Finales - they're one of the toughest things to pull off in any medium, and while more common in television, a grand finale can often lead to disappointment. Audiences have spent time with these characters for years, which means they've come to their own conclusions and feelings on how things will end up. Look at 'Avengers: Endgame' (for the record, I enjoyed it more than 'Avengers: Infinity War') - because 'Infinity War' was deemed by many as one of Marvel's best, there is no way the follow-up could ever live up to the crazy hype (and, in Marvel's case, the fan theories). Similarly, 'Harry Potter' had the stressful pleasure of being adapted from the biggest book series of all time and its ending being well-received by fans.
In the adapting the seventh book to film, the decision was made to split the novel in half. With 'The Deathly Hallows: Part 1' essentially covering Harry, Ron and Hermione finding Voldemort's Horcruxes and 'Part 2' covering the big battle between Harry and Voldemort at Hogwarts. At the time this was frowned upon; even director David Ayer thought it was a mistake, but, for this story, it made sense. 'Harry Potter' wasn't a throwaway Young Adult franchise; it shaped a generation. It got people reading, with a story that transported them to a fantasy world that was different from the action directed at young boys and the pop princess media for girls. Add the fact the key actors themselves - Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson - grew up before fans, and there's no way one film could have sufficiently wrapped this phenomenon.
I remember at the time this adaptation being somewhat groundbreaking; a series-to-screen transition that was set to shake up the film industry. It was expected that a lot more novels could be adapted into multiple parts, but all that really followed was 'Twilight', 'The Hunger Games' and 'The Hobbit'. While the 'Divergent' series was planned to be released in two parts, the finale was never released, and really solidified the death of the trend. As the aforementioned were released, they all received similar backlash, regarded as being unnecessarily split in order to gain more revenue. Marvel originally planned for its 'Avengers' finale to be called 'Infinity War - Part 1' and 'Part 2', but one of the reasons they changed that was due to the public's reception to films that seemingly separated the story.
Before we go further, I should share my personal 'Harry Potter' journey. I was born the same year that the first novel came out, and the cover is engrained in my brain. My dad read each book as it came out, and I attempted to follow in his footsteps, but reading was never my thing as a child. It wasn't until the first film debuted on DVD when I was around four years old that I was really exposed to 'Harry Potter'. For my age group, I am a very mild Potterhead, and was much more focused on 'High School Musical' as a pre-tween, but by virtue of being a child in the early 2000s, 'Harry Potter' was escapable. Every birthday party you went to, you watched one of the films, and without question one of the gifts wrapped would be some form of 'Harry Potter' merchandise, be it a wand or a book. A lot of my close friends were obsessed, so I lived vicariously through them during this time. 'Chamber of Secrets' and 'Goblet of Fire' were always my favourites growing up, but it wasn't until 2011 when I was sitting in the cinema on the opening day of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' that I really understood why this meant so much to so many people. That's the reason it's my favourite film (and also because it contains two of my favourite lines ever put to film: "Not my daughter, you bitch!" and "BOOM!").
I often hate when audiences react out loud to things in a cinema. The only time I've been okay with it was 'Deathly Hallows - Part 2'. Every time I re-watch it, I can't help but hear the audience's reaction to Ron and Hermione kiss, Molly Weasley killing Bellatrix, and Longbottom killing Nagini (we didn't know she was actually a woman who was imprisoned at a circus).
There are a few things I think attributed to the success of 'Harry Potter' as a successful franchise, the first being its cast. It's the ultimate lighting in a bottle that all of these child actors turned out to be amazing performers, and getting to see them grow up over the course of 10 years really adds to the magic; you feel like you're watching friends age alongside you. The setting - not only the Wizarding World but the UK, especially for an American audience - also really adds to the appeal of the franchise. The final factor, and the most genius, is Hogwarts' Houses. Taking the quiz (the official one, of course) to find out which house you are - Gryffindor, Hufflepuff (shout out to my fellow Huffles), Ravenclaw or Slytherin - is almost a rite of passage. This also created a huge market in merchandise; not only can you buy toys of your favourite characters and creatures, but items designed for your House. At this point, 'Typo' stores are basically 'Harry Potter' and 'Friends' merch stores.
