Ranking the Entire Harry Potter Franchise

ON

Ranking the Entire Harry Potter Franchise

The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most successful franchises of all time.  It ranks 3rd, behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars.  It has made more money that James Bond, X-Men, and The Fast and the Furious franchises.  Not only that, but the original J.K. Rowling novels ignited a passion for reading in an whole new generation.

We haven’t seen the boy wizard since 2011 when he vanquished Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  However, the Wizarding World lives on through the astonishing theme parks at Universal Studios and the new Fantastic Beasts prequel franchise. It all Started in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  In 2018, we were given Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.  That is 10 movies, all unique, with varying quality.  Here is a full ranking of the Harry Potter franchise thus far.

#10:  Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a mess.  It is the first time in franchise history where the goal seems to be only money and not artistic expression.  Sure, the film is as gorgeously designed as ever, but that was never a problem in the Harry Potter universe.  James Newton Howard’s score is a delight.  Also, Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is still a fun character to go on an adventure with.  However, the plot of Crimes of Grindelwald is almost completely baffling.  Only the most seasoned of Potterheads will deduce anything that is going on, and possibly not even then.  The film is so stuffed full of characters, supporting characters, returning characters, no less than 3 romantic entanglements, and a myriad of magical lore that it is completely exhausting.  

It also doesn’t help matters that Johnny Depp is the main villain.  Seeing him in the Grindelwald makeup is just more of the same from Depp.  Even if one were to ignore the stain on his stardom the past few years, he just doesn’t hold a candle to Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort.  It has been said before that movies like this are only as good as their villain. Well…that means Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t very good.

#9:  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix isn’t necessarily a BAD movie, but it is almost aggressively dull and unpleasant.  The premise is that Voldemort has returned, as seen in the finale of Goblet of Fire.  However, no one believes Harry.  Not only that,, but Harry is under investigation for underage magic use and is a breath way from being expelled at Hogwarts.  Sure, the Wizarding World has become a dark and dangerous place, but the film is so dreary that there is very little fun to be had.  Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge is a great addition to the cast, but the way that Dumbledore ignores and avoids Harry for almost the entire film is just ugly.

There are wonderful set pieces, as per usual.  The way the students decide to teach each other in the Room of Requirement is fun.  Also, the brief but spectacular fight between Dumbledore and Voldemort at the Ministry is outstanding.  However, nearly the entirety of Order of the Phoenix is full of danger, loss, darkness, and anger.  It becomes grating after a while to not have any of that Harry Potter wonder and whimsical delights.  

#8:  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

After a five year hiatus, Potterheads were finally allowed back to the Wizarding world with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Back is director David Yates with a screenplay from J.K. Rowling.  The film follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his adventures through 1920s New York.  Through the efforts of a mysterious dark wizard and the happenstance of losing his briefcase full of magical creatures, Newt is not having a good day.  Not only that, but he has a few muggles following him around.

This film is just fine.  Redmayne is serviceable as Newt. Dan Fogler is fantastic as the muggle, Jacob.  Also, Colin Farrell as an auror fits into the Harry Potter universe perfectly. It all looks fantastic, far better than even it’s 2018 sequel.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is also the first Harry Potter to film to actually WIN an Oscar for Costume Design.  It doesn’t quite live up to the previous films, but it was a pleasure to have magic back in our cinematic lives again.

#7:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a very good film.  However, Chris Columbus’s sophomore outing in the Harry Potter universe just feels like more of the same.  Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets are interchangable.  They have the same tone, the same palette, and the kid stars are equally inexperienced in their acting craft.  Also, at 161 minutes, the longest of the franchise, it really tests Potterheads’ patience.

Still, there is great things to be had in this second outing.  Kenneth Branagh is a great bumbling blowhard as Gilderoy Lockheart.  The encounters with Aragog are sublimely frightening. Jason Isaacs introduction as Draco’s father is also a perfect bit of casting.  It goes on for too long and doesn’t differentiate itself in any way the way the other films do, but it is still grand fantasy.

#6:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

For the first time since we were introduced to Harry Potter on his 11th birthday, he is leaving the sanctuary of Hogwarts.  Harry has decided that he must head out into the world and attempt to track down Voldermort’s horcruxes. What’s more, Shape has taken over Hogwarts and all young wizards are no longer safe.

