During a special fan event for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling pulled the equivalent of Steve Jobs’ "One more thing," and dropped some hints about what the future of the franchise might look like: she’s planning a total of five films, rather than three.
Rowling revealed the news at the end of the event (50:46 mark):
"We always knew that it was going to be more than one movie — we knew that from the start — so we set a trilogy as a sort of placeholder, because we knew there would be more than one movie. But we’ve now, I’ve now done the plotting properly, so we’re pretty sure it’s going to be five movies."
The Harry Potter spinoff series has always been projected as a trilogy. Its first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, comes out next month, but the declaration shows Rowling and Warner Bros.’ confidence in the strength of more stories set in Rowling’s fantasy world.
Rowling took to Twitter to clarify that she doesn’t mean the series will run a minimum of five movies with more to come:
Not 'at least.' Five. Five movies. https://t.co/61YvDIKPsG— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) October 13, 2016
She also noted that she’s nearly done scripting installment number two.
I'm the screenwriter. Currently putting the finishing touches to the second one. https://t.co/smffkQ42GZ— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) October 13, 2016
Rowling also revealed that other details might come up in future films: she says upcoming installments will talk about Harry Potter series stalwart Albus Dumbledore and his frenemy Gellert Grindelwald, who only had a minor, tangential role in the books.
Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s story is a particularly interesting point in the franchise’s history: a major duel between the two wizards in 1945 marked the end of the Global Wizarding War. If Rowling does mean to tell their story in detail, she likely has an enormous saga planned out, with the Fantastic Beasts films becoming an integral part of the Potter canon. For fans, these could be really intriguing stories.
On the other hand, the news was also met with groans. It’s another example of a major IP being stretched out for maximum profit. We’re already expecting to see a new Star Wars film per year through 2020, while Peter Jackson suffered his own pile-on of criticism for expanding J.R.R. Tolkien’s short prequel The Hobbit into two feature films, then eventually three.
Earlier this year, my colleague Chaim Gartenberg posed the question "When did pop culture forget how to let things end?" He noted how Hollywood gravitates toward sequels, reboots, and reimaginings to keep the cash-flow going on properties with a passionate fanbase. With The Cursed Child, it’s clear that Rowling views Harry Potter as just a small episode of a much larger story, and that there’s endless potential for future films and installments as long as Warner Bros. believes viewers will show up in large numbers.
Rowling's world transcends mediums
Since the success of the Harry Potter series (books and films), it’s clear Rowling has had a tight grip on how how her world is expanding, and she appears to have settled down into a long view of how her story will play out. While the series began as one novel back in 1997, it lives on through a variety of media: novels, feature films, a theme park, an interactive website and online community, short stories, and an elaborate theatrical play.
It feels like this is an IP that’s built to spec for our diverse media-consumption age, and if it’s successful, it’ll be an excellent case study in how major corporations manage these sorts of stories on a long-term basis. Indeed, Warner Bros. filed trademarks on The Cursed Child not long after the book came out, while the franchise’s main star, Daniel Radcliffe, noted that he wasn’t going to rule out ever returning to the role that made him famous.
It can still go wrong in many, many ways
That said, there is the very real potential for Rowling’s world to turn sour. Earlier this year, she came under scrutiny for the way African and Native American societies were portrayed in several new Pottermore stories. There's also other examples of where this has gone wrong, like Jackson's Hobbit trilogy.
The response to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will likely be watched closely by Warner Bros. and fans alike, to see how well the reviews and box office hold up against the earlier films. If the new film succeeds, we’re going to be living with Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts protagonist Newt Scamander, and their friends and enemies for a very long time.