July 21, 2011

Spanish Castle Magic: Ranking the Harry Potter Films

Since Harry Potter is now nothing more than a beautiful memory, it's time to look back on the entire franchise. It was good run, with more ups than downs, billions of dollars in the bank, and countless imaginations captured. It's a series that defined a generation, and one that, I think, will be looked on twenty years from now with as much respect, admiration, and awe as Star Wars.
Ok, that's all well and good, but there's one thing prying on my mind. I know, for a fact, which Harry Potter film was the best, but where do the others rank? Which films lived up to the legacy of JK Rowling's rich, engrossing novels, and which one's squandered the material. Find out, after the jump.

8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: There were a lot of factors working against this project from Day 1. It saw the introduction of the franchise's fourth director; it was based on the weakest of Rowling's books, and writer Steve Kloves was nowhere to be found. That being said, the final product was nowhere near up the level we expected of the franchise. Writer Michael Goldberg's script is plodding and lacks direction. David Yates does what he can, but it's not enough. Even the tense, wizard on wizard battle ending, so awesome in the book, is supremely underwhelming here.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The first of the franchise, so any flaws and all flaws can attributed to the fact that it was a new property, and director Christopher Columbus was just testing the waters. To that end, Sorcerer's Stone is almost to faithful to the book. Granted, it was the lightest and most tame of any in Rowling's series, but some transgressions from the source material would have been nice. The first in the series is too sweet, too innocent, and too, as Peter Travers describes it, candy-assed!

6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: After two winners, this one kinda surprised me with it's weakness. It's still pretty good, all thing's considered. It just that Goblet of Fire was the point where people realized JK Rowling wasn't screwing around. A kid's story where said kids die suddenly and pure, sadistic evil is reborn is not something to be screwed with. The movie retained some of this, but not enough. Voldemort's rebirth, so scary and foreboding in the book, is only slightly tense in the film, and is only memorable thanks to Ralph Fiennes. But, the action is thrilling, and the special effects were the best the series had seen so far. Even the addition of the future Edward Cullen can't hurt it that much. Also, any movie that sees Johnny Greenwood playing a song about elves, trolls, and hippogriffs, is automatically sweet.

5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The stronger of Columbus' two additions to the series, Secrets boasts stronger acting, stronger effects, and stronger atmosphere. The cuddly feeling of the first film is gone, and the danger that defined the later films is starting to get hinted at. The addition of Kenneth Branagh as the narcissistic Gilderoy Lockhart was great and a welcome source of comic relief amongst all the student petrification. The film is still hurt by it's absurd reverence for the book, refusing to deviate from the source material at all, but, it's not as big of a problem this time around.

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: By now, the series had wrapped up in book form. We knew what was coming, so Kloves and Yates wisely turned Rowling's sixth book into more of a character study than any of the other films. Half-Blood Prince is all about solidifying the relationships of this universe before the storm of Deathly Hallows changes them forever. Hormones run rampant at Hogwarts, but it's not played for comedy. The main players turn in their best performances up until that point, and the sense of danger permeating the wizarding community is palpable. If anything hurts it, it's how badly it messed up Dumbledore's funeral. Such a beautiful scene in the book is reduced to nothing more than a cliched candle light vigil. Bull! Shit!

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: The fetch quest before the final boss is usually a pretty ho-hum affair, but Yates and Kloves make the journey layered and emotional. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson have center stage, with no other major characters showing up for the majority of the movie, and they all do a fine job. The sense of scale is off the charts as the trio zip around the country, Death Eaters streak across the sky, and the world braces for the final battle. Quiet scenes, like a montage of the depressing, gray countryside as the backdrop for a foreboding radio broadcast, do a lot to add to the atmosphere, while what action there is is brutal and violent. A fitting prelude to the swan song.

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The first director change of the series saw the production of it's strongest movie the longest time. Gone are the kiddy, safe tones of Columbus' films, and in there place, director Alfonso Cuarón incorporates a aesthetic touch that alludes to something truly sinister. The introduction of the dreaded Dementors is terrifying, and the great Gary Oldman steals the show as the elusive Sirius Black. This was the first movie to make severe departures from the source material, but it paid off here better than any of the other films.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2: Ummm... You could just read my review, as it was posted less than a week ago, but, for old time's sake, I'll be brief. The finale was everything we hoped it would be and more. The only film of the series to fully capture the magic, feeling, and power of Rowling's story, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 leaves choked up and thrilled. Hogwarts is the field on which the final battle is fought, and what a battle it is! The spectacle was never more spectacular, the emotion never more emotional. Even the epilogue, so pathetic and trite in the book, is good. It's as good a final act as we would have gotten. As close to perfect as possible.

There you go. Despite the gripes I have with many of the Potter films, I still maintain that, as a whole, the project is one of the best to ever be produced. The ambition of the whole endeavor has never been, and probably never will be, matched. The legacy and effects that this franchise had on the film industry as a whole will be felt for years to come. I for one, look forward to the marathons.

Have gripes? Agree? Disagree? Well, don't be coy little sheep. Sound off. I like your comments.

In the meantime, masticate on this.


  1. Nice ranking, I would probably have everything the same except for Azkaban being switched with Half Blood Prince.

  2. Nice ranking, I would probably have everything the same except for Azkaban being switched with Half Blood Prince.

  3. I was going to reply here, but, well.... this happened:


  4. I'm gonna have to disagree with this list...

    My ranking:

    7) Goblet of Fire
    6) Prisoner of Azkaban
    5) Sorcerer's Stone
    4) Chamber of Secrets
    3) Order of the Phoenix
    2) Half-Blood Prince
    1) Deathly Hallows (it's 1 movie!)

  5. 5, 3, some order of 1, 6, 7, and 8, then 4 and 2.

    Yeah. I just don't have the passion to argue too much either way on any of them. This is a series where I'll watch any of 'em over and over again, though I'd say probably none belong in the pantheon of GREAT films. I guess when it comes right down to it, I don't see an ocean of separation from top to bottom - there's not a one that doesn't have big holes.