The Harry Potter Films - RANKED
From The Philosopher's Stone to The Deathly Hallows, all eight Harry Potter films, ranked.
Another indefinite spur of lockdown in my home city means another indefinite spur of movies to comb-through and tolerate and, if I’m uncharacteristically lucky, enjoy.
Movie-watching as of late feels a tiresome task. I’m getting to that point of the Netflix/Stan/Binge/Disney Plus/Amazon Prime subscription that I can’t help throwing the remote at the TV screen and yell to no one in particular, “There’s nothing to watch.” Nothing to watch means only one thing to watch – to rewatch – because when in doubt, a Potter marathon never fails to entertain. Especially when one of my housemates, who has read and grown up with and adored all seven books, has not seen a single one of the film adaptions.
So here are all eight films, reordered in the way I would watch them if I was to watch them from absolute masterpiece to limitedly tolerable, with a special moment from each that has stuck with me over the years.
1. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
The choice to have Alfonso Cuaron captain the ship of the third instalment of Harry and his friends was a choice that still baffles me to this day. How? How did the makers of this absurdly commercial and seemingly conservative money-making franchise machine manage to tangle Cuaron into their story of little boys and flying broomsticks? Cuaron, a director from Mexico known for his slow-moving, carefully crafted stories that range from Sandra Bullock lost in space (Gravity) to worldwide infertility (Children of Men), is, dare I say, the best thing to happen to the Harry Potter film series. Unlike many of the other films in the franchise, Cuaron insists on taking Harry and his world of magic seriously enough to create narrative plausibility, but not too seriously as to take all the fun out of the mere notion of growing up. The only film in the series that feels like a true coming of age, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban reminds Harry and all of us watching from home just how fun it is to be a kid mucking about with your mates at school. This is all to say that this film is the best without even yet mentioning that we are also blessed with the angelic presences of two of the best characters in the series: Lupin and Sirius.
My favourite part: The bit near the start where Dumbledore (the newly casted Michael Gambon) warns his Hogwarts pupils of the dangers that lurk outside the walls of the castle, gently reminding them that no matter the darkness, hope and love will prevail: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
2. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1
Something that even avid readers and die-hard fans of the books can’t hate about the movies, even if adamant that the books are better (I find this notion of comparison limiting when discussing the story of Harry; faithfulness doesn’t imply success), is the simple pleasure that comes with watching Harry and his friends, or Daniel Radcliffe and his co-stars, grow up. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 shows us the kids that we first fell in love with now as fully grown adults, their coming of ages now come and gone. And, like grown-ups, Harry, Ron and Hermione are plagued with grown-up problems requiring grown-up solutions. But perhaps their battles were never ones of normal eleven-year-olds, or seventeen-year-olds for that matter.
My favourite part: The bit where Harry and Hermione are alone in the woods, on the run from the Death Eaters, having lost Ron on the way, listening to the list of the dead on the radio, the reality of war and the conclusion of childhood more apparent than ever. And then Harry grabs Hermione’s hand and Nick Cave’s heartbreaking song O Children plays and the two of them dance, and just for a moment, just for one tiny second, everything is ok.
3. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
If you can’t tell from the HP film that took the top slot, I’m a sucker for a good ol’ bildungsroman. So perhaps what has conjured my adoration for this film lies not solely in the film itself but with this epic teen-comedy interpretation trailer of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that someone made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_ubmjE21SY. Because! Yes, the Harry Potter series is about magic and fantasy and good and evil! But at the end of the day, it’s about growing up! And yes! It’s corny but it’s the goddam truth!
This film, being the sixth instalment of eight movies (seven books) is what lives in my mind as the line that denotes the before and after of Voldemort’s return. It is in this film that, although warned about in pretty much each of the five previous films, we are assured that now life at Hogwarts will never be the same.
My favourite part: The bit toward the end where Snape has killed Dumby and the Death Eaters have broken into the school and Harry is running after Snape, throwing spells left, right and centre that he only knows of from the potions textbook he’d happened upon once owned by the mysterious half-blood prince. Harry is all like, “Fight back, you coward, fight back!” and then Harry throws a very particular spell at Snape and Snape’s all like, with a deep breath in and a rumble of his husky voice, “You dare use my own spells against me, Potter” and we, the audience, are all like ??? What??? And then the music swells and the camera cuts in and Snape is all like, “Yes. I’m the half-blood prince.” Oh dam.
4. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2
The end of it all! What seven books, eight films and 19 hours and 39 minutes of our lives, split over 10 years, has led up to! And although I love this film for how it handled the final chapter to a beloved series, I also love this film for the mere fact that it is a good film. Beyond just looking amazing, the visual effects, the music, the writing, the acting, the battle of fucking Hogwarts, it’s all bloody incredible. It’s an incredibly well-made film that actually does justice to the story that needed no less than an epic ending. The only part of this film that I’m indifferent to (or, dare I say, dislike) is the whole 13 years later bit at the end. Yeah yeah yeah, I know it’s in the books blah blah blah. But the visual effects/makeup have really let Harry and his mates down here. They look weird, if not blatantly creepy.
