‘Fantastic Beasts’ overseas success is fool’s gold next to a series-low U.S. opening

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Image: Warner Bros.

Don’t break out the champagne for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them just yet.

Hollywood’s first return to Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling in five years posted an estimated $75 million at the domestic box office. It’s a fine start, especially accompanied by a reported $143.3 million in foreign sales.

Still, Warner Bros. ought to pay attention.

Fantastic Beasts is on track to be the lowest Wizarding World opening to date. It’s closest to and could conceivably surpass, once final tallies are in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which opened with $77.1 million in July 2007.

There’s no pinning a number on how much the “Harry Potter” name means to a title’s success, but that certainly plays a role here. Fantastic Beasts introduces a new corner of the Wizarding World. It’s set decades before the Potter stories and features an entirely new cast of characters.

That said, the Harry Potter craze hasn’t exactly diminished since Hollywood finished adapting the books. The eight-movie Hogwarts series ended on a high note in 2010 and 2011, with the two halves of Deathly Hallows opening at $125 million and $169.2 million, respectively.

Potter fandom has only grown more ravenous since then. Just look at all the excitement around theme park openings, stage plays, other stage plays, scripts for said stage plays, makeup brushes, virtual reality and so much more.

Be careful not to assign too much importance to the foreign total. Yes, J.K. Rowling stories are a global subject of interest, but this is the first Wizarding World movie set in the U.S. and New York City, no less.

In other words: Warner Bros. wanted this movie to appeal to an American audience. Hollywood blockbusters tend to enjoy greater financial success overseas, but American studios earn more from homegrown audiences. Fantastic Beasts is an attempt, quite literally, to bring it all home.

Again: that $75 million isn’t a bad start. But it is surprising to see Fantastic Beasts at the bottom of Wizarding World domestic openings to date, especially with so little competition at the movies this week and an American public craving some respite from the contentious post-election news cycle.

Coming in far behind Fantastic Beasts and still jockeying for the No. 2 and No. 3 finishes are Doctor Strange and Trolls. The two hangers-on, in their third and fourth week, respectively, are looking at current domestic estimates of $17.7 million and $17.5 million.

It’s entirely likely that we’re just seeing a slow start as Warner Bros. introduces a new chunk of the Wizarding World especially when you factor in those foreign receipts. Fantastic Beats is the fifth-highest foreign opening across all nine movies.

Even still, the record-low domestic opening for Fantastic Beasts is something to take note of as we watch the movie’s performance in weeks to come.

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