Fans of the Fantastic Beasts franchise were shocked to hear that Johnny Depp had been asked by Warner Bros. to step down from the role of central villain Gellert Grindelwald. The reasons behind the decision had been unclear until now, but a new report has surfaced which indicates that the real reason that Depp exited Fantastic Beasts 3 is due to a change in studio executives over at Warner Bros.

Since the release of the second movie in the spin-off franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, AT&T merged with Warner Bros.' parent company Time Warner, a move that prompted sweeping changes for WarnerMedia. This merger brought with it big changes at the very top, including CEO Jason Kilar and studio chief Ann Sarnoff, and, according to the report, they are approaching new productions with an overall lack of tolerance for "the kind of controversy every major studio has had to weather at one time or another when courting mercurial -- but historically popular talent -- like Johnny Depp."

RELATED: Mads Mikkelsen Officially Replaces Johnny Depp as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts 3

The talent behind Fantastic Beasts is not short on controversial figures, with both creator and writer JK Rowling and star Ezra Miller having both been caught up in their own webs of controversy in the last few months, but it seems that the verdict in Depp's libel case against a British tabloid may have been the last straw, with the studio ultimately deciding to separate from the Academy Award nominated actor.

Despite Depp no longer being involved in Fantastic Beasts 3, it has been revealed that the actor will receive his full salary of over $10 million thanks to a pay-or-play stipulation in his contract. Depp reportedly filmed one scene for the wizarding world sequel, and though it may go unused, he is still in for a big payday.

So, eyes turn to what will be done with the character, with Warner Bros. having since put out a statement in which they confirm that the role will be recast, "Johnny Depp will depart the Fantastic Beasts franchise. We thank Johnny for his work on the films to date. 'Fantastic Beasts 3' is currently in production, and the role of Gellert Grindelwald will be recast. The film will debut in theaters worldwide in the summer of 2022." Of course, this has not stopped fans from starting a petition demanding that Depp be brought back, with #JusticeForJohnnyDepp now trending on social media.

Fantastic Beasts 3 recently began filming after a production delay, and is set to star Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, Jude Law as Dumbledore, Ezra Miller as Credence, Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, and Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein. Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling is penning the screenplay alongside Steve Kloves, with returning director David Yates at the helm.

While plot details for Fantastic Beasts 3 remain tightly under wraps, it is said to be a "build-up to World War II," and will include an extensive role for star Dan Fogler's muggle, Jacob Kowalski. "I have a lot to do in this one, which I'm really excited about," Fogler revealed earlier this year. He then went on to reveal that there are plans to make several more sequels before they're through. "The whole thing is building up to - knock on wood - we get to do five movies here."

Fantastic Beasts 3 is now due to hit theaters on July 15th, 2022. This comes to us from Variety.

Jon Fuge at Movieweb
Jon Fuge