed to land with critics and audiences alike

Like many of the other movies in the Harry Potter universe, Crimes of Grindelwald attempted to weave together many plot lines and characters, but instead of feeling like a tapestry worthy of a place in the Great Hall, it ultimately felt like a mess. Since then, the intrigue around the third of the projected five Fantastic Beasts films is focused not only on what will become of the characters — and how it could possibly tie into the Harry Potter story — but on whether the team can turn the tide of opinion to Dumbledore levels of optimism once again.

Fantastic Beasts 3's release date was pushed back a year

Fantastic Beasts 3 was initially on the Warner Bros. slate for November 18th 2020, two years after the second movie. However, after Crimes of Grindelwald's troubled release, its sequel was bumped back a year. Taking its place would be the studio's long-awaited sci-fi adaptation Dune (which has since been promoted to the prime Christmas spot of December 18th 2020).

The most obvious explanation for the delay is that the team decided to rethink the series' direction post-Crimes of Grindelwald. This is an especially compelling theory, given that J.K. Rowling had apparently finished writing the third script by the end of 2018, yet was working on it again in September 2019. Filming was meant to start in the summer of 2019 before being delayed until fall, and is now expected to begin in spring 2020

However, star Dan Fogler (who plays the world's most magical muggle, Jacob Kowalski) did his best to put a positive spin on the rejigged schedule. He explained in February 2019 that Warner Bros. decided to push filming back because the next movie is going to be "bigger than the first two combined," and that they didn't want to rush the prep stage. Sounds good... if they can deliver.

J.K. Rowling has a new but familiar co-writer

One possible cause of complication with the script is the addition of new co-writer Steve Kloves. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling wrote the other two films alone — an impressive gig for her script-writing debut! However, Warner Bros. are clearly hoping that Kloves can sprinkle a little magic into the Fantastic Beasts franchise. 

Rowling has enough imagination and world-building talents to fill Hermione's enchanted endless bag, and Kloves may just have the screenwriting chops to help showcase those skills to their greatest effects. He adapted all but one of the Harry Potter books into films, and also wrote the screenplay for his own directorial debut, 1989's The Fabulous Baker Boys. He was less successful at turning another beloved legacy character into an onscreen hero, but the less said about The Amazing Spider-Man the better.

Beyond the page and behind the camera, David Yates is returning to the director role he held in the last two Fantastic Beasts movies and the last four Harry Potter films. In a November 2018 interview with Empire, Yates was excited about the script — at least as it stood then —  and promised "there's a lot to come in the next story."

The Fantastic Beasts action is moving to Brazil

Between the release of the first two movies, David Yates dropped a tantalizing teaser: each of the five Fantastic Beasts movies will take place in a different city, in another part of the world. The first Fantastic Beasts transported us to New York City in 1926, and its sequel traveled to Paris in 1927, leaving fans wondering where we'd be going next. In November 2018, J.K. Rowling issued a cryptic clue, responding to a fan who asked about her Twitter header photo by revealing that it was Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s. She actually misspelled the city's name, apologizing and joking that she really shouldn't have, given that she'd been typing it so often recently.

This major hint has lead many to conclude that the next film will be set in Brazil. As for when the action takes place, current estimates have the five films running from 1926 to 1945, since this is when Harry Potter lore has Dumbledore defeating Grindelwald. Given that only one year or so has passed across the two films so far, at some point we're looking at a pretty notable time jump. And since 1945 was also the end of World War II, it will be interesting to see how the muggle world's greatest challenge intersects with this legendary wizarding battle.

The lead Fantastic Beasts cast is back

Fantastic Beasts fans will be delighted (if unsurprised) to know that the cast's main players are all returning. The ever diplomatic Eddie Redmayne — Newt Scamander himself — said at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2019 that he was excited to start filming, even though he wasn't sure exactly when it would happen. Katherine Waterston, who plays American Auror Tina Goldstein, will also return for the third movie, along with Alison Sudol as her Legilimens sister Queenie, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, and Callum Turner as Newt's brother Theseus.

