Has the Harry Potter franchise lost its magic?
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
In December 2021, two of the biggest Quidditch organizations in the U.S. made a surprising announcement: They're ditching the name Quidditch. The non-magical version of Harry Potter's favorite sport, played with balls and broomsticks, was invented by college students in 2005, and since then, the game has grown into an international phenomenon, uniting Potter fans worldwide. In a joint statement, US Quidditch and Major League Quidditch revealed plans to poll members and choose a new title for their earthbound sport. (Some of the names in consideration include Quadraball, Quidstrike, Quicker, or Quidball.) Part of the decision was practical: Both organizations had been weighing a name change for years, as copyright laws had limited the sport's ability to grow and pursue broadcast and sponsorship opportunities. But members of both leagues had also become increasingly uncomfortable with the sport's ties to Harry Potter's polarizing author: The once-adored J.K. Rowling has become a problematic figure, repeatedly expressing views that many have condemned as transphobic.
"It was becoming clear to me that if we really wanted to push the sport forward and grow, we needed to do something about the name," US Quidditch executive director Mary Kimball says. "And going back to J.K. Rowling's emerging views, we just couldn't ignore the image that she was creating of the Harry Potter world and anything connected to it."
A name change for Quidditch may seem like a tiny, Snitch-size wrinkle in Harry Potter's long legacy, but it's also indicative of how the franchise is no longer the beloved cultural titan it once was. In some ways, the Wizarding World has never been bigger or more influential: There are theme parks and behind-the-scenes exhibitions around the globe, with a new film, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, hitting theaters April 15. The Tony-winning play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continues to sell tickets, while an ambitious new videogame, Hogwarts Legacy, is expected later this year. And nostalgia for the original films endures more than two decades later: HBO Max recently reunited the actors and creative teams (sans Rowling), bringing together Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint for a Return to Hogwarts special celebrating 20 years of mischief and magic.
But even as the franchise continues to grow, it's also been hampered by tensions within and without: Rowling has denied being transphobic and wrote that "trans lives matter" in a 2020 essay published to her website, but as she's continued to share harmful rhetoric, her comments have left a sour taste with fans. Actors like Radcliffe, Watson, and Fantastic Beasts star Eddie Redmayne have all criticized Rowling's views, as have LGBTQ organizations like GLAAD. And Rowling isn't the only trouble the franchise has faced: In 2020, Warner Bros. asked Gellert Grindelwald actor Johnny Depp to resign from future Fantastic Beasts movies after Depp's ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of domestic violence, a claim that Depp has repeatedly denied. (Mads Mikkelsen will play the role going forward.) The Broadway production has also cut its show from two parts to one, and, in January 2022, Cursed Child fired Harry Potter actor James Snyder after his castmate Diane Davis complained to producers about his conduct.
That's a not-insignificant amount of damage control for a children's fantasy series about standing up to injustice, and it's left many members of the robust fandom questioning how to reconcile their love of all things Potter. In 2020, legendary fan communities MuggleNet and The Leaky Cauldron united to release a rare joint statement, condemning Rowling's comments and vowing to adjust coverage of the author going forward. For superfans like MuggleNet's creative director Kat Miller, love for the franchise is dwarfed only by a love for the community, which has continued to grow through fan-organized conventions, podcasts, and insightful analysis. (They've also raised thousands for LGBTQ causes.)
"We're going to continue to have a very inclusive fandom, one that is all about that friendship, love, and bravery that the books taught us," Miller says. "That's not going anywhere. We created the fandom, and that's ours to keep."
Rowling has said she planned Fantastic Beasts as a five-film series, with two more on the way after Secrets of Dumbledore. But the response to Newt Scamander's story has been lackluster at best — far from the rapturous reviews and monstrous box office hauls of previous Potter films. 2018's Crimes of Grindelwald was especially maligned, with audiences and critics alike dismissing it as a charmless slog. Domestically, Crimes of Grindelwald made only $159.6 million total; that's less than Deathly Hallows Part 2 earned in its domestic opening weekend alone. Still, Fantastic Beasts has found particular success at the international box office, and its global haul of almost $1.5 billion combined is nothing to shake a wand at.
"It's very rare to find a franchise that has this kind of longevity and continued appeal to audiences around the world," Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian says. "I would never bet against anything related to Harry Potter, and never bet against Fantastic Beasts."
While other box office behemoths like Star Wars or Marvel have embraced different creative voices, Warner Bros. has repeatedly reinforced its ties to Rowling. In late 2021, after fans noticed the author's name missing from the Secrets of Dumbledore trailer, WarnerMedia and Rowling's team released a defensive statement reiterating their continued partnership and citing 20 years of "spectacular storytelling" and "magic": "That relationship continues today and is more collaborative than ever. News reports to the contrary are completely untrue, and we are disappointed that these inaccurate stories only serve to hurt the Harry Potter fans we hope to entertain."
Without guidance from a Divination professor, it's hard to forecast what Harry's future might hold from here. But for fans like Miller, the problem and its solution are clear. "For me personally, because of Rowling, I would love stories in this universe from other people that aren't her," she says. "I just want thoughtful stories made within the universe that I love."
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