Does Fantastic-Beasts really have theme park potential?

Edited: November 23, 2018, 7:42 AM

Some of the TPI regulars have envisioned the possibility of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando expanding into the world of Newt Scamander and Fantastic Beasts. At first glance, it would seem like a logical decision. The theme park cash cow that is the Harry Potter franchise has been the gift that keeps the turnstiles spinning.

But the lackluster box office opening of the latest effort in the cinematic Potterverse (“The Crimes of Grindelwald”) may be reason enough to take a second look at both theme park viability of the Fantastic Beasts franchise as well as the longevity of the Potter IP. Indeed, weekend number two is likely to fare much worse -- especially with the arrival of Ralph and Vanellope

In a November 19th piece for ‘Variety’, online editor Rebecca Rubin explores the question “Can ‘Fantastic Beasts’ survive without enchanting audiences.” The article explores whether or not the franchise can carry on in movie theaters, let alone theme parks.

Referencing the “seemingly endless array of ‘Harry Potter’ sequels, prequels, spinoffs and stage shows” Ms. Rubin notes, “The umpteenth return to the fantasy series launched with $62 million at the domestic box office, a sizable and potentially problematic drop from ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’.”

Certainly some of the disappointment from the opening weekend was due to less-than-enthusiastic reviews (Rotten Tomatoes 40% -- Ouch!). And, to be fair, overseas receipts pushed the revenue up over $250 million. But Ms. Rubin noted another consideration – specifically regarding exactly who showed up to see the flick and why.

From the article: “Like the first ‘Fantastic Beasts’ installment, the audience breakdown was much older than the movies centering around the bespectacled boy wizard.”

She continues: “…69% of moviegoers were over the age of 25, and only 14% of audience members were under 18 years old. That’s even slightly older than the first “Fantastic Beasts” entry, where 65% of ticket buyers were older than 25 years old and 18% were under the age of 18. For comparison, well over 50% of crowds for every “Harry Potter” movie were teens and younger.”

She continues: “Enthusiasm, in North America at least, has already started to dwindle and it’s worth questioning how long these movies can endure without a growing fanbase.”

Please keep in mind, these are not the standard, annoying opinions of THC. This premise was raised by Ms. Rubin.
Of course, last August (Blogflume titled “Universal Orlando gets social with new Harry Potter special event.”) the aforementioned TPI in-house pest posed the question “Is there really a substantial number of kids born after 1995 who have any interest in investing themselves into the Potter universe?”

Again, that thought was posed as a question.

Further on in that thread I noted: “The millions of 14 year olds who picked up ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ in 1997 are now 35 years old. Is there another generation of 14 year olds who are now discovering the Potter books and are willing to crawl through seven volumes of literature?”

Ditto on the “posed as a question” thing.

Again, (returning to the first paragraph of this screed) there are some TPIers who have imagined that the world of Fantastic Beasts might find a footprint in the next theme park UO opens in Orlando. I’m wondering if such a concept can have the gate-crasher impact that the current Potter attractions have had. Especially since there’s no longer a guarantee that all five of the planned Beast flicks will even make it to theaters – maintaining the visibility of the franchise. Again from the Variety article: “A studio hopes that the highly anticipated sequel from one of the biggest franchises of all time should see a stronger opening weekend than its predecessor, or at least one that’s roughly in line with the first film’s result. Instead, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” got off to a slower start at the domestic box office and might struggle to keep momentum going as a crowded Thanksgiving frame nears.”

It continues: “Adding to the sense of anxiety on the Warners lot is the reality that these movies are only getting more expensive to make. “The Crimes of Grindelwald” carried a hefty $200 million price tag, meanwhile the first one cost $175 million. Budgets don’t tend to shrink as a franchise nears its conclusion.”

Just like filmmaking, construction costs continue to rise. In light of this, it seems reasonable to ask the question: What are the indicators that would lead someone to conclude that the Fantastic Beasts franchise represents an especially promising theme park IP? Or to put it another way, if you were running UO, would you place a quarter of a billion dollar bet on the long term success of attractions related to Newt Scamander?

Replies (22)

November 23, 2018, 1:01 PM

I wouldn’t sweat it. Disney’s moving forward with Star Wars Land in spite of how Solo bombed at the box office. If the attractions and area are well done, fans will line up in droves and drop whatever cash they have, just as they’ve done for Cars and Pandora, which are based upon movies no one cares about anymore.

November 23, 2018, 1:21 PM

The smart play would be a shared attraction. The Ministry of Magi is in both franchises, and you could somewhat link both. Avatar has not been around for a while, but the lines have not been diminished. I agree that if you make a great attraction, the people will reward you. I also do not think Solo will do a thing to pull back the sea of people that will show for that when it opens.

