Harry Potter Films Ranked By MovieBuff

Posted: January 19, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Commentary, Lists, Retrospectives

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

As I mentioned in the list of my Ten Favorite Harry Potter Film Scenes, I love this series a lot.  In fact, I consider it to be my personal favorite film series ever — and going through all the films for the umpteenth time yet again recently has only solidified that opinion.  Sure, I also love other series such as Indiana Jones and Back To The Future a good deal, but Harry Potter has and always will hold a special place in my heart.  Like most people my age, I grew up reading the books and watching the movies — in many ways, making it my generation’s Star Wars — so there’s a real connection I feel to these characters along with a great passion for JK Rowling’s universe and the inherent story.  I would happily spend more than eight films and seven books in this universe and with these characters.

For the longest time, I’ve toyed with ranking all the films definitively, coming away with a pretty loosey-goosey list, but have never really settled on an order … until now.  Plus, I knew I couldn’t write for this blog and NOT do at least one post about Harry Potter, so here it is: my concrete ranking of all eight Harry Potter films.

Cue the John Williams theme.

8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Even as a Harry Potter fan, I find it kind of hard to like this movie. Not because it’s bad or anything like that, it’s just…well, average. Between each of the two Chris Columbus installments, Sorcerer’s Stone feels like it has more life in it. Chamber of Secrets isn’t without its’ charming moments, don’t get me wrong, but most of it just doesn’t inspire a strong reaction of any kind from me. Perhaps it’s because this is also my least favorite out of all the books, too.  But even then, I think I’d still prefer the book.  I think I can chalk up this movie’s milder overall impact to two reasons.  First, Chamber of Secrets started filming literally the Monday after Sorcerer’s Stone opened in 2001.  That meant Chris Columbus went straight from one film to the other, and accordingly, this film has sort of a less-passionate feeling about it compared to the first movie.  It’s like Columbus’s style was already starting to wear thin just a bit.  This means the film is fun and charming only sporadically.  The rest of the time, while it’s never what I’d call bad, it’s still adequate but not quite as fun as the first.  Second, and this may sound like a weird criticism, but Chamber of Secrets might be a little too faithful to the book — almost like Columbus was afraid to leave too much on the cutting room floor.  This film feels like it’s trying to be the book, instead of an adaptation of the book.  One of the things about it is that this didn’t need to be the longest out of all the movies; I know that wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers when they were making it, but 161 minutes for Chamber of Secrets and not for, say, Order of the Phoenix? Not the best decision there. On the positive side, the film is still fun enough in most spots and I love the addition of Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, as well as Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy. But overall, Chamber of Secrets is my least favorite of the Potter films.

**1/2 /****

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Sorcerer’s Stone is a generally solid start to this franchise that I hold near and dear to my heart. Even if a few of its elements come off as shaky, this film is still too charming and full of too much nostalgia for me to rate any lower. You could poke fun at some of the kiddiness of most of it, as well as the acting from the kids, but I don’t know, I think stuff like that is unavoidable with a movie like this and also adds to the entire atmosphere of the film. This movie has a delightful sense of wonder and discovery that complements the nature of the story, and it’s hard for me not to get swept up in it. We’re right there with Harry when he sees Hogwarts for the first time, discovers a few hidden secrets of the castle and when he plays Quidditch for the first time.  It’s all wonderful and innocent at the same time.  I mean, yeah, this franchise obviously hadn’t found its footing yet, but I’m not going to knock it too much for that because this is still a good first movie. The characters are very likable and this entire world is a joy to get lost in. Like I said before, I would happily spend more time in it. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a bit unfairly attacked, in my opinion, because Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves really did a good job of capturing the essence of the book and introducing it to the movie world.