Another unsurprising but controversial return is Johnny Depp. Once a surefire choice for a big budget family fantasy franchise thanks to his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Depp's reputation was tarnished in 2016 when his now-ex-wife Amber Heard filed a restraining order against him. In December 2018 — about a month into Crimes of Grindelwald's theatrical run — Heard wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post about her personal experience with domestic violence. Although she didn't name Depp, he responded by suing her for $50 million for defamation. In April 2019, Heard submitted further evidence of the alleged abuse to the court. Warner Bros. has so far stuck by Depp, but the continued controversy has become a source of tension for the studio.

Jude Law is back as Hot Dumbledore with a bigger role

Throughout Harry Potter and thus far in Fantastic Beasts, Albus Dumbledore has been a wise but elusive figure who pops up with deliberately vague advice and cryptic messages that other characters are left to interpret, with the potential for world-ending disaster if they get it wrong. Jude Law's interpretation of the iconic Hogwarts headmaster in his youth was labeled one of the best things about Crimes of Grindelwald — and it seems that the filmmakers are listening.

The next film will shift more of the spotlight to Dumbledore, and also to Hogwarts (in addition to Brazil, presumably). This might extend beyond Law; according to The Hollywood Reporter, Jamie Campbell Bower and Toby Regbo — the two actors who played younger versions of Grindelwald and Dumbledore, respectively, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — are expected to reprise their roles, so we could see more of their backstory. 

However, Law might be the one person, aside from Rowling, who knows what's ultimately in store for his character. Producer David Heyman revealed to Empire that Rowling told the actor the full story of his character's arc across all five films when he was cast — similar to what she did with Alan Rickman, who played Harry Potter's sort-of-villain Severus Snape. Let's hope he's a good secret-keeper.

Expect to see more of Jessica Williams

If you rolled up to Crimes of Grindelwald excited to see Dope Queen (and massive Harry Potter fan) Jessica Williams, you likely rolled out disappointed. The actress, comedian, podcaster, and former Daily Show correspondent was indeed in the movie, but only in the pages of a book (albeit one that moved and talked) and had barely any screen time.

However, you might still want to fork out for a ticket for the sequel, since Williams will apparently have a much bigger role in the future film. We already know a little more about her character than you may have gleaned from that brief cameo. In November 2018, Rowling tweeted a photo of herself and Williams, apparently taken at the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, identifying Williams as Professor Eulalie "Lally" Hicks, of Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ilvermorny is the North American version of Hogwarts, sequestered somewhere on a mountain and concealed in muggle-fooling fog (so don't expect to stumble across it). 

Although the specifics of Hicks' expanded role in the franchise is unclear, she's obviously a woman of action and anti-Grindelwald — she's the one who inspired Nicolas Flamel to help the imperiled group of fighters escape from Grindelwald's army, and save Paris at the same time. It's a promising start, but they're still going to need to make up for the Williams-lite Crimes of Grindelwald.

Ezra Miller is back in Fantastic Beasts 3 as... whom?

Ezra Miller is returning for the third Fantastic Beasts adventure as Credence Barebone — or rather, as Aurelius Dumbledore, since it was revealed in Crimes of Grindelwald that he's actually Albus Dumbledore's long-lost brother (assuming, that is, that we can trust Depp's Grindelwald).

Many of the theories around Fantastic Beasts 3 hinge on Credence/Aurelius' true identity. In the first movie, we're told that he's an obscurial — someone infected with a parasitic dark force called an obscurus, as a result of not being allowed to use their magic. The more powerful the obscurial, the stronger the obscurus, and Credence/Aurelius is revealed to be unusually powerful, which is how he survived beyond childhood, unlike most obscurials.

However, this may not be the whole truth. Up until now, we've been led to believe that Albus Dumbledore had only two siblings: a younger brother named Aberforth (whom Harry Potter fans may remember) and a younger sister named Ariana, who died aged 14 when Albus was a teenager. She was accidentally hit by a spell cast during a fight among Albus, Aberforth, and Grindelwald. After a traumatizing attack as a child, Ariana had tried to hold her magic inside, and when she lost control she often became dangerous. This becomes more significant when coupled with the revelation of Credence/Aurelius's alleged lineage, and the fact that an obscurus can manifest as a dark twin to its host. Could Credence/Aurelius not be an obscurial, but Ariana's obscurus?

Is Credence really related to Dumbledore?

