Prior to yesterday’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them fan event, we knew that Warner Bros. had planned a trilogy of films for the Harry Potter spin-off. But then at the fan event, Warner Bros. announced that there would be not three but five films in the Fantastic Beasts series, and while some were excited at the prospect of more stories from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, others became dubious, which is a bit surprising.
On the one hand, their frustration is understandable. Fantastic Beasts may be a Harry Potter spin-off, but it’s not Harry Potter. It’s an entirely new cast of characters, and if these characters don’t connect with audiences, then do we really want to spend four more movies with them?
But set that aside for a moment, and let’s return to the announcement. Let’s assume that Fantastic Beasts has never been announced and that the announcement concerned five new Harry Potter spin-off novels. If Rowling had announced, “I’m writing five books set in the Wizarding World,” do you think anyone would have been that upset? It’s more Harry Potter books! People would have gone nuts. They would have eagerly accepted Rowling, a novelist, producing more novels set within the world they love.
Here’s another hypothetical: Again, assume there was no announcement of Fantastic Beasts and instead Warner Bros. and Rowling said they were making a 10-hour Harry Potter spin-off mini-series that had an unprecedented budget. People would probably be losing their minds. When cool-looking TV shows get announced or there’s a lot of talent behind them, people don’t roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, but do I have to sit through ten hours of this?” The format creates acceptance of the length.
So why the rejection of five movies that will probably add up to around ten hours? The problem is two-fold. First the timing of the announcement makes it look like there’s not much of a plan. Fantastic Beasts was one film, then it was a trilogy, and now it’s five movies. If Warner Bros. had come out at the beginning and said, “J.K. Rowling is writing five Fantastic Beasts movies,” some fans would still be skeptical, but there would at least be the comfort of a plan. It would be established that there was the necessity of five films to tell this story.
The second and larger problem is that fans like to believe they’re the ones in charge of creating film franchises. If an author announces a five-book series or a filmmaker announces a ten-episode mini-series, we accept that as their prerogative. But films are different. We like to think that we make sequels happen and that the fairness of the marketplace determines if a studio will put in the time and effort to make more movies. Say what you will about the Transformers franchise, but it’s grossed billions of dollars, so it’s not surprising that Paramount has announced three more movies.
If we look at Fantastic Beasts as a normal film, then Warner Bros. has bucked the marketplace by saying, “You’re getting five films regardless of whether or not you like these characters or not.” It smacks of not only desperation, but also of indifference to the desires of their audience. It’s ironic that at a so-called “fan event”, Warner Bros. showed complete disregard for the opinions of the fans. The fans haven’t made more Fantastic Beasts movie happen. The fans don’t matter because they’re being taken for granted. Warner Bros. assumes/hopes they already have a winner on their hands with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and that audiences will want to spend four more movies with Newt Scamander.
But we shouldn’t look at Fantastic Beasts as a normal film franchise for one simple reason: J.K. Rowling. This isn’t like Paramount setting up a writer’s room for Transformers so they can churn out awful movies for the express purposes of selling toys and Happy Meals. Yes, Warner Bros. will make quite a lot of money from the ancillary revenue streams Fantastic Beasts creates, but this is not your typical franchise. In a typical blockbuster franchise, the writer is pretty much an afterthought. Their script will pass through countless named and unnamed screenwriters, and will be watered down by executives hoping to make the most palatable product possible.
By comparison, no one tells J.K. Rowling what to do. Warner Bros. needs her way more than she needs them. She bestows legitimacy on their Harry Potter spin-off, and without her, they may as well just be producing a knock off. No one knows this world like her, and she’s the only one who can bring it to life. No one re-writes her. She’s not getting kicked off the project. Per yesterday’s featurette, this is the next Wizarding World story she wanted to tell, and so the question isn’t whether or not Fantastic Beasts deserves five movies. It’s whether or not you think J.K. Rowling has earned the right to tell a story over five films. Based on the success of the Harry Potter novels as well as her other books, I think it’s fair to place our trust in her.