The Wizarding World franchise, despite the middling reception to the second Fantastic Beasts movie and controversy surrounding author JK Rowling’s alleged transphobic comments on social media, remains one of the biggest things in pop culture — all thanks to Harry Potter. Apart from being magical in every sense of the word, the films introduced an incredibly interesting world where wizards and witches existed alongside unaware muggles, as the humans were called.
While the story was about a huge impending war between a dark wizard called Voldemort, his acolytes called the Death Eaters and the titular hero and his allies, it took time to develop its world and characters. By the time fans were done with the films, they knew the characters more than they knew their friends and they knew hallways and corridors of Hogwarts as intimately as though they themselves inhabited the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Along with The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter made the fantasy genre cool again in Hollywood. Although the Harry Potter books and movies were targetted towards children and young adults, people of all ages enjoyed the world built by Rowling.
Add to all that, the story was saturated with themes like love, togetherness, and acceptance that everybody could relate to. Hogwarts were situated in Scotland, but people of all genders, races, and other groups could get admission — the only requirement was magical talent.
This year, the franchise completed 20 years and on the occasion, Warner Bros is releasing a reunion special for HBO Max like the studio did for Friends earlier this year.
To celebrate the anniversary and the reunion, I thought I would rank the Harry Potter movies. Note that while I love all these movies, some were clearly better than others. I have not included Fantastic Beasts as that series is not done yet.
8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Chamber of Secrets fleshed out the world of Harry Potter with delightful little details, taking over from the Philosopher’s Stone. But the film was overstuffed and the pace was at times extremely slow. Also, it was pretty dull-looking for a world that was allegedly full of interesting stuff. After removing Voldemort from the back of Professor Quirrell’s head, Harry finds himself entangled with a young Voldemort. Not a ghost, as Tom Riddle explains, a memory.
Chamber of Secrets is also one of the weaker — if not the weakest — entries in JK Rowling’s book series and there are a few dodgy plot developments. It’s a fantasy story and children’s literature, and some suspension of disbelief is expected. But sometimes, this book took it too far. The movie was a slavishly faithful adaptation, and not only shared the book’s weaknesses, but added some of its own.
7. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The first every Harry Potter movie, Philosopher’s Stone was released in the US, Philippines, and India as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for some reason. Directed by Chris Columbus, the director of Home Alone who also directed the sequel, the film certainly did an undeniably good job at introducing the world of wizardry, but it was missing the visual quality that defined the latter films. Perhaps the film is blameless, and the CGI technology was not as developed back then, but then Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring also released that year, and it looked so good with lesser budget that it still holds up well.
To be fair, apart from the visuals, there is not much to complain about Philosopher’s Stone. The legendary composer John Williams’s “Hedwig’s Theme” has rightfully become the definitive Wizarding World theme. The cast was stacked with iconic names like Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith, and the director and screenwriter made good use of them. The film enchanted millions around the world and went on to gross more than $1 billion, a rarity those days.
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Goblet of Fire would perhaps be at second or third position on my list of top Harry Potter books. Mike Newell adaptation, however, falls way short of the book. Its biggest crime is removing the mystery element regarding the person who put Harry’s name in the titular Goblet. The movie gives this information immediately. For the most, however, Goblet of Fire is a solid fantasy movie. And actually the first time we realise this story is entering the truly dark territory when Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson in a short but sweet role) is killed by the Voldemort. In the film we also saw the Dark Lord assuming his full corporeal form, teasing the titanic final clash.
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Order of the Phoenix was the first time David Yates joined the franchise and he has never left. Not only he went on to direct the rest of the Harry Potter movies and the first two Fantastic Beast movies, he will direct the rest in the Eddie Redmayne and Jude Law-led franchise as well. Order of the Phoenix marked Imelda Staunton’s first appearance as Dolores Umbridge, which we can all agree was infinitely worse than Voldemort. At least the Dark Lord was upfront that he was evil. Dolores hid her ugly, insecure little heart and devilish mind behind sickly smiles and pictures of cute kittens. Oh how we loved to hate her. The film also featured a brief but visually dazzling duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
With Deathly Hallows, Part 1, Yates had an enviable task of making that movie worthwhile that was based on the first half of a book. The film is far from bad, and often it is fun, but the trio fighting among themselves for trivial reasons got tiresome after a while. The film’s bleak tone, underlined by drab cinematography, worked in its favour. If nothing else, Deathly Hallows, Part 1 served as a compelling tease for the final confrontation.
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Now we come to the big guns. The Half-Blood Prince remains one of the best Harry Potter movies, though it is admittedly not a good adaptation of its source material. The screenplay, perhaps wisely, skips several details that are present in the book. For instance the significance of Horcruxes and why Severus Snape is the Half-Blood Prince was not explored as much. And even apart from those exclusions, the film was not without its missteps, but overall, it delivered on all the character beats and big moments like a certain major character’s unexpected death.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who went on to win multiple Oscars for his Gravity and Roma, Prisoner of Azkaban was a stunning-looking movie that makes me wish I could forget its plot and watch it all over again. If watched carefully, you can spot the little touches that made Cuarón such a huge name later on. The film had a singular vision and visual style that was missing in the first two movies. The film’s denouement was not a huge duel or a battle, but a gripping sequence in which Harry and Hermione travel back in time using the Time-Turner to save Hagrid’s hippogriff Buckbeak. An understated, impeccably directed film.
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is not at the top of this list because it concluded the story. It’s here because it did it near-perfectly. The preceding seven movies had set up a tremendous battle. It was here we were going to get that payoff — Harry vs Voldemort. And the film more than delivered. While not at the level of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, it rivalled it in terms of imagery and scale. Even amid all the chaos of the battle, the film wisely found moments to bring out the individual heroism of the protagonists. While Harry taking on his nemesis was grand enough, what I enjoyed in the battle were small scale duels — for example Molly Weasley vs Bellatrix Lestrange and perhaps the most epic moment of all, Neville Longbottom killing the giant snake Nagini to turn Voldemort into a mere mortal.
But it was Rickman as Snape that stole the show. The greyest character in Harry Potter, Snape’s allegiance reveal was suitably heart-rending, and his death, delivered by Nagini in murderous lunges that Harry helplessly witnesses through a translucent wall, was nearly traumatic.