Based on J. K. Rowling‘s best-selling fantasy novels which were released between 2001 and 2011, the Harry Potter adaptations are the highest-grossing film series of all-time. Predominantly a story which was written for children, Hogwarts and its pupils quickly took the interest of people of all ages from all around the world.
I’ve been reading the books for as long as I can remember and can’t wait for my two boys to be old enough for me to introduce them to the Harry Potter world, as it such a wonderful magical universe to feel a part of.
Obviously, I’m a huge fan of these books and films so they are all some of my favourites, but here is my ranking of the franchise, including the films from the spin-off Fantastic Beasts franchise:
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
In the final instalment of the franchise, Harry, Ron and Hermione must continue their search for Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes in their effort to destroy the Dark Lord for good.
“After all this time, Severus?” / “Always.”
It was incredibly sad to see the franchise come to an end, but what an amazing way to do it. This final instalment is a brilliant film and a fairly decent adaptation, though its flaws lie in the huge amount of detail missed out in Part 1 (Dumbledore’s past, Tonk’s baby, I would go on but there’s seriously so much…). This final instalment brings so much to the franchise as a whole and is definitely the darkest and most emotional yet. The best thing about this film, however, is the character of Snape, adding a huge emotional spin to the franchise, creating layers that you wouldn’t have imagined it could have had as a child’s fantasy. What a great way to say goodbye.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
As Harry begins his search to destroy the Horcruxes, he uncovers the existence of three most powerful objects in the wizarding world – the Deathly Hallows. But which will better his chances of staying alive when he must ultimately face Lord Voldemort for one last time?
“What a beautiful place… to be with friends.”
The franchise just gets better and better from here but, being the seventh book, the film does skip over a lot of the explanation.
After a decade of the main cast working together, the relationship between the cast has become one that the fans can truly admire; the Weasley family, especially, make you laugh in all the right places, and the loss of some brings a tear to your eye, and Grint is absolutely brilliant in this.
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
As Harry Potter begins his 6th year at Hogwarts, he discovers an old book marked mysteriously “This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince”, and begins to learn more about Lord Voldemort’s dark past.
“Why is it that whenever anything happens, it’s always you three?”
As a book, this is the one that stuck out the most for me and I think Yates does a brilliant job of directing the adaptation which remains one of my favourites in the franchise, too. As with the final two films, there is a lot left out from the story compared to the books to consider it a decent adaptation, but it still works really well as a stand-alone film.
Things are definitely getting serious and relationships are about to be tested as this instalment deals with emotional issues on a much stronger level than any of the previous instalments. With teenage hormones causing the students to lose focus on their true missions, allowing us to engage with them on a deeper level and setting up their relationships for the bigger conflicts that they are about to be faced with.
4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
In Harry’s third year at Hogwarts, trouble is brewing with the news that convicted murderer Sirius Black has escaped Azkaban Prison and is coming after Harry.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”
This third instalment is definitely one of the best instalments in the franchise as the shift in tone with the change in directors brings even more magic to an already wonder-full franchise. The film may miss out on a lot of detail from the book, but it brilliantly captures the essence of wondrous discovery and lurking danger that Hogwarts is all about.
As the trio reach the age of 13, this instalment also feels more mature. It still captures the fun atmosphere of being a part of a wizarding world, it just does it in a more inclusive way. It’s certainly more an adult fantasy adventure than its predecessor, anyway, whilst it still manages to tackles some common early teen issues.
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
In Harry’s fourth year, he finds himself selected as an underaged competitor in a dangerous multi-wizardry school competition.
“Do you think we’ll ever just have a quiet year at Hogwarts?”
This is my second favourite instalment of the first four adaptations because it brilliantly shows how the cast has grown into the roles and how much we, as an audience, have come to love them. As they all skip their yearly hair cut, go to prom, and get angsty with each other, this instalment also puts a lot better focus on the use of magic, really bringing to life the world of Harry Potter as everything starts to get serious for all its characters.
