In 2013, Warner Bros. closed a deal with Rowling for a new series of films set in the Wizarding World to be based on her in-universe textbook “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” with Newt Scamander at the center of it all. Eddie Redmayne would go on to land the part that would seemingly seal him as the lead in a bankable franchise for years to come. With apologies to Redmayne, that’s not exactly how things have played out.
The biggest part of this whole deal was that Rowling would not only write the screenplay for at least the first film in the series, but she would have a great deal of creative control over the direction. It’s important to remember that, at this time, Rowling was still perhaps one of the most beloved heads of any fandom in existence, and “Harry Potter” fans had no reason to be anything but excited. At the time, Rowling had this to say about it in a press release:
“It all started when Warner Bros. came to me with the suggestion of turning ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ into a film. I thought it was a fun idea, but the idea of seeing Newt Scamander, the supposed author of ‘ Fantastic Beasts,’ realized by another writer was difficult. Having lived for so long in my fictional universe, I feel very protective of it and I already knew a lot about Newt. As hard-core Harry Potter fans will know, I liked him so much that I even married his grandson, Rolf, to one of my favorite characters from the Harry Potter series, Luna Lovegood. As I considered Warners’ proposal, an idea took shape that I couldn’t dislodge. That is how I ended up pitching my own idea for a film to Warner Bros.”
Perhaps the biggest get of the whole thing was director David Yates, who had directed the final four “Harry Potter” movies with great success. The studio convinced him to stick around in this universe and direct not one, but at least the first three entries in this new series. It all seemed, from a business perspective, like such a solid plan. Not only do people get more movies that can be branded as “Harry Potter” but this, if executed correctly, could expand the scope of the whole franchise well beyond Hogwarts, providing untold potential for the future. Any studio would have made this deal at the time.
And, at first, it proved to be a smart one. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” debuted to favorable reviews and earned a damn good $811 million at the global box office. Even on a $180 million production budget, that’s a great return, especially considering that “Harry Potter” wasn’t in the title and no familiar characters were on board.
But then came the idea for the follow-up, which would bring in Jude Laws as a young Albus Dumbledore alongside Johnny Depp as the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald. Colin Farrell had played the part in the first film only to have Depp revealed in the closing minutes as something of a bait-and-switch. This decision would prove disastrous.