The Harry Potter fandom is currently at a crossroads, struggling to come to terms with a franchise which refuses to die and an author whose each new tweet, Pottermore addition, play and now film inevitably lacks the unmistakable magic of the original novels about the boy with the lightning scar, or reshapes what we thought we knew and not always for the better. “We have to ask ourselves if they’re taking advantage of the audience they have while not meeting the standards that they set,” said one lifelong superfan in a recent Buzzfeed article on the uneasy future of the Potterverse. Of course, not everyone feels that way. For example, in June BirthMoviesDeath penned an open letter thanking J.K. Rowling for all of the new Potterverse additions, praising it as “the greatest modern fictional universe.”
That fictional universe is currently living on in both a sequel (the Cursed Child play about Harry’s kid) and prequel (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). Since most of us can’t afford the trip to London to see Cursed Child, we’re having to make due with reading Cursed Child‘s published script and going to see Fantastic Beasts in theaters over the holidays this year. To some, the mere existence of Fantastic Beasts and its promised four sequels conjures unpleasant memories of the ultimately unnecessary Hobbit trilogy whereas to others the prospect of learning more about the history of the Harry Potter universe through these movies is a dream come true.
Warner Bros. doesn’t much care which camp you fall into because for all the shit the internet gave those Hobbit movies they all still printed money, each of one of them hovering around $1 billion in worldwide gross. So, like Fantastic Beasts, don’t like it, who cares. You paid to see it, and you’ll probably pay to see a sequel too. WB is counting on in it, with embattled CEO Kevin Tsujihara previously proclaiming Harry Potter to be one of the three pillars the studio will be built on going forward, the other two being LEGO and DC comic book movies.
At least that’s the plan. What happens if Fantastic Beasts disappoints at the box office? Heck, how do we even known what would constitute a disappointment for this $185 million budgeted franchise re-starter? For example, Fantastic Beasts just had the lowest opening weekend in Harry Potter franchise history…domestically. Worldwide, on the other hand, it easily eclipsed the debuts of the first four Harry Potter movies, meaning on the chart of worldwide debuts for Harry Potter franchise installments Fantastic Beasts now sits firmly in the middle:
But what does that even mean? Is it even useful to compare Fantastic Beasts to films which came out as far back as 2001, especially considering how much has changed for the business of Hollywood since then? For example, in 2002 Chamber of Secrets worldwide debut consisted of the domestic market (i.e., US, Canada) and a mere 6 foreign territories, the biggest being the UK and Germany. This past weekend, Fantastic Beasts opened in 62 foreign territories, which is pretty much everywhere in the world other than China and Japan. Beyond that, Fantastic Beasts is widely available in IMAX theaters everywhere whereas the first time several of the Harry Potter movies graced the aisles of an IMAX theater was last month during WB’s one-week Harry Potter marathon throughout the U.S.
So, really, telling me Fantastic Beasts outperformed the first 4 Harry Potter movies sounds nice, but it doesn’t mean a damn thing, especially since it hasn’t been adjusted for inflation (which is easy to do for domestic numbers, much harder to do for international). All this means is WB has something to brag about in the trades, and now the narrative about Fantastic Beasts *shrug* “casting a spell over audiences” has already taken shape. Also helping that narrative is the fact that pre-release projections had pegged Fantastic Beasts as debuting as low as $70m domestically, and now by beating that figure it can claim some kind of victory.
Don’t break out your victory dances just yet, though. As Uproxx noted, the opening weekend demographics suggest caution:
The film, which received positive notices from critics and high marks from Cinemascore viewers, will nevertheless need strong numbers overseas (likely) and impressive box-office legs here in the United States to guarantee that the $185 million budgeted film will lead to future sequels (five films have been tentatively planned for the franchise). The good news is, it should continue to perform well over the Thanksgiving holiday (Dwayne Johnson’s Moana will be its biggest competition) and add to its impressive overseas total. The bad news, however, is that 45 percent of its opening-weekend audience was over the age of 35, meaning that Fantastic Beasts so far looks like a film that appeals to older preexisting Potter fans but is not bringing in the number of newcomers it takes to generate a long-surviving franchise (only 18 percent of Beasts moviegoers were under the age of 18).
If you’re jonesing for a territory-by-territory breakdown, here’s Deadline’s:
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them let loose on the international box office this weekend with a $143.3M start in 63 markets. Blowing past projections, Warner Bros’ David Yates-directed franchise-starter broke Wizarding World opening records in 11 markets, including Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Russia and Brazil. In the UK, where the movie bowed to $18.3M, it is the biggest opening weekend of the year (neck-and-neck with WB’s own Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice). On 276 IMAX screens, the Beasts captured $7M.
JK Rowling’s first time as screenwriter is also the top launch of 2016 in Germany Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland; and the biggest WB bow in those along with France, Holland and Denmark. In terms of the Potterverse, Fantastic Beasts topped Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber Of Secrets, Goblet Of Fire and Prisoner Of Azkaban. Against non-Potter comps, it exceeded the debuts of The Jungle Book, Maleficent and each of the three Hobbit movies.