Brand Takeaways From A Flatlining Franchise: Secrets Of Dumbledore Recap
Movie franchises have become cultural milestones for dedicated fandoms, and it’s difficult to imagine one more transcendent than Harry Potter. As with many book-turned-mega movies, once the series was over and fans were inevitably left wanting more, a prequel emerged to keep the magic alive a little bit longer. That was the hope for the Fantastic Beasts series that released its third movie in theaters on Friday called Secrets of Dumbledore.
The movie has received mixed feedback from critics and audiences alike, many of whom share a common sentiment: This series is at war with itself in a perfect storm of plot holes, an increasingly controversial author and a troubled cast whose personal lives have distorted their performance on-screen. Last week, we forecasted that Potter and Fantastic Beast memes would see a bump on social media alongside screencaps of memeable moments following Secrets of Dumbledore’s release. Here’s what brands need to know:
From a box office perspective, the new Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore is well behind its first two predecessors. The film starts -42 percent behind 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ($74.4M) and -30 percent behind 2018’s sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($62.1M). For context, Crimes (#2) made less money than any previous Potter movie, and Secrets is 30 percent behind Crimes’ box office pace, whether because of Rowling herself, the previous film’s failures, COVID-era behavioral changes, the lack of momentum in the production process with three and a half years between movies or some combination thereof.
Despite its slow opening at the box office, audiences seem to unanimously agree that Secrets of Dumbledore was better than the first two Fantastic Beasts movies, but this sentiment is often followed by the disclaimer that the bar was pretty low after Potter fans saw the first two movies. One Rotten Tomatoes critic wrote, “A movie that eclipses its predecessor in quality — though given the disorienting mess that was 2018’s Crimes of Grindelwald, that’s not a high bar to clear. The Beasts prequel series is now more than halfway over, and it still lacks any sort of forward momentum or propulsive reason to continue.”
Another critic shared a similar sentiment about the apparent narrative whiplash of the entire saga. “The series is at war with itself, on many fronts: the second and third movies over where the plot should go; the “Fantastic Beasts” half and the “Crimes of Grindelwald/Secrets of Dumbledore” half over what kind of tone and characters should take center stage; and the creator, studio, and fandom over whether it’s even worth trying to press on.”
Audience reviews shared this theme too, with many pointing out that Secrets, while a better standalone movie than its predecessors, made it even more difficult to understand the thread between films, particularly because there was such a large shift away from characters like Tina, who was essentially a co-lead in the first movie, a less central but vital character of Crimes, then only appeared in a single scene of Secrets.
As audiences saw the movie over the weekend, here were the key discussion points that have made their way to social media:
1: Recasting Johnny Depp for the role of Gellert Grindelwald, who many Potter fans refer to as “Wizard Hitler.” You might recall Depp’s awkward departure from the Fantastic Beasts series in 2020 after he lost a lawsuit with a British tabloid regarding domestic abuse allegations from ex-wife Amber Heard. Shortly after the news spread online, fans of Depp began commenting on the story and his removal from Fantastic Beasts, which led to an influx of memes criticizing Warner Bros. or supporting Depp across social media. The event also trended on Twitter in early November 2020 alongside the hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp.
Coincidentally, headlines about Depp and Heard circulated in the weeks leading up to the Secrets of Dumbledore release as new information about Heard continues to develop in public court hearings. Depp’s role as Grindelwald was recast with well-known Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who audiences unanimously agreed was one of the better performances in Secrets. Some viewers agreed that Mikkelsen was a better fit for Grindelwald than Depp in the first place.
In a Reddit thread of Secrets of Dumbledore spoilers, one Redditor commented “Mads Mikkelsen is so much better as Grindelwald than Johnny Depp. I don’t want to go into the politics of why he was recast but as a recasting, this was a superb improvement to these movies. I now see Dumbledore and Grindelwald, not Dumbledore and Johnny Depp.” From a brand point of view, this is a great takeaway about how the power of celebrity can distort or completely disrupt a brand’s messaging when hero figures like Depp are put under a microscope amidst public controversies.
2: Twitter memes about “this is a movie about two gay guys who X.” Spoiler alert, Dumbledore and Wizard Hitler used to be in love. A handful of scenes between Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) and Grindelwald revealed that the men had previously been in love and even shared a vision for world peace. Secrets, like the Potter films, draw a clear line between good and evil: Potter and Voldemort, Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Twitter memes began circulating over the weekend with jokes about how this movie is just about two gay guys who make their breakup everybody else’s problem. Other users joked that Secrets of Dumbledore was “the best gay angst movie I’ve ever seen.” For brands, this trend is part of a macro theme we’ve seen reemerge on Twitter in the last two months, where users troll a franchise/movie plot to set up the same punchline about what the movie or series is “actually” about. Similar to the way Secrets of Dumbledore viewers are making jokes about the film being a “gay angst movie,” we saw Twitter users apply a comparable joke template to movies like Morbius and The Batman.
3: Viral discussion and criticism from the LGBTQ+ community over Warner Brothers’ decision to censor specific scenes/references about the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald for largely censored countries like China. One Twitter user pointed out that “Warner Bros removed an LGBT scene from Secrets of Dumbledore to appease Chinese censors. That’s the thing about woke capitalism: It’s utterly insincere and opportunistic. When profits are threatened, so-called “principles” are dumped.” Other users shared this sentiment with similar tweets.
Perhaps larger than the Chinese censorship issue, however, was Secrets of Dumbledore’s proximity to J.K. Rowling. Rowling wrote the scripts for each of the Fantastic Beasts movies, but she continues to repel longtime Potter fans with controversial statements about gender identity and trans visibility. In the months leading up to Secrets’ release, Twitter and Reddit users became more vocal about wanting to boycott the movie due to Rowling’s involvement. The controversy surrounding Rowling serves as a constant reminder to brands like Warner Brothers that inclusivity and diversity are vital to both brand perception and loyalty.
Know Your Meme Insights is a team of dedicated experts backed by the world’s largest internet culture database dedicated to researching and documenting online history and viral phenomena. Our influencer reports fuse current trends and historical data with actionable insights with curation where you need it: audience makeup, brand safety and more.
We deliver qualitative and quantitative information to guide your business through the chaos of social media that you can’t find anywhere else.