The Best Potter Films, So Far…

Before The Deathly Hallows begins the end of the Potter films, we decided to look back at the films, from their beginnings trapped within the pages of JK Rowling’s books to the emerging of an original identity on the screen.

1. The Prisoner of Azkaban 2004

In a near tie for first place, The Prisoner of Azkaban makes its way to the top for being the first Potter film to not only hold its own against the books, but break out from them and create an identity of its own. The first film to finally stylize the setting using clever cinematography, narrative rhythm and creative art direction came as a surprise to fans. It was much darker, more mature and more enthralling than the previous installments.  See the opening scene that hints at masturbation for further proof. Much of this is attributed to director Alfonso Cuaron, who previously directed the Spanish youth sex odyssey Y Tu Mama Tambien before attacking this adaptation. Guillermo del Torro and Marc Foster turned down the project, fearing it was too happy and full of light. Luckily Cuaron found the gloom and realism even in the magical world of Hogwarts.

2. The Order of the Phoenix 2007

Just like The Prisoner of Azkaban redefined the way the Harry Potter world would be told and constructed, The Order of the Phoenix built on those changes, exploring what an even larger budget, larger sets and more visual effects could do for the story. David Yates was the perfect person to take over the rest of the series and handle the edge and seriousness the rest of the story had to offer. With a story drawing on really interesting themes like repression and rebellion, it’s about as fun and appropriate as it gets for a struggling-to-grow-up story.

3. The Half Blood Prince 2009

Though the story didn’t have a whole lot to offer in terms of what would happen with plot, it was still filled with the elements that made David Yates’s The Order the Phoenix so cherished. With intricate visual effects scenes and technical mastery, it looked like Harry Potter at its best. If only the film wasn’t so long and so slow paced, then the merits of Alan Rickman’s genius as Professor Snape and his plot with Potter would have made the film royal.

4. The Goblet of Fire 2005

Despite being lit with some of the best book material in the series, The Goblet of Fire seems to sidestep the plot of the series to go into a dim and nearly gothic setting that at times feels a bit of a drag. However, the darker tone of the film gives the young actors another chance to explore development in their characters they hadn’t had the chance to do yet in the other films. If nothing else it’s worth it to watch the bliss of Ralph Fiennes emerge as Lord Voldemort, even if it’s at the end.

5. The Sorcerer’s Stone 2001

The problem with the first two films of the series, particularly the first was that they were too faithful to the book to survive as  films. Nearly three hours of little excitement and too young of a cast were too much to make this film anything better than stone cold.

6. The Chamber of Secrets 2002

Whatever gripes you had with the first film; you were likely to have with the second film. A safe adaptation and a safe sequel almost ruined the series’ potential to spread out and become its own in the movie world.

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7 thoughts on “The Best Potter Films, So Far…

  1. You guys may have nailed this one. The order looks pretty good. However, I would put the 1st one in front of the Goblet of Fire because I thought sticking loyal to the book was a good way to start things off.

  2. Hmm…totally agree that Azkaban is the best film so far. But for me Half-Blood Prince was the worst – just a whole lot of exposition that came from a weak book that could have incorporated its story details into Deathly Hallows. My top three is Azkaban, Goblet, Phoenix.

  3. Since Prisoner of Azkaban was one of, if not, the best Harry Potter book, I think that helped create a great movie. I must say that some of the casting choices were rather poor in this film. The Marauders, for example.

    Agreed with what you said about the Goblet of Fire. It was a very entertaining book with an exciting storyline but it was just not translated that well.

    AND YES, for how slow the Half Blood Prince is as a book, it is a great movie. Loved Alan Rickman and hell, I thought Tom Felton was really impressive. I’d put this above Order of the Phoenix.

  4. I think Prisoner of Azkaban is pretty much on everyone’s list as their favorite film and book. I always wondered what if Cuaron came back and directed another one. It would be interesting to see what else he could do but David Yates has given stability to the latter part of the series even though huge parts of the book of Half-Blood Prince were left out.

    • Not everyone’s — Half-Blood Prince is my current favorite, because of the excellence of its atmosphere and some of the best music in the series. Azkaban is probably second on my list, though, being very well-paced and plotted. The only HP I didn’t really like was Goblet of Fire. The tournament itself was absolutely ludicrous in concept, making little sense and appearing for all the world as a cheap excuse to showcase how special Harry was. I’m not a reader of the series, and so don’t get mad when they change the books. But Goblet just had too many elements that didn’t work.

      However, I do think the first two movies are bashed rather unfairly. They don’t have the visual elegance or atmospheric intensity of the later films, but they are very fun and charming in their own right. The comment at the end of the list that they “almost ruined the series’ potential to spread out and become its own in the movie world” seems too harsh. Firstly, because they clearly didn’t ruin the series, and were immensely successful and acclaimed on their own accounts (Roger Ebert gave them both 4 stars, the highest of the series). Secondly, as Ebert himself points out in his “Chamber of Secrets” review, they are already especially unique for being almost old-fashioned in conception, in the best of ways, by having a truly excellent ensemble cast of character actors, rather than just one or two big stars that hog the screen. Story and characters come first, where it could be argued that the later films supplant story and character with stylistic flair.

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