Ranking the Harry Potter Films

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It seems like forever ago that we were not-so-patiently waiting for Deathly Hallows Part 2. After its release, the Harry Potter franchise seemed finished. But alas, prequels were naturally in development. With the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this week, we’ve got nostalgia bubbling up for the Wizarding World. Here’s our ranking of the Harry Potter films.

 

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

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Look, there’s really no bad Harry Potter movie, but Chamber of Secrets, much like the novel on which it’s based, just doesn’t carry the same level of necessity as all the other films. Chris Columbus’ uninspired direction doesn’t help much either. But it’s still a competent film, though cheesier and more heavy handed than what would follow. The whose who of British cinema still does great work here, and the climax definitely raises the stakes of the series after Sorcerer’s Stone. This is just also the Harry Potter movie where, if you napped in the middle, you wouldn’t miss a whole lot.

 

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

Photo Credit:https://www.pinterest.com/pin/523262050432565159/Goblet of Fire suffers from one very strange problem that belongs to this entry alone. A few of the characters just flat out don’t seem like themselves here, particularly Harry and Dumbledore (why does he yell so much?). Also, this being the first of the longer novels, there are inevitably some subplots that got cut from the book that would go on to make the ending of the series make a lot more sense. There’s some great stuff here though. The Yule Ball is a treat between the massive set pieces, the underwater task is one of the most unique action scenes in all eight films, and Ralph Fiennes’ debut as Voldemort is truly horrifying. As a whole, however, it’s so wildly uneven, even with the series at large, that it just doesn’t quite click.

 

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

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Sorcerer’s Stone works great as a visual introduction to the world of Harry Potter. When the plot thickens and the heroes actually have to solve a mystery, the film slows down quite a bit. But the greatest feat here is in the casting. The actors hired to play these roles for over a decade display marvelous commitment from their very first frame. Chris Columbus would go down as the most stylistically boring director to tackle the series, but he brings the charm here. And there’s no denying that seeing Quidditch on the big screen for the first time was truly dazzling.

 

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

Photo Credit:http://basementrejects.com/review/harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-2007/Taking an 800-page novel and adapting it into a brisk film with an audience-friendly runtime is no easy task. David Yates’ first go at Rowling’s material is his least confident, relying on a couple incredible performances for the film’s two main sources of drama. Gary Oldman’s evolution into the role of Sirius as an everyman hero and father figure to Harry is one of the most poignant aspects of the whole series. On the opposite side, Imelda Staunton’s Umbridge is the only villain in the franchise that can hold a candle to Voldemort. But the narrative tissue that holds these pieces together is skimmed over in the translation to film. The result is a wildly uneven entry that still makes for a highly emotional ride, just while feeling a bit like a sparknotes version of a novel.

 

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

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Cinematically speaking, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is such a strange film. The first half is front-loaded with action, moving at a breakkneck pace that occasionally softens the impacts of certain big events. The first half also slightly suffers from having to include subplots from the books that navigate us to the series’ end, many of which the films before it skipped (everything with Sirius’ mirror and Dobby, for example). But then the second half slows down, almost to a halt, to put a magnified glass on the precise moments where Harry, Ron, and Hermione ascend to adulthood. All the scenes in the woods, including the added dance scene, are a beautiful display of friendship and maturation. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson were never better than in these scenes, where our heroes were stripped of all the securites of Hogwarts and their allies. Their only tool for survival is each other, and seven films in, it’s pretty emotional to watch.

 

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

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Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets had their magical charms and a fuzzy sweetness to them, but Alfonso Cuaron was the first filmmaker to truly get Harry Potter. His wizarding world is rich in detail, in the same vein as the original Star Wars‘ famous cantina scene. The tone is more in line with J.K. Rowling’s unique sense of humor than it’s predecessors, all while adapting a book most fans put toward the top of their rank. The emotional storybeats here are wonderful, from Harry riding Buckbeak in an early scene to Sirius’ emotional escape on the same hippogriff in the film’s closing moments. But most magical of all is the prolonged double climax that takes up almost half the film. Prisoner of Azkaban is mostly fun world building until it comes time for Buckbeak’s execution, when the film doesn’t ease up on tension or emotion until the credits roll.

 

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

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Half-Blood Prince was the first film in the series made after Rowling’s novels wrapped up. You can tell. No longer shackled by not knowing the ending, the filmmakers were able to make changes that better suited Harry Potter as a series of films. David Yates sopens his second entry in the franchise with a quiet, melancholy shot of Dumbledore supporting Harry in the immediate aftermath of Sirius’ death in Order of the Phoenix. Right from there, the sixth film sets itself apart from the rest, willing to take artistic liberites. Covered with a soft yellow hew, Half-Blood Prince looks like a dream. It’s also the first film in the franchise that feels like Harry, Ron, and Hermione attend a real, working school, with this being the first entry to truly hone in on their school work, hormones, and even, from a certain point of view, experimenal drugs. It’s the funniest film of the set, all while still building to its devastating climax.

 

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

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Deathly Hallows Part 2 is what happens when you take beloved mythology that spans years and give it a perfect, difinitve ending. The pieces are all in place right from the start, so all we have to do is watch and feel. From the epic robbery of Gringotts onward, the final film of the series grabs hold and doesn’t let go. But unlike other films in the series, there’s no rush other then the sense of urgency built into the plot. Pacing wise, David Yates gives all the emotional payoffs for the entire series the time they need to breathe and land as perfectly as they do. These moments, from McGonagall readying Hogwarts for war to Neville’s heroic speech just before Harry defies Voldemort’s expectations, make up the crux of Deathly Hallows Part 2, with some of the best action in the series filling in the gaps. And featuring just about every cast member you can think of from Sorcerer’s Stone on, as well as props and visuals from the seven previous films, Deathly Hallows Part 2 succeeds in uniting a series of eight films with a large variety of creative minds behind them into one cohesive whole. It all leads to an emotional epilogue, far better realized on screen than on the page, that serves as a warm, heartfelt goodbye to this universe and the beautiful, inspiring characters that inhabit it.

 

Do you agree with my assessments? What is your order? Post in the comments section!

 

By Matt Dougherty

2 Responses to Ranking the Harry Potter Films

  1. Marty says:

    Great list! My rankings are almost exactly the same, except that I would switch Goblet of Fire with Prisoner of Azkaban. I agree that a lot of key moments in the Goblet book are missing in the film, but if you can ignore all of that, what Mike Newell gave us is really quite good. The Triwizard tournament is a lot of fun, the graveyard scene is emotional, and the lead actors give terrific performances!

  2. pwtyler says:

    No mention of the animation in Deathly Hallows? I’d say the art direction in that scene alone (it wasn’t Yates) is at least on par with Cuaron’s design choices that made the series what it is.

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