Get ready for more movie magic, muggles -- Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)/Warner Bros. recently announced a new trilogy of Harry Potter spinoff films based on J.K. Rowling's 54-page Hogwarts textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The stories, which star a "magizoologist" named Newt Scamander, will take place approximately seven decades before Harry's epic tale and be rewritten into screenplays by J.K. Rowling herself.
This new trilogy could be huge for Warner Bros., which grossed a whopping $7.7 billion worldwide with the eight Harry Potter films. However, stretching a 54-page book into three full-length films could be a tough task, and the films could suffer from unfavorable comparisons to the original Harry Potter films.
How Warner Bros. has changed the movie-splitting game
Warner Bros. has made splitting single books into multiple films a tradition ever since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was split into two parts in 2010 and 2011. That strategy was a brilliant one -- the combined film cost $250 million to make, but grossed a combined $2.3 billion worldwide. More importantly, it prolonged the lifespan of its blockbuster series for another year.
Lions Gate (NYSE:LGF-A) eagerly followed Warner's example -- first with Twilight (Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2), and then again with The Hunger Games (Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2). The two parts of Breaking Dawn grossed $1.5 billion worldwide on a budget of $230 million in 2011 and 2012.
Warner Bros. followed up Deathly Hallows with The Hobbit, which stretched a 310-page book into three long films on par with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although the first two films of The Hobbit grossed $2 billion at the box office, the films were sometimes criticized for overextending the source material. Will stretching a 54-page supplementary Harry Potter book into three full films magnify the story-stretching problems The Hobbit trilogy faced?
J.K. Rowling's involvement changes everything
Rowling's direct involvement as the screenwriter, however, could make Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them a hit. In the past, Steve Kloves wrote the screenplays for all of the Harry Potter films except for Order of the Phoenix, which was written by Michael Goldenberg.
In previous interviews, J.K. Rowling noted that Terry Gilliam, not Chris Columbus, was her first choice to direct Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Terry Gilliam's work -- which includes Jabberwocky, Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus -- is notably darker and less creatively consistent than Chris Columbus' filmography of family-friendly fare like Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Night at the Museum. Gilliam was highly critical of Columbus' direction of the first two Harry Potter films, although he praised Alfonso Cuarón's work on the third film, The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Therefore, Gilliam or Cuarón could be Rowling's top choice to direct the new films. In my opinion, Cuarón has a better chance of landing the job, considering his recent direction of Warner Bros.' Oscar-nominated film Gravity and his previous work on The Prisoner of Azkaban.
But will Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them be a hit?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will undoubtedly benefit from its built-in fan base of Rowling fans. However, can it also appeal to a wider audience who didn't read all the Harry Potter books but watched all the films?
Fantastic Beasts isn't a short story or novella. It's a fictional history textbook that discusses the history of Magizoology and describes 75 magical species across the world. The only plot is found in the "About the Author" section of the book, which describes the life of magizoologist Newt Scamander, who became interested in magic creatures thanks to encouragement from his mother, a Hippogriff breeder. Scamander graduated from Hogwarts in the early 20th century and joined the Ministry of Magic's Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
Since the plot details are sparse, Rowling has plenty of freedom to weave a new Hogwarts tale, which could start with Newt, like Harry, as a young child. Moreover, the book contains doodles and comments supposedly added by Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which opens up the possibility of adding a frame story narrated by the three characters to deepen its connections to the main Harry Potter films.
Emma Watson (Hermione) has expressed interest in the project, although Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) recently stated that he was getting too old to "wear a schoolboy's outfit." Bringing back Harry, Hermione, and Ron to tell the tale would definitely boost the film's appeal and might be one of Warner Bros.' top priorities after Rowling finishes the screenplay.
However, I think the film's "monster breeding" premise will nonetheless appeal to kids -- popular video games like Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ:ATVI) Skylanders, Capcom's Monster Hunter, and Nintendo's (OTC:NTDOY) Pokemon all indicate a healthy demand for "monster collecting" stories. Therefore, a tale about studying 75 magical creatures could have explosive marketing potential in toys and video games as well.
Fantastic Beasts could just be the beginning...
If Fantastic Beasts is a hit, Warner Bros. could start looking at the other two Harry Potter companion books -- Quidditch Through the Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard -- for inspiration for even more films.
What do you think, dear readers? Will Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them be a box office hit for Warner, or could the spinoff trilogy spin out due to unfavorable comparisons to the original Harry Potter films?