When the news broke that Johnny Depp had been asked to resign from the Harry Potter spinoff just after he lost his libel case in court, it was the first time I’d thought about the Fantastic Beasts films in months.
As someone who adored the Harry Potter universe for years, I’ve watched in increasing horror as J.K. Rowling chips away at her own legacy. And, more uncomfortably, I’ve been forced to confront that maybe her fantasy world was only really a fantasy for cishet white folks. I mean, the hook-nosed goblin bankers aren’t even trying to be subtle. And don’t even get me started on retconning Dumbledore’s queerness.
Point being, Harry Potter doesn’t quite have the sparkle it once did for me and many other former fans. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was supposed to be the glitzy launch of a brand-new franchise, set in America in the 1920s, that would prove Rowling’s wizarding world had scope beyond just the Boy Who Lived.
How’s that working out?
For the first time, Rowling served as screenwriter for the films based on her work. She re-teamed with Warner Bros and director David Yates, who helmed the first two Harry Potter films, and made… an okay movie.
The only scene I recall with any fondness is when Newt Scamandar–played by Eddie Redmayne–goes into his suitcase to care for his menagerie of magical creatures. Oh, and Alison Sudol as Queenie was a real sweetheart. Too bad they destroyed her character in the second film.
In any case, the first film was a modest success by blockbuster standards. But the reveal that the big bad was actually Johnny Depp in disguise changed everything. It meant that audiences were faced with four more potential movies starring an actor whose star is tarnished beyond recognition.
His casting was revealed right around the time that Amber Heard leveled abuse allegations against her ex-husband and rumors of his out-of-control alcoholism and unprofessional behavior on set began to heat up.
J.K. Rowling and David Yates both defending his casting–and his character–claiming that they were delighted to work Depp.
I’m not going to litigate whether Depp or Heard was the abusive one in their relationship. But it’s very interesting to note that, despite calls from some fans to fire Depp ever since his casting came to light, WarnerMedia didn’t take action until the actor lost his libel suit. Depp had sued UK tabloid The Sun for defamation after an article described him as a “wife beater.”
Industry insiders suggest that the reason the studio took such decisive action was because of the AT&T/Time Warner merger. The new CEO and studio head seemed to have decided that Depp is simply more of a liability than an asset. The actor posted a PR-approved statement on social media about his exit from the franchise.
After filming just one scene for Fantastic Beasts 3, Depp will reportedly walk away with his entire $10 million paycheck. Warner Bros. will recast the role–although not with Colin Farrell, the star of the first movie, since he’s currently filming the new Batman in London.
But if WarnerMedia is cleaning house, could they decide that the whole franchise is tainted goods? J.K. Rowling has eroded a substantial chunk of her fan base thanks to her outspoken opinions about trans women. That aside, her scripts have been lambasted for their treatment of certain characters, especially Nagini and Queenie.
Ezra Miller, the series’ other main antagonist, caught negative headlines earlier this year when a video of them appearing to choke a fan on camera surfaced. It was never clear whether the actor, who also plays The Flash in the DC Universe, was joking or… what. The incident fizzled out as bigger scandals took over the news cycle, but it’s another dark mark on a franchise that already has multiple strikes against it.
Simply put, studios can’t afford anything other than safe bets right now. Fantastic Beasts 3 is on the schedule for summer 2022, a time when we assume the pandemic will be under control. That’s assuming a vaccine will be distributed by then. And it’s assuming that the major theater chains will survive that long. AMC and Regal/Cineworld will remain shuttered through the end of the year, if not longer.
Even if you are feeling wildly optimistic, the third film in a lackluster franchise about Wizard Hitler is not going to reinvigorate the global box office. It’s by no means a sure thing that it’ll break even, let alone make a profit. I would not be surprised if, even now, conversations are happening at WarnerMedia about the future of the franchise. Rowling planned to make five films about Grindelwald. At this point, they’ll be lucky if the third film makes it to theaters.
Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if WarnerMedia cut its losses now.