Much has changed in the roughly four years since the previous "Fantastic Beasts" film was released.
Animosity toward creator J.K. Rowling over her views on the transgender community, which some have called transphobic, has grown.
Actor Mads Mikkelsen replaced Johnny Depp as dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald following backlash surrounding Depp, who is in a defamation legal battle with ex-wife Amber Heard, who he alleges falsely portrayed him as a domestic abuser in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post.
More recently, Ezra Miller, who plays Credence in the series, was arrested after allegedly harassing patrons at a karaoke bar in Hawaii. Miller was charged with disorderly conduct and harassment and was released after paying $500 bail, The Associated Press reported.
Now, as "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore," the third film in the "Harry Potter" prequel franchise, makes its theatrical debut this weekend, the question remains: Have fans have stuck around?
Rowling's past comments, allegations against Depp deter some
For some, it's a no-brainer to skip the films, given Rowling's controversial comments in recent years.
"Why would anyone see 'Fantastic Beasts'?" said Jake Stremel, 29, who voiced similar thoughts on Twitter.
Stremel is one of the many who say the books and movies impacted their childhood. But, he said, "by the time 'Fantastics Beasts' came along, Rowling had tanked her standing, and her reputation was ruined at that point."
For years, Stremel noted, people have been pointing out that there have been problematic elements in "Harry Potter" itself: for example, how the goblin bankers who run Gringotts Wizarding Bank echo Jewish caricatures.
"Rowling's always been sensitive about that, and she’s been trying to retcon as much as possible," he said. "She seemed like she kind of cared about looking good and was very liberal. By the time she started really flirting with transphobia and stuff like that, it ... I don’t know if surprising is the word for it, but it felt out of nowhere."
Rowling first made headlines for her views in 2019, when she publicly supported Maya Forstater, a British tax specialist who lost her job after she posted tweets that were deemed to be anti-trans. In 2020, Rowling mocked a headline that used the phrase “people who menstruate,” which trans advocates noted is meant to be inclusive of trans men and nonbinary people who still have periods.
She later doubled down on her views in a nearly 4,000-word blog post that some critics on Twitter called a “transphobic manifesto.” In a tweet sharing the blog post, Rowling wrote, “TERF wars.” TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, a term critics have called the author.
Daniel Radcliffe, who starred as the titular Harry Potter, and Eddie Redmayne, who stars in the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” series, have both previously publicly stated that they disagree with Rowling.
A spokesperson for Rowling declined to comment.
There was also controversy surrounding Depp, which began after he was cast in the second installment, "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald." The news was confirmed after Depp made a cameo in the first film, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," which was released in 2016.
Some "Potter" fans were not pleased, as the casting coincided with Depp's divorce from Heard in 2016, which for years has made headlines due to allegations made by both parties.
In May 2016, Heard, who co-starred with Depp in 2011’s “The Rum Diary,” cited irreconcilable differences after 15 months of marriage and obtained an order of protection from Depp after she claimed the domestic violence culminated on May 21 — when he struck her in the face with a cellphone. Depp has denied these allegations.
Rowling defended the casting decision in a post on her website in 2017.
In 2020, Depp lost his libel case against British tabloid The Sun after it described him as a “wife beater.” Shortly after, Depp shared in an Instagram post that he was asked to resign by Warner Bros., "and I have respected and agreed to that request," he wrote.
Now, another case is underway in Fairfax County, Virginia. Some die-hard Depp fans showed up in person to voice their support for the actor.
Depp’s lawyers accused Heard of "fabricating domestic violence claims against him in order to advance her own career," according to Variety. Heard's attorney "argued that Depp is seeking to ruin Heard’s life by pursuing the lawsuit," Variety reported.
Others choose to separate art from the artist
For other "Harry Potter" fans, especially older millennials, the relationship to the franchise is more complicated.
Jacklyn Krol, 29, who grew up with the beloved "Harry Potter" series, is among those who said they choose to separate art from the artist.
"I know there’s a lot of controversy around ['Fantastic Beasts']," said Krol, a Chicago-based writer and photojournalist, who has fond memories of watching all the films with her late father.