It’s a definite change in tonal direction and a huge step up from the rest of the series, but it is also the film where I start to realise that I really don’t like Daniel Radcliffe in the lead.
6. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
The first film in the franchise, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth as he enters his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
“It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live.”
Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone may not have the same dark and more complex qualities of the more recent instalments, but for a first film introducing us to a whole new magical world with fresh-faced 11-year-old actors, this first chapter in a fantastic franchise does exactly what it is expected of it. It’s nostalgic, imaginative, and it’s filled with atmosphere; the precise definition of what a children’s fantasy should be.
With the original books being enjoyed by people of all ages, this film definitely has a younger audience in mind. If the franchise carried on with this innocence and simplicity, then it might not have kicked off the ground as well as it did but for a first film, Chris Columbus knew exactly what he was doing. Columbus and his writers take the time to set the characters up properly, developing their friendships and detailing their histories, and to tell the story right.
It also has some of the best moments out of all of the films altogether:
‘You’re a wizard, Harry.’ / ‘TROLLL, in the dungeon!’ / ‘It’s Wingadium Leviosahh’ etc.
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2008)
Harry ignores warnings not to return to Hogwarts at the beginning of his second year, only to find that the school has been plagued by a series of mysterious attacks as Harry is haunted by a strange voice.
“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”
Whilst this instalment is much darker than its predecessor, I also found it to be much more of a family film at the same time. This isn’t a negative, although I still prefer the first film, but it expands on the fictional universe brilliantly with new teachers, new creatures, and a whole lot more mystery for Harry Potter to unravel.
It’s action-packed and full of high school drama, alongside the bigger things that Harry and his friends also have to deal with, with even more Quidditch, rivalries, dark magic, and a lot of humour.
8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
With their warning about Lord Voldemort’s return ignored, Harry and Dumbledore are targeted by the Wizard authorities as Magic of Ministry official slowly seizes power at Hogwarts.
“The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
Whilst there is so much to love about this film, I can’t help but feel that this is one of my least favourites instalments because of how gloomy its premise and progression is. Sure, the creation of Dumbledore’s Army is something to be excited by, but what this instalment spends its time doing is to really build up the darkening atmosphere that the state of the magical world has been left in with the inevitable return of the Dark Lord.
And maybe it’s because of this sense of dread and fear that this instalment constantly leaves you feeling that this is such a difficult instalment to love, as it may do a lot in terms of the plot in the context of the whole franchise, but it doesn’t leave you with much hope.
9. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2016)
The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
“So setting a pack of dangerous creatures loose here was just another accident, is that right?”
What I was expecting was for Rowling to start a whole new Harry Potter spin-off, expanding on the world of Harry and Hogwarts into the wider world and taking us back to a time when it all began for some of the older characters from her books.
And that’s what I love about this film. Not only does Rowling take the time to craft a simple and charming tale of Newt searching the streets for his lost beasts, but she also combines this with a deep, magical context of a franchise we fell in love with many years ago, one that we had to sadly come to terms with ending, as she welcomes the British wizarding world into America to begin a whole new adventure.
10. Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
Gellert Grindelwald has escaped and has set about gathering followers to begin his plan to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings. To stop him, a young Albus Dumbledore enlists the help of his former student, Newt Scamander.
“You’re too good, Newt. You never met a monster you couldn’t love.”
With more references to the original Harry Potter stories, including a scene in Hogwarts with Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall, this second instalment is just as magical as the first and finally starts getting into what we’re all really here for – to see the conflict and history between Grindelwald and Dumbledore.
With new fantastical beasts, a darker plot, new characters we’ve been looking forward to meeting, and a look at the magical wizarding world in Paris to further expanding our experience of the franchise, The Crimes of Grindelwald is very different from the first prequel but it also has so much more to be excited about, but it is painfully limited for fans of the franchise.