My favourite part: The bit where Voldemort thinks Harry is dead and he has brought Harry’s body back to show whoever’s left at the destruction that is Hogwarts. There’s this moment of silence, and then Voldy is all like, “Harry Potter is dead,” and then he does this whack as laugh that sounds like water went down the wrong pipe.
5. HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
My most prominent thought throughout this film, re-watching it almost 20 years after its initial release, was woah, the visual effects are really not that bad. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, shit goes dooowwwwnnn. Not only do we get a few too many giant animals that we never asked for (snakes and spiders that looks a little too real for my liking), but we also get young Tom The Hottie Riddle. If the first film was the franchise’s chance to introduce the world that the story plays out in, the world of the-boy-under-the-stairs Harry, his ability to use magic, and the school that the narrative will so forth be set, this film, the second in the series, really jumps right into the presence of Voldemort that still haunts Hogwarts. This is the first film in which multiple piles of shit well and truly hit the fan.
My favourite part: The bit where Harry Potter is literally a twelve-year-old boy that manages to kill a giant fucking snake. I’ve seen this film a countless number of times, but still, it even now had me gasping as the basilisk is snapping at Harry as he dangles from the fountain in the Chamber of Secrets, only to hoist himself up and plunge the sword of Gryffindor straight through the giant snake’s brains.
6. HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSPHER’S STONE
The first one! It’s hard not to love it for the simple nostalgia of it all, even as a first-time watcher but well-seasoned reader, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone gives you no choice but to make that naw sound continuously throughout this wholesome film. The kids are babies, the music is iconic and for two hours and thirty-nine minutes you might just believe in magic, even if you’re a few years past your eleventh birthday and the letter from Hogwarts is yet to arrive. Nostalgia is a powerful weapon in making one feel all the warm fuzzies inside, and nostalgia remains the reason why I still adore this film severely.
My favourite part: The bit where we get a lil’ glimpse into the relationship of Harry and Professor Snape that will follow throughout the rest of the series. Although barely having merely breathed in his potions-making class, Snape already assumes Harry to have the same arrogant personality that he knew his father to have. Snape makes it pretty clear pretty quickly that “There will be no foolish wand-waving or SILLY INCANTATIONS IN THIS CLASS.” lol
7. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
It’s not that I don’t like this one. In fact, it’s got my two favourite bois of the series, Sirius and Lupin, so it’s pretty hard to dislike Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for that reason alone. But I have to admit, I find this fifth instalment very… bleh. There’s a lot going on but then not heaps going on. Umbridge is annoying and so is Harry at times. Voldy is truly back so we get a bit of action there but there’s nothing in this film that truly sticks to me like the goo of a giant’s booger. I do like, however, the sentiment that a lot of people have resonated with over the past year in our mundane pandemic-ridden muggle world. Just as the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, in the wizarding world refused to believe in the return and rise of the Dark Lord, beside all of the blatant evidence being presented before him, many people have paralleled this with the defensive reaction ex-president Donald Trump had taken to the rise of coronavirus. Maybe our worlds aren’t all that different after all.
My favourite part: The bit near the beginning where Harry arrives at the hidden Black family house, doubling as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, and he sees Sirius for the first time in like forever and Sirius is actually looking really bloody good. It’s very sweet and cute and sets your heart right up to be broken only a couple hours later when they decide to kill off the one man Harry had the chance to call home.
8. HARRY POTTER AND THE GLOBET OF FIRE
This, I hate to say, is the one Harry Potter film that I can only just barely tolerate. I truly hate to say it. I wish they were all amazing, but with any filmic franchise filmed over the course of a decade and burdened with a variety of directors, quickly-growing adolescent actors and an almost guaranteed audience of faithful viewers that they know will buy tickets nonetheless, there is bound to be some duds. In my humble opinion, this is the only dud. And it’s not Harry’s fault, let me say that much. Nor Ron’s, nor Hermione’s. Dare I say, if it were to be a single person’s fault, it’s Mike Newel’s, the director. Not to point any fingers, even if that’s exactly what I’m doing, but he was never asked to direct another HP film after this cheap-looking shit show of bad haircuts and horrid adolescent acting. And, quite frankly, thank Merlin’s beard for that.
My favourite part: The bit where (because how can it not be?) Cedric fucking Diggory, A.K.A. Robert fucking Pattison, floats – yes, FLOATS – out of the sky like the goddam vampire softboi he is. A Twilight/Harry Potter collision? Hell to the fucking yes please.