Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them had all the makings of a slam dunk for Warner Bros.: it was based on the popular Harry Potter series, it enticed author J.K. Rowling to make her screenwriting debut, it cast newly crowned best-actor-Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, and it enlisted David Yates, who directed the final four Potter films, to direct it.
Fantastic Beasts seemed to take on more load than it could handle somewhere between Johnny Depp’s public fall from grace and Vladimir Putin’s comparison of Russia’s woes to Rowling’s cancellation. As the third film in the series, The Secrets of Dumbledore, hits theatres this Friday in the United States, the series has already prompted headlines such as Time’s “Just Cancel the Fantastic Beasts Franchise Already” and Entertainment Weekly’s “Fantastic Beasts is now the world’s most problematic movie franchise.”
The first Fantastic Beasts scandal appears to be never-ending. In Virginia, a second defamation trial between Amber Heard and Depp, who played the wicked Grindelwald to Jude Law’s Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, began this week. Depp is suing Heard for $50 million after she claimed to be a domestic abuse sufferer in a Washington Post op-ed in 2018. She is suing for $100 million in retaliation. (After The Sun’s executive editor and publisher, News Group Newspapers, used the phrase “wife-beater” to characterize him in a 2018 headline, Depp sued them for libel.) In 2020, he lost the case.)
“Right now, there’s a problem where a lot of individuals are being accused of stuff, and they’re being implicated by numerous victims, and it’s intriguing and terrifying,” Yates told Entertainment Weekly. “It appears to me that there was one individual who took a shot at Johnny and made a claim. All I can say about the man I see every day is that he is full of decency and kindness, and that is all I see.” Rowling sent her own message of support, which reads in part: “Based on our knowledge of the facts, the directors and I are not only satisfied with our initial casting, but also genuinely pleased to have Johnny play a big role in the films.”
Depp would go on to play a greater part in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in 2018, despite the backlash from fans. However, the tide turned when Depp’s first libel lawsuit revealed unsavoury information, and he lost the case, prompting him to leave from the franchise at Warner Bros.’ request. Variety said that AT&T had merged with Warner Bros.’ parent company, Time Warner, resulting in a leadership shift that was less tolerant of “courting mercurial—but historically popular—talent like Depp.” Warner Bros. publicly honored Depp for his service, but the third instalment will star Mads Mikkelsen.