Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore is hoping to be a Wizarding World course correction, but in all likelihood, it’s probably too late.
Easter Weekend. It’s an interesting one because I would argue that to many, it doesn’t feel like a holiday. Many will celebrate, particularly Christians, but it doesn’t have the level of all-out theming that Halloween or Christmas does, and it doesn’t usually merit time off of work or school for most people (unless you take the day off for Good Friday, which some do and some don’t). This lack of momentousness can also be seen at the box office as Easter is not necessarily a major launching pad for most films. Of course, faith-based films can absolutely benefit from opening in the Easter frame, but we don’t really have a consistent type of film or size of film that specifically seeks out this spot. As a result, this weekend generally feels quieter than most; fitting as a “big” movie is looking to open very quietly here this weekend.
Yes, in case you missed it (and I couldn’t fault you on that as the marketing has been very subdued), Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is officially debuting today, even after several date changes (pandemic-related and otherwise) and numerous behind the scenes issues. It’s no secret that this movie has been surrounded by controversy due to a variety of factors, namely the seemingly swift 180-degree turn that J. K. Rowling’s image has taken in the last few years. I don’t feel like delving into details because, frankly, it makes my head hurt just thinking about it, but between continuous retconning of the mythology, history, and worldbuilding of the Harry Potter/Wizarding World franchises via tweets and audiences labeling her a “TERF” (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) based on her views on biological sex and gender identity, Rowling’s name has been raked through the mud and she has done herself no favors by continuing to make comments that just add fuel to the fire. In light of this, it is the opinion of a decent amount of people that the Wizarding World brand and Secrets of Dumbledore in particular will be a failure because few people wish to financially support any product that will put money in J. K. Rowling’s pocket.
I see where this sentiment comes from and if one’s worldview should solely be determined by Twitter, then there is no reason to believe that this will not be the case. That said, however, I wholeheartedly disagree with this assessment of Secret of Dumbledore‘s box office prospects. I do think the film will, at best, be financially underwhelming, but not because of backlash against Rowling. While that backlash certainly doesn’t help, I would argue that most general audiences either don’t know what the “controversies” surrounding her are (or even what the acronym TERF means) or frankly don’t care enough about her to know. No, Secrets of Dumbledore isn’t going to fail because people have issues with Rowling; it will fail because people have issues with the Fantastic Beasts franchise, specifically the previous entry.
It’s no secret that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was a big fat blunder. After getting off to a healthly fun, magical, and compelling start with the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (which I personally adored as my favorite movie of 2016), Crimes of Grindelwald committed a fatal error by going much too big much too fast. Seeds were sown in its predecessor for the story to begin to focus on the relationship between Gellert Grindelwald and the iconic Albus Dumbledore, with weighty promises made that the future films would explicitly delve into the pair’s romance (a plot point I’ve always had a problem with because IT WAS BARELY SET UP IN THE BOOKS and only really made concrete by Rowling after the fact, but I digress), lead up to their historic and climactic battle, as well as expand the history of the Wizarding World and introduces us to many new facets, be it creatures, magic, spells, and characters. Hell, Voldermort’s snake, Nagini, was even introduced as a shapeshifting human character in Crimes of Grindelwald. Sure enough, by committing to so much so quickly, the resulting film buckled and broke under the narrative weight, smothering the most well-liked aspects of the original Fantastic Beasts (the quirky characters and their interactions, the pure and innocent sense of adventure, the fun of seeing the Wizarding World in the ’20s, and the promise of getting to see what Wizarding culture in America was like) with abrupt changes in characterization, narrative non-sequiturs, and “twists” that truly added nothing to the main story. The controversies surrounding Rowling certainly did not help the discourse, nor did controversies surrounding Johnny Depp’s personal life which eventually contributed to his dismissal from the franchise entirely, but overall, Crimes of Grindelwald mostly lost the audience on its own. The gulf in quality from the first to the second film alongside the general sentiment that the film didn’t really move the story forward in any meaningful way kind of sucked much of the fan anticipation out of the franchise.
