J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them took the top spot at this weekend’s box office, racking up $75 million. It’s a solid opening for the Harry Potter spin-off but not necessarily strong enough on its own to launch the would-be franchise. The weekend numbers not only failed to match the openings of the Harry Potter films before it, but failed to do so in an era when box-office grosses are more front-loaded.
The film, which received positive notices from critics and high marks from Cinemascore viewers, will nevertheless need strong numbers overseas (likely) and impressive box-office legs here in the United States to guarantee that the $185 million budgeted film will lead to future sequels (five films have been tentatively planned for the franchise). The good news is, it should continue to perform well over the Thanksgiving holiday (Dwayne Johnson’s Moana will be its biggest competition) and add to its impressive overseas total. The bad news, however, is that 45 percent of its opening-weekend audience was over the age of 35, meaning that Fantastic Beasts so far looks like a film that appeals to older preexisting Potter fans but is not bringing in the number of newcomers it takes to generate a long-surviving franchise (only 18 percent of Beasts moviegoers were under the age of 18).
The jury is still out on the future of the franchise, but even as a stand-alone film, Fantastic Beasts is worth a look. It takes a too long to set up the new universe and it tries to cram too much into two-and-a-half hours, but once Fantastic Beasts gains some momentum, it’s thrilling and hugely entertaining. It’s also the first time I’ve seen Eddie Redmayne on film where I didn’t get a chill like the spirit of all of my murdered relatives passes had just passed through me.