In the beginning Harry Potter was just a book. Now, it is a full-fledged put-your-costume-on-to-see-the-movie pop-culture phenomenon. 6 sequels and a theme park later, J.K Rowling’s original book about a boy wizard and his destiny has become acceptable for both children and adults to enjoy. As such, Hollywood recognized the potential cha-ching and cashed in on the frenzy early; completing and releasing the first film as the author was still working to finish the series.
As historical achievements, the movies pale in comparison to the books (as most book-to-screen translations tend to), but nevertheless, the films established themselves on their own right. Here was a story that lost none of its originality, complications, or charm during its translation to the silver screen. The actors remained constant (for the most part), the films built off each other, and the audience kept coming back for more. Yes, the series has its high and low points, but all together it is a remarkable achievement. One that we may never see the likes of again.
Therefore, now that the franchise has ended, I feel it fitting to look back and review. So here they are, all 8 Harry Potter films. Summarized, rated, and ranked. Enjoy…
1. Rated: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
This movie started it all. It’s purpose was to introduce the Harry Potter universe to movie audiences world wide, perhaps many of them who had not read the book, and to that purpose it largely succeeded. At the time of its release it was hailed as a triumph of visual effects, child acting, and adventurous storytelling. Where as the series would eventually become dark, twisted, and complicated, this film (and the book it was based upon) feels light hearted, fun, and naive. The first book is the simplest of them all, and as a result this film adaptation is the most faithful to its source material compared to all the other films. It was a great achievement at the time of its release, but the subsequent films have since overshadowed it with greater adventure, more solid characters, and better special effects. Still, it was a necessary first step and a great way to start the series in the right direction.
Synopsis: Harry Potter is a mistreated forgotten boy, who one day learns that he is a wizard after getting an invitation to attend a special wizarding school. He leaves his life behind to explore this new world and find out the truth behind his past…
- Acting: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson were shot to instant stardom the moment they were announced as the actors portraying the story’s three main characters. For the most part, they didn’t let anyone down, (I would say they did a commendable job given their age) mostly because at the time of its release the audience was too busy gawping at the imagery and special effects. Good (21/25)
- Script/Plot: The story relies on a lot of “wow look at that!” more so than any actual plot, which luckily the rest of the films don’t share. The last 30 minutes does pick up a bit and show where the future sequels would be heading. Okay (19/25)
- Direction: The worst part about this film is the direction. Chris Columbus is a rather generic director and, while the movie was a visual masterpiece for its time, it felt very plain in style, unimaginative. Which is a shame because Rowling’s book is full of imagination. Okay (17/25)
- Special Effects: The special effects were quite the achievement for their time and even today, more than 10 years later, they still hold up. Good (23/25)
Rating: (80/100) = B- (Average)
- What’s Good: A fitting introduction to the series that is very faithful to its source material and entertains with its special effects.
- What’s Bad: Thanks to its generic direction, the film is more about amazing visuals and less focused on a thrilling plot.
Summary: They got the beginning mostly right.
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Now that the series had officially begun, it was time to develop characters and build the story. Chamber of Secrets takes off where the last film ended, still relying on special effects more than story to entertain, but at least this time there is some real adventure. Here, the audience is getting used to the setting, so appropriately the film makers decide to get away from including things in the film simply because they look cool. As such, as the series progresses, more and more things will be left out of the film that were present in the books. Chamber of Secrets, like its predecessor, is incredibly faithful to the book, mostly because the book is still relatively simple. Regardless, this is also the beginning of events taking place that would require reading the book to fully understand, there is just a limitation to how much you can explain things in a movie. But this isn’t the problem. The problem is that this is the weakest film. It’s long, drawn out, and nothing much gets accomplished. It introduces the audience to the basic formula that the next 5 movies would take, but doesn’t have enough of a conflict or depth of investigation to make it as engaging as the book.
