Expecto Controversy! Warner Bros. Discovery has revealed that major changes are ahead for the Wizarding World, announcing a decade-long streaming series that will retell the story of J.K. Rowling's seven Harry Potter tomes for the company's newly rebranded streaming service, Max. But the announcement has caused a rift in Dumbledore's Army due to the continued controversy over Rowling's divisive comments about the trans community. Here's what you need to know about the ongoing debate over the future of the Harry Potter franchise and Max's planned series.
In truth, the Time-Turner has been ticking on the current incarnation of the Wizarding World for awhile now. Although Harry Potter continues to be a powerful brand in the realm of merchandising and theme parks, the franchise has been floundering when it comes to onscreen adaptations of Rowling's world. Since the creation of Warner Bros. Discovery last year, the combined company's new head, David Zaslav, has made a point of rebooting the film studio's biggest tentpoles, starting with the DC Universe.
In October, James Gunn and Peter Safran were announced as the new leaders of DC Studios, and the duo unveiled their plans for that beleaguered cinematic universe earlier this year. In place of the post-Synderverse patchwork of loosely connected projects, Gunn and Safran have conceived an ambitious 10-part storyline called "Gods and Monsters" that spans big-screen movies and Max streaming series, which will mix major heroes like Justice Leaguers Superman and Batman alongside lesser-known super teams, including the Creature Commandos and The Authority.
"The stakes are enormous," Safran admitted to the press at the time. "[DC] was a brand in chaos and it's an opportunity to build an extraordinary standalone studio with the best IP [intellectual property] and the best stories in the world."
Besides DC, Zaslav has consistently pointed to Harry Potter as Warner's crown jewel-level IP. "We haven't had a Superman movie in 13 years; we haven't had a Harry Potter movie in 15 years," he noted on an earnings call in November. "The DC movies and the Harry Potter movies provided a lot of profits to Warner Bros. motion pictures over the last 25 years."
The numbers speak for themselves: Between 2001 and 2011, Warner Bros. released eight Harry Potter movies based on Rowling's seven books that grossed a collective $7.7 billion worldwide. The films also made generation-defining icons out of its young cast — led by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry, Ron and Hermione, respectively — whom audiences watched grow up onscreen. The release of the franchise-capper, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, in the summer of 2011 was a monumental pop culture moment for the actors and fans alike. That farewell chapter banked $1.3 billion worldwide — making it the highest-grossing installment in the series.
That's also an amount of money that the Wizarding World has never seen again. Five years after Harry Potter's final confrontation with Voldemort, Warner Bros. sought to continue Rowling's universe with the prequel series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, based on a slender 2001 volume that the author wrote using the pen name "Newt" Scamander. Eddie Redmayne played that character — an expert in Magizoology, the study of those aforementioned "fantastic beasts" — in the 2016 series-launcher, which earned a little over $800 million worldwide, putting it more or less on par with the middle chapters of the Harry Potter series.
But it soon became clear that Newt was no Harry. Originally conceived as a five-part film series, Fantastic Beasts profits notably nose-dived with successive installments. The 2018 sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald, banked $650 million worldwide and 2022's The Secrets of Dumbledore has the dubious distinction of being the lowest-grossing Wizarding World movie ever, topping out at a $407 million global gross — although it is worth noting that the movie was released as the theatrical industry was still bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic and with scandal swirling around former star Johnny Depp, accused of abuse in a bitter legal battle with ex-wife Amber Heard and replaced in that third film by Mads Mikkelsen. While the fourth and fifth movies haven't officially been canceled, it's no secret that the Fantastic Beasts franchise is likely kaput.
Meanwhile, an older Harry Potter returned — to the stage, at least — in the Rowling-approved sequel Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which has played to packed houses in London's West End and on Broadway since 2016. A movie adaptation seemed like the perfect antidote to the Fantastic Beasts franchise flop, especially when director Chris Columbus, who helmed the 2001 franchise-starter, said he wanted to direct it. There was just one problem: Harry himself didn't want to go back to Hogwarts.
"[It's] not something I'm really interested in doing right now," Radcliffe told The New York Times last year. "I'm getting to a point where I feel like I made it out of Potter OK and I'm really happy with where I am now, and to go back would be such a massive change to my life." On the other hand, Grint sounded a little more open to the idea remarking on the U.K. talk show This Morning: "If the timing was right and everyone was kinda coming back, I'd definitely revisit it. It's a character that's important to me." (Radcliffe, Grint and Watson did reunite for the 2022 HBO Max special Return to Hogwarts.)
Having already failed at one attempt to continue Harry Potter without Harry Potter, Zaslav and the Warner Bros. Discovery team understandably decided not to repeat history. The Max rebranding presentation ended with the announcement that the Wizarding World would literally be starting over from Page 1, with an as-yet unannounced creative team and a new cast of actors readapting Rowling's original seven books across ten years.
"We are delighted to give audiences the opportunity to discover Hogwarts in a whole new way," remarked HBO & Max Content head Casey Bloys, who also noted that a streaming series will allow for "more in-depth stories" than were possible in the earlier movie adaptations. "Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon and it is clear there is such an enduring love and thirst for the Wizarding World. In partnership with Warner Bros. Television and J.K. Rowling, this new Max Original series will dive deep into each of the iconic books that fans have continued to enjoy for all of these years."
