As history has proven over the years, the young adult fantasy genre has never been easy to bring to the big screen. For every Harry Potter and Twilight that sees great success, there is a Percy Jackson and Insurgence series that tries but failed to leave a lasting impression despite great material to work with. When it comes to J.K Rowling and her Harry Potter series, credit has to go to a production team that put some amazingly talented people in prominent roles and hired great filmmakers to bring the story of the Boy Wizard to life.
No one could have predicted that names like Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint would carry the movie so well, as they were young teenagers when hired. However, surrounding them with names like Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Dame Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Kenneth Branagh, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, and so many more, helped carry this series to great heights.
By the time it bowed out after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, the Harry Potter franchise ranked as the highest-grossing series of all-time worldwide (since surpassed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although it took more movies for Marvel to reach the top spot). With the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Harry Potter will move further ahead of anyone not named Marvel and Star Wars, which is creeping up fast.
Not only did the movies make a lot of money, but the big screen world of Harry Potter continued to put out quality movies, after starting small. These are not just great young adult movies, but some of the best fantasy films released outside of the Lord of the Rings. If there is a king of young adult fantasy in the film, the Boy Wizard wears that crown.
With some fantastic movies and great performances to choose from, here is our look at the best Harry Potter movies, ranked from worst to first.
9. HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
While some people might consider the first Harry Potter movie as the lesser entry, it has a charm thanks to Chris Columbus introducing the world to the three child leads — something that the director specializes in (he did direct Home Alone). Instead, it is our opinion that the worst movie in the Harry Potter movie series is the second film — Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
For one thing, a big complaint about the first movie was that it was too slow but this second effort checks in at 162 minutes — just 19 minutes short of three butt-numbing hours. The big problem that Columbus made was trying to film just about everything from the book (and J.K. Rowling writes books similar to Stephen King — throwing everything and its dog at the readers).
There were some fun moments, like the introduction of Dobby, and the movie does go into a bit of the dark history of Hogwarts. However, it is too long, has too dense of a plot considering it should be a faster-paced mystery, and just feels harder to sit through than any other movie in the franchise.
8. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE
The movie that started it all was the Chris Columbus-directed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It does an excellent job of introducing the three young leads, and there might not be a better director at leading inexperienced children than Columbus. He gets all three of them off to a great start, and honestly, Columbus deserves credit for leading them into the roles that they perfected over the years.
Columbus also deserves all kinds of credit for introducing the world of Hogwarts and all the brilliant and fantastical traits of the school of wizardry. From the introduction of key players like Dumbledore, Snape and Hagrid to the potions, fantastic creatures, and magic — all told through the eyes of an innocent 11-year-old child — things kick off great.
There are problems with Sorcerer’s Stone, keeping it lower ranked on this list – not the least of which is a slow pace, but this happens when a movie introduces such a wide-ranging story world. However, the sense of wonder and amazement at all that Hogwarts contains keeps the movie fun and a worthy addition to the franchise.
7. FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
When it comes to the latest movie from the Harry Potter movie franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them had a lot to live up to. Fans rightly love the entire Harry Potter series and now here is a continuation of the franchise as a prequel not based on a book by J.K. Rowling. Maybe that meant there was less to live up to since there is not a book to compare it to, but it is still a Harry Potter movie without Harry Potter.
That caused problems, the biggest that no one matches up to Harry, Ron and Hermione. Eddie Redmayne is the hero as Newt Scamander, and he isn’t anywhere near as interesting as any lead character in the original Harry Potter movies. Katherine Waterston as Tina is a shell of Hermione. Honestly, the best character in the film was muggle salesman Jacob (Dan Fogler), who was a fantastic character and will be missed in the sequels unless they find a way to bring him back after his memory-wipe.
However, there were fun moments that help keep the movie entertaining. The relationship between Jacob and Queenie was sweet and had the most heart of anything in the movie. Ron Perlman is excellent in his small role as a goblin gangster, and Colin Farrell is always solid — this time in the part of the antagonist.
