Fantastic beasts: it’s time for a change
Although the original Harry Potter series ended ten years ago in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Warner Bros. still keeps the franchise alive on the big screen. So far, two films from the prequel series Fantastic Beasts have been released, with a third currently in production and creator JK Rowling hinting at a series of five films in total. Plus, many fans assume it’s only a matter of time before Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play that continues the saga several decades later, will eventually be adapted into a feature film. Still, it’s hard to say the franchise hasn’t seen some of the wind blow out of its magical sails in recent years. The Fantastic Beasts films are not the critical or commercial smashes of the main Potter films. Fantastic Beasts of 2018: The Crimes of Grindelwald currently ranks among the lowest grossing Harry Potter films to date, while being the only one to win a “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It doesn’t help that the franchise is so heavily associated with behind-the-scenes controversy these days, either Johnny Depp’s legal problems or Rowling’s unfortunate story of transphobic writing.
Warners keep moving forward with the third Fantastic Beasts movie, even going so far as Replaces Depp with Mads Mikkelsen as villainous Grindelwald. Production of the third untitled film finally began in September 2020, with a release date scheduled for July 15, 2022. But as to whether the fourth and fifth films will materialize again, that remains to be seen. Given the bad mojo surrounding the series and the diminishing box office returns, Warner Bros. may choose to cut its losses and give the Potter franchise a clean new slate. And what better way to do that than to go from movies to TV?It’s a pivot that has certainly played in favor of the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is widely regarded as a disappointing conclusion to the Disney sequels trilogy. Solo: A Star Wars Story hasn’t been a major critical or commercial success either. By comparison, The Mandalorian is the first Star Wars project of the Disney era that has managed to cross party lines and please the vast majority of fans. Although it is more difficult to assess the success of streaming projects without precise numbers, widespread criticism and the massive popularity of Mandalorian themed merchandise both suggest that the series was a big hit for Lucasfilm and Disney. And with spinoffs like Rangers of the New Republic, Ahsoka, and The Boba Fett Book in the works, it’s clear that Disney is jumping into Star Wars TV projects even though the next movie is years away.
It’s not hard to imagine the Potter franchise achieving similar success moving away from the big screen for streaming TV. The Fantastic Beasts movies and the Cursed Child’s Play both have their detractors. A TV series offers Warner Bros. a chance to erase the slate and start fresh without all the baggage of these other projects. Handled properly, the first Harry Potter series could inspire quite a wave of spinoff just like The Mandalorian did. That’s not to say the franchise can immediately shake off the various controversies surrounding it, but it would be a start.
A largely open timeline
There are plenty of reasons the Harry Potter books struck such a chord in the eyes of readers, but the massive fantasy world they reveal is certainly one of them. The Seven Books unfold over the course of roughly seven years, as Harry becomes inducted into the Wizarding World and makes his way to Hogwarts. Even though the series ends on a definitive note, as Harry conquers his enemy Voldemort and liberates the world from magical tyranny, it’s clear we’ve only seen a small piece of a much larger tapestry. The magical community existed for centuries before Harry arrived, and it will continue to exist long after it has become nothing more than a sleepy painting on a castle wall.
There is so much left to cover in the Wizarding World, and even the Fantastic Beasts movies barely scratch the surface in this regard. Many fans would love to see a Marauders series – one that covers the young exploits of James Potter, Sirius Black and Remus Lupine and shows a very different side of Severus Snape. That premise alone justifies a streaming series – one where each season could tell another year at Hogwarts. In the process, fans would find out what it was like to experience during Voldemort’s original rise to power. Perhaps more importantly, the series could transform Harry’s parents from ghostly mentor figures into real, fully realized characters.
It is only an option on the table. The series could also take place after the Potter films but before the events of Cursed Child, recounting Harry’s journey to becoming an Auror and his role in rebuilding a government brought to its knees by Death Eaters. It would also provide an opportunity to introduce new threats and villains who are not members of the Voldemort or Grindelwald clans.
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The series could even take the opportunity to move away from the characters and locations of the films. The Fantastic Beasts films took a more multicultural approach, with the first set largely in New York City, the second in Paris, and the third in Rio de Janeiro. Even so, these movies only have so much room to showcase these new places amid the focus on Newt Scamander and his friends. There would be real novelty in a series that sheds light on what it is like to attend a witchcraft school in the United States, Japan or Kenya.
In short, there’s a reason they call it the “Wizarding World,” and there’s not much Warners can do to capitalize on that world with a theatrical movie released every few years.
Over Show Characters
If there’s one reason the Potter series moved on to a TV series rather than a movie, it’s the characters. Fans need well-rounded heroes they can relate to, otherwise all the wandering and beast catching is just an empty spectacle. This is arguably the biggest flaw that weighs down the Fantastic Beasts series compared to its predecessor. It’s hard to connect with goofy collector Newt Scamander and his friends in the same way it was so easy with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It doesn’t really help that the Fantastic Beasts movies are based on what is essentially a zoology book in the universe. The source material doesn’t have an actual narrative or characters to adapt, so it’s the titular beasts themselves that tend to steal the show.
A Harry Potter series would have a precious opportunity to really dig into these characters in a way that no movie has been able to do. As faithful as the core Harry Potter films are, there are inevitably large swathes of material that get cut off when you try to condense the story of an entire school year into a two or three hour movie. Even in the books, supporting characters like Cho Chang, Dean Thomas, the Patil sisters, and the extended Weasley family aren’t very well developed. But in the movies, it’s often little more than cameo roles in the background.There is an argument to be made to treat the HBO Max series as a full-fledged Harry Potter reboot and explore the events of the books in more depth. This doesn’t seem the most likely option, given the movies’ enduring popularity and WarnerMedia’s habit of using HBO Max as a platform for hit film spinoffs (Dune: the sorority, Gotham PD, Peacemaker, etc.). Still, it would certainly be an interesting decision. There is also no reason to be concerned about the show’s ability to replicate the scale and quality of special effects in movies. If The Mandalorian has proven anything, it’s that it’s no longer expensive to tackle truly cinematic stories on a small screen.
A true Harry Potter reboot is probably still much further down the pipeline for Warners. But whenever and wherever the HBO Max series is set, the hope is that it will be able to flesh out its cast to a much greater degree. We’ve had more than enough movies about the Ascended Fighting the Dark Forces. What about the remaining 99% of characters who make their way into the Wizarding World without the benefit of prophecy or the watchful eye of Albus Dumbledore? Who else has magic to conjure and a story to tell? It is high time we found out.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by follow @jschedeen on Twitter.