The Harry Potter franchise is a global phenomenon, with nine films, theme parks all of the world, countless video games and naturally, the beloved source novels all generating billions of dollars in revenue.
With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the new film from the mind of J.K. Rowling and prequel to the Harry Potter saga, tearing it up at the international box, we thought it as good a time as any to cast our minds back to all the Harry Potter movies over the years and rank them from worst to best.
Without further ado, Accio List…
9 | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Chamber of Secrets is the longest film of the franchise, at a whopping 161 minutes, and it attempts to fit almost every plot detail from Rowling’s source material into its running time (something that subsequent films would be less rigid with). Christopher Columbus, who also directed Philosopher’s Stone but jumped ship after Chamber of Secrets, had the unwieldy task of remaining faithful to the enormously popular book, pleasing fans of the novel when imagination is almost always better than representation and also driving a film franchise that was an adaptation of a book series that had a long way to go until completion.
There’s a lot going on in Chamber of Secrets, which is probably why its the most ponderous and meandering of the bunch, but there are still a handful of things to like about this second entry into the series, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Gilderoy Lockhart and the further delving into certain elements of the wizarding world, such as the purity of blood as well as the corrupt history of Hogwarts.
8 | Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Philosopher’s Stone isn’t as flashy or fine-tuned as some of the films that came in the rest of the series. There were still three books to go when the film adaptation of it was released (and the really dark stuff had only just kicked off during the climax of the book version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) so perhaps it’s not surprising that Christopher Columbus’ first foray into the world of Harry Potter is somewhat tonally and creatively uncertain.
There’s also the Daniel Radcliffe issue. Since the Potter film franchise came to a close, Radcliffe has impressed in number of roles – check him out in this year’s Swiss Army Man, if you haven’t already – but he came out of the gates in Philosopher’s Stone pretty awkwardly, and never really found his stride during his run as the boy wizard.
But Philosopher’s Stone gave us our first look at a world that we had previously only imagined, for better or for worse, and introduced iconic elements, such as John William’s theme music, that will remain in popular culture consciousness for a long time.
7 | Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The book version of Goblet of Fire was when J.K. Rowling really took a step towards darker, more adult themes. Cedric Diggory became the series first (of many) significant fatalities and Voldemort finally arrived as more than a face on the back of someone’s head or a memory in an evil diary. Goblet also started delving into the mushrooming adolescence of the three central characters, something that Mike Newell’s film adaptation embraced with enormous enthusiasm.
Goblet of Fire is a bit hit (the design of the Hungarian Horntail) and miss (the design of Voldemort – which produced more laughs than screams for some) and just because Rowling’s fourth book is arguably the series’ best doesn’t mean that the film adaptation follows suit. But there’s enough energy in Goblet of Fire and enough expansion of the wizarding world in elements such as the Quidditch World Cup, the Triwizard Tournament and the foreign wizarding schools plus the sudden propulsion of the Potter/Voldemort narrative forward to keep the momentum of the franchise going.
6 | Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is one of the most perfectly cast actors in a specific role this side of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones or Ian McKellen as Gandalf. In other areas, Fantastic Beasts, which acts as a prequel to the Harry Potter story as well as an extension of the narrative that Rowling established in the novels, falls short of the mark.
The creative genius that saw Rowling generated countless inventive ideas that made us fall in love with Potter in the first place isn’t totally evident in this spin-off. The concept of the Obscurus might have been a fascinating one but was poorly executed and conveyed. Similarly, the addition of Grindelwald – a minor character from the Harry Potter books – felt tacked on and unnecessary. The strength of Fantastic Beasts should have been that it wasn’t so connected with Rowling’s source material – our imaginations were coming in fresh and without the burden of our love for Potter. Future installments hinting at the inclusion of Dumbledore and the Elder Wand (plus the decreased involvement of Redmayne as Scamander) bodes poorly for the franchise.
5 | Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Perhaps the weakest of all the Harry Potter books, the film version of Order of the Phoenix worked because it jettisoned all the fat that Rowling’s editor arguably should have. Order of the Phoenix also saw the final change of directorial hands, with David Yates stepping into the director’s chair. He would subsequently helm the rest of the Harry Potter films, Fantastic Beasts and is slated to direct all its sequels.
Yates isn’t the most exciting director to have gotten his hands into the franchise (that distinction has to go to Alfonso Cuarón), but he did nonetheless manage to bring a competence and a steadiness of style to the final four Harry Potter films, something that had been missing in the film series as a result of the constant changing of hands.