One puzzling question hanging in the air as we wait for the next film is whether Albus knew that Credence/Aurelius was his brother. If he did, it's odd that he wouldn't mention it. For his part, David Yates doesn't believe he knew. The director told Empire that sometimes even Albus is in the dark, and that they worked from this assumption when filming.

As to whether Credence/Aurelius really is his brother, there are a few clues. Rowling likes to give her characters names with significance: for example, the star Sirius is also called the Dog Star, and animagus Sirius Black turns into a black dog. Ariana, Albus, and Aurelius all have similar meanings — Ariana is the Portguese form of Ariadne, meaning "most holy"; Albus means "bright" in Latin; and Aurelius means "golden, gilded" (for what it's worth, Credence means "to trust or believe"). This could be a coincidence, but there are few coincidences in Rowling's carefully planned world.

The main evidence disputing Credence's true identity as Aurelius lies not in magic, but in math. Ezra Miller has said that Credence was 18 in 1926, but we know that Albus' mother Kendra died in 1899, and his father was imprisoned in Azkaban in around 1891. Either there's some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff going on, or Credence isn't Albus' brother (or he's an obscurus).

Is Leta Lestrange really dead?

Just as we were getting to know Newt's friend, crush, and fellow Hogwarts outcast Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), she nobly sacrificed herself to save him and the rest of the good guys from Grindelwald's magical fire. Lestrange also happened to be Newt's brother Theseus' fiancée, making her death a double blow for the Scamanders. 

However, there is a ray of hope that we may get to see more of Lestrange. Kravitz will be playing Catwoman in Matt Reeves' upcoming DC movie The Batman — and at the same it was revealed that there had been "some worry" about potential scheduling conflicts, as she'd already committed to playing Lestrange in Fantastic Beasts 3

Of course, given the franchise's affection for jumping around in time, it's possible that we'll only see Lestrange in flashbacks, and that she really is gone for good. Ghosts and temporary manifestations of previous spells aside, J.K. Rowling does tend to keep characters who die dead (with certain notable exceptions). But that's the beauty of a magical universe: anything is possible.

Will we learn more about Nagini?

Speaking of Crimes of Grindelwald women we really need to hear more from, fans are wondering whether Nagini is going to tell her story in the next film. Rowling faced backlash when the Crimes of Grindelwald trailer revealed that Nagini was played by South Korean actress Claudia Kim. Some felt that having an Asian woman playing someone who we know eventually becomes Lord Voldemort's loyal slave played in to stereotypes of Asian women as submissive. On top of that, the fact that she transforms into a snake recalled to some another Asian stereotype: the Dragon Lady. The fact she was apparently in a cage, performing for a leering crowd, did not assuage their concern.

At the time, Rowling defended her choice, tweeting that her source of inspiration were the Naga, which she described as "snake-like mythical creatures of Indonesian mythology... sometimes depicted as winged, sometimes as half-human, half-snake." She pointed out that Indonesians come from many different ethnic backgrounds (although she didn't specifically cite South Korea). This doesn't entirely clear things up, given that before we knew the identity of Kim's character, she was identified not as a Naga but a Maledictus: someone cursed to eventually transform permanently into an animal. The next film may prove a chance to clear up Rowling's intentions and answer these criticisms.

Do we already know the secret to breaking the blood pact between Dumbledore and Grindelwald?

If you've temporarily forgotten Crimes of Grindelwald's many twists, it seems like the most obvious way to stop a super powerful dark wizard is by sending a super powerful good wizard to fight them — someone like Albus Dumbledore. However, remember that Dumbledore can't go up against Grindelwald himself because the two were once best friends — and probably lovers — who made a magical blood pact that prevents them from fighting. The physical manifestation of this pact is a vial of blood Grindelwald has been hanging on to.

Since we know that the Fantastic Beasts franchise is building up to a big showdown between the two wizards, this pact must be broken at some point — and in Crimes of Grindelwald Dumbledore got one step closer, when Newt's niffler pilfered the vial. 

We might already have a clue as to Dumbledore's method — one that goes all the way back to the first Harry Potter story. Dumbledore's chocolate frog card explains that one of the things he's famous for is for discovering 12 uses for dragons' blood. In 1999, J.K. Rowling told the San Francisco Chronicle that she couldn't reveal these because she had to save them for "the movie script" (presumably 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) — but it never did make much of an impact on the Harry Potter series. Could this have been the reason all along?