Even without Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling writes hit

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Even without Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling writes hit

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LOS ANGELES - Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling pulled off an exceptionally difficult magic trick over the weekend. Not only did they bring the “Harry Potter” film franchise back to life, they also did it without Harry Potter.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a movie burdened with laying the foundation for four planned sequels, as well as strengthening the entire “Harry Potter” business empire, arrived to a solid $75 million in ticket sales in North America. The film, which cost an estimated $330 million to make and market worldwide, collected an additional $143.3 million in partial release overseas.

At the weekend’s start, it was unclear how Harry Potter fans would react to “Fantastic Beasts,” which Rowling (writing her first screenplay) based on her 2001 creature compendium of the same name as one of Harry Potter’s textbooks, as the mythology goes. But “Fantastic Beasts” does not feature any of the same central characters, and it takes place in 1926 New York instead of present-day Britain.

Moviegoers appear to have accepted the leap. “Fantastic Beasts,” focused on a “magizoologist” named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), received an overall A grade in CinemaScore exit polls, with attendees under 18 years old giving it an A-plus.

Even so, Warner faced some Hollywood snark over the weekend, with one trade site questioning whether the initial “Fantastic Beasts” results were strong enough to warrant the four sequels that Rowling and the studio have planned. Some rival studio executives pointed out that “Doctor Strange,” from Marvel Studios, recently managed $85 million in opening-weekend ticket sales.

Rowling’s new wizards and witches also faced inevitable comparisons with the eight Harry Potter movies that Warner released between 2001 and 2011. The lowest opening among those films, each adapted from a smash-hit novel was for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which collected about $90 million (after adjusting for inflation) over its first three days in North American theaters. AP
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