It isn’t a horrible movie; it is just — similar to Sorcerer’s Stone — an introduction into this world. Hopefully, the rest of the films will improve over time as the original series did.
6. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE
If forced to choose, the most tedious book in the Harry Potter series might be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This remains the longest book in the entire series, which makes little sense as the main plot is the contest that Harry ends up in, despite being too young to compete legitimately. However, while the competition and games are the most exciting part, there is so much stuff thrown into the book, that we often just wanted it to get to the action.
This was also the book that remains the most angst-ridden in a series that had so many devastating moments that you often forget you are reading a young adult novel. The movie itself went into the angst quite a bit here. Ron and Hermione started their “will they or won’t they” conflict as Hermione ended up dating a visiting wizard from the tournament, while Harry had yet to discover the love of Ginny and was also courting a new girl here.
Things also started to get tense when the entire school seemed to turn on Harry when he ended up in the tournament when they wanted the more popular Cedric. When all we can think is that this is the movie where Edward Cullen dies, there is a problem.
Now, with that said, it was great to see Harry face Voldemort for the first time and the death of Cedric is heartbreaking (if a little too sudden). This is the movie where Harry becomes a man. The film improves upon repeat viewings, but it suffers when watched immediately after Prison of Azkaban because it never had a chance to match up to the brilliance of that film.
5. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1
When it comes to ranking the Harry Potter movies, from worst to first, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is problematic. Is this a bad movie? No. Is it a good movie on its own? No. That is the problem. As the title suggests, this is the first part of a two-parter that concludes the story of the Boy Wizard and his battle with Voldemort.
When taken as one complete movie, this might rank right up there towards the top of this list. However, as a movie on its own, there are way too many problems with this story. This movie starts off with Voldemort and the Death Eaters taking over Hogwarts, so Harry and company are on the run. There is a very long period where Harry, Ron and Hermione are camping out while looking for Horcruxes, and much of that time focused on their relationship deteriorating and Ron eventually leaving.
Then, we get to see the kids reunite and prepare to return to battle Voldemort and the Death Eaters. This is a movie that sets up the final battle perfectly. However, on its own, this is a film that sets things up, puts everyone in danger, has their relationships start to fracture, and then tells viewers that they will be back in the next movie to deal with all these problems.
There are high points here, such as when the Death Eaters capture our heroes and torture Hermione before Dobby saves them. This leads to yet another heartbreaking scene, with Dobby giving his life to protect Harry. However, when it comes to a complete story, there is not one in this film.
4. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
While things became darker and more adult-oriented in Prisoner of Azkaban, and the death of Cedric in Goblet of Fire proved that this was not your average young adult franchise, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is where the entire series turned deadly.
This was the movie where director David Yates made his debut, and the director has remained onboard the franchise to this day. He took the ideas that Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell set up before him and threw Harry Potter and his friends to the wolves. This movie was the one that started the trend of knowing that anyone — no matter how beloved or essential to the story — could die at any time. It is also the movie that finally pushed Harry from a manipulated child into someone who took action to control and meet his destiny.
The movie moved a bit away from the life at Hogwarts and opened up the world. It introduced the Order of the Phoenix, a group of wizards who knew that they needed to prepare for a battle with Lord Voldemort while the actual wizard council refused to accept that the Dark Lord was back.
The movie finally gives Harry some powerful allies, and this is the film that turns the entire story on its head and starts the war that will rage until the conclusion in Deathly Hallows. It also introduces a new antagonist in Dolores Umbridge, a character that Imelda Staunton turned into one of the most hated in Harry Potter history. Add in some great work by both Gary Oldman as Sirius and Alan Rickman as Snape, and this was a huge turning point, and a highlight, in the series.
3. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
There are a few problems with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, not the least of which is Harry himself becoming a little too angsty in the film. However, the good news is that this movie also slightly lessens the tension of the ongoing war, hugely crucial after the death of Sirius Black in the last film.
The movie plays a lot with the relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione, something that added necessary lighthearted fun into the overarching tale that was growing darker by the second. The entire romantic troubles for Harry and Ron kept things moving along without getting too lost in the tragedy that would come at the end of the film.
