It’s Back to Hogwarts Day, a day when Harry Potter fans around the world demonstrate their love of the fantasy franchise.
Celebrations can be anything from re-watching the films, to heading down to King Cross’ platform nine and three-quarters, to dressing up in Hogwarts uniform, to going for a day out at Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden.
Few other franchises have captured the imaginations of readers and cinephiles quite like Harry Potter. The books have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, while the film adaptations have brought in billions of pounds at the box office, securing their place in the pop culture zeitgeist forever.
It’s sometimes easy to forget just how varied the films are, too; the franchise changed in tone dramatically from the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001 to the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 ten years later, gradually shifting from innocent and joyous, to more adult-oriented and darker films.
With today marking the day that Harry and his friends returned to Hogwarts, we’ve ranked the films in the Potter universe from worst to best.
8. The Deathly Hallows — Part 1
Where do we start with this one? It’s pretty drably shot, albeit with a few nice landscape shots thrown in for filler, and nothing happens for vast stretches of the film. With little to work with, the lack of on-screen chemistry between the leads is also exposed pretty routinely throughout too — the bizarre dance sequence with Harry and Hermione in the tent is a series nadir.
Even Hedwig and Dobby’s moving death scenes aren’t enough to elevate it into something more compelling. However, arguably the film’s biggest crime was starting the exploitative trend for splitting climactic books into two movies — something The Hunger Games would also do a few years later. It’s a pretty shameless bridging movie that really didn’t need to exist.
7. The Goblet of Fire
Firstly, the boys’ hair in this film is something else. Harry and Ron are wizards — surely they could have conjured up a decent back and sides?
Hair qualms aside, Daniel Radcliffe’s acting is noticeably poor in this one, and he’s also a little too old to be excused on account of his age. The film leaves out some pretty significant stuff too — the interesting S.P.E.W and Ludo Bagman plotlines are ignored, while the new characters aren’t fleshed out, meaning it’s difficult to feel emotionally invested. It also contains some of the most cringe-worthy sequences — the moment Harry eats the Gillyweed, then backflips in front of the crowd like a demented fish is poorly CGI’d and out of character for our unassuming hero. However, the sequence where Harry takes on the Norwegian Ridgeback and the graveyard showdown introducing Ralph Fiennes as Voldermort are both very well executed.
6. The Order of the Phoenix
The real star of Order of the Phoenix is, unquestionably, Imelda Staunton’s Professor Umbridge. She’s flawlessly played and arguably more chilling than Voldermort — especially as she’d still be a terrifying character without her magic. Staunton proves a truly unnerving screen presence, standing head and shoulders above her co-stars in the film.
Elsewhere, Radcliffe’s performance is relatively strong for the most part, and his attempts to woo Cho Chang are actually pretty endearing. In reality though, the film is let down by the subject material. The Order of the Phoenix is arguably the least compelling novel, bloated and overlong, with one of the least captivating plot lines — the fight to stop Voldermort getting his hands on a shiny cricket ball in the Ministry for Magic isn’t the most enthralling premise. Ultimately though, it’s a solid addition to the series that deals pretty well with the flaws of the book — we’d place it higher in the list, but one must not tell lies…
5. The Deathly Hallows — Part 2
Things go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the The Deathly Hallows Part 2 — the sequence in which we see Snape’s memories of Lily Potter in the pensive is perfectly done, and delivers one of the biggest emotional payoffs in the franchise. Harry’s dream encounter with Dumbledore in Kings Cross station is also very well judged. That being said, the totally bizarre addition of Harry and Voldermort’s fight sequence, in which they jostle and tussle around the rooftops of Hogwarts is totally unnecessary and just plain daft.
Notably, the deaths of characters like Fred Weasley, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and Colin Creevey in the Battle of Hogwarts are totally brushed over and never given the significance they deserve either. However, the film ties the series together reasonably well and provides great spectacle.
4. The Half-Blood Prince
The Half-Blood Prince marked the point at which the Potter films started becoming visually murky — with the filmmakers seemingly confusing physical darkness for intensity and intrigue. However, squint hard enough and you can see a pretty compelling film taking place, with the intriguing early stages of the hunt for the Horcruxes being well conveyed on screen.
Radcliffe’s performance has improved here, although his painful attempts at chatting up a waitress in the film’s opening few minutes is cringe-worthy in the extreme. However, there’s a whole lot to enjoy here. The sequence which sees Dumbledore and Harry travel to the cave to track down Salazar Slytherin’s locket is genuinely pretty scary, while the movie also features one of the strongest performances in the entire series from the incredible Alan Rickman.
3. The Chamber of Secrets
The first two films in the Harry Potter series are by far the most divisive — they’re loved or hated, with no room for middle ground. While it feels unfair to criticise the acting of young children, there’s no denying that the standard is pretty poor throughout — Rupert Grint arguably delivers his best performance of the whole series here though, pulling some amazing ‘scared faces’ during their trip to the Forbidden Forest. Sure, the visual effects are a little rudimentary at times, but there’s a sense of wonderment and magic that the franchise seems to lose a little as it progresses. Whatsmore, Kenneth Branagh is superb as the vain and cowardly Professor Lockhart, while Shirley Henderson is perfectly cast as Moaning Myrtle.
2. The Philosopher’s Stone
The first, and arguably most recognisable Potter movie, proved a fantastic launching-off point for the rest of the movies, marking one of the most impressive family-friendly films of all time.
Of course, none of the kids can really act, apart from Matthew Lewis as Neville, but Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and Richard Griffiths are all fantastic. Richard Harris’ tragically short-lived time in the role still lives long in the memory too — delivering the definitive Dumbledore performance, despite only appearing in two films.
It captures the mysterious and enigmatic atmosphere of Hogwarts beautifully, and just as Harry encounters the wizarding world for the first time, viewers are transported along with him. There’s so much innocent joy and wonder to be found here — it blew your mind as a child, and if you let it, it still has the power to inspire today.
1. The Prisoner of Azkaban
Whatever you made of the original movies, The Prisoner of Azkaban marked a step-up for the franchise in 2004 as a piece of technical filmmaking. There’s real cinematic flair on display from Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity, Roma) as he mixed stunning cinematography with a slickness that elevated the film. The scenes involving Buckbeak are beautifully played and joyously realised, while the time travel sequences are stylishly executed and the comic timing in the film’s direction is spot on.
Interestingly, it’s the only film that doesn’t directly deal with the threat of Lord Voldermort. Instead it’s preoccupied with expanding on Harry’s family history as well as contemplating the ambiguous nature of good and evil, both in the public perception of Sirius Black and Professor Lupin’s grappling with being a werewolf. The dynamics between the main trio are more clearly defined than ever, while Harry’s new relationship with Sirius — the closest thing to a father figure he’s ever experienced — makes for pretty stirring viewing. We also see Harry begin to realise his potential as a wizard, mastering the patronus charm during the film’s emphatic finale.
Emma Thompson proved an inspired casting choice as the eccentric Professor Trelawney, with David Thewlis also adding to an already hugely impressive cast. There’s no doubt that it’s a standout moment from a franchise that continues, even 17 years after the first film was made, to bring joy to millions around the world.