Secrets of Dumbledore Box Office Take: Good Not Great in International Debut

Fantastic Beasts 3: Secrets of Dumbledore opened last Wednesday in Belgium and Holland and this Friday and Saturday, in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Japan, Spain, and in China.  With 22 markets open and 44 to come next week with the big domestic roll-out in the US on Friday 15 April — Good Friday in a theater! Holy Abraham Lincoln, Warner Brothers! — the bean counters have begun to tally up a score in dollars from ticket sales to compare Secrets of Dumbledore with Crimes of Grindelwald and other Wizarding World entries.

Variety reports that the film is not doing very well — but that there are significant mitigating factors:

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” isn’t bewitching audiences, at least, compared to other films set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The latest chapter in the prequel saga, which takes place decades prior to the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione, opened at the international box office over the weekend and pulled in $58 million from 22 overseas markets. That’s a steep drop from 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” the previous entry in the fantastical series, which collected a spell-bounding $191 million in its international debut. Granted, the sequel was playing in 79 countries, whereas the threequel won’t have a footprint that wide until next weekend, when “The Secrets of Dumbledore” arrives in 44 additional markets, including France, Italy, Korea, Brazil and Mexico. “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” also opens next weekend in North America.

A slower start at the international box office is worrisome because although “Harry Potter” is ubiquitous around the globe, the series has always been especially popular among overseas audiences. For the first two “Fantastic Beasts” installments, nearly 75% of revenues came from foreign sales.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” welcomed the biggest start in China with $10 million, a notable decline from its franchise predecessors. By comparison, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” opened to $36 million in China and 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” kicked off with $40 million. However, China is currently grappling with spiking COVID-19 infection rates, with roughly 50% of the country’s theaters currently closed.

So, on the one hand, it’s a total bust not making anywhere near the money that even the train wreck Crimes of Grindelwald pulled in. On the other hand, it’s not open in even a third of the markets overseas yet, half the Chinese theaters are closed, and the Big Buzz Bomb of the US opening and critical and fan engagement has not gone off and won’t for a week.

All of which is to say, the film might still be a big success. I have seen reviews that suggest in their headlines that the best part of Beasts 3 is that it seems to have been made with a sufficiently satisfying ending rather than a cliffhanger that the promised Parts 4 and 5 won’t be necessary. It can end now; see here, here, and here for that “Bring Down the Curtain!” perspective. But until the US box office, 25% of the global take, is in and all of Latin America and the rest of China, the fat lady hasn’t cleared her throat or warmed up.

Having noted that, the peculiar release schedule makes more sense now. If the film had open everywhere on the same date, say 8 April, and had bombed in the US and China (every movie is going to have disappointing returns from a country in semi-lockdown, right?), there really would be calls for Warner Brothers to turn out the lights on making more Beasts bombs — and even more finger pointing about why the Wizarding World franchise is doing so poorly.

As it is, ScreenRant volunteered the usual suspects for blame: Rowling, Depp, and Ezra.

Even before the reviews arrived last week, there was already a sense that Fantastic Beasts 3 wouldn’t be able to completely fix things for the franchise. The Crimes of Grindelwald‘s reception was so mixed that it has impacted overall perception of the series, and as the title suggests, The Secrets of Dumbledore has continued to double-down on its shift away from the titular fantastic beasts. Additionally, this is a franchise that has been plagued with a large number of real life controversies. Harry Potter author J.K Rowling has become a divisive figure due to her recent anti-trans statements, and Warner Bros. faced backlash after ousting Johnny Depp from the series when he lost a highly-publicized court case. That’s not even touching upon star Ezra Miller’s recent troubles.

Gotta love that Ciceronian Contra Cataline rhetorical sleight of hand: “I’m not even going to mention the adultery with a Vestal Virgin thing…” which of course mentions to devastating effect  the thing not to be mentioned.

They really didn’t mention the bigger fail in the series, namely, butchering the two film from Rowling’s screenplays, the ones actually shot, in the editing room to conform to industry formula. That’s all on David Heyman and David Yates (and the puppeteers pulling their strings). If Secrets does not meet expectations — and we can be pretty sure I think that this prequel instalment will not reach Potter heights — I hope, if they continue to make the Beasts films, that Warner Brothers will give the Davids a much deserved break.

And, of course, that they’ll offer to give Lumos $10 million dollars if Rowling will write books they can adapt. That is a Hollywood formula that worked and can work again.