***/****

6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I liked Half-Blood Prince more when it first came out in 2009, and any issues I had with it then seemed insignificant in the grand scheme of things. While I still like it a lot, those issues seem more significant now that I’ve seen the film a good number of times since. One of the biggest of those issues is the choice of story focus. David Yates and Steve Kloves chose to make this more of a romantic comedy than the dark mystery the book was, which is odd to say the least. For one, it de-emphasizes the most intriguing parts of the story: the memories concerning Voldemort’s past and the question of who is the Half-Blood Prince. But on top of that, and this is actually my biggest issue with the film, silly as it may seem…I’m not a fan of the main pairings that J.K. Rowling chose to go with (Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione), which makes all of the romantic politics pretty tedious to sit through. I personally would’ve much rather preferred Harry and Hermione to get together (I’m actively a Harry/Hermione “shipper”), and it doesn’t help that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have always had much better chemistry than Watson and Rupert Grint — even in THIS movie, where it’s supposed to be the other way around!  It even gets to the point where the romance kind of begins to take me out of the movie a little.  I know it seems like an odd thing to get so worked up over, but seeing as the romance is practically encoded into the story DNA this time around, I think it’s a fair criticism.  But beyond my personal preferences, Half-Blood Prince is still a strong film. The cinematography is downright fantastic, the acting is veeeery strong (especially from Emma Watson, Michael Gambon and Tom Felton), the score is good, the comedy is effective — I’ll still take this over most other romantic comedies these days — and the Third Act is excellent. In fact, starting with Prisoner of Azkaban, these movies have had consistently great Third Acts.  At the end of the day, the elements about Half-Blood Prince that work REALLY work, and work well enough that I can look past my problems with it and see the larger picture, which is quite an impressive portrait.

***1/2 /****

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

With Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, thus begins the reign of director David Yates, who would stay on for the rest of the series.  What I love about the way Yates handled the rest of the films is that he made sure equal emphasis was put both on story and character development, rather than just trying to squeeze the story into a 2 1/2 hour running time.  In fact, the focus on character in this installment is primarily what makes it so great.  From a dramatic standpoint, Order of the Phoenix is quite intense, and I can’t recall any of the major moments in the film that didn’t work.  I know most people have complained that Sirius’s death feels too rushed, but look at the way that Daniel Radcliffe sells Harry’s reaction to it — not just in the immediate scenes, but the rest of the film — and tell me that’s not effective.   The script, penned by Michael Goldenberg, captures the feel and tone of the story, the essence of each character, and the emotional drama of the overall plot that makes Order of the Phoenix a bit more compelling than the previous four movies in terms of character development.  New cast member Imelda Staunton is absolutely perfect as the sweet, yet sour, Dolores Umbridge, successfully maintaining that balance between cheerful and callous that makes the character such a joy to hate.  Despite Order of the Phoenix being the longest novel in the series, it’s the second-shortest of the films and while I might be tempted to complain about that, this film is just so well-paced with no boring scenes to speak of that I just can’t.  This is one of the great films of the series.

****/****

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

To be honest, it’s such a close call for me between Order of the Phoenix and Goblet of Fire.  Dramatically, I’d say Order of the Phoenix is the better of the two, but as an overall movie, Goblet of Fire takes the edge for me.   If Prisoner of Azkaban only began to inch into darker territory for the saga, then Goblet of Fire fully moves into it. Like Prisoner, Goblet of Fire shows Harry, Ron and Hermione maturing more as full-fledged teenagers, complete with all the complications that come with that shift into adolescence. The trio, along with their friends, deal with crushes, sexual tensions and jealousy, but that’s just in-between dragons, mermaids, Death Eaters and other assorted dangers. But thanks to the sincerity and strength of the main trio’s performances, we fully get involved with their struggles, as well as all of the madness going on at Hogwarts this year.

While I do wish that Alfonso Cuaron had returned to do another Potter film, I’m not sure that it should’ve been Goblet of Fire. While the new director Mike Newell still retains that emotional aspect that started permeating through the series in Prisoner, he adds the sense of scope, giving this film a much bigger and exciting feeling than any of the other three before it. Newell fills this entire movie with simultaneous mounting senses of excitement and dread; this is very much an action-adventure, and it builds to a great climax. Yet despite all of that relative seriousness, Goblet of Fire still has a very healthy dose of humor, with the standout bit there being a particular lesson with Snape. But that climax, man…wow. Definitely one of the best scenes of the series.

Then, of course, you’ve got Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort…a villain who is just evil incarnate. Fiennes really gives the role his all, and we’re able to enjoy every second of it. I just love how Fiennes can go from raging and scary one moment, to calm and eerily quiet the next. And moving onto the subject of the final scene, I actually rather like it, because to me, it’s basic message is that even though there may be darkness ahead, it’s still important to enjoy the moments of peace and happiness that we have. That was effectively communicated and the film really does have a beautiful final shot.

