Fantastic Beasts 4 Uncertain As Warner Bros. Navigates J.K. Rowling, Ezra Miller Controversies

Warner Bros. has a franchise that virtually every other studio in Hollywood would kill for in the form of the Wizarding World of "Harry Potter." The original movies dominated the box office for a decade and have generated plenty more cash in merchandising, licensing and other revenue streams. The "Fantastic Beasts" spin-off films were supposed to be the next great chapter in the Wizarding World. It hasn't exactly panned out that way and now, the future of the series looks to be in jeopardy.

According to a recent report from Variety detailing the troubles that the prequel series has faced ahead of the release of "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore," it's mentioned that Warner Bros. has not yet given a green light to a planned fourth entry in the franchise. No script is in place and the studio is taking a wait-and-see approach. The decision will ultimately hinge on how this latest film is received at the box office. "Harry Potter" creator J.K. Rowling, who is heavily involved in the films and co-wrote the screenplay for this latest entry, originally had a five-film arc mapped out.

Quite frankly, the prospect of a fourth movie isn't looking great. "The Secrets of Dumbledore" had a very soft opening internationally and isn't tracking all that well for its domestic box office debut. Plus, there is a lot of stiff competition already in theaters, like "Sonic the Hedgehog 2," and much more competition coming down the pipeline. While some critics (including our own) have noted this new chapter is an improvement over "The Crimes of Grindelwald," it's still a long way from the level of love the core "Harry Potter" movies received. The full scope of the spin-off franchise does not look good.

A recipe for disaster

Aside from the fact that the "Fantastic Beasts" films have not lived up to the magic of the "Harry Potter" franchise, Warner Bros. has been forced to deal with several controversies that are taking their toll. Rowling, for one, has been in the crosshairs for her continued disparaging comments regarding the trans community, which have made her wildly unpopular with many of her once-loyal fans. The studio is caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of how to deal with this. Meanwhile, Ezra Miller, who plays Credence in the current films, has been at the center of several public issues and recently was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Plus, there's the whole Johnny Depp of it all. The actor originally played Grindelwald in the first and second films, but he was asked not to return for "The Secrets of Dumbledore." Much of this was related to his highly public feud with his ex-wife Amber Heard, who has accused Depp of being abusive while they were married. They are now entangled in multiple lawsuits, and the whole thing is even going to be given the docuseries treatment. Mads Mikkelsen was brought in to replace him, and he has proved to be a popular choice. Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

That all leaves the fate of one of the biggest franchises on the planet in the balance. Where does Warner Bros. go from here if they don't move forward with "Fantastic Beasts 4?" This is a franchise that needs to be theatrically viable, and they certainly want to find a way to make that happen. But recovering from all of this is going to take some real-life magic, and that's not as easy to conjure in the current Hollywood landscape.

"Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" hits theaters on April 15, 2022.