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‘Fantastic Beasts 3’: Can Warner Bros. Recapture ‘Harry Potter’ Magic?

Magic has been in short supply for the “Fantastic Beasts” saga.

Warner Bros., the studio behind the “Harry Potter” spinoff series, planned a sprawling five-film franchise for a prequel series set in the Wizarding World made famous by author J.K. Rowling. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was a hit in 2016, grossing over $800 million at the worldwide box office. It was a reassuring sign to executives that even after the “Harry Potter” series wrapped its eighth and final film in 2011, the studio could mine more riches from the beloved universe.

But the sequel, 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” couldn’t recreate the same charm of the original, let alone the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Critics called the follow-up confusing, partially because it introduced so many unfamiliar characters and dangled narrative threads that became tricky to weave into a cohesive story. “The Crimes of Grindelwald” wasn’t exactly an embarrassment with $650 million in worldwide ticket sales, but it fell short of expectations and earned over $150 million less than its predecessor. What did become clear, however, was that just two films in, the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise was already starting to show signs of fatigue.

“I don’t think you can discount a movie that made $650 million, but there’s an issue any time a sequel drops that far from the original,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “We’ve seen what happens when a studio tries to put out a third movie in a franchise after the second didn’t do anything for audiences.”

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Warner Bros. delayed production on the third movie for several months, igniting speculation that the studio was revamping one of its most beloved properties after uninspiring ticket sales. Insiders at Warner Bros. told Variety that the studio is postponing the third movie in an effort to get it right the third time, rather than churning out an installment every two years.

The studio announced Monday that filming on the threequel would officially commence in spring. Part three is expected to put more of a spotlight on Jude Law’s young Albus Dumbledore and set more action at Hogwarts, with series stars Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston and Dan Fogler also returning. While taking the series back to its Hogwarts roots, the third movie will also show how magic is explored in an entirely new location: Rio de Janeiro. “Fantastic Beasts 3” is expected to arrive in theaters in November of 2021, and Warner Bros. executives still expect “Fantastic Beasts” will make good on its promise to deliver five films in total.

“If you look at what worked with ‘Crimes of Grindelwald, it was when they went back to Hogwarts. There were audible gasps from the audience,” Bock said. “People loved seeing Jude Law as Dumbledore. Hopefully J.K. and the writers realize just because the movie is set in Brazil doesn’t mean we can’t spend half the time at Hogwarts. There are things they could do to save the movie.”

But Warner Bros. will need more than just a new South American setting to entice muggles back to theaters. To recapture the heart of the original franchise, the studio enlisted Rowling’s frequent collaborator Steve Kloves, who penned seven of the eight “Harry Potter” movies, to co-write “Fantastic Beasts 3.” Kloves has been integrally involved in the Harry Potter universe from its on-screen inception, and sources say his inherent understanding of the world will help Rowling better service the fans for part three. Kloves and Rowling are said to get along well and have an established working relationship. Though a successful novelist, Rowling was not as experienced when it came to screenwriting. Internally, executives are high on the script they’ve seen, believing it represents a big step forward in quality. The upcoming installment is also said to pack in more breadcrumbs for Potter enthusiasts to obsess over.

“Adding Steve Kloves is the first good step they’ve made since ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald. I suspect bringing him in will bring in more mythology from ‘Harry Potter’ into ‘Fantastic Beasts’ — that’s why you’d hire someone like that,” Bock said. “He has a lot of knowledge and is trusted by J.K. Rowling to bridge that gap. They need to lead this into a new direction.”

“Harry Potter” has always been a global draw, and international moviegoers have been a key ingredient in boosting revenues. “Fantastic Beasts” has proven no exception, with majority of ticket sales coming from overseas markets. But its domestic audiences have declined dramatically from the days of Daniel Radcliffe’s boy wizard. Re-charming fans in North America will be integral in the longevity of the series. Moreover, the Wizarding World is also much more than box office receipts. Each new film promises profits from ancillary goodies like toys, video games and theme park attractions.

“Maintaining any kind of momentum really does depend on the direction that they go with this story,” Bock said. “There’s still a big audience, especially overseas. They really have to win back the domestic audience to get that to ‘Harry Potter’ levels.”

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