Like Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire proves that the real problem the first two began to have was Chris Columbus. This is another Harry Potter film that Potter fans can be proud of.

This movie actually gets better the more I watch it.

****/****

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a downright wondrous movie. It’s filled with endless ingenuity, uncontainable charm and a truly delightful sense of fun mixed with genuine emotion. Alfonso Cuaron takes the reins from Chris Columbus as director and gives the series what the first two movies were lacking: humanity. Much like the character of Harry himself, Cuaron’s Azkaban ventures over into teenage adolescence, a feeling reflected in the tone of the picture. These characters are no longer the cutesy kids we were introduced to; they’re finally starting to mature into the captivating characters all us Potter freaks know and love. Fortunately, this is where the acting capabilities of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson really start to bloom. Whenever they’re on screen here, you can’t help but smile. My fellow Potter fans, we owe the newfound quality of the franchise to Cuaron, whose step up from Columbus’s vision helped inspire Mike Newell and David Yates in turn. What the Potter franchise as a whole is adept at demonstrating is that you let the special effects compliment the story, rather than overshadow it.

There’s almost a Tim Burton-esque look to the way Cuaron has restyled Hogwarts, and I love it. This is pretty much how I picture everything whenever I read the books, so of course I was delighted. In this installment, you’ve got the additions of Gary Oldman and David Thewlis to the cast of characters and I have to say that I can’t imagine any other actors as Sirius Black or Remus Lupin; both embody their characters flawlessly. This is where the darkness started spreading for the films, and the third act in particular almost has a Gothic appearance that perfectly complements the werewolf that shows up, as well as the Dementors. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is that rare bit of movie magic that reawakens our inner child; the movie is an exhilarating fantasy adventure with humor, thrills and emotion. I love this movie.

****/****

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

The wonder is gone, the innocence is nowhere to be found and the magic has taken on a deadly and dangerous tone in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the first half of Rowling’s final novel in the series. This is a dark, thrilling, visceral, gritty and emotionally satisfying film that takes the story and characters to very different, and very interesting, places.  The one thing that director David Yates succeeded brilliantly at with his installments was  bringing in a real sense of intimacy. That especially works for this film, because the very nature of the first half of this book is intimate, dreary and emotional. During the second act of this film, we really get a sense of how much this journey is taking its toll on each of the trio, and their acting, along with Yates’ direction, really brings it out. We need to care about the trio as they embark on their mission, and this movie pulls that off effortlessly. Each scene in the middle portion is captivating in its own way. But what’s fully on display here is Yates’ understanding of the characters. And it’s because of his understanding of their essences that this film works so well.  By the way, you know how I said the Ron/Hermione romance was too much a distraction for me in Half-Blood Prince?  Well, I can tolerate it more here because it’s not so in your face.  Deathly Hallows Part 1 is very much a character-driven piece, and since I love these characters so much, I find myself completely absorbed in this film every time I watch it.

****/****

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Let me just point out that if I could rank Deathly Hallows as one film, I would — I make it a point to watch each part back-to-back whenever I watch them now, but I know many out there consider them as two separate films, so here they are.  Oh, where to begin?  Let’s start with the acting. With seven movies under their belts before this one, the main trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have REALLY grown into their own with these roles, and with this movie, all three of them bring their A-game and touch on emotional depths with their characters that they never have before. Daniel Radcliffe in particular hits the mark, and Harry’s journey in this film not only brings everything into perspective for both him and us, but it also serves to finally develop Harry into the hero he’s always been built up to be, and the one he has, until now, resisted being. Radcliffe handles that evolution extremely well. You can just see the tragic realization in his eyes about what he has to do towards the end of the film, and it’s the most we’ve ever sympathized with him. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson once again provide solid supporting work, and each of their performances captures the incredibly overwhelming nature of what’s happening around them. The scene where Harry says goodbye to them before walking out to sacrifice himself is particularly touching and brilliantly acted by the three of them.  Deathly Hallows Part 2 has the feel of an epic, as it should, and the battles are bigger than anything we’ve ever seen before in the franchise. The build-up to the action is great and exciting in and of itself, but when things come to a head, they really come to a head. There’s no shortage of special effects and explosions here, and they’re all used thrillingly.  Even as “half a film”, Deathly Hallows Part 2 still works as a complete experience with a beginning, middle and end.  And as a fan of the series, I couldn’t be happier with this finale.

****/****

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