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Every Harry Potter Movie Ranked From Worst to Best

As the franchise looks back on its 20 year legacy, here's our ranking of the Wizarding World so far

Harry Potter Movies Ranked
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    This feature originally ran in November 2018.

    Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of the still-expanding Wizarding World cinematic universe.


    A viewer of a certain age will remember what the run-up to the release of 2000’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone felt like. Just a couple of years earlier, the Boy Who Lived arrived on American shores with a slightly altered first installment title and the many wonders of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world in tow. Potter phenomenon was already well underway, but the idea of being able to bring Hogwarts and its inhabitants to life set the excitement at a fever pitch. Everything from the gentle John Williams score to the first images of Daniel Radcliffe as the onscreen Harry suggested that fan expectations were about to be delivered upon.

    Whether they were or not from that point is really a matter of perspective. To some Potter-heads, the films can never truly match the richness and depth of Rowling’s ever-expanding universe. To others, they’re to be taken as their own version of the Potter story, adaptations comprehensive enough to work (or not work) as their own retelling, independent of the books. Others got to grow along with the series, watching its actors age onscreen as the characters did on the page, growing up as Harry and Ron and Hermione had to as the story progressed. To many, at least these days, they’re the eight movies always playing on some cable channel somewhere.

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    Regardless, 18 years and billions of dollars later, the Potter books have spawned eight adaptations, two spin-offs (the Fantastic Beasts films), and a lifetime of book vs. movie arguments. As Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald apparates into theaters around the world, we’ve decided to take our best shot at dissecting the magic of those ten films, what makes them tick, and which manage to best match (or even add to) the story that created a new generation of dedicated readers and fans. Accio ranked list!

    (A quick note, before we begin: the “Cast” section for each main series entry, after the first, will only include additions per film, to avoid re-naming a who’s-who of European acting royalty along the way.)

    Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


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

    Runtime: 2 hrs. 54 min.; one of the shortest books gets the longest film in the series.

    Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Richard Griffiths, David Bradley, Matthew Lewis, and the many, many others within the walls of Hogwarts and beyond. The three big names joining the festivities are Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy, the ever-underrated Shirley Henderson as Moaning Myrtle, and Kenneth Branagh as fraudulent dreamboat Gilderoy Lockhart. It’s also Richard Harris’ last appearance as Dumbledore — he died shortly before the film’s release.

    Revelio Premise: Harry may know he’s a wizard now, but that doesn’t mean his home life is one bit better. Confined to his room and prevented from doing magic by the laws of the wizarding world, Harry’s bad situation gets even worse when a house elf named Dobby shows up to warn him against going back to Hogwarts. He goes again, of course, but when someone or something begins attacking “Muggle-borns” — wizard kids born to non-magic parents — and he’s suspected, his previously wonderful school life becomes more hostile and somehow even more dangerous. Who’s behind it, they can’t tell, but the titular chamber seems to hold the answers.

    Artistic Pedigree: You’ll read more about director Chris Columbus in the Sorcerer’s Stone section (hint: you won’t have long to wait there). While his efforts to bring the films to the screen are laudable, and his obvious respect for the material endearing, the director of Stepmom was not perhaps the best choice to bring a story of a kid who experiences almost unending loss, pain, scrutiny, and cruelty to the screen. He’s good on fuzzy moments, not so much on layered, messy, emotional stuff.

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    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

    Put a Spell on You: When Harry and Ron make their way to the Chamber of Secrets — and more specifically, when Harry goes on alone — there’s suddenly some legit atmosphere. That’s thanks in no small part to Christian Coulson, who was unfortunately too old to return as Tom Riddle in later films. Here, he’s absolutely chilling, displaying a palpable intelligence that makes the young Voldemort seem every bit as formidable as the one we’d later meet in the form of Ralph Fiennes. The crazy cave and giant snake ain’t bad, either.

    I cannot state this plainly enough, this children’s movie is six minutes shy of three hours long, that is absolutely bonkers, what the hell: And yet it still feels rushed. Interminable, and yet rushed.

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    Five-time Winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award: The adult actors in the Potter series are not to be fucked with. For the most part, they don’t phone it in — Dame Maggie Smith would never — but even in that crowded field, Kenneth Branagh’s giddy commitment to being just the fucking worst is something to marvel at. Reportedly, Hugh Grant was the first in line for this job, and while the future-and-forever Phoenix Buchanan would play a number of self-obsessed cads to great effect throughout his career, it’s impossible to imagine this film without Branagh’s glinting teeth and feckless scrambling. He’s perfect.