  1. Sabine Lechtenfeld says

    John, I seriously doubt that FB 2 would have had more box office success or would have garnered more favorable reviews if JKR’s original script would not have been truncated. Yes, the narrative would have been more coherent, and the serious JKR afficionados may have been happier, but the inherent problems of the FB franchise would have still been there. JKR simply did not manage to attract a large enough audience for five very expensive blockbuster movies. Even the choice of the title “Fantastic Beasts” was probably a mistake, since it was associated already with JKR’s whimsical book for children. But the narrative of the FB movies quickly became lot darker and the drastic tonal shift towards more adult themes did not help either. The Hary-Potter audience who first started to read the books and then went into the movie theaters, grew gradually and organically into a huge fan base, while the FB target audience was never well established. It did not help that the overall admiration for JKR and her reputation has diminished lately, while the Harry-Potter fans have become very possessive of what they consider “their” universe, and they are very allergic against anything which they see as retconning. And Johnny Depp’s casting was a terrible blunder for many different reasons.
    It is also very unfortunate that the production of FB 3 was seriously affected by the covid-pandemic, which delayed the movie by at least a year, and which will definitely diminish the box-office performance. Even many critically widely acclaimed movies did not make a lot of money.
    While JKR cannot be blamed for the additional difficulties because of the corona pandemia, all problems could have been avoided if she had stuck to what she can do best: writing captivating novels. I am still interested in JKR’s story, and I would have loved to read five novels about Dumbledore, Grindelwald and their fascinating relationship. I still do not believe that JKR’s main agenda was milking her audience and become even richer than she already is. And writing and publishing books is far less risky than producing big-budget blockbuster movies.

  2. Thank you for these thoughts, Sabine! I agree with your assertions about this extension of the Wizarding World franchise by a Beasts prequel series was not well grounded, that a series of novels would have been far preferable to ‘straight to screenplay’ methodology, and that the performance of Secrets of Dumbledore will be impacted by the almost three years of Covid pandemania globally.

    The only thing in your comments that leaves me scratching my head is what seems like an accusation in your saying you do not “believe that JKR’s agenda was milking her audience [to] become even richer than she is.” I’m fairly confident I have never said this and I certainly don’t believe it. It has been my contention from the start that Rowling was dragged into this project because Warner Brothers held the copyright to the Fantastic Beasts book and planned to make a fan-servicing movie a la Indiana Jones the Magizoologist. As I wrote in 2013:

    I am not looking forward to the films derived from Fantastic Beasts because (a) I am not a film fan but an iconodule (cinema being the victory of the neo-iconoclasts, alas) and (b) I expect it will be another exercise a la Indiana Jones and the Potter film franchises to reduce even a smart story into a series of chases, fights, and CGI ‘wow’ opportunities for teenagers. But I get the hooks of the Newt Scamander story as it has been sketched and would certainly buy the book if it were written as a novel rather than a screenplay.

    I have been saying that now for almost ten years, especially with respect to preferring novels as imaginative experiences rather than the strictly visual-to-endocrine experiences of film. The closest thing I have written to saying that the author is writing screenplays for the money is to assert that she participates because it brings in an avalanche of money for Lumos, Volant, and her other charities — which is a long way from saying “her main agenda was milking her audience.”

    If there is any reason to hope that Secrets bombs at the box office, it is that Rowling will someday, preferably after Strike7 is published, write up her actual original screenplays for Fantastic Beasts as novels. I’m afraid that hope, though, is just as likely whether or not the series fails and the Wizarding World wunderkind franchise, while failing to meet Potter-esque expectations, will always meet expenses, thus generating calls for more.

    Again, thank you for your thoughts, Sabine!

  3. I had been hoping to see the film as soon as I could here in Australia, but when I heard they had made the Dumbledore/Grindelwald relationship explicitly ‘romantic’, I decided not to go. I can’t in good conscious support the postmodern sexual ethic (or lack thereof), so they lost at least one ticket sale. I can’t imagine the Christian audience for these films was ever very large, but alienating us few couldn’t have helped their box office. Still looking forward to the analysis here at Hogwarts Professor!

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    “Friday 15 April — Good Friday in a theater! Holy Abraham Lincoln, Warner Brothers!” Indeed! But that suddenly got me to wondering about Wizarding-World-building questions – the W.W. would seem to have gone Gregorian Calendar – if so, when – and, for that matter, why? Or is the situation more complicated than that? Might it include ‘keeping cover’ and conforming to the Local Muggle Calendar, whichever and whenever? And, beyond such W.W. Fixed Feasts as All Hallows and Christmas, what of W.W. Moveable Feast reckoning? And, what effect did the Great Schism have in W.W. history? At least the founding of Hogwarts is after the Synod of Whitby…

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