Synopsis: Harry Potter ignores warnings that he is in danger and returns for year two at his wizarding school. While at school he witnesses strange occurrences and his friends help him figure out what is going on…
- Acting: Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are still growing into their roles, making them their own. The rest of the cast becomes more diverse, and as a result, entertaining. Good (21/25)
- Script/Plot: More adventure but long, lacking suspense, and haphazardly focused. The plot becomes almost unfollowable to those who have not read the book. Okay (17/25)
- Direction: Chris Columbus is back for round 2, and is still not diverse or creative enough. Now that the special effects are not the focus, he struggles. Okay (16/25)
- Special Effects: I also felt that this film had the worst special effects of the series. They enhanced but didn’t add anything to the movie like in the previous film. Good (20/25)
Rating: (74/100) = C (Watchable)
- The Good: More action, more adventure, same commitment to the book upon which it is based.
- The Bad: The writers fail to keep the plot from getting lost, the special effects are watered down, and there is still that feeling of unimaginative direction.
Summary: The worst Harry Potter film.
3. Rated: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Had the producers of the movies stayed put and rested on their laurels (and piles of dough they were raking in) I fear that the franchise would have headed south quickly. If Chamber of Secrets was any indication, a change was needed to right the ship. The first thing that pushed the films to change was the death of Richard Harris, who had played the head professor at Harry’s wizarding school. The film makers took a year off to determine what the next course of action would be, and in my opinion that was time well spent. Chris Columbus was booted, and in a radical move, the man who replaced him as director was Alfonso Cauron. Cauron was relatively unknown at the time, and had only done a handful of small edgy pictures. He brought this edginess, and more importantly, a darkness to the franchise that it so badly needed. No longer would the Harry Potter films rely on a light hearted whimsical tone to convey a sort of childish adventure. From now on, the films would be full of dramatic force, chilling conflict, and hair-raising adventure. This was further signified by man they chose to replace Harris; Michael Gambon. Veteran Gambon had the onscreen presence and personality that demanded your attention. Thanks to this film, the franchise was saved.
Synopsis: Harry is now stumbling along into his third year of schooling. But all is not right, a notorious criminal is on the loose, supposedly hunting Harry potter down in the name of vengeance. Meanwhile, Harry has a brilliant new teacher who has plenty to hide from himself…
- Acting: This is the movie where the subject matter makes Radcliffe & Co. rise up from just being kids to being real characters. The new characters that are added are also well portrayed, and Gambon shines in his new role. Good (23/25)
- Script/Plot: Stronger characterization and interaction amongst the characters creates a sense of importance and urgency not present in the previous movies. The plot is thrilling, even if it gets a little crazy towards the end. Good (21/25)
- Direction: The difference in director makes a HUGE difference. This is easily the most distinct film because of it, much more artistic and edgy than you would otherwise expect from a commercial piece. Most importantly, Cuaron introduces a dark tone to the series, one that makes the films both more enjoyable to watch and more representative of the themes it explores. Great (24/25)
- Special Effects: With more action, there is also more opportunity for special effects, and they add to the excitement even if they are less of the focus as compared to the previous films. Good (23/25)
Rating: (91/100) = A- (Highly Recommended)
- What’s Good: A new director brings a fresh approach to the series, introducing a darkness and a sense of seriousness that were lacking in the previous installments. The characters, new and old, really come into their own with the help of a plot that keeps things interesting.
- What’s Bad: The plot gets a little complicated towards the end, and the darkness can be overbearing at times.
Summary: They found a formula that works.
4. Rated: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Now that the franchise was back on the right track, it was time to push forward. Mike Newell took over for Cauron, and his professionalism immediately gave the series a focus and drive that it needed. This was the most ambitious film yet, and as such Newell was a good choice to get it headed in the right direction. This film marks the first that cut considerable story out of the book in order to make the screen adaptation possible. In fact, they had originally wanted to release the fourth book as two films, but Newell was determined to streamline the story to make it fit into one. His efforts payed off. Not only is Goblet of Fire free from the tangled plots of the previous two films, but it also maintains enough of the original book to feel completely developed and whole. More importantly though, the film maintains its focus throughout. Never do you feel the story ebb and flow, the action let down, the characters falter. The movie is consistent, which makes it both easier to watch and easy to understand.
