Warner Bros.' Decision & Johnny Depp

The studio’s film chief Toby Emmerich had made the decision the previous day to sever ties with the star who was reprising his role as dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in the five-film franchise. The call was prompted by a U.K. judge dismissing Depp’s defamation claims in a closely watched trial that pitted the actor against the publisher of The Sun after the British tabloid referred to Depp as a “wife-beater.” The judge’s ruling makes it a lot easier for news outlets to use similar depictions when referring to Depp’s stormy two-year marriage to actress Amber Heard, creating a PR headache for the studio.

Still, Warner Bros. will be on the hook for Depp’s full salary, even though he only had shot one scene since production began on Sept. 20 in London. Like many A-list stars, Depp had a so-called pay-or-play contract, which requires that he be fully compensated whether or not the film is made and even if it is recast. As is common with stars of his level, there was no morality clause in his contract, even though it was amended with each new installment. Technically, Depp was not fired by Warner Bros. but asked to resign. It is unclear what recourse it would have had if the star refused.


Depp also is suing Heard for defamation in Virginia in a case that likely would be disruptive to the Fantastic Beasts shooting schedule, already thrown off course by the coronavirus pandemic. A judge recently ruled that Depp would have to appear in person for three consecutive days in November for an upcoming deposition.

While the first two installments of the Fantastic Beasts franchise have collectively grossed more than $1.4 billion globally, the second chapter, The Crimes of Grindelwald, declined from the first entry and took in $654 million. The third film is set for release on July 15, 2022.

Depp concluded his Instagram post with a promise that “my life and career will not be defined by this moment in time.” But for now, he has lost out on perhaps his best opportunity to keep working in films made by the major studios, which are increasingly risk-averse when it comes to #MeToo and domestic violence accusations.

© Toronto Film Mag I 2020