Order of the Phoenix also boasts a wonderful performance from Imelda Staunton as the loathsome Dolores Umbridge, who might have been a difficult character to realise on film had Staunton not delivered perhaps the best acting work of the entire saga. The death of Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black at the climax of the film also packs the sort of emotional punch that is unfortunately too rare in these film adaptations.
3 | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
While Deathly Hallows Part 1 is often bemoaned as the weaker of the two final installments, Part 2 suffers from one fundamental problem – Voldemort. While in the books, He Who Must Not Be Named always felt like a serious threat, Voldemort as envisioned by Ralph Fiennes and a well-meaning but uninspired make-up team never inspires the sort of dread that the Dark Lord ought to have. That becomes a problem when a film entirely centres around the threat that character is posing.
Putting Voldemort to one side, Deathly Hallows Part 2 has plenty to admire, from the exciting heist of Gringott’s Bank to the emotional explanation of Severus Snape’s motivations. Yates also handles the numerous deaths with care, never veering too far into emotional manipulation. It’s an adequate albeit uninspired conclusion to a franchise that never quite lived up to the wonder of its source material.
There’s also that epilogue…
4 | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Audiences didn’t warm to Deathly Hallows Part 1 as much as its sequel but there is an awful lot to admire in this unsung hero of the Harry Potter franchise. Rupert Grint as Ron is at the top of his game (reportedly, Martin Scorsese praised Grint’s acting after this film, the iconic director acknowledging that he would happily work with the young actor). The opening sequence at the wedding, the crumbling of the wizarding world into the hands of Death Eaters, the beautiful animation explaining the origins of the Deathly Hallows themselves and the emotional death of Dobby, previously not a particularly likeable character, are all reasons why Deathly Hallows Part 1 is one of the better Harry Potter films to date.
The common complaint that the action is directionless and meandering (with all the pay-off to arrive in Part 2) is understandable but also missing the charm of exploring the actions of Harry, Ron and Hermione without a clear sense of purpose. Deathly Hallows allows room for the narrative to breath before the plunge into the chaos of Deathly Hallows Part 2, and it’s a much needed calm before the storm.
2 | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Alfonso Cuarón is undoubtedly the finest director to have taken part in the Harry Potter franchise. The significance of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban within the film series can’t be understated. Cuarón took hold of the uncertain foundations that had been laid out by Christopher Columbus and injected it with a sense of creative energy and purpose that arguably rescued the franchise from possible deterioration.
After Chamber of Secrets had unwisely decided to stuff everything from Rowling’s source materials into its bloated running time, Cuarón made an executive decision – if it relates to Harry’s journey or if its told from Harry’s point of view, it stay in the film. Anything else can be dropped if needs be.
Cuarón also played with the aesthetics of the franchise. Azkaban feels less bound by Rowling’s source material and more inspired by it. The Knight Bus sequence, the Dementors, the biting book and the Womping Willow indicating the changing of seasons are almost as much Cuarón as they are Rowling.
And while Radcliffe still struggles as the central characters, Azkaban is the film in which Rupert Grint and Emma Watson come into their own as actors. Cuarón also shows an adeptness for casting, bringing in series favourites Gary Oldman, David Thewlis and Timothy Spall as Sirius Black, Professor Lupin and Peter Pettigrew respectively. Additionally, Michael Gambon picks up the Dumbledore baton after the passing of Richard Harris.
1 | Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The finest of all the Harry Potter films, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the one that comes the closest to capturing the magic and the excitement of J.K. Rowling’s books (although none of them truly manage it).
One of the central reasons that Half-Blood Prince is so successful is David Yates’ knack for conveying important character and plot details with an extraordinary simplicity and efficiency that was entirely absent when Christopher Columbus was in control of the franchise. Possibly the best shot in the series arrives after Hermoine and Ron have a fight. The camera pans away from Hermoine sobbing and we gain even more insight into not only her nature but the nature of her relationship with Ron. As the camera glides away, it floats outside the castle to spot a despondent Draco Malfoy, in one of his more sympathetic moments in the franchise, and without a single word, Yates expresses what a lonely place Malfoy, Harry Potter’s enemy, is in. There’s also the rousing climax with Harry and Dumbledore as they retrieve on of Voldemort’s Horcruxes and the eventual death of Dumbledore at the hands of Severus Snape.
Technically, Half-Blood Prince is one of the most accomplished of the Harry Potter films, with Bruno Delbonell’s cinematography offering the series’ best cinematography and Nicholas Hooper providing the most beautiful music score since John Williams departed the series following Azkaban.