Synopsis: Now in his fourth year of schooling, Harry Potter is shocked to learn that he has been entered against his will into a dangerous tournament of competing wizarding schools. Hopelessly outmatched and sure to find mortal peril, Harry Potter must figure out why and how someone got away with it…
- Acting: The director’s total commitment to the film really brings out the best in all the actors. Radcliffe shines with a determination about him that anchors the film. Good (24/25)
- Script/Plot: Right from the start this one manages to competently merge fascination with consternation. The audience is in awe at what they are witnessing at the same time they are shocked. This creates an excitement and importance that makes you live and breathe along with the characters onscreen. Good (22/25)
- Direction: Newell continues with the dark overtone that Cuaron introduced, but tones down the edginess. The result is a solid if slightly more generic feel as compared to the last film. Good (23/25)
- Special Effects: The special effects make this the most exciting film yet. Less cartoonist than in the previous film, the effects are fresh, vibrant, and most importantly, feel real. Good (23/25)
Rating: (92/100) = A (A Historical Achievement)
- The Good: The plot is under control, the special effects are top-notch, the actors are as good as ever, and best of all the competant director manages to make a movie that entertains in more than one way.
- The Bad: Not as close to the book as the previous films, which makes it more difficult to understand for those who have not read the book.
Summary: The definitive Harry Potter film.
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
The fifth movie is really where the series stops being something for children. This is a very dark and twisted movie, with very little to make you smile or laugh about. The end of the last film leaves things very grim, and while it is appropriate for the series to head to a semi-depressing state in order to make the campaign of its lead character more impactful, the downside is that the movie becomes less fun. At the center of all this is actress Imelda Staunton, who creates a character so diabolical that she is instantly hated by the audience, which actually makes the film difficult to watch at times. Its not that she does a bad job, its just that her screen time is overbearing and too oppressive, taking the spotlight away from Harry Potter. Indeed, the film is much more successful at building up her persona than it is at advancing Potter’s plight or even touching on the emotional turmoil he is going through from the end of the last film. The book does a much better job of this than the film, as new director David Yates is not as successful as his predecessor at making the transition.
Synopsis: After a shocking end to year four, Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts for his fifth year of schooling. Only this time, the events that occurred the previous year have instilled panic in the wizarding world and now Harry must deal with not only the reemergence of his own worst enemy, but also a bureaucratic overlord at school who is threatening to stop Harry Potter’s progress in combating that enemy…
- Acting: While Radcliffe & Co soldier on with full commitment from the previous film, Staunton and a few others take things a little too far, diverging from the desperate tone that the last film ended with. Good (22/25)
- Script/Plot: The transformation from book to screen is not handled well, as I believe that the focus of the film is inappropriate given the manner in which the last one ended. Still, this film has its moments of adventure and action, even if it isn’t as fun as the last one. Okay (18/25)
- Direction: David Yates is inexperienced compared to Newell, and it shows. The movie is a hodge-podge of silly moments and serious moments, neither of which turn out to be as exciting to watch as they were to read. Still, Yates does manage to maintain the overall tone and feel of the series, even if this film just feels like a stop-gap until the next one. Okay (19/25)
- Special Effects: The special effects definitely don’t disappoint. By this time the audience has become accustomed to the world that the characters are emerged in, and as such the effects don’t play as large a role in drawing people to see the movie. Good (24/25)
Rating: (83/100) = B (Recommended)
- What’s Good: The fascination with magic and special effects are thankfully all but gone. This is a film that is watchable based on its story and characters and manages to match the dark tone of the last film.
- What’s Bad: The story seems like a step back, the direction is inconsistent, and the heavy focus on Staunton’s character takes away some of the fun.
Summary: A slight detour in the progression of the series.
6. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)
With the fifth book out of the way, the sixth book focuses on setting up the end. The movie version is much of the same. Unlike the last film, happenings at Hogwarts are mostly brushed aside as the story focuses on Harry’s plight and his preparation for his final task. Therefore, this is an important film, and luckily it doesn’t disappoint. Yes, you can’t help but feel that this is a long prologue to the end, but still it has enough action, drama, and suspense to make it worth your while. Yates is again at the helm and he seems to have learned much from the last film. No more silliness, its mostly serious with a few funny spots. Actually, it seems that everyone learned from the mistakes in that last film. The story is written to focus mainly on Harry, as it should, the actors are even more committed to their roles, and the ones that got out of hand in the last film are back in line. It takes its liberties in regards to what it leaves out from the book, but this is necessary to keep the plot action-oriented right up to the end. In fact, its so successful at creating an action-packed story that the somewhat mellow tone at the start of the 7th film will at first seem like a let down. In all, it is both a fitting and shocking end to Harry’s time at Hogwarts.
Synopsis: Harry returns to Hogwarts in the midst of turmoil in the world around him now that his nemesis is regaining his power. At Hogwarts, Harry finds a mysterious book that helps him succeed in class, and at the same time gets some special lessons in order to succeed outside of class…
- Acting: Again, everyone is fully engaged. Maybe a few take their roles a little bit too seriously, but you need eccentricity to keep it interesting. Good (23/25)
- Script/Plot: At this point there is little chance that if you haven’t read the book you’re going to understand what is going on. But that is more the byproduct of spending less time on explanations and more time on injecting more action. It works, because although this is a very long movie, it is full of thrills and twists right up to the end. Speaking of the end, it may be a little bit of a let down because it basically leaves the door open for the next film and you never get a firm sense of conclusion like in the previous films. Good (21/25)
- Direction: David Yates is again at the helm, and with this film is establishing himself in a way to finish up the series. He improves on the mistakes he made last time, but still is not at the level that he needs to be as a few scenes and shots felt unfocused. Good (22/25)
- Special Effects: More action means more opportunity to show off special effects. They add to the film by both being chilling and awe-inspiring at the same time. In other words, your eyes will not be bored. Good (23/25)
Rating: (89/100) = B+ (Highly Recommended)
- What’s Good: Everything that was wrong with the last film has been at least improved, the story is focused and action-packed, the acting is consistent, and the director manages to create some very memorable scenes.
- What’s Bad: The film never manages to feel like anything besides an intro to the final chapter in the series, some of the scenes are lacking in direction, and the story will be incomprehensible to those who have not read the book.
Summary: A thrilling prologue to the final chapter in the series.
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)
In order to capture as much of the original story as possible, the producers decided to divide the final book into two movies. This is good because the story is more complete, and the final sequence has the necessary backing in order for it to hit home. This is bad because the first half of the book is largely exploratory, and by itself threatens to ruin the excitement and thrill that the previous films had worked towards. Fortunately, Part 1 is saved from being a total disappointment by excellent acting, fantastic cinematography, and most surprising, competent and original direction from David Yates. Yes, its true that a majority of this film is spent following the characters around and watching them argue, but everything else that the movie does it does well. When action occurs it is heart-pounding and emotional, when the film is exploratory it is beautiful in its simplicity, and when problems occur, the raw emotional impact of the actor’s performances is enough to keep you engaged. Don’t get me wrong, this film is downright boring at times, but the atmospheric tone, bright visuals, and sweeping score help to make this film the most original since Prisoner of Azkaban. In other words, it doesn’t follow the same formula as the previous 3 films, and as a result many people will be disappointed.
Synopsis: Now on their own, Harry Potter and his friends are running for their lives in order to complete Harry’s final task. The problem is that they don’t exactly know what they are supposed to do…
- Acting: This is the shining moment for Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint. Their characters are the focus of the entire film and the connections and chemistry between them is really the only focus the film has. As such, they do a tremendous job and carry the story well, even if it doesn’t seem like they have much to do. Good (24/25)
- Script/Plot: As I said previously, the monotonous tone of this film is a big let down compared to the action packed finale of the last movie. It kills the mood and the emotional thrill that the other films had been building on. Thankfully, there just enough emotion and suspense to keep you interested. Okay (15/25)
- Direction: At last Yates emerges with an original vision to present the audience. While not as gripping and visually stimulating as Cauron’s, the tone and visual impact of this film are memorable and impactful. This film has an almost atmospheric feel, which gives the events and conflicts on screen the time they need to develop the proper emotions from the audience. Good (23/25)
- Special Effects: The few action scenes are handled well, and rest of the film is alive with excellent cinematography. Good (24/25)
Rating: (86/100) = B (Recommended)
- What’s Good: This installment has a different approach than the previous films, which relies on the excellent acting of the main characters, brilliant cinematography and visuals, and a unique style from the director more than anything else.
