This past weekend, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter returned to the big screen. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” came barreling into theaters, and looks to become as much of a money making machine as the Harry Potter franchise became. Following the phenomenon created by the J.K. Rowling novels, eight films came to life and made $7.7 billion dollars. It also seems like “Fantastic Beasts” may have a stronger chance at Oscar glory than its predecessors. The new franchise looks to be a player at this years Oscars for costume, production design and visual effects. With this in mind, what is your ranking of the Harry Potter films? Here’s my take on the franchise below, but let us know your personal rankings in the comments.
1. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
Heads and above the strongest film in the franchise, it is hardly surprising that Alfonso Cuarón was the director. Not only does Cuarón let the characters breathe in a way that Christopher Columbus did not, but he also developed an aesthetic that would carry through the franchise. Beyond the technical and below-the-line bumps that Cuarón brought to the franchise, the story of betrayal, loss and ultimately redemption is the strongest in a film. By bucking “the year in a life” model, “Prisoner” is able to reach heights that other Potter films simply could not achieve.
2. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
One of the films that pushes up against Cuarón’s “Prisoner” is “Half-Blood Prince.” The film obviously has the strongest emotional cues of the franchise, specifically its conclusion, but it scores in many other aspects as well. The technical accomplishments of “Prince” are pretty astonishing, and definitely create reasons to be excited for “Fantastic Beasts.” Director David Yates was able to showcase strong talent in this film, and fixes many of the issues that existed in “Order of the Phoenix.” It is also worth mentioning the film has the strongest cinematography of the franchise (it even received an Oscar nomination).
3. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”
For many, “Sorcerer’s Stone” remains the best film in the franchise. After all, director Christopher Columbus set up the franchise in a way that few would have thought possible. Not only does Columbus and his team get credit for casting Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman and Emma Watson in leading roles, but they offered up a film that met the tone of the book it was based upon. “Sorcerer’s Stone” is easily the lightest novel of the franchise, and Columbus took a Spielberg-esque approach to the material because of this. Filled with practical effects and a sense of magic, the film brought the wizarding world to life and re-ignited the literary phenomenon.
4. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II”
The final film in the “Harry Potter” saga, David Yates was able to cash in some of the chips that had been building. The Gringott’s bank heist is likely going to remain one of the most iconic set pieces in the franchise, before the heartbreaking performance from Alan Rickman came from the shadows. Rickman had obviously taken a backseat in the previous film, but was given the ability to showcase a fitting and just end for his character. He picked up a handful of nominations with critics (and ACCA) for his work, and remains one of the standout performances of the franchise.
5. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
“Goblet” is an excellent sports film at times, while also functioning as a decent high school film. At times it nods to ’80s classic teen comedies, but other times the melodrama overtakes the film. Despite this, it does an impressive amount of world building and expansion that would benefit the films to come greatly. Bringing in the immense talents of Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes into the fold certainly did not hurt. Fiennes in particular dives into the material and immediately embodies the dark lord from our worst imaginations. For that fact alone, it jumped several spots on the list.
6. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
The last of the Columbus films, “Chamber” put its directors in the weakest position possible. While the CGI has not aged particularly well, the fact that much of the film was done with practical effects has helped it over other entries in the franchise. Still, the material here is some of the weakest in the franchise, and only seems to stand with the rest of the movies because of the Horcrux angle that plays in later. Still, who doesn’t want to see Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart? I almost wish the spin-off series had just been his adventures.
7. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I”
There are many defenders of the infamous “dancing in the woods” scene between Radcliffe and Watson as solid character work. However, for the only novel split into two movies, adding unnecessary scenes like this made the film feel bloated. The cinematography and a handful of emotional beats carry the film. Ultimately, Harry Potter was at its worst when it dove into the teen angst present in the stories, and no film suffers from it more than this one.
8. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
While many cite this film as one of the lighter films of the franchise, it’s tonally a disaster. Despite the fact that it might have the strongest opening sequence of any film in the franchise, it quickly begins to unravel. The tonal issues are not the fault of Imelda Staunton, who gives a fun and intense performance as the pseudo-villain of the film. Instead, the material itself doesn’t work. It is very difficult to go from laughing at the hijinks of Dumbledore’s Army, to losing Gary Oldman from the franchise. The balance is off, and frankly distracts throughout the film.