It’s arguably not unlike what happened to The Last Jedi, where the film upended expectations in a way that felt inorganic and overdone (I myself walked out of the film feeling as though nothing had happened and my time had been wasted) and contributed to negative sentiments that hurt the franchise later on. For a Warner Bros.-specific example, just look at Batman vs Superman, which heavily divided audiences with its dark tone and seeming rush to catch up with the MCU narratively at the expense of story and character development. I bring up both these films specifically because the results of such divisive decisions in those films only really bore out financially with regard to their sequels (Last Jedi and BvS both actually did relatively well at the box office with $1.33 billion and $872 million worldwide, respectively), in large part because their respective studios (in order to course-correct and win back public sentiment) made wild changes to what was originally planned for their sequels and ended up delivering hacked up, watered-down versions of the films that could’ve been. Rise of Skywalker was a bloated mess that, even more messily, tried to retcon story decisions from Last Jedi and court the core fans with nonsensical fan service while Joss Whedon’s version of Zack Snyder’s original Justice League film drastically changed the tone from BvS and tried to create an Avengers-style movie despite the characters not having had nearly enough development or strong relationship building for that kind of dynamic to work. In the end, both of the sequels to The Last Jedi and BvS showed that their respective studios were completely lost regarding which direction to take their franchises in and I believe The Secrets of Dumbledore is currently in the same boat. As of yet, reviews are not only mixed but have a tone of boredom as few people seem to be invested in this franchise anymore. The big question now is just how many people will show up for this installment?
With regards to tracking, it’s not looking good. Crimes of Grindelwald, upon debuting terrible reviews, opened to $62 million, a notable drop off from the $74 million that the original Fantastic Beasts pulled in. Crimes of Grindelwald still pulled in over $600 million worldwide on sheer curiosity, but now that the public favor has dissipated, Secrets of Dumbledore doesn’t even have that going for it. To be fair, its reviews are stronger than Crimes of Grindelwald, but not by very much. I’d personally predicted a $55 million opening, but professional pundits are pegging it even lower with $40-50 million in its debut. There was a slightly bright spot for the film today as it did manage to pull in about $6 million in previews. That’s more than Sonic 2 pulled in last Thursday, and that film did open to a stellar $72 million. However, Sonic is also a very different film that appeals to a very different audience and actually has the audience’s goodwill by virtue of the Sonic character redesign from the first film, which itself was very well-received. Sonic 2 also has the added benefit of appealing to a much bigger audience by the very nature of the fact that it is a “kids film”, ergo the entire family can see it, and many did see it as Saturday matinees heavily contributed to the high opening weekend gross. Secrets of Dumbledore, on the other hand, skews older by the very nature of the fact that the appeal of the film is heavily rooted in the original book series and films whose audience, while usually pretty loyal, has grown up. Combined with the lackluster response to the last film hurting the franchise and any socially active fans being turned off by J. K. Rowling’s affiliation with the film, the audiences leftover is solely made up of die-hard Potter-heads, and while they can be formidable, something tells me there’s not enough of them out there to pull in strong grosses. Secrets of Dumbledore has already opened overseas and currently stands at a worldwide total of $97 million, but that is soft relative to other entries in the franchise so I’m less inclined to believe that the film is going to have legs. If you’re going to see it, you’re probably seeing it on opening night, and I expect attendance to dip sharply with every passing day this weekend. Eternally the optimist, I will still predict the film to open to $55 million and take first place, but a gross closer to $50 million will not surprise me in the slightest.
On to happier prospects. While Secrets of Dumbledore is likely to flounder, Sonic 2 is likely to maintain its momentum and take second place. As mentioned above, its appeal is extremely broad and any family wishing to have a nice Saturday matinee is highly likely to view Sonic 2 as the most viable option. Sonic 2 has the benefit of very little competition overall in the “family movie market” until next weekend when Dreamworks’ great-looking The Bad Guys enters the fray, and even there it is still likely to dominate. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but Sing 2‘s success was heavily rooted in the fact that it was the only “kid-friendly” option in the market until Sonic 2 arrived in theaters, so Sonic 2 is clearly well set up to take advantage of this sleepy weekend and snag any stragglers who missed it at launch. Comparisons are a bit hard to come by as the original Sonic‘s box office run was kneecapped by the onset of the pandemic, but if we are to imagine that Sonic 2 will follow a similar trajectory, then somewhere between a -50-55% drop is warranted. The original dropped -55% itself, but I personally have more faith in the sequel to hold with -50% given how much goodwill the film has and how it opened much bigger than its predecessor (and how its main competition is not looking so hot). A -50% drop would have it landing a $36 million gross and will allow it to cross the $100 million mark domestically by Sunday.
