The latest installment of the Wizarding World franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, is really not good. If it was something that existed on its own, there’d be no reason to recommend it. Unfortunately, for those of us hooked on the Harry Potter universe, we’re not going to just skip this sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them because we’re hopeful that the prequel series will improve with the next and subsequent installments. So, you’ll go see it, and afterward, you’ll want to wash it down with something more satisfying. Here are 10 recommendations to get you through to Fantastic Beasts 3 in 2020:
Paris Qui Dort (1924)
What is the reason for The Crimes of Grindelwald to be set in Paris? There’s barely any sense of the City of Lights in the movie, outside of the occasional establishing shot with an obligatory appearance of the Eiffel Tower. For a fantastical film that really takes you through the French capital, check out this early silent film from Rene Clair. The sci-fi short, also known under the English titles The Crazy Ray, Paris Asleep, and At 3:25, a mad scientist uses a magical device to freeze the people of Paris. However, like the attempt in the first Fantastic Beasts to put an Obliviate spell on everyone in New York, the spell doesn’t work on everyone. Most of those unaffected use the opportunity for criminal activity, of course.
Nothing But the Hours (1926)
For another look at the real Paris around the time The Crimes of Grindelwald is set, there’s nothing better than Alberto Cavalcanti’s debut, cc, also known as Nothing But Time. One of the lesser-known classics (despite being one of the first) of the documentary genre known as the city symphony, this short montage depicting a day in the life of Paris features some narration in the form of titles, which make the claim that cinema is the best artistic medium for properly representing the character of the place.
Unlike some other city symphony films, Nothing But the Hours doesn’t simply present snapshots of its metropolis in succession; there’s more satirical commentary in what images are featured, including one notable special effect shot superimposing a slaughterhouse scene atop a man’s steak dinner that was likely inspired by Dsiga Vertov’s similar look at the origins of meat in his 1924 film Kino Eye.
The Third Man (1949)
Like many things about The Crimes of Grindelwald, I don’t understand what Carol Reed’s The Third Man has to do with the Fantastic Beasts sequel. The film noir classic, which again reunites regular collaborators Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten, is set in Vienna about 20 years after the events of the Wizarding World entry. Well, the master costume designer Colleen Atwood surely had her reason for citing this movie specifically to fan sites (including Mugglenet) visiting the set of The Crimes of Grindelwald last year, even if as quoted she seems to be misremembering its location:
“My inspiration definitely reflects film noir, and I love the way ‘The Third Man’ looks. I mean it’s a great looking film. The use of light and shadow is beautiful. It’s not set in Paris, I don’t believe, but with Paris as a backdrop, it’s helpful too for design because you get a French take on it but with the lighting of the noir films. It’s definitely a player in my inspiration. That was David Yates’s big note; you know, like he really liked the noir kinda feeling for this one.”
Witchfinder General (1968)
Johnny Depp tends to channel some other iconic celebrity or character for his bigger movie roles, and his portrayal of the eponymous Grindelwald seems to be no different. While not acknowledged by Depp as an inspiration, he does look somewhat like one of his idols, Vincent Price as Gellert Grindelwald. With the white hair and mustache and large-collared costume, the resemblance might be closest to Price’s Inventor character in the Depp-led Edward Scissorhands (the costumes of which Atwood also iconically designed). Then there’s his rivalry with another wizard, which calls to mind The Raven, though that might be a better suggestion to save for when Grindelwald and Dumbledore actually battle in a future installment.
I choose Witchfinder General this time, despite Price’s look here not being similar to Depp’s because both oft-over-the-top actors go for a more serious dark performance in their respective parts, and Price’s character, the real-life but fictionalized 17th-century witch hunter Matthew Hopkins, is like Grindelwald a villain looking to wipe out a group of humans he considers to be a greater evil. Of course, Hopkins and Grindelwald would be enemies since their genocidal desires are against each other’s kind. Perhaps one day the Wizarding World will go back further in prequeldom and depict the witch trials and hunts of the 1600s in England.
The Holy Mountain (1973)
When you’re looking to cast a significant alchemist in a franchise as mainstream as the Wizarding World, obviously you want to pay homage to one of cinema’s least-mainstream classics. Alejandro Jodorowsky stars in his own surreal masterpiece The Holy Mountain as a character only known as The Alchemist. Now his son, Brontis Jodorowsky, in thick old man makeup, plays a legend of Harry Potter lore: Nicolas Flemel, who was an actual French scribe and maybe alchemist who supposedly discovered the philosopher’s stone and became immortal. The pursuit of eternal life is also part of the plot of The Holy Mountain, but the what the Wizarding World movies are really missing that the elder Jodorowsky’s film has is the power to turn shit into gold. Well, wait, let’s look at the box office results…
J.K. Rowling has publicly claimed the character Nagini (Claudia Kim) is based on Indonesian mythology, though the concept of the Naga can be found throughout South Asian and Southeast Asian culture. Most notably on the big screen is in the Indian version, stemming from Hindu myths, which specifically depicts the human/snake hybrid as part cobra. You can go back to Universal’s 1955 orientalist horror film Cult of the Cobra for an earlier instance of a woman turning into a snake, but the Bollywood blockbuster Nagin is a great entry point through the legitimate backdrop. The musical follows the story of a female Naga avenging the death of her love by killing off the men who mistakenly murdered him.
