It has been five years since Harry Potter last cast a spell over moviegoers. Five years during which America witnessed a McConaissance, Justin Bieber moved from pop star to cautionary tale and back again, Donald Trump morphed from reality show curiosity to leader of the free world, and two different actors donned Spider-Man’s spandex. In other words, a lot’s changed since the boy wizard was the biggest draw at the multiplexes.
Warner Bros. hopes that fans of Hogwarts are still out there in force and that they will flock to theaters this weekend to catch “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a spinoff of the Potter series. They’re also banking on a new generation of ticket-buyers, one that might not have been weaned on butter beer and invisibility cloaks, to get turned on to the story of Newt Scamander, wizard, textbook author, and collector of curiosities. As a sign of confidence, Warner Bros. announced that it was expanding plans for the series, and will now produce five Scamander films as opposed to three, as originally planned.
Analysts caution, however, that even though “Fantastic Beasts” unfolds in the wizarding world of Potter, it’s not a new installment in the long-running franchise and shouldn’t be measured as such.
“It’s not going to open like a Harry Potter film,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “People are still trying to figure out what this story is about and who the characters are.”
The film is still eyeing a hefty debut and is expected to earn between $70 million and $75 million from more than 4,000 domestic locations. If those estimates hold, it would be a softer debut than every previous Potter movie and less than half of what the final film, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” made in 2011. “Fantastic Beasts” will get a lift from foreign crowds. The fantasy adventure could do more than $125 million at the international box office after opening in nearly every major foreign territory, save for China, where it lands next week.
“Fantastic Beasts” stars Eddie Redmayne as Scamander, along with Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, and Samantha Morton. “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay for the film. David Yates, who directed several Potter sequels, slid behind the camera for the spinoff.
The film cost $180 million to make and follows Scamander as he tries to retrieve magical creatures that have escaped from his valise and are running wild through 1920’s New York City.
Even with “Fantastic Beasts” expected to dominate ticket sales, a few other new films will try to grab the attention of muggles who aren’t too interested in magical happenings. STX Entertainment will debut “Edge of Seventeen,” an R-rated teen dramedy in the vein of John Hughes’ explorations of adolescent angst. The film is expected to bring in $10 million from 1,900 screens in North America. It was produced for a modest $9 million and stars Hailee Steinfeld as a high schooler who comes unhinged when her best friend starts dating her brother. Critics have liked the film, which could give it a lift.
Open Road is offering up “Bleed for This,” a biopic that features Miles Teller as Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, a boxer battling his way back after a devastating car crash. The drama has earned solid reviews and is expected to make $5 million across 1,500 screens. The film cost $6 million to make.
Sony will expand “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” from two theaters where it was exhibited in jazzed up frame rates to 1,100 locations. The drama about a soldier on leave from the Iraq War is expected to bring in between $3 million and $5 million.
In limited release, Focus Features will launch “Nocturnal Animals,” a noir-ish thriller with Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, and Roadside Attractions will bow “Manchester by the Sea,” a drama with Casey Affleck. Both are expected to be Oscar contenders.
With “Doctor Strange” and “Trolls” still in theaters and still drawing crowds, it promises to be a busy weekend at the box office. It’s just a warm up to next weekend’s Thanksgiving holiday, which is traditionally one of the busiest periods for movie-going.