Like every great franchise, the spinoffs are inevitable. For a while, Joanne (oh, we will get to Joanne) didn't seem to want to do much. Joanne published a few textbooks that the students used in books, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Theme Parks was expanding globally, but the first real expansion of the universe came in the form of the website Pottermore in 2012. It was basically a website for Joanne to use instead of tweeting things she "forgot" to put in the books, like Dumbledore being gay or that Hermione could be any skin colour. The website would be updated frequently with unpublished texts, but was closed in 2019. And then, 2016 happened. First 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child', the official eighth story in the main Potter series, a four-act play taking place 19 years after The Battle of Hogwarts. The reception from Potterheads has been mixed, with some saying it's spot on, while others concerned with its fan fiction qualities (hmmmm, interesting). We also get some Queerbaiting, which seems to be a trait of the modern Wizarding World. Later that same year, 'Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them' premiered, the first film since 'Harry Potter', and the first story to feature none of the main cast. It surprised a lot of people - including myself - and seemed like an exciting new story from the Wizarding World.
It's the ultimate lighting in a bottle that all of these child actors turned out to be amazing performers, and getting to see them grow up over the course of 10 years really adds to the magic; you feel like you're watching friends age alongside you.
In the years between the first 'Fantastic Beasts' and 'The Crimes of Grindelwald', Joanne was becoming less and less popular among the Potter fandom. Once outspoken on how much she loved fan fiction of her work, she started lashing out at fans on Twitter who would say things she didn't like (I could go on a Snape rant, but we will leave it there), and her politics started to become increasingly problematic. It seemed if someone said something was wrong with 'Harry Potter', she had a tweet ready to defend her almost 20-year old writing, even though she was once at the forefront as a spokesperson for fan fiction. But since having the chance to add things into the text, like Dumbledore's sexuality, she didn't. This, frankly, offended a lot of fans, and then when 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald' became the worst-reviewed and lowest-grossing film in the franchise, it shifted a lot of people's mindsets. The film simply but was a mess; its script was all over the place, and while the first felt distant enough from 'Harry Potter' while still feeling like part of the universe, it seemed at every turn they tried to provide fan service and, in turn, alienated all audience members. Look no further than the "revile" of Nagini actually being a woman we are meant to feel sympathy towards, when in the final 'Harry Potter' film it's seen as heroic when she's killed. It just became more and more apparent that maybe Joanne needed to leave the Wizarding World behind.
People think it was just a series of transphobic tweets that led to Joanne's demise, but if we look back at the last decade, you can see all the clues there. The hard thing about finding out the person who created a world that so many people feel safe in - a world to escape into because the real one is not only unaccepting of them but is actively fighting against them - is just heartbreaking (if you haven't, please watch ContraPoints' video on her). And you can't just call Death of the Author for old Joanne here (please also watch Lindsay Ellis' video, 'Death of the Author 2: Rowling Boogaloo'); her name is so clearly connected to every inch of this world. The trailer for 'Fantastic Beasts' says 'J.K. Rowling Invites You'. The only people who come close to her power that I can think of is maybe Stan Lee with Marvel and Lin-Manuel Miranda with 'Hamilton' - but even then, their names aren't slapped all over it the same way hers is; it's not just the Wizarding World, it's J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World. I can't imagine what it's like to be a fan of 'Harry Potter' this past year. You can't talk about it without her name popping up somewhere, and it will be interesting how Warner Bros. markets the next three (oh dear god, why?) 'Fantastic Beasts' film since she still has story credits (and, of course, that Depp issue; I still don't understand why there's been such a huge campaign to get him back).
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' is one of the most successful finale films in history. The way it manages to send off all these beloved characters is a beautiful trubute, and even if you don't know the lore, you can't help being swept up in the emotion. It was the highest-grossing film of 2011 and remains the highest-grossing Warner Bros. film of all time. Upon its release, the film broke records globally, including being the biggest opening weekend of all time, the biggest IMAX opening worldwide, and the fastest film to US$1 billion. It's now been pushed down to be the thirteenth highest-grossing film of all time, but its success isn't lessened.
Professor McGonagall said it best - "BOOM!"