Nagin is said to have been inspired by Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (though it’s similarities seem like the link could have been just as coincidental as Kill Bill‘s), and it has been remade a number of times, mostly for other Indian film industries/languages. Also worth checking out is the hit 1986 Bollywood film Nagina (aka Gem Stone), which involves a slightly more intricate plot in which a man aims to marry the titular shapeshifter despite the efforts of a villainous sage who exposes her. Basically, that one is like Splash but with a snake-woman rather than a mermaid.
Another icon Depp is believed to be channeling for his Grindelwald portrayal is David Bowie. The white hair, the different eyes, okay there’s a possibility there. But thinking of Depp’s character as modeled after Bowie only makes one wish for something more memorable. After all, Bowie’s own iconic fantasy film villain, Jareth the Goblin King, from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, is so much fun. Not that Depp should have sported a codpiece and a more teased-out wig or performed a song about magic spells and dancing, but despite a general disfavor of Depp’s more hammy performances these days, I’d have liked him to go broader with Grindelwald. He’s just not a very interesting villain as portrayed so seriously.
Labyrinth is also full of fantastic beasts, courtesy of the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Most of them are done with puppetry and costumes, of course, and there are times during The Crimes of Grindelwald where some of us old folks would prefer more practical effects. The new movie’s Zouwu, which is the furry dragon creature with the whipping tail, already looks like something that the Henson artists might have imagined, sort of resembling Labyrinth‘s Bluto facially, and I can picture it looking just as grand as a puppet.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
If anyone is disappointed in me for recommending this lesser sequel, just know this: I could have substituted The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I enjoy in spite of how bad it is. Both that comic book adaptation and this Sherlock Holmes sequel are set in the 1890s and feature Moriarty as a villain plotting to start a world war. A Game of Shadows is the better rec, though, because it is indeed a better movie and also it co-stars Jude Law, who plays the young Dumbledore in The Crimes of Grindelwald (and Moriarty is played by Jared Harris, son of original Dumbledore actor Richard Harris).
This movie does handle the foreknowledge of actual world wars with more tact than The Crimes of Grindelwald, which sort of implies that its eponymous villain would prevent World War II and the Holocaust if he could only wipe out non-magic humans, which he believes is the true evil in the world. Movies set in the past that try for historical fiction or alternate history where world wars and other devastating conflicts and events are concerned can be intriguingly problematic, whether it’s just the villainization of weaponry broadly, as in this movie and Kung Fu Panda 2, or if there’s a superhero who can help end one World War but apparently disappears for the duration of the second, as is implied with Wonder Woman.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Speaking of superhero movies dealing in historical fiction and alternate history, this X-Men prequel takes the franchise back in time and depicts a group of people with magic-like powers preventing World War III by becoming mixed up with the Cuban Missile Crisis — which itself is shown to be plotted by a supervillain hoping the result of a nuclear conflict would be the ascendancy of mutants as the dominant race. It’s backward in the Wizarding World franchise, where a supervillain wants to avoid the world war, which presumably the good wizards won’t be able to prevent despite all their magic.
X-Men: First Class also involves two very gifted super-powered characters who initially had a very close bond but eventually become arch-enemies with a complicated antagonistic relationship. Dumbledore and Grindelwald, like Professor Xavier and Magneto, were closer than brothers and now it’s hard for the former to fight the latter because he still has a great love for him. The Wizarding World pair, though, are also linked by a magical blood pact that is only narratively necessary if you’re trying to avoid telling audiences the good guy can’t go up against the bad guy because he’s gay and in love with him.
Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie (2016)
Even if Depp denies he meant to channel Donald Trump in his portrayal of Grindelwald, many viewers and other cast members have addressed the connection between the Fantastic Beasts villain and the US president. But also Depp has played the Donald before in this short parodic adaptation of Trump’s 1987 memoir produced by Funny or Die. At the time of its surprise release, the comedy biopic was funny enough, but then Depp’s reputation quickly went sour with allegations of abuse made by wife Amber Heard a few months later plus Trump’s win of the presidency that fall. Watch it anyway.