‘Fantastic Beasts 3’ opens to a franchise-low $43 million at the box office.

The third installment in “Harry Potter” spinoff series, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” opened to a modest $43 million domestically.

Those ticket sales were enough to the lead this weekend’s box office charts and secure one of biggest North American openings in the 2022, even in pandemic times. But it’s also a hint that J.K. Rowling’s rich and ever-expanding Wizarding World is running out of magic. “The Secrets of Dumbledore,” plagued by uneven reviews and growing disinterest for prequel series protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and company, has had the worst start of any “Harry Potter”-related film. (Its predecessors, 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and the Where to Find Them” and its 2018 sequel, “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” opened to $74 million in North America.)

The waning interest in “Fantastic Beasts” is an issue because witchcraft and magic are expensive. “The Secrets of Dumbledore” cost Warner Bros. $200 million to make, and the studio spent tens of millions more to advertise the picture to audiences worldwide. “The Secrets of Dumbledore,” like its predecessors, will rely on the international box office to earn money throughout its theatrical run. Foreign sales accounted for approximately 75% of income in the first two “Fantastic Beasts” films, grossing $814 million and $650 million worldwide.

“Fantastic Beasts 3” has also proven a significant draw for audiences in other countries. “The Secrets of Dumbledore” has grossed $193 million worldwide since its debut in many overseas markets last weekend. However, COVID-19’s tenacity has hurt the box office in China, where 50 percent of movie theatres are shuttered, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prevented the country from seeing Hollywood films. All blockbusters have struggled with these restrictions. Only five Hollywood films have grossed more than $500 million worldwide since the pandemic began in 2020.

The third installment of the prequel series, which follows beloved Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore, was directed by “Harry Potter” veteran David Yates (portrayed by Jude Law). But he’s merely one of a few Dumbledores with “secrets,” as the film’s title suggests. A young(er) Albus and Scamander, a prominent magizoologist, band up to stop the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Madds Mikkelson, replacing Johnny Depp) from launching a wizarding world war in “Fantastic Beasts 3,” which was co-written by Rowling and another “Potter” veteran Steve Kloves. Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, and Jessica Williams round out the cast.

Before Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s adventures, the prequel tale is planned to be a five-film franchise. Still, Warner Bros. executives are waiting to see how “The Secrets of Dumbledore” is accepted by moviegoers before approving films four and five. The picture was dubbed a “vastly improved sequel” by Variety’s Peter Debruge, which isn’t saying much considering how poorly the previous installment was received. “Fantastic Beasts 3” received the same “B+” CinemaScore as its predecessor. Moviegoers gave “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” a higher grade, an “A-.”

“Fantastic Beasts” has sparked a lot of debate off-screen. In addition to dwindling box office ticket sales, the series has faced backlash over Rowling’s controversial ideas on sex and gender identity and charges of domestic abuse that pulled Depp out of the franchise. Miller, who plays prominent role in the new picture, was detained recently for disorderly behavior and harassment. However, the actor’s temporary restraining order was recently lifted. Though audiences may be unaware of all the problems surrounding “Fantastic Beasts,” it has become a pain for Warner Bros., becoming increasingly difficult to bear because the series isn’t exactly making money in theatres. The Harry Potter film franchise, on the other hand, is much more than that. The fantasy realm has led to successful theme parks, live events, a Broadway play, consumer product riches, and home entertainment success.

This weekend, the second major film this weekend, Sony’s R-rated faith-based thriller “Father Stu” bombed in its North American launch, grossing only $5 million from 2,705 cinemas. Since its release on Wednesday, the picture has grossed $8 million, slipping to fifth place. When COVID-19 added extra production costs, Mark Wahlberg, who co-stars in the picture with Mel Gibson, produced “Father Stu” on his dime.

“Father Stu” is Gibson’s first major studio film since Paramount Pictures’ “Daddy’s Home 2” in 2017. The film was written and directed by the Gibson’s partner, Rosalind Ross, and follows the story of boxer-turned-priest Father Stuart Long and his inspirational journey from self-destruction to redemption. Gibson, who won an Academy Award for “Braveheart” and was nominated for “Hacksaw Ridge,” has primarily worked on smaller indies and straight-to-streaming action films with Lionsgate and Saban Films in the decade since making headlines for anti-semitic and racist rants.

In the second place, Paramount’s family-friendly “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” earned $30 million from 4,258 theatres, a 58 percent drop in its second weekend. The film has grossed a robust $119.6 million in North America, as “Sonic 2” continues to wow viewers.

For the second weekend in a row, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s romantic action-adventure “The Lost City” came third. The film, also released by Paramount Pictures, grossed $6.5 million in its fourth weekend in theatres, bringing its total domestic gross to $78.5 million.

“Everything Everywhere All At Once,” a genre-mashup from A24, climbed to fourth place with $6.1 million from 2,220 screens, putting it in fourth place overall. The film stars Michelle Yeoh in a multiverse action-adventure-comedy-fantasy-sci-fi mashup directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. It stars Michelle Yeoh in a multiverse action-adventure-comedy-fantasy-sci-fi mashup that grossed $17.6 million.

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