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Where's the Harry Potter magic? Latest 'Fantastic Beasts' film is franchise low at box office

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Stars (L-R) Jessica Williams, Callum Turner, Jude Law, Fionna Glascott, Dan Fogler & Eddie Redmayne in a scene from "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore"
Stars (L-R) Jessica Williams, Callum Turner, Jude Law, Fionna Glascott, Dan Fogler & Eddie Redmayne in a scene from "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore"   -   Copyright  Warner Bros. Pictures via AP
By Euronews  with AP

Has the latest 'Harry Potter' franchise spin-off lost its magic touch?

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” got off to a less-than-enchanted start in its first weekend in US and Canadian theaters. The third installment in the Harry Potter spinoff opened to $43 million in North America, according to studio estimates.

It was enough to secure the film the top spot on the box office charts, but it’s also a low for the franchise.

The first film had a $74.4 million debut in 2016 and the second, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” opened to $62.2 million in 2018. “The Secrets of Dumbledore,” which Warner Bros. released in 4,208 locations in North America, also carries a $200 million production price tag.

It’s more common than not for sequels and threequels to come in lower than their predecessors, but “Dumbledore” also follows several franchise titles that defied that logic, including “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Venom 2” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.”

The eight Harry Potter films were responsible for over $7.7 billion at the box office, while the first two “Fantastic Beasts” films made $1.5 billion total.

This installment stars Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller and Mads Mikkelsen, who replaced Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. In November 2020, following Depp’s failed libel case against The Sun tabloid newspaper for an article that labeled him a “wife beater,” the actor said Warner Bros. asked him to step down and that he agreed.

'A tall order' to recapture the Harry Potter magic

“Recapturing the original ‘Harry Potter’ magic that began some 20 years ago in cinemas is a tall order,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “The ‘Fantastic Beasts’ franchise, while seeing diminishing returns with each successive installment, still has enough of a devoted fanbase to conjure up respectable numbers particularly with international audiences which have always provided the lion’s share of the box office for these films.”

Dergarabedian added that the true test for “Dumbledore” will be the second weekend.

Also, as Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. head of domestic distribution, pointed out, the films are just one part of the Wizarding World.

“It’s part of a bigger strategy for the Wizarding World, a bigger business that includes theme parks and stores and merchandising. It’s all about the totality of these pieces and not any one on their own,” Goldstein said. “There’s still a lot of public interest and a lot of fan interest."

Evan Agostini/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Actors (L-R) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson & Rupert Grint attend the premiere of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' November 2010, in New YorkEvan Agostini/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Critics cite lack of focus in 'bit of a bore' film

Film critics haven't fallen in love with "Dumbledore" either. With a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, most came in on the negative side.

Film writer Jake Coyle said “the purpose of these movies has never felt like much beyond keeping the Potter train running” and that this iteration is “a bit of a bore.”

Audiences, which were 56% female, were a little kinder, giving it four stars on PostTrak and an overall B+ CinemaScore.

"Overall, a spark is missing" said Coyle in his review.

One problem Coyle picked up on is a lack of focus on who the film's central character is - with Dumbledore outshining magizoologist Newt Scamander; while baker Jacob Kowalski gets more to do in this installment, but wizard Tina Goldstein is given a less substantial role.

Where “Fantastic Beasts" may ultimately reside is in a prequel netherworld -- never truly in Potter land but instead in some contrived next-door realm that, at times, seems to exist purely to capitalize on a potent patch of intellectual property. Despite a great deal of talent and craft, the purpose of these movies has never felt like much beyond keeping the Potter train running.

As with previous “Fantastic Beasts” films, “Dumbledore” has more hope internationally.

The film already opened across much of Europe earlier in April with grosses so far of $193 million worldwide. Both of the previous films made over 70% of their global totals from international showings.