Editor’s Note: This article contains Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore spoilers.It now seems to be a tradition for every new Fantastic Beasts movie to give a new actor a chance to take on the character of Gellert Grindelwald. The first movie gave us Colin Farrell as Grindelwald in disguise. The second movie gave fans to Johnny Depp that showed the character’s more eccentric personality. Now, we have the latest movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which introduces us to Mads Mikkelson‘s interpretation of the villain, available on HBO Max.
While it wasn’t intentional for this to become a tradition, we now have three very distinct takes on this series’ main bad guy. That’s pretty rare within a franchise for a character to be recast so much, and it never being called attention to. Of course, it does not really need to be pointed out because Grindelwald has the ability to transform his appearance, but it’s still a refreshing change of pace instead of forcing a plot reason for him to look different.
So in the spirit of the many recastings, here it is: our ranking of each Grindelwald from Worst to Best.
3. Johnny Depp in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
The eccentric Grindelwald. Johnny Depp excels at playing wacky characters. He thrives in anything that gives him the opportunity to go big. And what better opportunity to go big than playing an evil wizard. His performance as Grindelwald gives the same sort of unpredictable energy normally saved for comedians like Jim Carrey. It adds a true sense of chaos in the second film, The Crimes of Grindelwald.
He also gives perhaps the most brutal interpretation of this character. His introduction features him killing children and animals, an action typically worthy of being hunted down by John Wick. However, it is a shame to see that the actor this role was written for comes in at the bottom of the list. The issue with his performances is that it’s almost too otherworldly. He feels out of place in this world and not in a good way. Even his costumes and makeup make him look like he’s coming from a completely separate movie. It’s not a bad performance, but it is the most confusing of the three.
2. Mads Mikkelsen in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)
The menacing Grindelwald. If there’s one thing Mads Mikkelsen is good at, it’s playing villains. Within the past decade or so, he has been giving phenomenal performances as various different bad guys throughout film and television. And he certainly brings that energy to this role. This is particularly good because in The Secrets of Dumbledore, Grindelwald primarily acts as a politician. Trying to win over power, so he can wage his war on the muggles.
He does not say much, but he does not need to. Just his presence in the scene where he’s standing in the background saying nothing feels intimidating. Mads Mikkelsen gives a performance that makes the conniving politician aspect of the character with the pure evil side seem more intense. However, it is kind of hard to see why people would follow him. He kind of just seems like he’s sleepwalking through everything, and is playing aloof because he knows how things are going to play out anyway. And to an extent that is true. But that is one of the biggest downfalls of this iteration. But also, to end on a positive note, he is the only actor to bring a sense of humanity to the character. You can tell he still has love for Dumbledore even though they are willing to kill each other for their beliefs. It’s a fascinating and nuanced dynamic unlike any past relationship in the franchise. Seeing a character as a real person instead of a chess piece being moved to push the story forward is the mark of an excellent performance.
His take on the character shows a lot of promise for development in the future. It would be wonderful to see him appear again in the role to see what he brings to it after spending more time with the character, and Mikkelson seems game for playing the role again despite the chaotic situation that led him to being cast in the first place. .
1. Colin Farrell in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
The charismatic Grindelwald. No offense to the other actors, but it’s really a shame that the character was recast so much, when they nailed it right out of the gate in the first one. What’s great about Colin Farrell’s take is that he is simultaneously intimidating and likable. He brings a gravitas to this role that makes him feel more like a mob boss. The type of person who plays everything cool because he is the puppet master of everything. He’s overconfident and earned it. He is believable as the Big Man In Charge. He is also very charismatic, he uses his sharp wit to manipulate people’s fears to get them to join his side. He is almost like a cult leader in that way, slowly gaining more and more followers through this ability to be charming. And that power is what makes him scary.
It’s also refreshing to see this type of villain in a story in the Harry Potter universe. Previous Harry Potter The villains were either one-dimensional evil wizards, or a whimsical. Doctor Who type of villain. Having this mob boss character opens the door for completely different story opportunities than those in Hogwarts. It would have been amazing to get a series of movies that was essentially Wizards versus Mobsters. Harry Potter meets Goodfellas. Such a shame the franchise did not lean into that.
All in all, each of these actors brought their own personal flair and style to this character. In retrospect, seeing how much just one actor can change how a character can be portrayed in three distinct ways is really impressive. The three versions are all equally valid. And somehow, the character never felt like he was shifting personalities between movies. It all connects and it’s pretty cohesive. While only time will tell if either of these three actors will return to the role, it’s not looking too hot right now. After a series of controversies and a lackluster box office performance, chances for a sequel have been looking more dire than ever.
But not all is doom and gloom in the world of Harry Potter quite yet, the entirety of the franchise, including The Secrets of Dumbledoreis now available to stream on HBO Max.