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Is a Harry Potter Cinematic Universe in the Works?

Emma Watson as Hermione, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, and Rupert Grint as Ron in the "Harry Potter" franchise.
Emma Watson as Hermione, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, and Rupert Grint as Ron in the "Harry Potter" franchise. By Courtesy Warner Bros.
By Sam F. Dvorak, Crimson Staff Writer

Ask anyone if they’re a Gryffindor or Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, and odds are they’ll know exactly what you mean and already have an answer. Clearly, few stories have meant so much to so many as “Harry Potter.”

And now, the Wizarding World is coming to the small screen. The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that a live-action series is in the works for HBO Max. The project is apparently in very early development — it hasn’t yet been confirmed by Warner Bros. or HBO Max — so there’s no information on what direction the show might take. Is it a remake of the original movies? Could it be a sequel that follows Harry, Ron, and Hermione after they defeat Voldemort? Or maybe a distant prequel, showing the origins of Hogwarts itself? The possibilities are endless, and it’s exciting to speculate.

With this news, “Harry Potter” has become the latest franchise to embrace the structure of the cinematic universe: a large body of interconnected on-screen stories. The most notable cinematic universe to date is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). 22 movies after “Iron Man” (2008), the MCU is still going strong and shows no signs of stopping, with 11 movies and 11 TV shows coming to cinemas and streaming services soon. “Star Wars” has also become a sort of cinematic universe — in addition to the nine movies of the Skywalker Saga, there have been three spin-off films and four series. At Disney’s recent Investor Day, 11 original and interconnected films and shows set in the “Star Wars” galaxy were announced. At that same event, additional spin-offs and shows for countless other Disney-owned movies were announced, including “Moana” and “The Princess and the Frog,” leaving few recent hits to exist on their own.

There is a lot of unique storytelling value in cinematic universes. They allow for deep exploration of a single fictional setting, and they can be true triumphs of worldbuilding. Developing a huge cast of characters allows for satisfying crossover events, like “The Avengers” or the Season Two finale of “The Mandalorian.” Multiple entries in a single canon allow for enjoyable genre-bending, like Marvel’s comedic “Thor: Ragnarok” or the recent sitcom-style mystery show “WandaVision.” One of the most exciting aspects of a cinematic universe is that it creates room for multiple creative voices. Lots of different artists with unique styles and backgrounds are able to create content with beloved characters in an established universe. One delightful metaphor: It’s sometimes said that George Lucas built a sandbox and invited everyone else to come play in it, and tell their own stories in the galaxy he created.

Harry Potter’s universe is no stranger to spin-offs. The two-part play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is a brilliant theatrical experience that primarily focuses on an adult Harry’s relationship with his son. The controversial “Fantastic Beasts” films (expected to be a series of 5 movies) explore the rise of the dark wizard Grindelwald through the lens of magizoologist Newt Scamander. The Wizarding World is vast, and a Harry Potter Cinematic Universe could explore every corner of it from fresh angles, reaping the benefits described above.

Regardless of the direction this new series takes, “Harry Potter” is first and foremost a series of seven books. Unlike the previously mentioned cinematic universes, the heart of the Wizarding World is in a set of texts. “Harry Potter'' made reading cool, and the books inspired a generation to be more creative and imaginative. It’s sad to think that one day “Harry Potter” could be associated more with movies and shows than with novels. This new series and all future content will have to consistently live up to the magic of the books, which were magnificently detailed and shaped a believable world just under the surface of our own. There will be a lot of pressure on the creators involved with the series to fill these shoes.

Would this new series be able to safely fit in with the established “Harry Potter” canon? A major characteristic of the MCU and “Star Wars” franchises is their emphasis on continuity. Great care is taken to ensure that there are no contradictions or timeline errors between films. For a Harry Potter Cinematic Universe, would the books take canonical precedence over their film adaptations, or vice versa? There are already some timeline contradictions with the “Fantastic Beasts” films — will new content resolve them, or only exacerbate the problem? There will be a small number of fans (including this writer) who agonize over every tiny detail and will be tortured by the inconsistencies, but for most viewers, it will never be a problem. The “Harry Potter” fanbase is young, and children are less likely to engage in the very adult discussions of precisely when Professor McGonagall was born or the nuances of Bellatrix Lestrange’s family tree.

As with all conversations about “Harry Potter” these days, there is an elephant in the room. This past summer, J.K. Rowling garnered vehement criticism for expressing and defending beliefs widely condemned as transphobic in a series of tweets and a personal essay — you can find a detailed breakdown of the situation here. For many members of the trans community — you can read the thoughts of two of them here and here — this felt like a heartbreaking betrayal from a childhood idol. Some diehard Potter fans no longer believed they were welcome in Rowling’s Wizarding World. To the dismay of many, Rowling legally must be involved with all original “Harry Potter” stories. It is therefore unsurprising that news of a “Harry Potter” series drew passionate criticism, as it will result in Rowling’s financial benefit. This negative association may kill the project before it’s even born. Do Rowling’s beliefs warrant her complete deplatforming and the resultant end of storytelling in the Wizarding World? That’s a complicated question that deserves a more thorough exploration in a different piece.

The new “Harry Potter” series will likely be in development for many years, if it ends up getting produced at all. In the meantime, “Fantastic Beasts 3” is set to wrap filming next week for a July 2022 release. And when theaters worldwide are able to safely welcome back patrons, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” will open its doors to audiences once again.

Let’s be honest, even this tiny scrap of “Harry Potter” news is getting a lot of attention — a whole new show is sure to attract quite a substantial audience. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a magical place that continues to awe and inspire. Pursuing a Harry Potter Cinematic Universe unlocks enormous potential, and this could be the enthusiastic opening of a new chapter in one of the world’s most beloved stories.

— Staff writer Sam F. Dvorak can be reached at sam.dvorak@thecrimson.com.

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