The Wizarding World is all grown up, and has evolved way past the original 300ish page Harry Potter book which came out with little fanfare just 22 years ago. With Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald set to drop this Friday, let’s take a look back at the previous films of the Wizarding World.
9. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
It’s the longest Harry Potter film at 2 hours, 45 minutes, but yet also the second-shortest book. Go figure. Director Christopher Columbus opted for a more literal interpretation in his two films with overdrawn set pieces (like the Quiddich games) that didn’t add much to the story, and oddly clunky special effects. It’s still fun, but doesn’t measure up to some of the franchise’s later entries.
8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Since the two films were shot back-to-back, much of what can be said about the Chamber of Secrets can be said about the Sorcerer’s Stone as well. Clunky visuals, literal interpretation, etc. However, there was always a bit more magic to the story, and even if the golden trio of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson hadn’t fully settled into their acting careers, you can’t help but to go home smiling after this one.
7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Director Mike Newell is a British institution and oddly the first English director to helm a Harry Potter film. He brought a “Britishness” to the series that didn’t exist before, but managed to stick around after his departure, particularly adding his boarding school experiences to the film. That said, Newell didn’t really get the series, downplaying the magic and forgoing some of wonderful opportunities for great visuals that wouldn’t have dragged down the story. The graveyard sequence, in particular, felt way too cartoonish, and the maze was lackluster.
6. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
The first “adult” Harry Potter story, and the first written by JK Rowling directly for the screen (which calls into question whether or not the other films can be considered canon when they differ from the books). The best thing the new series did was bring back David Yates, who directed the last four HP films, to establish the correct tone right off the bat. However, the story felt so much more like a superhero origin story than a film in and of itself, leaving us kind of empty in the end.
5. Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
From Yates’ most recent to his first – if he directs all five planned Fantastic Beasts films, he’ll have nine Wizarding World films to his credit by the end (if not more after?). The longest book became the second-shortest film – by design. Yates wanted to strip away the excess and find a consistent through-line of a film. However, he went a bit too far, letting some of the charm of the series as well as the character development slip in the process.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part One
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
It’s pretty amazing that this film is as critically liked as it was, to be honest, given that the book left no real ending point to split it into two distinct stories. Many called this a blatant cash grab, but there was no effective way to cut the story down to feature length without wholly changing it. It’s slow – yes, but it’s perhaps the most nuanced of the series, and it really allowed the story to breathe and the characters to develop. It really showcases the emergence of the chemistry between Radcliffe and Watson, and their dancing scene in the tent was one of the best written “film only” sequences.
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Though Radcliffe says this is the performance he least likes in the series (because he had a minor drinking problem and was often hungover and/or still drunk), I have to disagree with him. I see what he’s talking about, but honestly, I liked it. Harry relaxed for a minute in the books here, and it transitioned into the film. Plus, the backstory of Voldemort was well done and compelling, as were the significant changes made between the books and the films. Props to Bonnie Wright as well for emerging from the background to take a semi-lead role.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Obviously the most satisfying film, thematically, of the series, as the conclusions usually are. The actors, who struggled a bit at times while learning their craft, were all at the top of their games throughout the film, which ran at a breakneck pace, encompassing almost just a single day. The conclusion, reimagined for a visual medium, was thrilling and spectacular to watch, while staying true to the spirit of Rowling’s original work.
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
The third Harry Potter film saw a full creative reboot in the series from future Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón. To this point, the producers hadn’t been too sure of what they had – they had produced the first two films back to back, but figured the growth of the children would outpace the development of the films, and expected to replace them after this one. But Cuarón dove head-first into this one, and the kids showed the most rapid development of the series – Harry found his anger, Hermione her strength and humor and Ron his wit. Moreover, the entire set of visuals was updated. Hogwarts was moved to the Scottish Highlands, Hagrid’s hut to the precipice of a cliff, the famous bridge made its debut and the castle went from glamorous to more closed in and creepy. The lighting and colors darkened and became more cinematic, and the stories condensed, becoming more taut and tense. In all, one could credit Cuarón for raising the series to adulthood, as the other of the directors kept the look for the rest of the way.
…and now back to Hogwarts and the return of Albus Dumbledore with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindenwald…
Programming note: The blog will be off for the next two weeks for Thanksgiving, and I’ll be back to bother you on December 3. Have a great Turkey Day!