    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

    Kenneth Branagh in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

    Expecto Verdict: Allow me to just say this one thing about Chris Columbus — who, again, seems to genuinely love these books, bless him. In the Potter books, the Sorting Hat is, of course, capable of singing a yearly song to outline the qualities of each of the Hogwarts houses through a rip in its brim. However, it’s also capable of whispering directly into the ear (or brain) of the student who wears it, while it reads what exists in that student’s mind (and thus heart). Chris Columbus imagines those conversations as the hat bellowing out its thoughts for all to hear. It’s not intimate. It’s public. It’s about observation, not essence. It shows us the most literal version of what happens, without thinking about how it feels, or what it means.

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    That’s the Chris Columbus take on the Potter world in microcosm. The most faithful adaptation by far is also, in turn, the least magical. That precedent would be broken with the very next film in the series, but we’ll always wonder what a director with more imagination — more magic — might have done with Harry’s first two years at Hogwarts. — Allison Shoemaker


    09. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

    Runtime: 2 hrs. 13 min.

    Cast: The Fantastic Beasts gang, plus Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Derek Riddell, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Fiona Glascott, Brontis Jodorowsky, and approximately 90 seconds of Jessica Williams. Oh, and Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore.

    Revelio Premise: In the closing moments of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Gellert Grindelwald (less Colin Farrell’s face and plus Johnny Depp’s bleached eyebrows) was imprisoned following the apparent death of Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a wizard whose repressed magical abilities transformed into a dark force called an Obscurus (one of the most tragic and timely of J.K. Rowling’s inventions). Naturally, the sequel hinges on both those things being undone in the film’s earliest moments. With Grindelwald free and pursuing the troubled young man, Albus Dumbledore enlists the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), whose gentleness and disinterest in power makes him one of the only people suited to seeking Credence. Not an easy task in any circumstance, but his personal life, not to mention the chaos Grindelwald creates, seems unlikely to make things any simpler.

    Artistic Pedigree: Jude Law’s no joke. Neither is Zoë Kravitz. The Potter films have never had trouble attracting top-notch actors (presumably gobs of Galleons are involved), and that trend continues here. Other than that, not much to report.

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    Jude Law as Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

    Jude Law as Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

    Put a Spell on You: We get our first glimpse of Newt’s home, and as you’d guess, it’s got as much space for his titular fantastic beasts as his handy-dandy suitcase. There are more spectacular effects and a few solid set-piece battles, but the most magical-feeling moment in this too-long film is just Newt tending to a kelpie in his, ah, water-basement.

    The Life and Lies of Jude Law playing Albus Dumbledore: For all the talk about Jude Law joining the Wizarding World by playing the younger version of one of its most important figures — including quite a lot of discussion of Dumbledore’s butt — he’s just not in this movie very much. It’s not a Jessica Williams-level offense, and he certainly looms large over the plot, but most of his scenes are brief, and the best is undeniably the first (which is playful and engaging in a way the film rarely achieves otherwise).

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    No, for all Law’s talents and the obvious skill on display here, Dumbledore is mostly here to be Important, and so that he’ll be in the forefront of one’s mind when Rowling goes on a retconning extravaganza. There’s not much else we can say about that until more people have seen the film, but this Dumbledore isn’t a character. He’s an event, and a plot point, and a signpost, and a butt. There’s not much else.

    Confundo Politica: The first Fantastic Beasts can be understood on two levels. In one sense, it’s a prequel-spinoff of sorts, an excuse to explore unknown corners and characters of Rowling’s world (and to make gads of Galleons for all involved). In another sense, it’s a fierce argument for protecting the creatures of the world, for beholding a snarling animal and seeing not its danger, but its fear.

    Even more potently, it’s a look at the damage that can be done to a person taught to hate what they are by those charged with their care, and the violence that can occur when a person is told, over and over again, that they’re dirty, or despised, or worthless. It’s thoughtful and effective.

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    Those were the days. Again, there’s not much that can be said without spoiling the plot, but Rowling’s desire to see things from all sides means that the white-blond dark wizard who desires purity and power for the wizarding race and comes to prominence in the age of Adolf Hitler — never one of Rowling’s more subtle parallels — is suddenly making arguments and attracting people in a way that simply doesn’t make sense within Rowling’s earlier stories.

    Add in some waffling about whether or not Dumbledore’s sexual orientation (revealed by the author after the Harry Potter series ended) would matter to the series and you’ve got… not a film that can be seen as both a pure yarn and a potent allegory, but a mess that has no idea what it’s saying.

    Also, Johnny Depp is in it.

    Johnny Depp in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

    Johnny Depp in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

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    Expecto Verdict: In the Potter books, the people were complicated, and so the story was, too, but many of the themes and ideas — ”what is right, and what is easy;” the importance of standing up to oppose a wrong; the fact that people on the “right” side can be cruel and violent, too; the notion that even heroes are fallible, and that power corrupts — were crystal clear. In Grindelwald, the ideas are murky and the characters don’t act like people. The point was never the magic. The point was the people. What a disappointment — a crime, if you will — Grindelwald is. — A.S.

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