For millions of fans across the world today, it all ends. The Harry Potter series is officially coming to a close. To commemorate, I thought it would be appropriate to rank all the films in order of quality. Perhaps with the exception of my last ranked pick, they are all exemplary films that highlight Rowling’s incredible knack for storytelling with nuanced acting and clever cinematic tricks. But when it comes down to putting them in order, some inevitably rise to the top … and others don’t.
So here’s an installment of “Listful Thinking” that, for my money, is how the “Harry Potter” films stack up to each other.
“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
2007, dir. David Yates
The only major misstep of the series, which I can attribute to the absence of one presence: screenwriter Steve Kloves. Although Yates’ first outing with Potter did some nice things stylistically and visually, nothing could compensate for the fact that this was a mess in terms of storytelling that would not have been coherent to fans who hadn’t read the book.
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
2002, dir. Chris Columbus
While we all love Harry Potter, we don’t need this much of it at once. At a whopping 165 minutes, Chris Columbus’ second time around with Potter felt more like a marathon than a fun time at the movies with our friend from Rowling’s novel. It’s a solid movie but could have used a lot more time on the cutting room floor.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1”
2010, dir. David Yates
Once I’m able to watch this one directly before part 2, it might rise. But for now, it is as I saw it in November – just the first half of a grander storyline that tries to have its own pseudo-plot complete with a climax that just really doesn’t feel as grand as any other Harry Potter movie.
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
2009, dir. David Yates
Yates, combined with scribe Steve Kloves, gets into the groove of the Harry Potter series with his second entry in the series. It’s a great movie not just about the wizarding world but also about our world; that is to say, it could easily double as a great high school movie. This is a lot of fun, but I thought this and “Order of the Phoenix” were among the bottom of Rowling’s books, so I’m not surprised that it doesn’t rank higher.
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
2005, dir. Mike Newell
Here’s where it starts getting REALLY difficult. The top 4 Harry Potter films are all spectacular, standing head and shoulders over the others. But to say that there’s no discrepancy is to do the better of the series a disservice. Mike Newell’s only time in the director’s chair for the series takes one of my favorite books and makes it an equally entertaining movie. It’s got great action, stunning visuals, and really delivers on emotion. I’ll drop anything and watch this movie when I see it on TV.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2”
2011, dir. David Yates
Goodbyes are tough to do, and the final Harry Potter film of them all pulls off its swan song with grace and poise. It reminds us of everything that the series has done so right – mixing high-flying visuals with potent storytelling and a soaring humanity – while never indulging itself in low-grade tears or emotion. Yates’ finest hour is an excellent way to send off a series that has entertained us so well for a decade.
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”
2001, dir. Chris Columbus
Goodbyes may be hard to do, but hellos might be harder. Chris Columbus built this incredible series from scratch, and going back and watching the first film in the series makes you realize how incredibly well he introduced a generation to the world of Harry Potter. The book has its fans, sure, but for those who needed to be brought up to speed, Columbus gives them everything they need to know without making it feel like a trudge through exposition. It introduces the magic of cinema into J.K. Rowling’s series, and the sensation of first seeing Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and Quidditch can truly never be paralleled.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
2004, dir. Alfonso Cuarón
However, nothing for me tops Alfonso Cuarón’s only entry into the “Harry Potter” canon. While Columbus did a fantastic job of getting the series set up, Cuarón made the series grow up a little. He made the films more mature and dark, introducing some fantastic art into the commerce, and changing the series for better and for always. “Prisoner of Azkaban” will always be the greatest triumph of the series for me, both on paper and on screen. It’s the most compelling story, easily Rowling’s most ingenious (save the stunning conclusion). And Cuarón’s fantastic vision of the series, whimsical when necessary but dark buy default, still excites me more than any other film in the series.
How do you rank the films in the “Harry Potter” series? Where does the conclusion rank for you?