Looking Back at the Harry Potter Movies

As we prepare to witness the final chapter in the Harry Potter film series, let’s take a few minutes to look back at the previous seven movies.  Along with being the most profitable franchise in movie history, Harry Potter has also been one of the most consistently well made and reliably entertaining.

One of the highlights of the series has been watching the three main young actors—Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint—grow and mature over the past decade.  Can you imagine if the producers had switched up the cast at one point, as rumours suggested would be the case some years back?  Sure, Michael Gambon took over for the late Richard Harris (a good change in the end, I think), but the rest of the cast has remained firmly in place, which has given an unrivaled continuity to the series.

The fixed cast is also important because the Harry Potter series essentially tells one long story.  The presumption that each Potter movie needs to stand alone in order to be considered a successful film is wrong.  In fact, the more successful Potter films, in my estimation, are those that have placed the grand Harry-Voldemort narrative ahead of their own particular interests.

Below is my list ranking the seven Potter films (thus far), beginning with my least favourite and working my way to my number one Potter film.

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Order in Series: Third

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Verdict: Alfonso Cuarón is more interested in moments of bizarreness than in Harry’s continuing story, which accounts for the film’s eccentric flair but also for the gaping plot hole—the origin of the Marauder’s Map.

6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Order in Series: Fifth

Director: David Yates

Verdict: The most bloated Potter book is trimmed down but at times too severely.  The resulting film is lean and sombre, focusing on the growing storm on the horizon, but also somewhat muddled.

5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Order in Series: Second

Director: Chris Columbus

Verdict: This mystery may seem like the least important adventure in Harry’s career at Hogwarts, but upon revisiting we notice it does nicely set up Ginny and Harry’s relationship as well as point to Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes.  Kenneth Branagh is hugely entertaining as Gilderoy Lockhart.

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

Order in Series: First

Director: Chris Columbus

Verdict: Sure, the direction is simplistic and some of the special effects don’t hold up, but the first Potter film contains some classic moments that have entered the collective cinematic memory, such as the entrance to Diagon Alley or Harry’s first Quidditch match.  J. K. Rowling’s whimsy is also best on display here.  This is the Potter film that will be remembered by fans and non-fans alike.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Order in Series: Seventh

Director: David Yates

Verdict: Pendent, tense, and deadly serious, the first part of the last chapter achieves moments of drama that rival most prestige films.  Its atmosphere of dread is also unparalleled in the series.

2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Order in Series: Sixth

Director: David Yates

Verdict: The greatness of the Harry Potter series owes much to the greatness of Lord Voldemort as a villain, and the sixth movie, based on my favourite Potter book, finally gives us more backstory on Voldemort/Tom Riddle.  The film thrillingly blends teen romance, Gothic horror, and occult studies, and gives us the most majestic action sequence in the Potter movies: Dumbledore and Harry’s adventure in the cave.

1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Order in Series: Fourth

Director: Mike Newell

Verdict: The best adaptation by far, the fourth film captures all of the varied aspects that make up J. K. Rowling’s wonderful tales: the wonders and whimsies of Hogwarts; the fun and the joy, the pain and the angst of school year friendships and romances; the powerful fascination of mysterious magic; and the epic struggle between good and evil.  The special effects are also uniformly excellent and the action sequences are finely crafted.

How would you rank the Potter films?  Will Part 2 be the best?