In the wake of the lackluster box-office for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, there were a few stories like this that talked about the various reasons behind it.
A lot of that analysis and commentary has focused on the inability of Warner Bros. to unlock new audiences for the series, instead simply counting on turning out the same group of longtime Potter fans time and time again. That much was evident in the campaign for this new movie, which featured a number of overt attempts to engage with super fans and get them excited for the film.
Also frequently cited is the surprise that the Fantastic Beasts franchise can’t seem to recapture the magic that captivated an entire generation as the Potter books and films were being released.
Therein lies what I think is the main difference and that’s clear in both the marketing and reception.
The Potter series was unique in a way that not many other stories have been able to recreate. Specifically it featured characters that grew and learned from the experiences they had, moving from young children to young adults, with the story showing how that progression impacted how they viewed the difference between good and evil, how they dealt with temptations, how they matured in their relationships and more. There was an evolution on display, one that rewarded readers and viewers because something different was being promised with each outing.
By way of contrast, the Fantastic Beasts series of films seems like…just another version of a generic super hero story, with a reluctant, eccentric hero being sent into battle against some vague enemy whose motivations are both unclear and elaborate.
The first movie was marketed as an exploration of a new and amazing part of the magical world. It wasn’t so much about conflict, more about Newt Scamander going on a scavenger hunt to collect all the creatures he accidentally released than anything else. The second had a more clear conflict at the heart of its message, but focused on it being essentially a feature length love letter to the fans, focusing on all the connections between it and the original Harry Potter adventures.
Put that up against how the Potter films were sold, with the message always being about how the kids at the heart of the story were getting older and facing new and more challenging dangers. That’s a far more emotional play to the audience, one that’s far more likely to get people excited, because the audience was literally growing up alongside those characters.
When you make the story as generic as possible, though, you lose that.
Without Harry Potter and his friends at the center of the action, the audience isn’t given very much to invest in other than the battle against some random bad guy who wants to do…something.
I’d be willing to wager this is at least part of the reason why audiences didn’t exactly run to sere this new movie, because they understood the stakes were low and the story uninteresting, at least to anyone who wasn’t deeply invested in the deep minutia of the universe it takes place in.