It’s not quite the apocalypse, but the steady stream of Harry Potter movies we’ve all delighted in for the past ten years comes to an end next Friday (July 15) with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the eighth and final movie.
I’ll be reviewing it next week, but now seems like a good time to go back and assess the previous seven films, which are based on J.K. Rowling’s bestselling series of novels, and to rank them. For those who are not total boy wizard fanatics, the seven movies, in chronological order, are: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005); Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007); Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009); and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010).
The greatest magic to the film series, of course, is how many of its viewers have grown up alongside its trio of appealing young stars. For these young fans, the Potter series on the page marked their first leap into serious chapter books and the movies a generational touchstone. Now, a decade later, they are in their late teens and early twenties, as are Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint.
I’m a fan of all seven films but, if pressed, would rank them in the following order:
1. The Half-Blood Prince. The older Harry, Hermione and Ron grow, the more complex they become and the darker the movies grow. I like this one especially because it’s the first time we fully glimpse the adults lurking inside our trio of adolescent protagonists and really come to comprehend the complexities and crux of the deadly antagonism between Harry and Lord Voldemort.
2. The Prisoner of Azkaban. When director Alfonso Cuarón took over the series from Chris Columbus, who’d overseen the first two movies, the film immediately took on a darker, scarier edge. The teen years loomed, and it was clear we were headed for unknown, often terrifying territory, a mix of hormones and horror. This film also marked the first appearance of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, and he brought even more magic to the role of the head wizard, if that’s possible, than Richard Harris, whose death in 2002 necessitated Gambon’s casting.
3. The Sorcerer’s Stone. This one was the first one, establishing the template, and introducing us to the truly enchanting trio of young wizards. Watching it now, they all seem so astonishingly young and hopeful. I remember thinking, when seeing it originally, that the Quidditch game went on too long, while the 13-year-old Potter fan who was with me complained that the match was way too short.
4. The Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Yes, this movie ended somewhat inconclusively as it set up the final chapter, but it marked a break from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in favor of the natural world as the Harry and his pals traveled across England and camped out in forests. And tell me you didn’t cry when Dobby breathed his last.
5. The Goblet of Fire. This was the first time that Harry, Hermione and Ron really seemed like teenagers rather than just kids, and their acting skills displayed a giant leap, as well. Plus, woo-hoo, in his shirtless scene in the bathing chamber, it was clear that Radcliffe, though still a diminutive fellow, was rapidly developing more than just his acting muscles.
6. The Order of the Phoenix. Harry Potter exchanges his first romantic kiss (“Kind of wet,” he said) in this engrossing film. And the supporting cast, always a standout in the movies, really contributed here, especially Imelda Staunton with her amusingly hissable turn as the complacent Dolores Umbridge. This one could just as easily be ranked No. 3, 4, or 5, but one movie has to wind up No. 6, so it is.
7. The Chamber of Secrets. It took me a while to warm up to Dobby, who just seemed annoying and irksome when first introduced in this second film, which suffered from sophomore slump. While the movie was engaging enough, it didn’t cast as strong a spell as the first film did and as the five to follow would.
What’s your favorite Harry Potter film?