"I was on the fence for a while about watching ['Fantastic Beasts']. ... Like, I want to see how this story ends, but I don’t want to give all my money to it," she said.
Ultimately, Krol said she remains a fan of the Potterverse and plans to see the third installment in part because she wants to honor her dad.
This person with not-great views created a magical universe. The universe itself should be appreciated, but obviously not Rowling’s actions or comments.
Jacklyn Krol, 'harry potter' fan
"I wish there was a non-J.K.-Rowling-written version," she added. But "this person with not-great views created a magical universe. The universe itself should be appreciated, but obviously not Rowling's actions or comments."
At the end of the day, Krol said she feels the films continue the “Potter” legacy. “It’s for future generations,” she said.
The latest film, directed by “Harry Potter” veteran David Yates, also taps into what fans love most: the source material. It hones in on the backstory of Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law), who it is revealed had a romantic past with Grindelwald.
Paul Weiner, a Denver-based artist, said he loves the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise "because it gives us so much context about the global wizarding world, especially Dumbledore and Grindelwald."
"I get that a lot of people just want an excuse to complain about J.K. Rowling now because of her politics, but I don’t understand how any 'Harry Potter' fan could possibly want to see less of the wizarding world," Weiner, 28, said.
Weiner said he finds the controversy surrounding Rowling "fascinating" because he's "seen people in the art world get away with much worse than what Rowling has and continue on as fixtures in this community, although the art world is much further from the public eye."
"That’s not to excuse Rowling because political differences do shape the creative process and the outcome of the work," he added. "What I find intriguing is the willingness to accept Rowling’s ideology when it is so deeply and masterfully embedded in the 'Harry Potter' series, but the same fans are turned off by the expanded universe in 'Fantastic Beasts.' Perhaps this has to do with the unwillingness to let go of a beloved childhood story that was a formative experience, shaping the way many younger millennials like me respond to culture in general. 'Fantastic Beasts' is not embedded in our cultural memory in the same way."
For some, like Noah Carolan, the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise has served as an entry into the "Harry Potter" world. Though Carolan, 21, said he finds Rowling's past comments "disgusting," he has grown to love the wizarding world.
Fantastic Beasts "seemed a good jumping-on point for a 'Harry Potter' novice, not needing to know a tremendous amount before watching," Carolan, who lives in Norwich, England, said. "A fresh start."
'Fantastic Beasts' franchise's fate up in the air
Aside from the controversies surrounding the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise, many "Harry Potter" fans said they simply aren't as invested in the spinoff because they take issue with the plot of the films.
The first film, which followed magizoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne), generated fairly strong reviews, with a 74 percent on the Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Critics were less impressed with the second film. A Los Angeles Times critic, who called "The Crimes of Grindelwald" a "big Dumble-snore," wrote in the review that the movie "is somehow both hectic and leaden, a thing of exhausting, pummeling mediocrity." Another critic, for Variety, called it "a confusing jumble of new characters and eye-crossing marginalia."
Early reviews of the third movie are mixed, though many have praised Mikkelsen’s performance as Grindelwald. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 51 percent Tomatometer score. Some fans online have already lamented a plot hole that involves Hogwarts professor Minerva McGonagall.
Jeffrey Zhang, editor of the site Strange Harbors — which covers film, television and popular culture — tweeted that he thinks the franchise "would have made billions of dollars if it was actually about capturing goofy magic animals instead of Grundlefly’s misdemeanors or whatever the hell it is now."
The fate of the franchise remains unclear. According to a recent Variety report, Warner Bros. executives are waiting to see how “The Secrets of Dumbledore” performs before giving the go-ahead for fourth and fifth films.
Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The film, which comes as the moviegoing industry continues to struggle with getting people to theaters in the wake of the pandemic, is tracking to make at least $40 million from 4,200 North American theaters its opening weekend, Variety reported. It opened at the international box office earlier this month with about $58 million from 22 overseas markets.
As of right now, Variety reported, there is no script for a fourth film.