The year is 2053. Popular culture has finally run out of ideas. This is it. We’re homing in on a quantum point of no return in which all of the original thoughts have been thunk. All twelve notes have been played in every combination. The infinite monkeys have now typed all the words in all the different orders. Culture is a whirl of the same wizards, warriors, spaceships and superheroes, dribbled slowly into ChatGPT and regurgitated endlessly onto Disney+, which now owns Netflix, HBO, the BBC, four fifths of the Hollywood sign and exclusive rights to the complete works of Roger Hargreaves. AmazonTikTok owns everything else. Everyone is exhausted and everyone is bored.
That’s the future. And on that day we will look back, jab a finger at 2023 and say, “Here! Here is where it went wrong. Here is where we should have drawn the line. It was the Harry Potter thing.”
Because the rumour is that HBO is remaking the Harry Potter books as a mega-budget television show. Not just telling new stories in the same world, not sequels or prequels, but literally redoing the books, in more detail, all over again. And if that feels a bit soon to you, it’s because it is, indeed, a bit soon.
The first Potter film was released over twenty years ago, but the final instalment, the rather bloated Deathly Hallows Part II, followed it ten years and eight movies later in 2011. Its teenage stars are now adults and its millennial fans have grown up and stopped caring about which Hogwarts house they’d be sorted into and started protesting JK Rowling‘s iffy views on gender. Nevertheless, the Potter franchise has still been remarkably present in culture. A series of prequel films concluded last year with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, and a true sequel in the form of a mega-budget stage show is playing around the world. There’s a theme park in the US and a studio tour in the UK, both of which do huge numbers. Why would you draw a line through all of that established canon and start again?
The answer is money, obviously. Spectacular fantasy shows cost spectacular fantasy budgets, and studio bosses are way more likely to give the green light to a sure thing with brand recognition. The Fantastic Beasts movies have provided diminishing returns, and someone has probably realised that audiences want the character of Harry Potter to actually appear in Harry Potter-related content. The only way to do that is a direct sequel or to go back to the original books. It’s the same reason that Marvel is pumping out two or three movies and another three TV shows every year, with its parent-company, Disney, hoovering up the scattered rights to the comics’ various franchises, bringing them all under one roof and one house style. It’s why Star Wars currently has two TV shows airing every Wednesday (The Mandalorian and The Bad Batch), and Star Trek will follow the current run of Picard with new seasons of Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks and Discovery. It’s why Disney announced over the last week alone that it is doing live-action remakes of the animated films Moana and Lilo & Stitch. It’s the reason Amazon spent a fortune on a Lord of the Rings series and Warner just announced a new slew of Tolkien movies. And it’s why DC is rebooting once again with new Superman and Batman films. Iconic characters. Action figure sales.
The result is that our entertainment landscape is dominated by the same ideas over and over. We all know Harry is a wizard whose parents were murdered, but now we have to watch him discover it all over again. How many times do we need to see Spider-Man’s uncle Ben die? Or Clark Kent’s dad? Too many. Far too many.
There are other ideas out there, other books and comics, just as imaginative and with the potential to be just as iconic, and they’re not being picked up because Harry and Superman are safer bets. There are even, whisper it, incredible original film and TV scripts out there that aren’t based on an existing property at all, but they’re being passed over. No one wants to put money there.
There’s still hope – the ludicrously original and completely brilliant Everything Everywhere All At Once cleaned up at the Oscars, and has done great business as a result. Is the industry watching? Are chances going to be taken? It’s too early to tell – but if things carry on as they are, the future could be incredibly dull.
[See also: Oppenheimer’s tormented soul]