The recent legal troubles of Johnny Depp were bound to seep into his career, and with his exit from 'Fantastic Beasts' as Grindel Grindelwald now confirmed, you have to ask the question - is there any point in keeping the whole show going?
To begin with, 'Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them' grew out of nothing, unlike the main 'Harry Potter' series. The books were what won people over initially, and seeing them adapted to screen was the pull for audiences. The line from 'Fantastic Beasts' to screen is much less murky. When the final novel was written in 2007 and adapted to screen in 2011, everyone assumed that the book was closed on 'Harry Potter'. Indeed, many thought JK Rowling was done with the character and the world itself. She was ready to move on to other things like the 'Camoran Strike' series, not to mention 'The Casual Vacancy'. Yet, for whatever reason, JK Rowling's continued to keep the torch alive by sharing details of the world she'd created - oftentimes, sharing more information than anyone cared or wanted.
By 2016, 'Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them' was on its way to cinemas. Born out of a few references in some of the novels, set far back from the main franchise, and taking the name from an in-universe book written for Comic Relief, it was heralded as the next phase of the Wizarding World - a new invention by Warner Bros. that would see a total of five movies spun out from this one kernel of an idea.
TV director David Yates, who had previously taken over duties as director from 'The Order of the Phoenix' onwards, was drafted into see all five movies to screen, while JK Rowling would make her screenwriting debut. Reviews were patchy, but on the whole, mostly positive. With a score of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes and a CinemaScore of 'A', it looked like the whole thing was off to the races.
Yet, by the time the second movie - 'The Crimes of Grindelwald' - came around, things weren't quite so shiny and hopeful as they'd once been. For box-office, it came in $200 million less than its previous entry, and was the lowest box-office take of the Wizarding World movies. Reviews, however, were much worse. A score of just 36% on Rotten Tomatoes compacted the general feeling that audiences were growing tired of the same tricks and spells. Even bringing in Jude Law as Dumbledore didn't make any kind of a splash with audiences or fans, not to mention bringing Johnny Depp into the fold as Grindel Grindelwald.
Studio executives often seem to think that what gives a franchise legs is world-building and depth of story. Things have to connect to the other, which connect to the other thing, and so on and so on. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a lot to answer for this way of thinking. Yet, where that worked and where it's failed elsewhere is that the source material is built on this kind of joined-up, over-arching story. There are literally decades upon decades of stories to mine that has been crossed over, so that taking one arc - the Infinity Saga, in Marvel's case - feels almost uncluttered in the scheme of things.
'Fantastic Beasts' has several problems for it to continue on, and it's not just the fact that audiences are becoming less and less enamoured with Harry Potter or anything adjacent to it.
It's the personnel.
Johnny Depp's exit presents a problem, but his continued presence was an even bigger one and the likelihood is that the movie would have been engulfed in his legal issues. Replacing him is going to prove to be difficult for the simple reason that the actor most people want to replace him with - Colin Farrell - is otherwise occupied with the likes of 'The Batman' for the forseeable future. Not only that, isn't Colin Farrell better than this? Without a doubt, he was the best thing in 'Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them', overshadowing Eddie Redmayne with ease.
Next is the fact that JK Rowling has, in the past year, chosen to support anti-trans issues and has been at the centre of controversy in her most recent novel, 'Troubled Blood', which saw a cisgender man dress up as a woman to kill people. Numerous charities, including Mermaids, have cited Rowling's words and support for anti-trans issues as further demonising trans people. In June, Emma Watson tweeted her support of trans people, in an apparent rebuke of Rowling's comments.
In a piece posted by Variety earlier this week, it contended that the reason why Johnny Depp was removed from 'Fantastic Beasts' was due to the new owners of Warner Bros. - AT&T - being averse to controversy in any of its projects. Between Depp and Rowling, it doesn't get much more controversial, not to mention the fact that the other cast members - Eddie Redmayne, for example - is caught between trying to publicly defend Rowling and attempt to defend trans people against her comments.
Leaving these issues aside, the cold, hard numbers don't add up to box office success anymore.
When 'Fantastic Beasts' was first pitched as the first of five movies, there was a sense that Warner Bros. was trying to juice their stock and keep the cash machine going. After all, the Wizarding World has made $9.2 billion from the global box office across 11 movies. Yet, when you look at the box office for 'Fantastic Beasts' and its sequel, compared to 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone', there is a major discrepancy.
On its opening weekend, 'Philosopher's Stone' made $90 million against a production budget of $124 million. It would go on to make $966 million. 'Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them' made $74 million on its opening weekend against a production budget of $180 million. It would go on to make $812 million. The second movie made the least out of the entire franchise - taking in $62 million on its opening weekend, with $651 million overall. It was given an extra $20 million for production budget, bringing the figure to $200 million - the most expensive movie in the franchise, also.
It could well be that Warner Bros. wants to finish out the five-movie series, but given how merciless studios are when it comes to failing franchises, there's no reason to think that 'Fantastic Beasts' might meet a quiet end if the third movie fails to deliver.