The Harry Potter movie franchise reached an explosive end in 2011 with the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which saw the Boy Who Lived finally defeat Lord Voldemort after becoming the Master of Death and destroying all seven Horcruxes. And the book series had also come to an end by that point too, leaving no future material for any more films. It was as though J.K. Rowling herself had snapped the Elder wand clean in two and cast the pieces into oblivion, denying any future storyteller the possibility of revisiting the Harry Potter universe for the sake of profit over quality.
Of course, we know what happened next. In 2016, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released in theaters, a Wizarding World spin-off based on a modestly sized A-to-Z listing of magical creatures. And now, there's already a third movie in that series on the way. But that same year saw the arrival of yet another Wizarding World adventure, in the form of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part West End production based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne.
But is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child canon? Well, grab your Time-Turner as we take a trip back in time. Actually, just like the plot to the West End play, it's a little bit more complicated than that. First, we must go back to 2016, while also jumping forward 19 years from the end of Deathly Hallows in 1998 to 2017. Only then are we free to jump back to 1995 and time-hop all over the place till our heart's content? You'll get the hang of it.
Warning: There are many spoilers ahead for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Set 19 years after Deathly Hallows, Cursed Child reunites us with our favorite characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Harry is now the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic, Hermione is the Minister of Magic, and Ron runs Weasley's Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley. Meanwhile, next-generation wizards Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, Harry and Draco's sons, enroll at Hogwarts. The play picks up where the Deathly Hallows left off, at King's Cross Station, just as our new witches and wizards are about to set off to the school of witchcraft and wizardry.
As the years go by, the two become best friends but are bullied by other students. Scorpius suffers the awful rumor that he's Lord Voldemort's son, while Albus grows to hate living in his legendary father's shadow. But soon the two embark on their own adventures. After overhearing Amos Diggory, Cedric's father, beg Harry to use his Time-Turner to travel back in time to save his son from being killed by Voldemort, the two boys break into the Ministry of Magic using Polyjuice Potion, and steal the Time-Turner.
They first meddle in the Triwizard Tournament to stop Cedric from ever proceeding to the final challenge, during which he is killed, but in true time-travel fashion, the future is altered. However, on the second attempt – which sees Albus and Scorpius try to change the second challenge to have Cedric disqualified – the future is made even worse. This alternate timeline is one where Voldemort has won, now ruling the Wizarding World, with Harry Potter long dead, along with many other Hogwarts heroes. Meanwhile, an anti-Voldemort resistance that includes Ron, Hermione, and Snape, moves in the shadows.
Eventually, though, Scorpius and Albus use the Time-Turner to stop their past selves from using the Time-Turner in the first place, but it's revealed that Voldemort has a daughter, who intends to travel back to the night her father killed Harry's parents, to finish what the dark lord couldn't – kill the Boy Who Lived. Of course, she doesn't succeed, and the correct timeline is restored. However, it isn't Harry Potter without some impossible decisions. So Albus and Scorpius must leave the night to play out just as it always did, and Cedric Diggory must remain dead.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is actually considered the eighth story in the Harry Potter series. And indeed it is the eight-story, by default of simple math. But does this qualify the material as canon? Well, J.K. Rowling has confirmed that it is. But just because the Wizarding World creator says it is, that doesn't make it an easy pill for fans to swallow. While a critical and financial success, Cursed Child does conjure up a few problems for the Harry Potter series. Not only is time-travel an understandably frowned-upon storytelling device, but for many, it just doesn't feel very Harry Potter.
All seven books – or all eight films – are remarkably clever. Cursed Child, on the other hand, at times feels like something of an amateurish afterthought. And for a story set in the Wizarding World, there's a huge lack of spectacle too, and there are no fantastic beasts in sight either. As for the plot, while it's not necessarily the use of the Time-Turner that's the problem – it's the reason behind it. Cedric's death might have tugged at the heartstrings in Goblet of Fire, but there were many other ways we could have visited the past, and with higher stakes (saving Dumbledore from dying perhaps?).
Take Avengers: Endgame, for example – our heroes must thwart Thanos' plans of acquiring the Infinity Stones, and in doing so we get to enjoy a victory lap around previous entries in the franchise. Cursed Child could have enjoyed a similar adventure, but instead chose the Triwizard Tournament and the night at Godric's Hollow, rendering the story somewhat devoid of any real ambition. That's not to say it's all that bad – there's plenty to enjoy, and the 'Voldemort Day' storyline will give you chills.
But where the movies and books are concerned, we last left Harry, Ron and Hermione, and King's Cross Station 19 years later – and that's all we needed. But just like your average never-asked-for Hollywood sequel, Cursed Child obnoxiously fills in the blanks.
Whether or not Cursed Child will see the light of day in the movie theaters is another question. Naturally, the rumor mill has been spinning since its West End debut in 2016. And while it's still a possibility, for now, fans who don't like Cursed Child can still enjoy the main book and film series all the same (although, if you do love it, there is a screenplay version you can purchase).