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'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald' is the latest endurance test for Warner's wizarding franchise

'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald' is the latest endurance test for Warner's wizarding franchise
Jude Law in a scene from "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Warner Bros. is counting on the imagination of J.K. Rowling to hold its spell over moviegoers as her ever-expanding wizarding franchise returns to the big screen this weekend.

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“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” the latest in the Burbank studio’s series of “Harry Potter” prequels, is expected to top the box office charts this weekend, with a debut of $65 million to $75 million in domestic ticket sales, according to analysts.

The new $200-million film will mark the latest endurance test for the enormously popular universe of characters created by the British author. So far, the franchise has conjured $8.5 billion in global box office receipts from nine blockbusters starting with 2001’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” But mediocre reviews for the newest installment pose questions about how long the series can avoid the curse of franchise fatigue.

Here’s what to watch.

School’s back in session

“The Crimes of Grindelwald,” directed by David Yates, continues the adventures of Newt Scamander, the magical zoology expert played by Eddie Redmayne, joined by Jude Law as the young Albus Dumbledore before he becomes the beloved Hogwarts headmaster.

Johnny Depp is featured as the film’s titular dark wizard, a casting choice that sparked some controversy because the actor’s former wife, Amber Heard, accused him of abuse in 2016. Depp has denied the allegations, and the filmmakers have vigorously defended his hiring.

“The Crimes of Grindelwald” comes two years after the successful debut of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which opened with $74 million in the United States and Canada and went on to gross an impressive $814 million globally, including $234 million in North America.

Reviews for “Crimes of Grindelwald” are mixed, indicated by a 58% score on aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, which is lower than the solid 74% “fresh” rating bestowed on the previous iteration. The question is whether that will matter to Potter’s multi-generational legion of fans. Including international sales, the movie will probably gross $250 million in its opening weekend.

Family matters

As Warner Bros. tests the outer limits of its cinematic universe, Paramount Pictures’ Rose Byrne-Mark Wahlberg comedy “Instant Family” and 20th Century Fox and New Regency’s Steve McQueen-directed thriller “Widows” will try to make inroads at the multiplex.

“Instant Family,” about a couple whose lives change overnight when they adopt three children including a rebellious teen, is poised for a domestic debut of $15 million to $20 million. The PG-13 flick is the latest from filmmaker Sean Anders, who previously directed Wahlberg in the two “Daddy’s Home” movies.

“Widows,” written by McQueen (of the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave”) and “Gone Girl” scribe Gillian Flynn, is expected to land in the $12-million-to-$18-million ballpark in its first three days in theaters, according to analysts. Starring Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez, the film follows four Chicago women who decide to take control of their fates after their criminal husbands meet their ends.

Adult dramas have struggled to break out at the box office in recent years. But “Widows” has been widely praised by critics, features a diverse, star-studded cast and is directed by the highly acclaimed McQueen, which bodes well for its prospects.

Meanwhile, distributor Aviron Pictures will expand the release of “A Private War,” starring Rosamund Pike as the fearless, troubled war correspondent Marie Colvin. Also in limited release are Universal Pictures’ Viggo Mortensen-Mahershala Ali drama “Green Book” (produced by DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media) in 25 theaters and CBS Films’ “At Eternity’s Gate,” starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, in four locations in New York and Los Angeles.

8:35 a.m.: This article was updated with a budget figure and international box office expectations for the “Fantastic Beasts” sequel.

This article was originally published at 5 a.m.

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