Monday 28 November 2016

Rank the Films: Harry Potter

As any regular reader of this blog will know, I think lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good.

To celebrate the release of the new Harry Potter movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I'm delving back into the Wizarding World and ranking all of the films from worst to best. Across 16 years, five directors and nine movies, the Harry Potter universe has soundtracked my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood - which means the series holds a lot of cherished memories for me, someone who grew up devouring all of the books and associated materials.

So pull on your Hogwarts robes and grab your Nimbus 2000 - these are my thoughts on every Potter picture to date; where does your favourite rank? Read on to find out...

9th - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%

We start off on a bit of bum note. It's been about a week since I saw the new Harry Potter spinoff/prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them just isn't that great. Every time I think back it gets progressively worse. Maybe it's the fact that Yates is an old hat at this series by now or maybe it's that James Newton Howard's score isn't even half as memorable as John Williams' but I found Fantastic Beasts really lacking and it's hard to pinpoint exactly why.

I mean we could talk about how the screenplay is really jumbled and essentially follows two seemingly disparate stories (one whimsical, the other dark and gloomy) before crunching them together like an overzealous toddler with Lego. The whole film just doesn't mesh together, it's world and the characters sort of thrust at the screen by a studio that are overeager to elongate the lifespan of a series that wrapped up so perfectly.

We could also talk about the redundant subplot that seems to think that a film about a shy zoologist charting cool species of animal is actually more interesting if it goes over stuff that ties in with characters we already know (OMG they said Dumbledore!) before travelling in a direction that we already know the ending of. Was anyone really chomping at the bit for a Grindelwald prequel - and if they were, why disguise it as a different movie?

Maybe this new Fantastic Beasts series will improve with age (I hope it does) - because right now it hasn't got me convinced or even the slightest bit excited in what comes next (because it's more Johnny Depp - hoo fucking ray).

8th - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Harry Potter isn't a series where I can't bring myself to watch certain films; all of them are passable at best and I feel like Goblet of Fire is exactly that - merely passable. It doesn't stick long in the memory nor does it feel like a particularly great adaptation of the source novel. Interesting side narratives like Ludo Bagman (a character I'm quite fond of) and the actual Quidditch World Cup are dropped or skated over whilst new introductions like Victor Krum or Fleur Delacour are either miscast (Krum) or a little vapid and uninteresting (Fleur).

The film also skips through some pretty key exposition or story beats, most notably the Death Eater assault after the Quidditch match and the Priori Incantatum moment in the graveyard. Basically, I feel like this entry (which is the one and only film directed by Mike Newell) is a little rushed and threadbare with regard to some of the weightier moments. 

That's not to say it's totally useless; the Yule Ball is fun and the Triward Tournament challenges are well-staged. Harry facing off against the Hungarian Horntail is a particularly stellar set piece. There are flashes of greatness, but nothing that really ties it all together.

Plus, don't even get me started on Harry and Ron's godawful haircuts.

7th - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

In my mind, Order of the Phoenix suffers from the same mish-mash plotting as Goblet of Fire; it felt like many of the aspects of the books were overly rushed. 

Whilst this can be expected when adapting a 900 word novel into a two-and-a-half hour film, the way in which many of the key scenes surrounding Dumbledore's Army were reduced to a montage kind of hurt this entry. Arthur Weasley's injury at the fangs of Nagini feels a little rushed too as do a lot of the key exposition scenes concerning Snape and Occlumency. Also, no Quidditch! No Weasley is our King!

However, the film does a great job of sticking the landing. The final act in the Department of Mysteries is a very tight, tense action set piece that culminates in one of the most heartbreaking moments in the whole series; Sirius' death. The following duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore is also pretty kickass.

6th - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Okay, so I know a lot of people really like Prisoner of Azkaban. Like, a lot. So much that they are crazy enough to put it first in their own ranking of the Harry Potter films.

To that I say phooey. Not only does Prisoner of Azkaban sort of shit all over what came before it, it's not even a particularly good adaptation of the book it's based on.

Call me picky, but I've always disliked how different Azkaban looks in comparison to the first two films. It's suddenly really dark and moody, like incoming director Alfonso Cuaron forgot to properly light the set. The tone feels different too and the design just doesn't pop like it used to. The kids don't wear robes outside of class, the colours are muted and even Hogwarts looks different. I mean c'mon, where is the consistency?

It's biggest crime is failing to delve into the nitty-gritty of the Marauders and how they actually matter. It's sort of glossed over to the point that I can vividly remember non-book readers quizzing me about what the hell just happened afterwards.

Don't get me wrong, there are still some cool parts - the time travel at the end is always great and the addition of Gary Oldman and David Thewlis is some impeccable casting. But Azkaban was always one of my favourite books and Cuaron's stylish approach doesn't do enough to gloss over the fact that this is kind of a shittier version of the book. 

5th - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

In my mind, Half-Blood Prince managed to what the previous three entries had kind of failed to do; that is, combine equally style and substance. Visually, the sixth film looks striking; Hogwarts casts a bleak and sombre silhouette that contrasts with the early films. The script also manages to find a great rhythm, bringing both action, drama, love and laughs to the table.

The ending falls a little flat, the shock factor dulled by the fact that everyone pretty much knew how it was going to play out and by the fact that there is no final battle between the Death Eaters and the Order like in the book. Also, don't get me started on casting Jim Broadbent as Slughorn. No disrespect, I love Jim Broadbent - but he doesn't resemble Slughorn at all #NotMySlughorn

Nevertheless, Prince works well as an adaptation of what is my favourite of the books. The growing relationships between Harry, Ginny, Ron and Herminone are done really well, playing out more like a teen film than a fantasy at times.

