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Will Fantastic Beasts 3 Mark The End Of The Franchise?

The third installment of a planned five-film action-adventure saga should feel like an exciting turning point. But in the run-up to the release of "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore," Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter" prequel series instead feels like it's circling the drain. Back in 2016, J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. were quick to promise Potterheads several movies that would make for globe-trotting, expansive additions to the world first established in "Harry Potter." Six years and three films later, it has grown increasingly clear that the author and studio have bitten off far more than they can chew.

In an era of IP-driven media franchises, "Fantastic Beasts" barely feels like it is competing in the same league as the likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Star Wars," or even Warner Bros.' troubled DC Extended Universe. It's a surprising downward spiral for a creative team that dominated the '00s with the original "Harry Potter" movies and basically created a template of sorts for how a blockbuster film franchise can retain the same actors for a decade to craft an immensely popular story. Warner Bros.'s own creative failures, the significant amount of bad press surrounding the series' cast and creator, and the nature of the film industry in 2022 have created a no-win situation. The studio would do well to cut its losses, re-assess the entirety of Rowling's Wizarding World's value moving forward, and return to salvage the "Harry Potter" brand name another day.

J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. failed to create a narratively interesting Harry Potter successor

The "Fantastic Beasts" movies have proven creatively bankrupt. There's really no way else to say it. For all of the clever skill J.K. Rowling writes with throughout the seven "Harry Potter" novels, "Fantastic Beasts" consistently tries to fit a square peg in a round hole. What started out as an adventure film about magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) quickly grew into a depiction of the Dumbledore-Grindelwald feud Potterheads only knew about previously from tidbits of Dumbledore's backstory in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." That's all well and good; there could have been plenty of room to stretch out Dumbledore's adventures in his younger years. Instead, Rowling's storylines continue to center the series' titular fantastic beasts in ways that increasingly feel like the author-turned-screenwriter is simply trying too hard to fit too many elements into one story. 

The series' other storylines don't fare much better. Credence (Ezra Miller) is revealed as a significant character in the first movie, a wizard who never learned to channel his powers properly. The two sequels spend an extraordinary amount of time wondering what notable wizarding family he really belongs to, culminating in a dull thud in "The Secrets of Dumbledore" that feels more like a reveal from the final seasons of "Game of Thrones" than anything Wizarding World-related. By virtue of already knowing Dumbledore's backstory, fans expect "Fantastic Beasts" to conclude with Dumbledore and Grindelwald's awe-inspiring 1945 duel that leaves Dumbledore as the Elder Wand's master. But given the lack of care put into the series' first three movies, Warner Bros. ought to leave it alone rather than disappoint more fans.

Warner Bros., J.K. Rowling, and the Fantastic Beasts cast have soiled public goodwill

It's not just the boring writing and the over-reliance on nostalgic callbacks that have the "Fantastic Beasts" series on its heels. Thanks to the controversies surrounding certain cast and creative team members, the entire franchise is currently on uneven footing with the general public. In November 2020, the studio forced Johnny Depp to resign from playing Gellert Grindelwald in the midst of his contentious divorce from Amber Heard, which includes allegations of abuse made against the actor. Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling had previously gone well out of their way to support Depp's involvement in the series amid the controversy (via Variety). As a result, audiences are treated to two different actors playing Grindelwald across the series, creating a bizarre whiplash effect that comes across more like a poorly thought-out gimmick on the films' part and not Warner Bros.' own bungled public relations nightmare.

And the nightmare doesn't end with Depp. Another principal series cast member, Ezra Miller, was arrested for disorderly conduct and harassment in Hawaii on March 28, just one in a reported string of incidents that saw police called on the actor 10 separate times over the course of a month (via AP News). Miller's public behavior appears to have grown into a problem, considering they were also filmed in Iceland appearing to physically assault a woman in 2020 (via Variety). Of course, Rowling is a walking PR disaster in her own right. Thanks to the legendary author's insistence on inserting herself into bad-faith culture wars, Potterheads now live in a world in which Russia's Vladimir Putin likens the Western world's united front in opposition to Russia's horrific invasion of Ukraine to the consistent negative reaction that Rowling's transphobic public comments receive (via CNN).

Dwindling box office returns should put Fantastic Beasts on ice

Ultimately, the future of "Fantastic Beasts" is going to be decided at the box office — but even financial signs should be telling Warner Bros. that it's time to wrap things up. While 2018's "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" made just under $655 million at the global box office, that haul not only represents an over $150 million backslide from the previous film in the prequel series, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (per Box Office Mojo), but it also landed the film the distinction of being the lowest-grossing movie in the larger "Harry Potter" franchise to date. For perspective, the final movie of the original franchise, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," brought in over $1.3 billion globally, literally double what "The Crimes of Grindelwald" made. While the "Fantastic Beasts" films wouldn't be considered total box office flops now, the trends suggest that they could enter that territory if the franchise were to continue. 

Between the second "Fantastic Beasts" film's relative box office weakness, its own hilariously convoluted storyline, the various bad press surrounding the series, and the volatile nature of the pandemic-era movie-going experience, "The Secrets of Dumbledore" has fared even worse than its two predecessors in its initial international run (via Variety). Given the series' trajectory so far, there is little reason to expect the movie will make for a box office hit in the United States, either. Variety recently reported that Warner Bros. is allegedly considering ending the series before its planned five-movie arc, seemingly soft-peddling the inevitable conclusion that it's simply not worth the studio spending another $500 million to make two more movies that are likely to produce diminishing returns.

What could replace Fantastic Beasts?

Even if Warner Bros. does axe the "Fantastic Beasts" series, it won't give up on "Harry Potter" as intellectual property. According to Box Office Mojo, the Wizarding World franchise is the fifth-highest grossing franchise ever in the United States and Canada. When you're competing with "Spider-Man," "Star Wars," and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you don't give up. There remains several ways Warner Bros. can continue expanding the Wizarding World; it's surprising they have not branched out further yet. Chris Columbus, who directed the first two "Harry Potter" films, expressed some interest to Variety last year in adapting the stage play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" to screen. It's a tantalizing prospect; the play has successfully run on Broadway, the West End, and in Melbourne, Australia for years now. Taking that story to the screen would come with its own set of problems, though. The wonky time-traveling plotlines and the need to coax actors like Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, who certainly don't need the money, back into J.K. Rowling's purview, make it a relatively unlikely candidate.

The Wizarding World has not yet joined the streaming wars, even as Marvel Studios and DC Films seemingly develop more and more television series each day. Warner Bros. would do well to make use of this space for the Wizarding World, whether in an attempt to tell another new story or simply return to Hogwarts to tell the stories of Harry's parents and a young Severus Snape. It almost doesn't matter what they do: at this point, seemingly anything might prove to be a better bet than "Fantastic Beasts."