“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” the third chapter in the “Harry Potter” spinoff series, collected a muted $43 million in its domestic box office debut.
In pandemic times, those ticket sales were enough to lead this weekend’s box office charts and land one of the biggest North American openings in 2022. But it’s also a sign that magic is in short supply for J.K. Rowling’s lucrative and ever-expanding Wizarding World. Dinged by mixed reviews and growing apathy for prequel series star Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and company, “The Secrets of Dumbledore” stands as the worst start for a “Harry Potter”-adjacent movie. (Its predecessor, 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 diminishing enthusiasm for “Fantastic Beasts” is problematic because witchcraft and wizardry does not come cheap. Warner Bros. shelled out $200 million to produce “The Secrets of Dumbledore,” and the studio spent tens of millions more to promote the film to audiences across the globe. Like the franchise’s earlier entries, “The Secrets of Dumbledore” will be reliant on the international box office to make money in its theatrical run. The first two “Fantastic Beasts” installments — which ended with $814 million globally and $650 million globally, respectively — made nearly 75% of revenues from foreign sales.
“Fantastic Beasts 3,” too, has been a bigger draw to overseas audiences. Since the film touched down in several foreign markets last weekend, “The Secrets of Dumbledore” has grossed $193 million globally to date. But the persistence of COVID-19 has cut into the box office in China, where 50% of movie theaters are closed, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has meant that country is not granted access to Hollywood’s films. Those limitations have been difficult for all blockbusters. Since the pandemic began in 2020, only five Hollywood movies have generated at least $500 million at the global box office. One film that hasn’t had trouble smashing that benchmark is “The Batman,” which has been a bright spot for Warner Bros. This weekend, the comic book adventure, starring Robert Pattinson, has blown past $750 million worldwide.
“Harry Potter” veteran David Yates directed the third chapter in the prequel series, which follows the beloved Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (portrayed by Jude Law). But he’s only one of a couple Dumbledores with “secrets,” as referenced in the movie’s title. In “Fantastic Beasts 3,” which was co-written by Rowling and another “Potter” alum Steve Kloves, a young(er) Albus and Scamander, a notable magizoologist, team up to thwart the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelson, replacing Johnny Depp) from igniting a wizarding world war. The cast also includes Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner and Jessica Williams.
Variety’s Peter Debruge called the film a “vastly improved sequel.” The prequel saga, which predates the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione, is intended to be a five-film franchise, but executives at Warner Bros. are waiting to see how “The Secrets of Dumbledore” is received by audiences before giving films four and five the greenlight. “Fantastic Beasts 3” secured a “B+” CinemaScore, the same grade as its predecessor. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” landed higher marks, an “A-” score, from moviegoers.
Off-screen, “Fantastic Beasts” has been a controversy magnet. On top of declining box office ticket sales, the series has been subjected to blowback over Rowling’s controversial views on sex and gender identity, as well as the domestic abuse allegations that forced Depp out of the franchise. And Miller, who has a key role in the latest film, was recently arrested for disorderly conduct and harassment, though a temporary restraining order against the actor has been newly dropped.
Though moviegoers may not be aware of all the scandals plaguing “Fantastic Beasts,” internally at Warner Bros. it has become a headache, one that has become less and less pleasant to endure because the series is no longer minting money in its theatrical run. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, however, is much more than a film franchise. The fantastical universe has lent itself to profitable theme parks, live events and a Broadway play, as well as consumer products riches and success on home entertainment.
This weekend’s other major release, Sony’s R-rated faith-based drama “Father Stu,” flopped in its domestic debut, earning only $5 million from 2,705 North American theaters. The film, which sunk to fifth place, has earned $8 million since opening on Wednesday. Mark Wahlberg, who stars in the film with Mel Gibson, produced “Father Stu” and used his own money when COVID-19 tacked on extra costs to production.
Rosalind Ross, Gibson’s partner, wrote and directed the film, which tells the story of boxer-turned-priest Father Stuart Long and his inspiring journey from self-destruction to redemption. “Father Stu” is Gibson’s first major studio movie since 2017’s “Daddy’s Home 2” from Paramount Pictures. Gibson has largely been working on smaller indies and straight-to-streaming action films with Lionsgate and Saban Films in the decade since making headlines for anti-semitic and racist tirades.
Several holdovers, including “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” “The Lost City” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” had more to celebrate over the weekend. After all, it’s not a common occurrence that a romantic comedy (in “The Lost City”) and an indie movie (“Everything Everywhere All At Once”) place higher on box office charts than a major superhero movie (Sony’s “Morbius”) and an explosive Michael Bay movie (Universal’s “Ambulance”).
In the No. 2 spot, Paramount’s family friendly “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” sped to $30 million from 4,258 cinemas, declining 58% in its second weekend of release. As “Sonic 2” continues to charm audiences, the film has generated a strong $119.6 million in North America to date.
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s romantic action-adventure “The Lost City” took third place for the second weekend in a row. The movie, also from Paramount Pictures, collected $6.5 million in its fourth weekend in theaters, bringing its domestic tally to $78.5 million.
A24’s genre-overload “Everything Everywhere All At Once” enjoyed another impressive run, moving up to fourth place with $6.1 million from 2,220 screens. Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and starring Michelle Yeoh in a multiverse action-adventure-comedy-fantasy-sci-fi mashup, the indie film has earned $17.6 million so far.
In sixth and seventh place, respectively, “Morbius” added $4.7 million from 3,462 locations, while “Ambulance” scraped together $4 million from 3,412 locations. “Morbius,” which opened in theaters earlier in April, has grossed $65 million to date. “Ambulance,” which debuted on the big screen last weekend, has since generated $15 million.