4th - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)

Chris Columbus' Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone holds a special place in the heart of many people my age; it was our first glimpse at the world of Harry Potter on the cinema screen after ravenously devouring the first three books and it looked perfect. To this day, I still think that Columbus' original two Potter films are as accurate to the look, feel and overall tone of Rowling's novels as physically possible. That sense of awe and majesty just oozes out of the screen; just go back and rewatch the scene where Harry and his classmates enter the Hogwarts Great Hall for the first time. Beat-for-beat, this is the most loyal of all the Potter films and it's both a huge help - and something of a hinderance.

At times the movie just plods along covering every possible milestone (Halloween, Christmas) as well as numerous scenes showing Harry and his pals learning about every magical subject under the sun (Transfiguration, Potions, Charms, Quidditch). The actual mystery about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is kept on the back-burner until deep into the third act.

For what it's worth, Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone if you're a filthy Mudblood) built the template that the rest of the series would go on to follow. The casting, both young and old, is impeccable; Radcliffe, Grint, Felton and especially Watson are incredible finds, whilst the cast of esteemed British thespians (Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, John Hurt and the late Richard Harris) is staggering considering no-one knew if these movies would actually translate well to the screen.

3rd - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Deathly Hallows Part 1 was never going to be the best of the franchise; it never had a proper ending and many critics agreed that there was all too much camping and teenage angst.

On the contrary I argue; after the whirlwind fourth, fifth and sixth entry's, the series needed a breather. Deathly Hallows serves as a pause; a deep breath inward before the plunge that is the final film. It didn't have a storyline that raced by at the speed of light and that's a big bonus. It added extra time for characterisation between the lead trio, something that had previously not been a top priority. It focused more on how the trio had changed and interacted with one another rather than squeezing in as many plot points as possible.

Plus, how can you not enjoy that adorable Nick Cave dance scene? Hands down the best addition to the series that wasn't in the books.

2nd - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

There was a lot riding on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 back in 2011; not all franchises’ manage to stick the landing and after spending so much time with these loveable characters, a weak send-off would’ve been crushing.

Thankfully, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a triumphant conclusion to a decade of storytelling; it’s the stirring victory lap that ties everything together and waves goodbye to dozens of characters that we’ve come to know and love like our own friends and family. To see them make it to the end – or in some cases, not make it – was an emotional experience for fans of JK Rowling’s vivid Wizarding World.

It’s a breathless mêlée that doesn’t waste a moment; unlike its somewhat plodding precursor, Deathly Hallows Part 2 plunges right into the titanic battle with Harry coming face-to-face with arch nemesis Lord Voldemort for the final time. It’s a little too similar to Rowling’s book in that regard – director David Yates doesn’t pause to reflect much and as a result the film feels almost harried as it rushes towards its conclusion. But breakneck pacing aside, the emotional moments still pack a punch and few concluding chapters feel as succinct, cathartic and satisfying as this one.

1st - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

Okay so I didn't know this until recently, but apparently some people don't like Chamber of Secrets? One word - why?! It's clearly the best film in the series!

Directed by Chris Columbus, Chamber of Secrets is very similar in tone to Philosopher's Stone albeit with one vast improvement - all that lengthy introduction is done! We're right back into it from the get-go with Harry being whisked away from the Dursleys by Ron, Fred and George to an unfortunate encounter with the Whomping Willow upon entering Hogwarts for their second year of schooling. John Williams' score is once again a highlight but the joys don't stop there - Kenneth Branagh's dopey Dark Arts teacher Gilderoy Lockhart is a hoot whilst the presence of something sinister lurking in the school walls casts a shadow over the school.

Neatly balanced between spooky and spellbinding, Chamber of Secrets is the most well-rounded of the Potter films in that it adheres to the book pretty rigidly whilst also giving the talented cast space to have fun. The young cast are still a little wooden (particularly Bonnie Wright as Ginny) but the broadening story ensures that we're kept enchanted by Columbus' direction, Williams' score and of course that sprawling universe of character we know and love so much.

Which Harry Potter movie is your favourite? What did you think of Fantastic Beasts? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading.


  1. Interesting ranking. Really like seeing Chamber of Secrets on top, even if it isn't my personal #1. Also glad you ranked Goblet so low. I know so many who think that one's the best, when in my estimation, it's the only one that's a flat out BAD movie, lol. My own ranking:

    1. Half-Blood Prince
    2. Deathly Hallows Part 1
    3. Prisoner of Azkaban
    4. Chamber of Secrets
    5. Order of the Phoenix
    6. Deathly Hallows Part 2
    7. Fantastic Beasts
    8. Sorcerer's Stone
    9. Goblet of Fire

  2. I think the reason people rank the first two so low typically is because they're they most kiddie. HP is a series we all grew with, so naturally the later ones will rank higher. Here's how I'd rank,

    1) Deathy Hallows Pt 2
    2) Order of the Phoenix
    3) Deathly Hallows Pt 1
    4) The Half Blood Prince
    5) Chamber of Secrets
    6) The Goblet of Fire
    7) The Sorcerer's Stone
    8) The Prisoner of Azkaban

    (haven't seen Fantasic Beasts yet)

    I really wish Steve Kloves would've sat out on writing like he did OotP. I'm so sick of how he gave all of Ron's great lines away and how they tried so hard to make Harry/Hermione "happen"



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