The Crisis Point
It's the "in partnership with J.K. Rowling" part of Bloys's statement that has proven to be the sticking point as the next chapter of the Wizarding World is set to be written on Max. For years following the publication of the first Potter novel in 1997, the author was revered by fans for her rags-to-riches journey and boundless enthusiasm for the magical universe she created.
But Rowling's relationship with fandom experienced a serious fracture in 2019 when she publicly supported Maya Forstater, a U.K. woman who lost her job when she expressed her belief that it was "impossible to change sex." Within the transgender community, Forstater's comments were widely seen as discriminatory and a judge later ruled that they weren't protected under Britain's anti-discrimination laws. Rowling responded to the case on Twitter in December 2019, writing: "Dress however your please, call yourself whatever you like... but force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?"
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
That was the first salvo in an ongoing clash between Rowling and the trans community that has seriously impacted the author's reputation among Harry Potter fans, especially on social media. The controversy has since spilled over to affect the actors who were part of the Potter film franchise. While cast members like Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes have defended Rowling in the press, Radcliffe notably partnered with the LGBTQ organization The Trevor Project to push back on her views.
"Transgender women are women," the actor wrote in his 2020 statement. "Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I."
Bloys was directly asked about Rowling's views in a press conference following the Max presentation, and he drew criticism on social media for talking around the issue. "I don't think this is the forum," Bloys reportedly said, adding that the author would be creatively involved in the series. "That's a very online conversation, very nuanced and complicated and not something we're going to get into."
"Our priority is what's on the screen," he emphasized. "Obviously, the Harry Potter story is incredibly affirmative and positive and about love and self-acceptance. That's our priority — what's on screen. The TV show is new and we're excited about that, but, remember, we've been in the Potter business for 20 years. This is not a new decision for us, we're very comfortable being in the Potter business."
Rowling issued her own statement following the Max announcement, promising that the series will be a "faithful adaptation" of her books. "Max's commitment to preserving the integrity of my books is important to me. And I'm looking forward to being part of this new adaptation which will allow for a degree of depth and detail only afforded by a long form television series."
Rowling's participation in the Harry Potter series has largely dominated headlines after Warner Bros. Discovery's announcement, but the online conversation has since evolved. Here's a sampling of the reactions to the prospect of an all-new decade-long Harry Potter series.
"As a Star Wars fan, I get the desire to return to your favorite world time and time again. But this isn't Max making a new series based on previously unexplored characters; it's Disney+ turning A New Hope into a season of television. The eight Potter movies that already exist run nearly 20 hours as it is. Sure, some things were glossed over or left out, but fans dying for more content also have a Broadway show, a theme park, a video game, and the entire Fantastic Beasts film series to visit if they really need more Wizarding World." — Angela Watercutter, Wired
"Digging a little deeper" into the books could yield a great show
"It's not as though the original film series wasn't near perfectly cast, acted, and edited, but rather, audiences ached to dig a little deeper and a little wilder. Some may consider matching the phenomenal three actors at the center of the film series like catching lighting in a bottle, but the best stories in the English language are meant to transcend time and the faces behind legendary characters... A television series lends itself to a lot more consistent casting, meaning plots and characters won't be randomly missing because of scheduling conflicts." — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner
A "faithful" Harry Potter series is impossible
"Treating 'faithfulness' as the chief value of an adaptation is a creative dead end. It turns all adaptations into a pass/fail test, a series of exam questions in which a 'faithful' adaptation is correct and anything else is an error... What is the point of watching a painstaking, homework-y re-creation of a thing you already know and like, empty of any of its own ideas or perspectives?" — Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture
The series could fix what was already broken
"Sometimes the material that's in the books is even more questionable. Character names — like one of the only main characters of East Asian descent being named 'Cho Chang' — and the tokenization they represent highlighted how myopically white Rowling's fantastical Great Britain (or at least its wizards) were... People have questioned the books' portrayal of house elves or werewolves, and Jon Stewart recently made headlines for pointing out how the Gringotts goblins play into antisemitic caricatures. These are things that might not even have stuck out to readers — particularly young ones — on first blush. But now these details are increasingly hard to ignore, and in dire need of an update." — Zosha Milliman, Polygon
Rowling's involvement is a dealbreaker
"J.K. Rowling's involvement in Harry Potter makes it difficult to go back and enjoy the original works and makes it impossible to look forward to any new Harry Potter project knowing she will profit from it." — Richard Fink, MovieWeb
Harry Potter fever is waning
"The truth is, there have been signs for years that Harry Potter's spell over the general public may be slowly wearing off. This is somewhat inevitable, of course, when you have a brand as globally popular as J.K. Rowling's wizarding series once was. The books on their own have made billions of pounds; the eight film adaptations, starring Daniel Radcliffe as the tousle-haired boy wizard, made just as much. Potter's early 2000s ubiquity was never going to be sustainable." — Louis Chilton, The Independent
The show is retelling a story that everyone already knows
"Why would this be a show anyone would talk about week to week? There are no twists, no surprises to be found for the vast majority of the audience. It will mostly be debates about what did or didn't get changed from the movies, which is far less entertaining." — Paul Tassi, Forbes