J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise is no doubt one of our generation’s most beloved and well-known film series, if not the most beloved and well-known of all-time. But does it actually deserve its status? Well, yes, I would say so. I rewatched the whole series for the first time in years and the films held up surprisingly well. I can see why I liked them so much growing up. So let’s take a look at the full series, and rank them from the least good to the best. Just keep in mind, this is just for the original eight films. So no Fantastic Beasts movies here. I haven’t even seen those yet. But anyway, let’s get to it.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Or Philosopher’s Stone depending on who you ask. This is the only film in the series that I would simply call “good.” Being the first film in the franchise, they spend a lot of time introducing things. Our first act takes place mostly in the human world. We meet many of the film series’ huge cast of colorful characters. We learn a lot about the franchise’s main location Hogwarts. Like all the films, there’s a lot of wonder and creativity here. We get some good setting of the lore that will come back later. But nothing too major compared to what the series has in store for us later. In some ways, this was the most ordinary of the Harry Potter films. Our three main child actors are mostly good but weren’t quite experienced enough yet for the more heavy acting we get in the third act. This act is also the strongest, particularly that wizard chess scene being just pure, fun awesomeness. Did it need to be in the movie? No, but it sure was cool. Like I said, still good but certain aspects definitely needed smoothing out.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This is probably the only film in the franchise I would label “very good.” It gets an 8/10 which is impressive considering it’s the second worst of the series. Goblet of Fire was the fourth entry and was the last movie of the series that you could in any way call a stand-alone movie. Sure, all of these movies have some sort of continuity to them. But the first half is really nothing like the second half in that regard. Most of this film is just Harry participating in the dangerous yet thrilling Triwizard Tournament. And it’s a lot of fun to watch. One-time Harry Potter director Mike Newell does some great work with the visual presentation. We get a nice addition to the cast with acclaimed British actor Brendan Gleeson as Professor Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody with a performance that is both scary and kind of funny. And perhaps it goes with saying that the film’s third act is quite emotional, working as a really good setup for the upcoming David Yates era.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This one falls under the category of “almost great.” Despite being only the second movie, in some ways, it’s one of the most crucial when it comes to the overarching story. The main area where this film excels is how it works so well as a seemingly stand-alone story. But then as you continue to watch the later films, you realize how many important story elements this movie set up and foreshadowed.
The premise of a monster going around trying to kill the students is an effectively scary one. It’s definitely dark considering this was the pre-PG-13 era. And yet, J.K. Rowling and screenwriter Steve Kloves did a great job with making it just dark enough to tell the story while still not so dark that it would traumatize the child audience. It could have been contrived yet somehow it mostly works. But if I were to criticize the story, I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just send everyone home the first time the beast attacked. But anyway, director Chris Columbus definitely improved a lot after the first film, as did the child actors.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Okay, now let’s talk about the first “great” movie of the series. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that the first great one came to us from Alfonso Cuaron, a guy who later went on to win two Oscars. Cuaron brought a great unique look to the film here, one that definitely makes it stick out among the rest. We get some fun stuff early in the story with stuff like that Knight Bus scene. But once we learn more about Harry and his connection to Sirius Black, well it all gets pretty intense. And one climatic scene later in the movie is downright scary. Then, towards the very end, the plot brings up a certain science-fiction-like element. This is definitely interesting and makes for a great conclusion to the movie. Having said that, it also gives us a couple of noticeable plot holes.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Ah, the final film in the series. I’m sure a lot of people would like me to put this in my number one. But as great as it is, it’s just not quite there for me.
So this was the epic conclusion we all waited years for. And epic it was. It was exciting. It was different from the rest of the movies. We got some great character moments from everyone. There’s one particular scene towards the end where we get some shocking revelations about Harry, Snape and Dumbledore. This extended scene is a masterpiece. No doubt the best scene in the entire series. Unfortunately, it’s sort of downhill from there. There’s some very strong stuff that follows it. But compared to that sequence, the rest of the film felt a tad anti-climatic. Also, I have to ask, with all that was going on, when exactly did the students find the time to finish up their education and graduate?
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
So in this movie, Harry’s main task is tracking down the Horcruxes, aka the only things keeping Lord Voldemort alive. He does this with the help of Professor Dumbledore (portrayed by Michael Gambon in another strong performance. Six films in, this may be the most screen time Dumbledore has gotten yet. And there’s really well-written scenes between him and Harry.
But the thing I personally like a lot about this film is, strangely, enough the romance. Having Ron and Hermione be a couple was an interesting choice. They could have come off as a forced pairing but for some reason, it just sort of works. Then there’s Harry and Ginny who had some great chemistry together. It was great that they finally gave Ginny something to do as a character. I also respect them for not going the more obvious route of having Ron getting angry at Harry for getting together with his little sister. All it took was a single line for them to avoid that overdone cliché.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Now for my most controversial opinion. Yep, the film most people consider the worst of the series and here I am picking it as my second favorite. The main criticism I’ve seen directed at this one is that, comparatively, not a lot happens here. But here’s the thing, that’s kind of why I like it as much as I do. Story-wise, it’s the most unusual of all the Harry Potter movies. But despite the fact that there isn’t as much going on as there usually is, they do a great job with the parts of the story they chose to tackle here. I mean, I acknowledge that a large part of the reason they broke the last book up into two movies was to make more money. But at the same time, it gave them more of an opportunity to tackle the content in more detail. The film is quite an emotional ride. And they definitely fleshed out everything properly. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had to pretty much carry the film. And they all give really strong performances, particularly Grint in one stand out scene. I thought it was great all the way through. I kind of don’t get why it’s not considered all that good a movie.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Going back and rewatching these, I can’t say this was the one I expected to pick as my favorite. And I won’t claim that this movie is perfect or even that it’s far better than the rest. But it’s the only film in the series I’d rate “excellent.” It just does everything a bit better.
So what’s so good about this one? Well, the story is an interesting one. In addition to the usual conflict with fearing for Voldemort and his army, we also get Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge being a different kind of villain. She’s a new Hogwarts professor and also there representing their recently corrupt and authoritarian government. Staunton is great as the villain you love to hate.
We also Harry’s best character development here as he struggles with his inner demons, constantly afraid that he has more in common with his nemesis Voldemort than he’d like to believe. We also get a more sad side to his character development as we delve more into his loneliness due to his lack of a traditional family. This all comes to a head in the big climactic fight scene, which is easily the most emotional one in the film series. This was the scene that put the movie over the top for me.
Not to mention this film also introduced the viewers to my favorite Harry Potter character of all-time, Harry’s hilariously quirky friend and classmate Luna Lovegood, played wonderfully by Evanna Lynch. In fact, the quality of her performance was particularly impressive considering this was her first ever acting role.
So all in all, Harry Potter is a great film series that holds up surprisingly well and mostly gets better as it goes along. If you’ve never seen it, I’d recommend checking it out. Maybe read the books too if you have the time. It’s not a perfect franchise but there’s plenty to like.