Beasts Find the Fantastic for Warner Bros.
By John Hamann
November 20, 2016
Harry Potter may not be back, but the money that follows him definitely is. The problem is, when your film costs between $180 and $200 million (and likely a similar amount spent on marketing), is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them a money winner, or an investment in the future?
Like Doctor Strange two weeks ago, audiences have been anticipating the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them for what feels like eons. Created in the Harry Potter framework, Potter author and Fantastic Beasts screenwriter JK Rowling brings Newt Scamander to New York City to collect some Fantastic Beasts, and launches this pre-ordained five film franchise. For some reason, there were other films opening this weekend, including The Edge of Seventeen from uber-producer James L. Brooks. The third opener is Bleed for This, a true story about boxing champion Vinnie “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza. In the end, we have an interesting weekend, as between Fantastic Beasts' dominance and last weekend’s Veterans Day-aided weekend - holdovers got crushed this time around.
Our number one film should be no surprise, as the marketing push for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has been going on for months. Like a Marvel film, it was very important to get this first film right in what could be a very profitable franchise. Warner Bros. stacked the deck – they worked from a script by JK Rowling, cast Eddie Redmayne, Oscar winner for Theory of Everything and Oscar nominee for The Danish Girl, and hired director David Yates, who had earned $2.3 billion worldwide from last two Harry Potter films. The result is a success but no breakout, and Fantastic Beasts will need some serious legs if it hopes to earn back what is likely $350 to $400 million in production and marketing costs.
Fantastic Beasts got started on Thursday night, pulling in a sizable $8.75 million from its Thursday preview. That wasn’t far off what Doctor Strange did in its preview, when it earned $9.4 million from its pre-launch. The "not far off" phrase would continue all weekend. On Friday, Fantastic Beasts earned a stellar $29.7 million from its first day of release (plus Thursday previews), which trailed the first Friday of Doctor Strange ($32.6 million) by a mere few million. Fantastic Beasts was set to have a solid opening frame, but wasn’t going to approach $100 million or the $85 million that Doctor Strange opened to a few weekends ago.
Comparing or even asking Fantastic Beasts to do Harry Potter dollars over its opening frame was asking too much, as this story may be born out of those films, but it is not a direct sequel or even a prequel. It was never going to match the $125 or $169 million openings of the last two Harry Potter films, but it could have approached a debut in the $90 million range, like the first three Harry Potter films did. The problem is that unlike Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts didn’t have a legion of teen book lovers lining up for opening night or opening day. This was going to have to have some legs, something the Potter franchise didn’t really have until the last film came out.