“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” the latest attempt to expand J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world beyond Harry Potter, earned a respectable $6 million from Thursday previews.
The production is on track to bring in more than $40 million in its opening weekend, which would be the weakest start for a Potter-adjacent movie. 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” launched to $74 million in North America, while the 2018 follow-up “The Crimes of Grindelwald” bowed to $62 million. The first of those films earned $8.7 million in Thursday previews, while its followup grossed $9.1 million. The spells and sorcery genre is an expensive proposition. “The Secrets of Dumbledore” cost a hefty $200 million to put on screen, a budget that grew in part due to COVID delays and the introduction of intensive safety protocols.
Warner Bros., the studio behind “Fantastic Beasts” and the original boy wizard movies, once saw the spinoff series as a key engine of growth, but the franchise has suffered from diminishing box office returns. It’s unclear if “The Secrets of Dumbledore” will be able to recapture the magic. Compounding issues have been a cornucopia of off-screen catastrophes — these include the blowback over Rowling’s controversial views on sex and gender identity, as well as the domestic abuse allegations that led the studio to recast a key role played by Johnny Depp. Mads Mikkelson will step in for Depp, playing the villainous Gellert Grindelwald (so far, critics at least seem to think that’s an improvement).
Harry Potter franchise veteran David Yates directed “The Secrets of Dumbledore,” with Jude Law returning as Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore and Eddie Redmayne back in the saddle as magizoologist Newt Scamander. The cast also includes Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner and Jessica Williams.
Even if “The Secrets of Dumbledore” connects with domestic audiences, it faces other problems. The franchise is heavily dependent on overseas ticket sales and the resurgence of COVID-19 has cut into the box office in parts of Asia, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has, understandably, meant that country is no longer playing Hollywood films. But that’s also the new reality for blockbuster fare during a time of plague and geopolitical strife. Since the pandemic started in 2020, only five Hollywood movies have generated $500 million at the worldwide box office.
The other major release this Easter is Sony’s “Father Stu,” which made $775,000 on Thursday and has earned $2.3 million since it opened on Wednesday. The faith-based drama stars Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson and is expected to earn $7 million over its first five days in theaters.