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WB wants additional Harry Potter films, but what exactly does that imply?

And, more importantly, can WB get far enough away from J.K. Rowling for it to matter?
WB wants additional Harry Potter films, but what exactly does that imply?

Warner Bros. Pictures is going through an existential crisis. From Discovery’s acquisition of its parent company, WarnerMedia, to the subsequent budget cuts and losses disclosed ahead of an earnings call on Thursday, the studio’s future appears hazy. According to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, any form of cultural rebirth begins with franchises – and entails producing a lot more of them.

During that earnings call, Zaslav revealed how the business intends to prioritize its most important franchises:

Focus on the major movies that are well-liked, that are tentpoles, that people will leave dinner early to watch — and we have a lot of them. If we can do something with J.K. [Rowling] on Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in the future, what are we doing with Game of Thrones? What are we doing with several of our major franchises? We’re concentrating on franchises.

“Do something with J.K.” might suggest that Zaslav wishes to remove Rowling from the series’ theatrical future, or that WB merely wishes to negotiate a new arrangement with the Harry Potter author. But, as it is, that’s a potentially dangerous statement, given the author’s long history of making transphobic statements. Zaslav would not elaborate on what Rowling has to give the Harry Potter series artistically, other than to state that the property is ripe for a continuation.

Surprisingly, the CEO told investors that the studio hasn’t “done a Harry Potter film in 15 years.” That isn’t entirely correct. WB is currently in the midst of a new Harry Potter franchise with the Fantastic Beasts series, which is written and directed by Rowling herself. But no one appears to care about Fantastic Beasts, not even Zaslav. (Ouch?)

WB wants additional Harry Potter films, but what exactly does that imply?

While the first Fantastic Beasts film — which, of the three released so far, is the one least clearly tied to the original Potter plot — did exceptionally well at the box office, the other two have failed to get traction in the United States. The Crimes of Grindelwald failed to match its predecessor’s highs in 2018, while The Secrets of Dumbledore was a flop earlier this year, failing to gross even $100 million in the United States. So, what’s the point of linking Rowling (and her continual transphobia) to the series if that’s what you get?

The short answer is that Warner Bros. owns the rights to the Harry Potter world alongside Rowling. Any future Potter ventures would have to be handled by her, her firm, and the studio. But, except from agreeing to let WB create further films, Rowling doesn’t appear to contribute much value to this series – since it’s unclear what the “Harry Potter franchise” actually is.Do Zaslav and Warner Bros. want to recast the original cast as adults or recast them with older actors to recreate the narrative of the next time the Wizarding World is threatened? With Fantastic Beasts tanking and the spotlight shifting back to Harry, it appears that WB may be wary of the Marauders prequel — which would follow the generation ahead of Harry’s during their time at Hogwarts — that fans have been yearning for for years.

Perhaps the most apparent explanation for Zaslav and Warner Bros. is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The stage play is a sequel to the original Harry Potter narrative and follows the offspring of the book’ principal protagonists. It was directed by Rowling but written by Jack Thorne (who adapted His Dark Materials for WarnerMedia’s HBO). Since its debut in 2016, the show has been a huge success, and owing to a recent transformation from a two-night Broadway event to a one-night performance, it continues to sell out wherever it goes.While a film adaptation of the narrative may reduce ticket sales, a sequel to the play, with the youngsters a little farther into their Hogwarts experience, may provide fans with the right balance of nostalgia for old characters and a fresh story to burrow into.

It’s hardly surprising that Warner Bros. wants to employ brands to get out of its present bind. As Zaslav stated, the firm has a large number of them and they are quite popular. House of the Dragon recently completed a spectacular first season, the return of Henry Cavill’s Superman has the entire internet buzzing, and it’s difficult to overlook the reality that Amazon Studios’ largest program of the year comes from a series that Warner Bros. still owns the film rights to.

Returning to the Harry Potter well appears to be the natural next move for Warner Bros., and despite everything, the franchise remains one of the world’s most popular brands. But bringing that success back to movie theaters would be difficult.

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