Fantastic Beasts may be the most cursed franchise in Hollywood
There's a recurring plot point in the Harry Potter series about how Hogwarts' Defense Against the Dark Arts job must be cursed. Any professor who teaches the class never lasts longer than a year, facing memory loss, centaur kidnappings, Polyjuice Potion shenanigans, even death.
The Wizarding World is filled with jinxes, but until a few years ago, the Harry Potter franchise itself has always led a charmed life: J.K. Rowling's seven-book saga is one of the best-selling series in history, while the films regularly set box-office records and made household names of their stars, elevating actors like Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint.
Given the original series' success and seemingly untouchable popularity, a spin-off film franchise seemed like a sure bet, especially one written by Rowling that expanded her wider Wizarding World. Instead, the three-film Fantastic Beasts series has been plagued with problems, leaving fans wondering whether the series itself might be facing a curse of its own — not unlike the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship.
Ever since the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hit theaters in 2016, followed by 2018's The Crimes of Grindelwald and 2022's The Secrets of Dumbledore, the series has regularly made the wrong kind of headlines, for everything from controversial castings to its increasingly polarizing author. With The Secrets of Dumbledore now in theaters, EW breaks down some of the (many!) scandals that Fantastic Beasts has faced.
The Grindelwald problem
The original Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — inspired by a delightfully named Hogwarts textbook — promised a wizardly romp through 1920s New York, following magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he crossed paths with a menagerie of exotic creatures. At the end of the film, however, Colin Farrell's character is unmasked to reveal notorious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp in a blond wig and creepy contact lenses.
Depp's casting was largely met with apathy, if not downright hostility. Onscreen, the addition of Grindelwald shifted the entire tone of the franchise, moving it from "fun magical adventure series" to "dark Holocaust allegory." Offscreen, Depp's casting brought even more controversy, as he and ex-wife Amber Heard struggled through an increasingly ugly divorce. When Heard publicly accused Depp of domestic abuse — allegations Depp has repeatedly denied — Rowling and director David Yates spoke out in support of the actor, standing by his casting.
Depp took a leading role in 2018's Crimes of Grindelwald, but he ultimately resigned from the franchise in 2020, after losing a libel case against the British newspaper The Sun, which had published an article referring to him as a "wife beater." In a statement, Depp explained that Warner Bros. had asked him to step down, and Mads Mikkelsen was later cast as Grindelwald in The Secrets of Dumbledore.
A troubled cast member
Depp isn't the only Fantastic Beasts cast member to make headlines. Ezra Miller has starred in all three Fantastic Beasts films, playing Credence, a.k.a. Aurelius Dumbledore. (The actor is also set to headline Warner Bros.' upcoming film The Flash.) But Miller — who uses they/them pronouns — has faced several legal issues, beginning with a 2020 altercation at a bar in Reykjavik, Iceland. Video later surfaced online of the incident, in which Miller is apparently seen choking a woman and throwing her to the ground. Miller has never commented on the incident.
Miller has raised eyebrows for erratic behavior over the years, and in January 2022, posted a bizarre video in which they appear to threaten members of a Ku Klux Klan chapter in North Carolina. More recently, Miller was arrested in Hawaii and charged with disorderly conduct and harassment, just days before the London premiere of The Secrets of Dumbledore. Hawaii police told the AP that Miller was arrested at a karaoke bar, after allegedly yelling obscenities, lunging at a man playing darts, and grabbing a microphone out of a woman's hand as she sang Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's song "Shallow" from A Star Is Born.
Hawaiian authorities also said Miller was the cause of at least 10 calls to police, for incidents including filming people at a gas station and refusing to leave the sidewalk near a restaurant. Later, two people in Hawaii also filed a petition asking for a temporary restraining order against Miller, accusing the actor of threatening them and stealing some of their belongings.
A controversial author
Perhaps the biggest cloud over the Fantastic Beasts franchise is Rowling herself: The once-beloved writer has become a polarizing figure, thanks to her controversial and repeated comments about trans people. Despite the fact that the Harry Potter books have always boasted themes of kindness, the author has doubled down on bizarre statements about sex and gender identity, statements that many have decried as harmful to the trans community. Rowling herself has denied being transphobic, but her comments have drawn condemnation from both fans and LGBT organizations alike. Cast members like Radcliffe and Redmayne have also repudiated Rowling's views and spoken out in support of trans rights.
It's a frustrating turn from an author whose novels have always championed equality and empathy, and in the weeks leading up to The Secrets of Dumbledore's release, Rowling has almost exclusively tweeted about sex and gender identity, as opposed to the massive film she cowrote. She did make an appearance at the Secrets of Dumbledore premiere, but she did not take photos with the cast or speak to press, and she also skipped HBO Max's 20th anniversary retrospective, which reunited cast members and filmmakers to celebrate two decades of Harry Potter.
The continued controversy around Rowling has also called her future with the franchise into question, although Warner Bros. seems committed to sticking with her. When fans noticed that Rowling's name was downplayed in the Secrets of Dumbledore trailer, the studio and Rowling released a defensive joint statement, saying that their "partnership continues today and is more collaborative than ever." Still, Rowling has become so polarizing that Russian president Vladimir Putin recently compared his country's status in the world to how fans have "canceled" Rowling — and he's not exactly the guy whose sympathy you'd want.
A dwindling fanbase?
Cast members and writers aside, it's hard to ignore that the Fantastic Beasts franchise simply hasn't lived up to its Potter predecessors. The first Fantastic Beasts was a box office hit, grossing more than $814 million worldwide, but Crimes of Grindelwald made considerably less, raking in less than $655 million and also earning dismal reviews. Even the films' storytelling choices have come under question: Many fans accused the first two films of downplaying Dumbledore's sexuality, after Rowling previously revealed that the wizard was gay and in love with Grindelwald. Others took issue with how Crimes of Grindelwald handled Nagini's storyline, denouncing it as racially insensitive. (Dumbledore's sexuality is finally acknowledged in The Secrets of Dumbledore, while Nagini actress Claudia Kim does not appear in the sequel at all.)
It remains to be seen how — or if — the series' growing list of controversies will affect Secrets of Dumbledore. So far, the third installment has received so-so reviews, although its Rotten Tomatoes score of 49 percent is a marked improvement from Grindelwald, which scored a measly 36 percent. Rowling has previously declared that Fantastic Beasts would be a five-film series in total, but story-wise, Secrets of Dumbledore is surprisingly final, dispensing with cliffhangers and tying up many of the series' loose ends. A recent Variety report suggested that a fourth script has yet to be written, and executives at Warner Bros. are waiting to see how Dumbledore performs before greenlighting the next film.
Until then, is there a spell that helps erase controversies?