Leaving the Wizarding World for the real world was a daring artistic choice.  Initially, seeing Harry, Hermione, and Ron casting spells out in the opening is jarring at first.  Wholly unnatural in the laws of the Harry Potter universe. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and it segues from jarring to gritty and exciting.  Some people dismiss Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 as simply the trio hanging out in the woods and all build up for the finale.  That is certainly true, but such an epic finale deserves this kind of buildup. This film definitely has the best cliffhanger ending.

#5:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is where it all started.  Origin stories are sometimes difficult to do because it requires all sorts of tropes and plot expositions.  However, since Harry Potter is new to the universe, just as the audience is, it totally works. Chris Columbus directs the first film with vitality, and it has a classical fantasy feel not unlike The Wizard of Oz.  

For simple nostalgia purposes, Sorcerer’s Stone is an absolute joy.  This is where our heroic trio met and became fast friends.  We were introduced to Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, and Snape, who would entertain Potterheads for decades.  Throw in that glorious John Williams score and you have a modern classic.

#4:  Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)

The Harry Potter franchise righted the ship after the weak Order of the Phoenix with Half Blood Prince.  Dumbledore is no longer avoiding Harry, and decides to joinwith him in the fight against the Dark Lord.  The professor can no longer deny how important and talented a wizard Harry Potter has become. For the first time in the series, Harry is an ally and not just a student.

The Half Blood Prince identity mystery, the introduction of horcruxes, and that devastating finale, all make this sixth film stand out.  However, one thing sets Half Blood Prince aside from all other Harry Potter film.  That is the film’s Cinematography. David Yates enlisted the great Bruno Delbonnel (The Darkest Hour, Inside Llewyn Davis, Amelie) to photograph the film, and it is astonishing.  So much so that it earned the series its most respectable Oscar nomination.  Out of 10 beautiful movies, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the most gorgeous.

#3:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

The fourth film in the Harry Potter series is a fantastic confection that gives us the whimsy of the early years perfectly balanced with the danger of the later.  Surely, hosting the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts after several years of serious problems was a little absurd. However, learning that there are other magical schools and inter school competition really enriched the universe.  For the for the first time in the series, Harry’s life is in danger and he has to save himself. Also, we finally get a look at the infamous Voldemort.

What makes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire so fun is that it is the last time school is an important part of their lives.  Harry and Ron are noticing girls, Harry is studying harder than ever, and the Ball plays out like every pubescent dance you have ever been to.  That transitional balance between the colorful fun and the dark serious is what makes the fourth film one of the very best.

#2:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

After a decade of storytelling build-up, and a weak Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows really had to deliver.  Boy oh boy, did it ever.  For years, we have watched our heroic trio learn the ways of magic and maneuver through the dangerous world of Voldermort and the Death Eaters.   However, they are not kids anymore. They are powerful wizards and witches, and alongside their fellow classmates, they really put up an amazing fight at Hogwarts.

Harry has been through it all, and even though he has suffered loss and devastation, he persevered.  This final entry in the Harry Potter saga really drives home those tried & true themes of friendship, love, and loyalty.  We all knew when Harry and the Dark Lord finally had their climactic clash, it would be akin to Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader.  Well…few Potterheads came away from Part 2 feeling unfulfilled.  Sure, that old age makeup at the end is a bit off-putting, but it was marvelous to see the next generation of kids on Platform 9 ¾.

#1:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

The third film in the franchise showed us all what would happen when you put an auteur director in charge of the franchise.  Alfonso Cuaron tackled the third film that follows Harry, Hermione, and Ron as they try to stay safe from Sirius Black. Black has broken out of Azkaban prison, and is thought to be the man who betrayed Harry’s parents.  For the first time in the franchise, Hogwarts began to feel dark and dangerous. No longer were we given the colorful whimsy of Chris Columbus’ first two films.

More-so than any other film in the franchise, Prisoner of Azkaban is DIRECTED.  Most other Harry Potter  films are content to beautify the production design and visual effects.  Cuaron conducts his camera like a virtuoso. Take for example, the entire time-turner sequence.  There are so many clever shots, techniques, and angles that it injects a heightened sense of art to the film.  Story wise, Prisoner of Azkaban may be a bit weak.  However, Cuaron puts his perfect directorial stamp on it and makes it by far the most exciting films of the franchise.