November 23, 2018, 3:11 PM

Full Disclosure: I am a die-hard Potter fan. I could not care less about the reviews for FB2. I have seen every Potter film in the theaters, and I will see the latest flick as well. But I am in the 25+ demo ... Okay the 25+++ demo.

November 23, 2018, 3:34 PM

@JT It is not just box office ... It's about (1) The aging demographics and (2) The likelihood that Warner will actually continue a franchise through the planned five films.

Edited: November 23, 2018, 6:01 PM

FWIW, I saw the new Fantastic Beasts the other day, and while I don't think it deserved the 39 or whatever it has on Rotten Tomatoes, I can see why some didn't like it. I think Rowling and Co. can suitably wrap up the franchise's storylines with one more movie instead of three.

In any event, I think the age demographics thing is pretty negligible. To repeat myself a bit, it doesn't matter what IP is attached to a ride as long as the attraction itself is executed well. How many people who hop in line for Tower of Terror have watched the original Twilight Zone? Even if kids haven't seen the Fantastic Beasts movies, there's nothing stopping them from enjoying the rides and asking their parents for one of the Niffler plushes they see in the shops.

Edited: November 23, 2018, 9:47 PM

The tricky thing with the Fantastic Beasts franchise is that it doesn't have a lot of potential for an immersive themed land, as most of the environments in the films aren't particularly compelling. That said, I'd still say that Fantastic Beasts has a lot of theme park potential, particularly if kept to the beasts themselves. Unlike Harry Potter, there isn't too much prerequisite knowledge needed for an attraction primarily about magical creatures, so it could be made in such a way that those with no exposure to the franchise would also find it appealing. As a standalone attraction, it would be a great IP to use. For example, the first film took place in New York. Why not boot Jimmy Fallon and redo that simulator as an adventure with Newt? Guests could step off the streets of New York into MACUSA's headquarters for "No-Maj welcome day" or something like that, with the queue area used as a miniaturized immersive space. Naturally, something happens and guests are recruited for some sort of mission. Something on that scale would definitely work, and would be a good way to expand the Wizarding World presence on a more modest budget with less risk. So, as a stand-alone attraction, or as an addition to the existing Wizarding World? Great idea. As an anchor land in the third park? Probably not the best option.

As far as the films go, a bad film is not enough to sink the franchise, and Universal has actually taken some somewhat lackluster films and created great attractions from them (such as Waterworld or Revenge of the Mummy). In fact, the concept behind Fantastic Beasts is actually quite good. The core problem with the franchise is that J.K. Rowling wants to expand them into something the audience doesn't need or want, and it's starting to show that a five-film franchise with the depth of the novels isn't going to work. Best option from here IMO...trim out the subplots, focus solely on Newt's story and the Dumbledore/Grindelwald story, and condense the remaining three films down to two (or one LOTR-length film)

November 24, 2018, 7:40 PM

AJ, I see your point about FB being better suited as a standalone attraction than a new immersive land. However I'm not as optimistic about Comcast's desire to build a standalone attraction for the Wizarding World if they determine it's not worthwhile to build an entire Land. If they were to do something in USF, I would be surprised if they put it anywhere other than space already allegedly earmarked for WWoHP expansion adjacent to Diagonal Alley i.e. Fear Factor. I'd love to see MACUSA fully-realized in NY, but a second completely separate WWoHP attraction outside of the park's established WWoHP Land seems like something they'd avoid.

November 25, 2018, 6:35 AM

After the new coaster opens at IOA, I am wondering if there will be any more HP attractions built at any Universal park in Florida. Perhaps the IP has reached it's themed entertainment limit.

Edited: November 26, 2018, 10:36 AM

I think the biggest issue with the Fantastic Beasts series is how it is being produced. Unlike the Harry Potter movies that were based on existing and well-received books, the Fantastic Beasts movies are being written exclusively for the screen by Rowling. To be frank, Ms. Rowling is not a great screenwriter, and because of that, the 2 Fantastic Beasts movies have been subpar. They're not terrible, but Rowling has a hard time editing herself, and the latest installment, The Crimes of Grindewald, gets bogged down in unnecessary details and name dropping that readers of the books probably love, but seasoned directors and screenwriters would know to exclude from a major motion picture. The Fantastic Beasts movies have been great for placemaking, which probably bodes well for theme park applications, but the stories and meandering plots have hurt the overall popularity of the movies compared to the HP series.

