In pandemic times, those ticket sales were enough to lead this weekend’s box office charts and land one of the biggest North American openings in 2022. But it’s also a sign that magic is in short supply for J.K. Rowling’s lucrative and ever-expanding Wizarding World. Dinged by mixed reviews and growing apathy for prequel series star Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and company, The Secrets of Dumbledore stands as the worst start for a Harry Potter-adjacent movie. (Its predecessors 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, launched to $74 million in North America, while the 2018 follow-up The Crimes of Grindelwald bowed to $62 million.)
The diminishing enthusiasm for Fantastic Beasts is problematic because witchcraft and wizardry does not come cheap. Warner Bros. shelled out $200 million to produce The Secrets of Dumbledore, and the studio spent tens of millions more to promote the film to audiences across the globe. Like its predecessors, The Secrets of Dumbledore will be reliant on the international box office to make money in its theatrical run. The first two Fantastic Beasts installments — which ended with $814 million globally and $650 million globally, respectively — made nearly 75% of revenues from foreign sales.
Fantastic Beasts 3, too, has been a bigger draw to overseas audiences. Since the film touched down in several foreign markets last weekend, The Secrets of Dumbledore has grossed $193 million globally to date. But the persistence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has cut into the box office in China, where 50% of movie theaters are closed, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has meant that country is not granted access to Hollywood’s films. Those limitations have been difficult for all blockbusters. Since the pandemic began in 2020, only five Hollywood movies have generated at least $500 million at the global box office.
Harry Potter veteran David Yates directed the third chapter in the prequel series, which follows the beloved Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (portrayed by Jude Law). But he’s only one of a couple Dumbledores with “secrets,” as referenced in the movie’s title. In Fantastic Beasts 3, which was co-written by Ms. Rowling and another Potter alum Steve Kloves, a young(er) Albus and Scamander, a notable magizoologist, team up to thwart the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Madds Mikkelson, replacing Johnny Depp) from igniting a wizarding world war. The cast also includes Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, and Jessica Williams.
Variety’s Peter Debruge called the film a “vastly improved sequel,” which isn’t saying much because fans were not particularly receptive to the last entry. The prequel saga, which predates the adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, is intended to be a five-film franchise, but executives at Warner Bros. are waiting to see how The Secrets of Dumbledore is received by audiences before giving films four and five the greenlight. Fantastic Beasts 3 secured a B+ CinemaScore, the same grade as its predecessor. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them landed higher marks, an A- score, from moviegoers.
Off-screen, Fantastic Beasts has been a controversy magnet. On top of declining box office ticket sales, the series has been subject to blowback over Rowling’s controversial views on sex and gender identity, as well as the domestic abuse allegations that forced Mr. Depp out of the franchise. And Mr. Miller, who has a key role in the latest film, was recently arrested for disorderly conduct and harassment, though the temporary restraining order against the actor has been newly dropped. Though moviegoers may not be aware of all the scandals plaguing Fantastic Beasts, internally at Warner Bros. it has become a headache, one that has become less and less pleasant to endure because the series isn’t exactly minting money in its theatrical run. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, however, is much more than a film franchise. The fantastical universe has lent itself to profitable theme parks, live events, a Broadway play, as well as consumer products riches and success on home entertainment. — Reuters