Now, third place is going to be interesting, largely because it could go to one of three films, The Lost City, Ambulance, or newcomer Father Stu. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson and telling the (true) story of Stuart Long who, after seeing his career as a boxer end due to a jaw injury, decided to take up the priesthood, opened this past Wednesday to mixed reviews and little fanfare. A solid example of a religious film that is trying to take advantage of the Easter Holiday, Sony’s Father Stu is clearly following in the footsteps of another faith-based Easter Wednesday opener, 20th Century Fox’s Breakthrough, which did solid business and actually managed to pull in $11 million over the weekend for a 5-Day opening gross of $14 million. Father Stu, however, has not had nearly the same level of marketing exposure that Breakthrough did. Why? I’m not sure (maybe its because Mel Gibson is in it, who knows?) but combined with the fact that Wahlberg is not nearly the draw he used to be (despite recent success with Uncharted), Father Stu is tracking for a likely $7 million total debut over the 5-Day frame. Having taken in $1.55 million on Wednesday, and with a likely similar gross on Thursday, that would leave it taking in around $4 million over the 3-Day Easter weekend frame. Now, reportedly, and in spite of mixed reviews, the film apparently is polling well with audiences, so there is a chance that it could potentially pull in more this weekend with the thematically appropriate holiday launch; perhaps closer to $5 million. I, ironically, don’t have much faith in that happening, but I am open to being surprised. That said, if I had to bet money, I’d put it on The Lost City as our likely third place winner with a potential drop of -45% (the standard drop for a well-like, solidly performing film), with Ambulance likely taking fourth place with a -50% drop for a gross of $4.35 million. As I said above, it’s a tighter race than you would think, as Ambulance could very well overperform and pull out a great hold and a stronger gross. However, The Lost City has shown itself to be a solid counterprogrammer and should be able to hold the others at bay. For now, I see Father Stu sticking with $4 million in the 3-Day and settling in fifth.
As for the rest of the top ten, I expect The Batman to once again hold around -45% for a gross of $3.45 million, pulling it closer to its likely domestic endpoint of $375 million, which would put it in sixth place. Morbius looks poised to come in seventh place with another staggering drop of at least -65% (though more is clearly on the table) which would see it grossing $3.5 million this weekend. As for eighth place, I am personally expecting Everything, Everywhere, All at Once to land there but there is some trickiness afoot. Having gone wide last weekend but only with about 1,250 theaters, the film is actually likely to expand again this weekend to closer to 2,000 theaters. Because of this, there is the distinct potential for the film to actually grow its grosses from the $6 million it took in last weekend, even if only by a little. That said, I’m not inclined to think that will happen. It’s nothing against the film, but I do feel that it is not commercial enough of a venture to warrant a jump. I stated in my last post that my personal comparison would be to that of The Green Knight, which opened quite well, but petered off afterward as it was never meant to be anything more than an artsy one-weekend-wonder. That film fell -61% in its second weekend, though I see Everything, Everywhere, All at Once holding closer to -50% given that it has a more high-profile star and its expansion from limited release gave it some good headlines, enough to grab some more mainstream attention. If it expands and grows weekend-to-weekend, great! For now, however, I’m predicting it to take eighth place with $3 million.
Uncharted will likely finish in ninth with $1.84 million (a -30% drop) while No Way Home will likely round out the top ten with a gross of $344K. As for the specialty market, keep an eye out for Riley Stearns Dual, in which Karen Gillan (Marvel’s Nebula) clones herself upon learning that she is dying only to be cured and then forced to fight that clone to the death (the trailer has a very dry sense of humor akin to Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense, which I personally liked quite a bit so I am excited about this outing). Outside of that, we have the release of the Roald Dahl biographical feature To Olivia (featuring one of my favorite British actresses of all time, Keeley Hawes, as Dahl’s wife, actress Patricia Neal) as well as the buzzy Sundance hit We All Going to the World’s Fair, though don’t expect much from either of them since To Olivia is a Vertical Entertainment release, thus likely debuting digitally as well (it will probably be on Netflix in a month or two) and We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is being co-distributed by HBO Max so it will arrive on the service very soon.