- What’s Bad: The story is flat, and boarders on boring. It is a let down compared to the end of the last film and as such it kills much of the mood and emotional drama that the previous installments had worked to create.
Summary: Slow but steady towards the finish.
8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2 (2011)
And now it all ends. Deathly Hallows Part 2 is what everything else had been leading up to. The finale of the series, the final encounter between the protagonists and antagonists. The moment in which Harry Potter finally fulfills his destiny. The final act and last hurah of the franchise. That’s a lot to live up to, a lot to accomplish in one movie. The question is, does it? The answer is yes, and no. Yes, the movie beautifully encompasses everything that the previous films had been building on and ties it up into a nice knot. It also does justice to the lack of action in the previous film by being almost entirely comprised of action and edge-of-your-seat suspense. But that is also the film’s biggest problem. It’s all go go go. More action, more special effects, more drama. Not until the epilogue do the film makers let you sit back and take it all in. Every scene is like an attempt to outdo the last one. They even went as far as taking their liberties with the translation from book to film, because this is easily the entry that changed the most. Which is another problem; if they broke up the final book into two movies to better tell the story, why is the second part so cut-and-dry and simplified? Avid fans of the novels will call foul, but for the rest of us it is a suitable, if brash way to end the series. You know the saying….go out with a bang. Its true here.
Synopsis: Harry Potter finishes his final task which leads to the final confrontation between Harry Potter and his adversaries. Hogwarts becomes a battle ground as Harry’s friends join his side and fight for their lives in a thrilling conclusion to the series that has Harry Potter questioning what sort of hero he has to become in order to save everyone he cares about…
- Acting: This is the final act, and the drama is turned up yet another notch. The actors respond with the best performances yet in the series. Everyone does a great job, especially Radcliffe, who is perfect at expressing the emotional distress that his character is constantly under. Good (24/25)
- Script/Plot: The story from the book is slimmed down and simplified in the name of creating more space for action. This leaves an unequal feeling when compared to Part 1 which was more story, less action. Perhaps that is the fitting way to end the series, pulling all the stops out, but you can’t help but feel that the film is a little empty feeling as a result. Okay (17/25)
- Direction: Yates finishes up the franchise with another strong performance as director. Perhaps it isn’t as original or artistic as Part 1 but nonetheless the action is well documented, and he doesn’t let the massive amount of special effects threaten the focus of the film. Good (22/25)
- Special Effects: This film rivals the first film in the number of special effects and the screen time that is devoted to them, but has enough of a story that the film isn’t just about special effects. The film makers did an excellent job because not only are there a huge number of special effects, but they are also the most polished and realistic of the whole series. Great (25/25)
Rating: (88/100) = B+
- What’s Good: It captures the emotion that has been building up and transforms it into an action-packed adventure thrill ride with plenty of story, excellent acting, and fantastic special effects to become a worthy ending to the series.
- What’s Bad: The writers take their liberties with the book, making it less about the story and more about blowing the doors off of the theater. As such, it is not as fitting an ending as it could have been.
Summary: The end is here, and it is loud.
Here’s some numbers to mull over…
Finally, here’s my ranking of the Harry Potter films, according to the ratings they received;
8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) – (74/100)
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) – (80/100)
6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – (83/100)
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010) – (86/100)
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011) – (88/100)
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) – (89/100)
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – (91/100)
and the top dog is…
1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) – (92/100)
My previous review: Rated: The Shining (1980)
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