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Harry Potter and the Not So Fantastic Performance of the Prequels

The real crime of ‘Grindelwald’ is dwindling box office attendance for the ‘Wizarding World’ franchise.
Grindelwald Waterston Redmayne
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on November 19th, 2018

Eventually, all franchises see a decline at the box office. Especially when they’re in the prequel phase. We’ve seen it with Middle Earth (LOTR), Alien, and this year even Star Wars. The upcoming Transformers prequel Bumblebee isn’t tracking so well, either. Fortunately for Hollywood, most of the time it’s just the domestic attendance veering downward. But Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald also doesn’t seem to be doing as fantastic as it needs to in some places overseas.

The latest installment of the Wizarding World franchise, second in the Fantastic Beasts series of movies that tie-in as prequels to the Harry Potter adaptations, The Crimes of Grindelwald is no doubt another hit for Warner Bros. and this cash cow of an intellectual property. Being number one at the domestic box office and scoring a $253 million debut worldwide doesn’t sound so shabby. The magic hasn’t run out completely for this beast of a brand.

In North America, The Crimes of Grindelwald sold an estimated 7 million tickets in its first weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, making it the easy champion for the time being. That number is, however, the lowest for a Wizarding World debut. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them previously held the dishonor with 8.5 million. The Harry Potter movies’ openings, in order: 16 million; 15.2 million; 15.1 million; 16 million; 11.2 million; 10.4 million; 15.6 million; and 21.3 million.

Long-range predictions for The Crimes of Grindelwald had the movie doing at least close to the number of the first Fantastic Beasts movie, according to Box Office Pro’s report from September. But even last week’s forecast overshot by a bit. But the same happened with the previous installment, which underperformed compared to lofty industry expectations for the return of the magical universe inhabited by Harry Potter and friends. At least this one promised the return of Dumbledore!

While the dip isn’t unnatural for any franchise, the Fantastic Beasts spinoff series hasn’t exactly been doing well critically or even with its core fanbase at this point. The first installment managed a Certified Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and was aces with audiences polled by CinemaScore. The Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t just not Certified Fresh but it has the Harry Potter brand’s first negative Rotten Tomatoes score, and with a ‘B+’ has given the franchise its lowest CinemaScore grade.

The CinemaScore grade is most telling, as that’s the reflection of how opening-night moviegoers felt about it. Fans rushing out to see the film are obviously disappointed. Diehard Potterheads will remain hopeful and, regardless, will continue with the rest of the planned five-film series. Others might drop out, at least for theatrical interest, until the inevitable movies that bring back Harry Potter and the original characters, namely for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which will be huge.

Obviously, The Crimes of Grindelwald will come out just fine for the studio, which spent a reported $200 million on the production before advertising. There’s a chance it might not even be the lowest-grossing Wizarding World installment worldwide — a position currently held by 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But already its international box office is also a tad bit below that of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Sure, that $253 million opening is better than the previous movie’s $218 million, yet The Crimes of Grindelwald also debuted simultaneously in more markets, including China, which turned out $37.5 million this time around compared to $40.4 million for Where to Find Them. The new movie did improve over the last in 38 of its 79 markets, however, according to Box Office Mojo. Moviegoers in Europe are apparently less turned off by Johnny Depp than those in North America.

In other box office news, the other new wide releases severely underperformed in their debuts, as well. Instant Family, despite positive reviews and an ‘A’ grade from CinemaScore polling that would indicate good word of mouth, and Steve McQueen’s Widows, which was very well-received by critics but disappointed moviegoers, according to its ‘B’ grade at CinemaScore, fell short behind the decent holds of The Grinch and Bohemian Rhapsody.

There will be a lot of talk about the continued lack of box office success for comedies, especially since Mark Wahlberg did so well with his last family sitcom feature (Daddy’s Home) and its sequel, as well as the continued misfortunes for awards contenders such as Widows and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which saw a decline in attendance in spite of a substantial increase in theater count. Outside of A Star is Born and Black Panther, this year’s Oscar hopefuls are mainly box office duds.

In the bigger picture, considering it saw the release of a new Harry Potter prequel with more direct nods to the original series and featuring some familiar characters, movie attendance in the 46th weekend of 2018 shouldn’t be so low (19.3 million) compared to last year (21.7 million), which had the disappointing debut of Warner Bros.’ Justice League at its top. At least 2018 overall is back up versus the attendance up to this point in the last five years.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – 7 million (7 million)
2. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch – 4.4 million (14.4 million)
3. Bohemian Rhapsody – 1.8 million (14.5 million)
4. Instant Family – 1.6 million (1.6 million)
5. Widows – 1.4 million (1.4 million)
6. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – 0.54 million (5 million)
7. A Star is Born – 0.49 million (21 million)
8. Overlord – 0.43 million (2 million)
9. The Girl in the Spider’s Web – 0.28 million (1.5 million)
10. Burn the Stage – 0.27 million (0.4 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.