However, I don't think WB (or Universal) is complaining about a movie that has been #1 in worldwide box office grosses for 2 consecutive weeks (more than Ralph Breaks the Internet, which topped the domestic box, and has an overall franchise gross (just Fantastic Beasts) that has exceeded $1.25 billion worldwide (only "lackluster" when compared to HP). I think the HP phenomenon will be tough to follow, but it's clear that the Wizarding World is still a big draw. Maybe if Rowling could just swallow some pride and let a seasoned screenwriter do the work for her, the Fantastic Beasts series could finish strong.

November 26, 2018, 1:09 PM

Well said Russell. I came away from the most recent movie feeling actually cheated at not having been offered a novel of the story. As a big fan, I can tell you that those "unnecessary details and name dropping" are even more frustrating for devoted fan than a casual watcher. This is because they lead to more questions, more potential continuity errors, and more plot holes that could probably be easily addressed in a novel, but won't be addressed even across 5 movies. Even the Pottermore updates can't keep up with all the inexplicable or underdeveloped details presented in the movies.
I do think WB will see the missed opportunity in the domestic box office and force Jo to address the almost universally agreed upon flaws with how the story is being presented

November 26, 2018, 2:35 PM

My biggest concern about the Fantastic Beasts is the lack of novels. Like many, I've read the Harry Potter books several times each and I've also seen all the movies many times. The depth of story that comes from the books helps the viewer fill in gaps in the movies. That's something we don't have with the Fantastic Beasts stories. I wonder if JK has all that in her head and forgets that the rest of us are not able to read her mind as we were with her books. I really wish she'd written these as books and then handed them off to screen writers to make into movies. I have to believe there would be more devotion from the fans if we'd been given books first.
I will say that while I found The Crimes of Grindelvold to be confusing on some plot points and lacking in some of the warmth I had hoped for, it's a middle movie in a series. Middle movies always dump a lot of set up on us that we hope will pay off.

Edited: November 26, 2018, 3:01 PM

It's only the "middle movie" if you count movies 2, 3, and 4 of a 5-movie series to all be "middle movies" That means, we'll be scratching our heads for another 2 movies before everything pays off some 10 years from now. As was evident in the Harry Potter series, things will only get more dense as she moves along, so it will get far worse before it gets better. The only hope for HP fans is for Rowling to hand some of the screenwriting duties off to collaborators, who can untie the millions of knots that have already been cinched around this convoluted story.

November 26, 2018, 5:45 PM

Russell - note, I said "A" not "The" middle movie. I'm still rooting for Newt and his story. I think it's a shame that so many are willing to throw in the towel on the Wizarding World based on this one film.
Have a little faith people.
Perhaps I'm a bit too optimistic for this thread, but when you balance the rest of the what she has brought us I think you all may be underselling what may lie ahead in movies 3, 4 and 5.

Edited: November 27, 2018, 7:33 AM

I'm not throwing in the towel, but Grindelwald really frustrated me. There is oodles of potential in the Newt narrative, but Rowling seems far more interested in connecting insignificant dots by going off on wild tangents and referencing minutia from the HP series trying to get that "Ah Ha" moment than telling a compelling story. I think there were the bones of a really good story somewhere in Grindelwald, but they were buried far beneath the surface. Perhaps I'll appreciate it more on repeated viewings, but I'll be waiting for the home version instead of paying for a ticket to see it again in a theater.

I don't want to spoil things too much, but the one thing that really irked me was the lack of motivation for Queenie's actions in the second half of the film - just came out of nowhere and really took me out of that storyline for a good chunk of the second act.

I'm hopeful that Rowling will see that she needs to streamline things a bit, but I'm concerned that she won't based on her inability to edit herself through the second half of the HP series. However, I don't think the muddling plots and sloppy storylines change the fact that the Fantastic Beasts series is ripe for a theme park application. There are some great set pieces in the movies that would make for amazing experiences (my mind is racing with the potential just between the three Ministries of Magic we've seen so far - perhaps hopping between them on a Soarin'-like global tour of the Wizarding World). The lesser performance of these 2 films compared to the Harry Potter films don't make it any less likely for Universal to tap into the amazing imagery and imagination created by Rowling. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Universal make a move to create a permanent performance space for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child once it's completed its Broadway run - I could see them marketing a 2-day 2-park vacation with each day finished off with a half of the theatrical production (I personally haven't seen it, but my wife said it was pretty amazing).

