Lessons from J. K. Rowling: How to Build a Successful Film Franchise

With “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” already projected to dominate the box office with at least $70 million in ticket sales, it’s hard not to reminisce about the time when Harry Potter ruled Hollywood. Harry Potter remains one of the most successful movie franchises in history, surpassing the likes of Star Wars and Batman and falling second only to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s quite an achievement. So how did it happen, and what goes into building a successful movie franchise?

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As an aspiring moviemaker, perhaps your dream is to one day captivate millions of people across the globe with your own franchise. Bear in mind that this is an accomplishment far easier said than done, but the truth is that franchises certainly have a place in the entertainment industry — and they always will. So it’s absolutely worthwhile to study what goes into creating a franchise like the one based on J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

With Harry Potter and other major film franchises in mind, we’ve summarized four of the most important elements that go into a successful franchise:

Appeals to All Ages

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“The Lord of the Rings” is another movie franchise like Harry Potter that was adapted from books and found great success. But while it is considered by many to be the best fantasy series ever made, it didn’t have the same appeal for all age groups due to its more dense backstory, the darker world, etc.

The Harry Potter franchise, on the other hand, was created with the goal that children, teenagers, and parents alike would all be able to get something from it. From the first book/film all the way to the last, relatable things like friendship, hope, and love are represented through a magical world with peculiar people and creatures that appeal to a wide range of ages and personalities.

When considering your own movie franchise, remember that the more people your films appeal to, the greater your chance of success.

Has a Story With Characters That Grow

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In the original “Star Wars” trilogy, many characters grew throughout the adventure. We saw Luke Skywalker go from a nobody on a farm, to a rebel fighter, and finally a Jedi hero. Since we were there when his journey started and saw him mature when faced with adversity, we can feel like we had a part in his growth and triumph.

In “Harry Potter,” this same element of the hero’s journey and a character’s full arc is also very prevalent and powerful. The original book/film was aimed at children and featured characters around 10 years of age. But by the end, Harry and the rest were teenagers — just like all the loyal fans of the books and films who grew up alongside their favorite characters.

We’re not saying your characters have to age throughout your franchise. Rather, the takeaway is that it’s important to allow your audience to feel like they can relate and grow alongside your characters. Make sure your viewers can witness your characters evolve and mature, as this will drive the audience’s emotional involvement and make them eager to see where your story takes them next.

Have Relatable Characters & Basic Archetypes

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How is it that Disney managed to turn one of their theme park rides into a high-grossing franchise? We’re of course talking about the Pirates of the Caribbean, a runaway hit that’s bred a movie empire. Arguably, part of the success of this franchise can be attributed to its characters, who are firmly rooted in basic archetypes. One example is the hero, Will, who is on a quest to save the girl he loves from a crew of evil pirates. The archetype of the hero, the villain, the wise mentor, etc., can be found in great stories all over the world, and there is a reason that audiences respond to these archetypes. Tap into this powerful storytelling tool with your own future movie franchise.

Relatable characters and well-drawn basic archetypes are arguably one of the biggest reasons the Harry Potter franchise took the world by storm. You have so many characters that, despite living in a magical world, have relatable problems such as fear of girls, homework, etc. They feel familiar to the audience, like old friends. Eventually there are also mature issues that arrive, all while these characters become involved in a traditional tale of good vs. evil. It’s irresistible.

Want your franchise to succeed? Try fitting in archetypes that resonate with most people while creating characters that people can relate to and care about.

Take Them To Another World

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Right now, the by-the-numbers most successful (and largest) franchise of all time is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Among the many reasons all these movies are a hit, the biggest one also applies to the comics that inspired them: they transport you somewhere else. You may be on Earth while watching “The Avengers,” but while you’re caught up in the story there are heroes and villains ready to fight for the future of the world.

Children and adults alike who love Harry Potter know what we’re talking about. From the moment viewers board the Hogwarts Express and arrive at the wizard school, they immediately feel enraptured by a world of magic and mystery. The characters still face relatable situations like mean teachers, but in Harry Potter your teacher is a cold, secretive wizard. It’s another world.

When planning your franchise, we suggest spending plenty of time creating the world your story and characters will take part in. It might just be helps viewers fall in love with your film.

 

What other elements do you notice in your favorite franchise? Let us know in the comments below!

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