A week after the world premiere of the third Fantastic Beasts film, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, and there’s already talk that this is the last edition of what was supposed to be a five-movie series.
And J.K. Rowling’s statements about transgender people – that trans women are a danger to cis women and that trans men aren’t capable of knowing their own identities – may be one of the key reasons that Warner Bros. hasn’t even started working on a script for the fourth installment in the series.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a 2016 prequel to the enormously popular Harry Potter series, based on Rowling’s 2001 book by the same name. It has been followed by two sequels, the second of which will be released on April 15, 2022 in the U.S.
The original billion dollar deal between Rowling and Warner Bros., as she announced it in 2016, was to make five films based on the material in her book, but Variety is reporting that multiple scandals and waning revenues have derailed the project.
The first source of scandal is actor Ezra Miller, who plays Credence Barebone in the movies. They were arrested two weeks ago at a Hawaii bar where they allegedly shouted obscenities, attacked a man playing darts, and grabbed a mic from a woman singing karaoke because they didn’t like her choice of Lady Gaga song.
And in April 2020, a time when a large part of the world was in lockdown, video surfaced of Miller that appeared to show them choking a woman at a bar in Iceland. It is not clear if it was a joke, but they threw the woman to the ground and the person recording them said, “Woah, bro. Bro,” and stopped filming.
The second source of scandal is Rowling herself. In 2016, she was still known mainly as the author of one of the most beloved series of books in the world. While there was some evidence that she did not like the existence of transgender people, it wasn’t until late 2019 that she ended all doubt and tweeted support for an anti-transgender activist.
Since then, she hasn’t stopped attacking transgender people, writing long essays denigrating them, repeating baseless conspiracy theories about kids being coerced into transitioning, and promoting transphobic merchandise vendors on social media.
And the backlash has made Rowling camera-shy. Variety notes that, while she appeared at the world premiere for The Secrets of Dumbledore, she refused to talk to journalists or take pictures on the red carpet with the cast. She hasn’t been talking to the media or even posting much on social media – it doesn’t appear that she has mentioned the global premiere of the film to her 14 million Twitter followers, despite repeatedly posting about a lunch with anti-transgender activists – which contrasts with how she helped promote previous films based on her books.
Eddie Redmayne and the other stars of the Fantastic Beasts movies have also been avoiding the press. They know that reporters will ask about her hateful statements, and they may be worried about either offending Rowling or their more equality-minded fans.
Warner Bros. itself has not denounced Rowling, nor has it supported her beliefs publicly.
Add in the facts that the first Fantastic Beasts sequel brought in 20% less revenue at global box offices than the original film did, that The Secrets of Dumbledore is already getting middling reviews, and that the pandemic has reduced cinema revenues around the world, and Warner Bros. might be in the process of deciding whether it’s worth continuing the series.
The Harry Potter franchise is, along with DC comics, supposed to be one of Warner Bros. flagship franchises. And some in the film industry are saying that Harry Potter-free Harry Potter movies might just not be what audiences want.
“The only way to put Harry Potter back on the map is to go back to the original characters,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “That’s where the money is at the box office.”
“This is supposed to be a crown jewel, and it’s not behaving like one.”