November 27, 2018, 5:51 PM

I have never been the biggest HP fan, but I definitely love Wizarding World in Orlando. Although I haven't seen the new film, it seems like it's not much more than a studio controlled, propaganda, film; that focus more on fanservice than on storytelling.
I believe that maybe if they let someone who truly loves the franchise do a nice story set in that universe, but that doesn't need to share characters or scenarios, maybe then the franchise would have new life breathed upon it.
Also, it is true that the franchise's popularity might not affect the parks that much, as seen in Pandora. I believe it could be a great ideia to make a land based on some new location, maybe one that hasn't yet appeared (at least not a lot) in film, and that could be developed almost like a new IP, only that in the HP universe, like what Disney seems to be doing with Star Wars. Maybe this land relates to that Globus Mundi store that opened in Diagon Alley.

November 28, 2018, 7:15 AM

"I believe that maybe if they let someone who truly loves the franchise do a nice story set in that universe"

It's being written by Rowling herself, so I don't think there's anyone else who could possibly love the franchise more (though you have to wonder about her motivations at this point). The issue with Fantastic Beasts is that Rowling is writing the screenplays instead of them being adapted from novels by seasoned screenwriters who know how to write for major motion pictures like the HP movies were developed. You would have thought she would have gotten better at writing screenplays after gaining experience from the first film (and Cursed Child), but the second film is just cluttered and overwrought. Part of the problem is that the director of the films, David Yates (who directed the last 4 HP movies), doesn't seem to be willing to stand up to Rowling. It is her world after all, and Yates probably doesn't want to lose the job that will set him up for the rest of his life (he's contracted to direct the 3 remaining FB movies, and wasn't very successful in his forray outside the Wizarding World with The Legend of Tarzan), but at some point you would think common sense and experience would win out.

Let's not forget that Rowling was a struggling no name author before HP came out, and even her most popular works have drawn strong criticism from literary reviewers.

November 30, 2018, 12:18 PM

I just wonder what else they can do with the HP IP? What other story or ride system? More giant beasts (Drangons -- See FJ and GG)? Maybe a killer VR experience like The Void at DSTP -- which is adding (or maybe has added) a Wreck It Ralph experience, by the way.

November 30, 2018, 1:09 PM

I was thinking a cool "Soarin'-like" attraction that whisks riders between the different Ministries of Magic would be pretty exciting. The spherical motion simulator patent, most likely for a Jurassic Park attraction, might also work for such an application, or perhaps the other motion theater concept they are attempting to patent. Grinelwald also introduces some water and sky elements to the WW that could be interpolated to other attraction concepts.

I wouldn't rule out a VR experience, but the proliferation of The Void across the country may make theme parks reluctant to invest in a technology that guests can experience closer to home. Any VR attraction would have to include some type of motion simulator or other plussed experience to differentiate it from what you can get at your local mall or even at home now with Playstaion VR. For example, I will have a Void 20 minutes from my house early next year, and they're already advertising that both the Star Wars and Ralph experiences will be available in the new facility at the mall.

November 30, 2018, 1:26 PM

I think a VR attraction in City Walk could work. Disney has no incentive to keep their IP exclusive as long as each individual local is profitable. But if Universal were to work with WB and a VR company to make an attraction, I'm sure some degree of exclusivity would be a prerequisite for Comcast.

Edited: November 30, 2018, 1:48 PM

Well, the IP is already not exclusive (well at least not to Disney Springs). The Void is deploying the Star Wars and Ralph experiences to all of their locations around the world. Seeing as it's still a bleeding-edge experience and it operates at a very low capacity, the use of the IP outside of Orlando probably hasn't affected the Disney Springs location much yet. However, as Void locations continue to expand around the country, people may not want to bother going to the one in Disney Springs, which would consume part of a day that could be spent doing other unique activities, if they could get the same experience closer to home. That's how I personally feel, as I'm intrigued by the concept, and may have tried it the last time we were in Orlando if it wasn't such a pain to grab a reservation. However, now that I know that I can get the same experience any time I want at a location 20 minutes from home, I have ZERO interest in dealing with the Disney Springs location.

Any decision by Universal should take that into account, and make any experience exclusive to their resort.

Edited: November 30, 2018, 7:31 PM

That's the point I tried to make. Disney may be financially better off partnering with the Void nation-wide even if it somehow completely kills the WDW location's business.

I wonder if Universal would be more likely to push a VR partner to develop Comcast-owned property rather than Potter. Potter would make a great VR experience and definitely bring in customers. I would personally pay whatever they asked. But if they were to develop a VR attraction using DreamWorks or Jurassic World they would not have to split that pie with WB and have way, way more upside with the potential to scale up their business like Disney is doing.

December 1, 2018, 8:42 AM

TH, you bring up an interesting point about The Void. From what I understand, it is not owned by Disney, but there seems to be some connection, as the only programming is Star Wars and Wreck It Wralph. I wonder if they could do a Potter experience? There are Voids all over, and I also wonder if the quality at the other locations are as good (to completely hijack the thread by the way).

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