This movie was a mystery, with the kids trying to figure out who the Half-Blood Prince is — a person whose notebook Harry found that allowed him to move quickly ahead in his studies — although Hermione believed it to be cheating. The reveal was interesting but seemed unimportant at the time, and viewers won’t appreciate it until the end of the series, where everything comes together.
The other important part of Half-Blood Prince was the introduction of the Horcruxes and the reveal of how Harry Potter could finally defeat Voldemort, as well as a ton of information about how Tom Riddle became the Dark Wizard. Of course, the movie took a huge turn when Snape killed Dumbledore, taking away Harry’s mentor and protector and leaving him to face Voldemort alone.
This was the movie with the tragic end that finally pushed Harry Potter into his Hero’s Journey, and there was no turning back.
2. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2
This was the movie that ended it all, where Harry Potter finally faces Voldemort in a life-or-death battle, but that was only part of what made Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 such a fitting end. This is the movie that delivered great endings, and big moments, to all its characters.
Dumbledore and Sirius Black are dead. Snape turned out to be a traitor. The Death Eaters took over Hogwarts and placed people in power inside the Ministry of Magic. Harry Potter learned he had to die so Voldemort could be defeated. Things were at its bleakest. However, in the darkness came light.
Over seven films, the Harry Potter movies introduced a massive cast of characters — from teachers and students to villains and warriors. In this film, David Yates had to find a way to end it all on a note that satisfied fans of the books and the movies — and he achieved this in spades.
Supporting characters like Neville Longbottom got instrumental moments to shine, as the awkward young wizard stood up to Voldemort and let him know that Hogwarts would not go down without a fight. The fact that he did this after Harry Potter died made him even more heroic. His speech slammed home how essential the students and teachers were – even without the Chosen One there to help them.
Snape got his most significant moment of the entire series and proved to everyone that it was him — over even Harry Potter — who was the hero of this franchise. Even in death, Snape proved to be the most crucial character in the series, the one who sacrificed everything — even his own life — to ensure the defeat of Voldemort. Sirius and Dumbledore’s deaths were sad, but Snape’s was absolutely tragic.
By the end, Harry Potter was back from the dead and fighting Voldemort one-on-one after many of the Death Eaters fled in fear after his resurrection. The students, including Ron and Hermione, the teachers, and even their parents, stood up and fought. Not everyone lived but everyone had their moment, and this was arguably one of the best conclusions of any movie franchise in cinema history.
1. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
It was the third movie in the series. The first two films were fun and light-hearted, introducing a Boy Wizard and his fate that would one day see him face off with Lord Voldemort. However, with the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, things changed, and everyone started to grow up.
Alfonso Cuaron, one of the most visionary filmmakers from south of the border, came onboard and introduced a new character in Sirius Black. Sirius was a man rotting away in Azkaban, a prison that sucks the joy and life out of its inmates, who escapes and seeks answers. Since he was locked away after the death of Harry’s parents, it is Potter who sets out to find this man and make him pay for taking away his mom and dad.
Of course, as fans learned, not everything was as it seemed and Sirius Black was not a villain at all. Gary Oldman brought a level of excellence to his role that, alongside Alan Rickman’s Snape, remains highlights of an already fantastic cast that got even better over the years.
The most important part of this movie is that it changed everything fans knew about the Harry Potter universe. The first two films were adventure stories for kids, but starting with Prisoner of Azkaban, the Harry Potter movies became dark, dangerous and much more than just the adventures of young wizards. This is the movie that helped the entire franchise grow into something special.
Alfonso Cuaron had no problems making the series darker and introducing the Dementors made it even more dangerous. Introducing Sirius Black made it more interesting with colors of grey flooding through a series initially painted in black and white. The entire series becomes excellent from this point on, but creatively, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remained the high point, and everything else worked hard to try to reach its level.
The entire franchise has a ton of highlights, but when ranking Harry Potter movies from worst to first, Prisoner of Azkaban is easily number one and possibly one of the best young adult fantasy movies ever made.