In a world of spin-offs, reboots and prequels, do we even need a Harry Potter cinematic universe?
On the 20th anniversary of the big-screen introduction to the boy who lived, it feels like the right time to ask — in the age of cinematic universes, where do Potterheads go from here?
In this, the golden age of geekdom, Sounds Geek To Me is a column that seeks to discuss and dissect the latest from the various fandom universes, new and old. From Marvel to Middle Earth to The Matrix, sci-fi sensations to superheroes, galaxies far far away to wizarding worlds, the column aims to inform, opine and take fantasy storytelling far too seriously.
“Yer a wizard Harry," says a shaggy eight-foot tall tower of a man to a bespectacled, wide-eyed 11-year-old boy who, like us, did not know his world was never going to be the same again. This day, 20 years ago saw the US release of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (no, it is not Sorcerer’s Stone, the lazy, watered-down, spoonfeed-y American title - do not even get me bloody started).
It was the start of a beloved eight-part fantasy movie franchise based on an even more beloved book series that launched a million aspiring wizards and witches. The definitive young adult fantasy series that an entire generation grew up with and got utterly lost in. A series of movies which, to this day, have the power to transport us back to a simpler time. An age where we could solemnly swear we were up to no good.
Aside from laying the building blocks of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, director Chris Columbus’ Philosopher’s Stone introduced us to the on-screen adaptation of JK Rowling’s richly detailed and wondrous Wizarding World. A world of spells and sorting hats, Horcruxes and hallows, Butterbeers, Boggarts, and Bertie Bott's every flavour beans (and they really do mean every flavour). Of Shrieking Shacks, Remembralls, Quidditch, nearly headless ghosts, patronuses, Polyjuice potions, paintings with personality, and beyond. Not to mention imprinting a vast array of magical vocabulary and spells into our subconscious. Objectively useless knowledge that we will forever treasure.
The eight Harry Potter films collectively earned nearly $8 billion, and Rowling’s book series is one of the bestselling in history with more than 500 million copies sold. But the rich legacy and enduring fanbase aside, on the 20th anniversary of the big-screen introduction to the boy who lived, it feels like the right time to ask — in the age of cinematic universes, where do Potterheads go from here?
At a time when far less impactful franchises are getting spun into massive worlds of spin-offs and continuations, it feels like one of the biggest fandom universes remains relatively untapped. What we have had post the books and movies, is an interesting if unlikely mixed bag of controversies, (kind of) continuations, and spin-offs.
First off, to address the Quidditch-pitch-sized elephant in the room, you have an increasingly problematic author who, for all the wonder she has given the world, now seems hellbent on inflicting the Cruciatus curse to her career and reputation. An unfortunate turn of events that has led to many Potterheads being forced to have those delicate yet dreaded yet art vs artists conversations. (I legitimately would not be surprised if, in the time taken to read this, Rowling has tweeted yet another random character revelation no one asked for, like “OMG BTW Dobby was a Death Eater, and Hogwarts was a metaphor for the Middle East this whole time!”).
Then there is the Fantastic Beasts spin-off prequel series centered on Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander Not unlike the Hobbit series, Fantastic Beasts gave us a wonderful first film that allowed us to revisit this world we so loved with genuinely endearing characters. The film that followed, however, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of
Meandering Storytelling And Spectacular Miscasting Grindelwald, was another story. (Jude Law as young Dumbledore? Really? Go make out with a Dementor). And yes, there is an unfortunate third instalment on the way.
There was also Harry Potter And The Cursed Child (2016), the published script of a play, set 19 years after the events of the books. Despite all the hopes and hype attached, The Cursed Child was a poorly written yet ambitious Star Wars: Force Awakens-style continuation of the Harry Potter series, which told the story of the next generation of Weasleys and Potters, while still keeping the now older Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the mix.
But now, in the age of intellectual property and a franchise-fuelled movie industry driven by cinematic universes, what of the Wizarding World? Or perhaps the more pressing question is: would a sprawling fandom universe made up of endless spin-offs, sequels, and prequels be good for this world we love so much?
Is a Harry Potter cinematic universe even a good thing? Why is it enough for us not to cherish what is, rather than focusing on what next? Should we not be fulfilled in just reveling in and relishing these movies and books as they are?
In theory, yes. But at a time where cinematic universes are either constantly expanding (Game Of Thrones, Star Wars, Marvel Cinematic Universe) or there is a constant mad dash by studios to create new ones (The Boys, The Witcher), it is only natural that we have become accustomed to these worlds being mined for more. So as an entitled fan, my best answer to whether I would want more Harry Potter stories on screen would be — yes... but only if they are good.
And if it was to carry on, what would that look like? Small screen or big? Existing characters or new ones? There are rumours of a Harry Potter-related TV series currently in early development at HBO Max. It’s an idea that is hard not to be excited by. Back in 2011, pop culture publication IGN put out a bloody cool fan-made trailer for The Aurors, imagining what a wizarding US TV show could look like, and it is hard not to get your mind working.
More recently, Philosopher’s Stone director Chris Columbus said in an interview that he would love to direct The Cursed Child movie, considering the original cast is now the right age (please god no — someone obliviate this man). As to whether any or all of these come to fruition, only time, and the decisions of probably white male studio executives behind closed doors, will tell.
But coming back to relishing and celebrating what is rather than getting lost in what if, regardless of what is to become of the Wizarding World, the fact remains that 20 years ago, we saw the beginnings of one of the most beloved fantasy stories of all time. An epic story which, despite its whimsical world, was, at its core, about the importance and power of love and connection. One of the most enchanting good vs evil stories ever seen on screen, the Harry Potter series did a lot more than just touch hearts and endure. It made us believe in magic.
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