The Harry Potter books were the coming of age story for many of today’s young adults. Each entry in the series was structured around an academic year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and young Harry’s struggles with growing pains were mixed in with battles against deadly threats and adult foes. As the books went on, the intense focus on matters such as which of Hogwarts’ scholastic factions was going to win the House Cup or the Quidditch Cup gave way to matters of life, death, romance, qualifications, careers and student rebellion – until the final entry in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which Harry, Ron and Hermione break away from the school entirely and go on the run, sacrificing their final year of education in favor of trying to save the wizarding world from tyranny and destruction.
The Harry Potter series is a near-perfect chronicle of youth (albeit a rather strange youth), complete with all its awkwardness and humiliation and shifting priorities. From the publication of the first book in 1997 to the release of the final movie in 2011, children and adults all over the world followed Harry from the very early days of puberty to his emergence as an adult. For kids who grew up alongside Harry, he was a friend, and parents who read the books to their kids (or played the audiobooks on long car journeys) got equally invested.
So, what now?
It’s pretty much academic to debate whether or not the Harry Potter franchise should be continued. The films have collectively grossed over $7.7 billion worldwide, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the eighth highest-grossing movie of all time, and the books are the best-selling series of novels in history with over 450 million copies sold. If the fans’ collective love for the property wasn’t enough to keep it alive, the financial incentive certainly would be.
Yet now that almost five years have passed since the release of the last Harry Potter movie – five extremely transformative years for Hollywood – people have grown used to cinematic scenery that doesn’t include Harry and his friends. It’s easy to forget that many of the franchises around today – The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner – are part of a trend that Harry Potter pushed into hyperdrive: a search for the next young adult saga that could appeal to children, teenagers and adults alike. But just because Harry’s coming of age is complete, it doesn’t mean the wizarding world is done with Hollywood just yet.
Thanks to author J.K. Rowling, the world and characters of the Harry Potter novels have now expanded far beyond the contents of the seven main novels. In addition to smaller books such as Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rowling has also published a plethora of short stories and additional insights via the official website Pottermore. Here fans can learn about the two great loves of Professor McGonagall’s life, what the first meeting between the Potters and the Dursleys was like, and – most recently – details about magic schools in other countries.
Rowling has also been interviewed so many times that additional details have trickled out over time – perhaps the most famous example being the posthumous reveal that Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay. Of course, all of this is supplementary information to the original seven Harry Potter novels; the real challenge for the franchise moving forward is creating entirely new stories for people to get invested in. Currently there are two of these, one of which represents the further adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione, and another which moves entirely away from the familiar characters and stories that audiences already know.
The former is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part stage play coming to London’s West End this summer, which picks up 19 years after the battle against Voldemort and focuses both on the familiar hero from the books and his youngest son, Albus Severus Potter. Rowling has said that she believes theater was the best medium for the story, rather than a new novel, though we won’t write off the possibility of an eventual film adaptation just yet. Aside from the main adult roles being cast – Jamie Parker, Noma Dumezweni and Paul Thornley as Harry, Hermione and Ron, respectively – little else is known about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. However, the fact that Rowling was willing to collaborate on an eighth story in the Harry Potter series does suggest that the author is not done with the character just yet. More on that later…
Next Page: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the more internationally-known of the upcoming Harry Potter-related projects, and is only tangentially related to the bespectacled teenage wizard who was the central focus of the original series. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the author of one of Harry’s school textbooks, is the protagonist of this adventure, which will take fans of the wizarding world on a trip to New York. Being so far removed from both the time and the locale of the original Harry Potter books, Fantastic Beasts can’t fall back on familiar characters in the same way that, for example, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was able to. This will be the first real test of whether moviegoing audiences are truly attached to the world that Harry and his friends lives in, or if they were only sticking around to find out what happened to their favorite characters.
Assuming that it really is the world of wands and brooms and Hippogriffs that people are invested in, Fantastic Beasts may spell out the future of the Harry Potter franchise – a future that could be milked financially and creatively for many years to come, while at the same time leaving the series’ original star free to go off and make films in which he plays a farting corpse (no, really). In 2016, the name of the game for movie franchises is shared universes; Marvel Studios has proven that the model can work, Warner Bros. is adopting it for its slate of DC movies, and Fox has cobbled together something along similar lines with its main X-Men titles and offshoots like Deadpool and Gambit (not to mention the multiple Wolverine spinoffs).
It might sound cynical to say that Warner Bros. is going to do everything within its power to milk the Harry Potter franchise dry, but really it’s a win-win situation for Harry Potter fans. After all, in order for any continuation to be successful, it has to be good enough to win over both hardcore fans and general audiences. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was originally planned as its own movie trilogy, but it’s also the canary in the coal mine. If this movie, which isn’t based on any of the main Harry Potter novels, can succeed in getting audiences engaged in a brand new story and hero, then Warner Bros. can really cut loose and get more creative with the future of the franchise. And with Rowling still engaged and apparently eager to offer more stories set in the world she created, the studio has a valuable resource at its disposal.
The question, then, is what direction the next Harry Potter spinoff could take. Perhaps a magical sports movie based on Quidditch Through the Ages (the idea of a fantasy equivalent to Cool Runnings is certainly intriguing). Alternatively, since Harry’s future is already being explored in The Cursed Child, there could be a movie (or even a TV series) that skews younger and follows his early career as an Auror. The story of the initial war against Voldemort is another avenue that could be explored. There’s also the potential for a historical fantasy about the founders of Hogwarts, or a prequel about young Albus Dumbledore and his initial friendship with his eventual nemesis, Grindelwald, or perhaps a trip to Hogwarts in the 1970s for an anarchic high school adventure about the Marauders. The possibilities are pretty much endless, especially once you remove Harry himself as a prerequisite.
One thing is certain: if Fantastic Beasts proves to be even a modest success, the Harry Potter franchise could return to its role as a box office powerhouse amid a slate that’s quickly filling up with superhero movies. Of course, that would also mean that the biggest box office contenders for the foreseeable future would be superheroes, Jedi and wizards, which might be too much nerdiness to handle.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in U.S. theaters on November 18th, 2016.