Well; this is it folks. The day we have been eagerly awaiting, and dreading, for years. This Friday, the final Harry Potter film is released, bringing an end to the most lucrative and arguably consistent film franchise of all time. There is something bittersweet about it, like the way I felt in the days leading up to the Lost series finale. A simultaneous need to see how it turns out and a desire to hold off its release as long as possible. Because after this, it’s over. Some may be okay with that, but for a Harry Potter fan like me, and countless others, that finality will be our predominant sense. When the final book was released, the only solace I could take after finishing was the comfort that several films had yet to be released. At least there was that. Ah well; it had to end some time.
So while many retrospectives, marathons and write-ups everywhere you look, I thought I’d chime in with my own ranking of the films up to this point. This is, again, personal preference. I wish I could have gone really in-depth here, but this list is pretty short in explanation. After all, I only have two days to re-read the final half of Deathly Hallows!!
7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, Yates)
This was number 3 when I first posted it. Reasons being that I was not as familiar with it as the other films, meaning that everything I love about it stuck out to me. To be fair, Order of the Phoenix has a lot to love. The Imelda Staunton performance and the introductions of Luna Lovegood and Bellatrix Lestrange to name a few. Let us not forget the forming of Dumbledore’s Army and seeing Harry teach his fellow students and the epic climactic battle that has a raw war-like intensity. I also have a fond love for Nicholas Hooper’s score. Recently watching the film from start to finish again was an entirely disappointing experience. In short; the film is an absolute mess. Apparently David Yates filmed an extra 45 minutes of footage that did not make it in and it is not surprising given the choppy and slipshod manner in which the film plays out. This is also the only film not penned by Steve Kloves; he was sorely missed. Furthermore, Daniel Radcliffe, and much of the cast save the new additions of Staunton, Bonham-Carter and Lynch are clearly coasting. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint feel like they are going through the motions.
It also has an incredibly short running time for a book that was the longest in the series. The film overall makes little to no sense because of it. It explains things away with one sentence. The Cho Chang subplot feels absolutely useless and unresolved, not to mention the lame changes they made to it in relation to the book. Grawp is just there because he has to be 20 minutes later in the film; this obvious motivational plot element feels forcibly present. All of the stuff about the prophecy is truncated to such a degree that it becomes difficult to understand what the entire point of this entry was if one has not read the book. While many of the other films suffer from some degree of miscommunication from the screenwriter to the casual non-book fans, this film in particular suffers from nonexistent plot explanation. And thus it jumps from number 3 to 7 on this list.
6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002, Columbus)
Roger Ebert might be the only person I can think of who genuinely prefers the first two outings over the rest. It is easy to rank on Columbus’ all-too-sugary vision of the Harry Potter world, but I think we take what he did for granted…to a point. He is responsible for the casting of the children after all. The films may be too saccharine, but they still got the franchise off to a solid start. Looking back, the first two are weak links, but I remember my elation as a fourteen-year old seeing them in the theaters multiple times, and I still cherish that sense I used to have of them.
In regards to this second outing, it is hard to deny it any place but the bottom spot. First off, we have the introduction of Dobby, irritating in both book and film. If that weren’t enough, we get hit with the useless Colin Creevey, which should have been discarded in the adaptation. Branagh amusingly hams it up as Lockhart, and there are several fun sequences. Yet all in all, the film seems rather expendable, which cannot be said for any of the others.
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001, Columbus)
To give Columbus credit here, he does a marvelous job of introducing this world. It feels appropriately magical and with all the children’s fantasy films out there, this one makes its mark in breadth and wonder. Its mostly amusing to see the actors this young and amateur in performance. The final confrontation with Voldemort is painful and dated. And this is the only time the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher would be a mere character sketch that went nowhere besides being a villainous cipher. ‘Wizard People Dear Reader’ has also prevented me from seeing the film in any kind of serious way. The film exists for nostalgic purposes more than anything else at this point.
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005, Newell)
From here on out, the rankings become unbearably close. The distance between my number 5 and 6 is incalculable. This was going in the number 3 spot, and at the last minute I put it here. Why? Honestly, because I have seen it too many times. That is legitimately the reason for it being here. I love it to death, but I have probably seen it more than any Potter film, which is saying a lot. We are talking about hundreds of times here folks. I’d say only 15 or so viewings were given full attention, but this became one of the films I would put on in the background while doing homework, writing, reading; hell, even sleeping. It should probably be higher, but I sort of willingly exhausted myself with this film.
The only bad things I can say about it is that there are some really clunky and awkward attempts at humor and that Rita Skeeter’s role is reduced so much that it would have been just as easy to discard her entirely. There are some classic sequences here; notably the Yule Ball and Voldemort’s return, which are perfectly both executed. Who would have thought we’d see Jarvis Cocker and Jonny Greenwood in a Harry Potter film? Its the franchise’s first foray into PG-13; an important milestone. If ‘Azkaban’ wisely showcases the messiness and realism of adolescence, ‘Goblet’ is the first that starts to frankly deal with young budding love and flirtation. The Triwizard Tournament is my favorite ‘big-picture’ plot device of all the books or films. The universe is expanded via the two visiting schools. Brendan Gleeson kills as ‘Mad-Eye Moody’, or rather, Barty Crouch Jr. Fred and George are showcased more which is always a delight. There are so many little moments in this one that I hold onto and anticipate, going as specifically as Hermione’s ‘damn if I can’t stay annoyed with them’ reaction to Fred and George failing to understand why their aging potion won’t work on the Goblet. Unfortunately, Snape is barely in this film which is a major detractor. But mainly, this is the book and film where everything changes. It had all been leading to the climax of this story, and from here on out, the threat becomes a reality.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010, Yates)
While its slow pace set in a bit more than I think it wanted to, I still maintain this is a mature and largely stunning penultimate film. Much time is spent on exposition and setting the stakes. Like the characters, you feel how little is being accomplished. I think the film’s purpose and place within the films as a whole will become more clear when it can be looked at in accordance with the finale. There are so many revelatory character moments, particularly between Harry and Hermione, that get to be front and center. Something the films have arguably done in a more layered way than the books, is make the Harry and Hermione friendship feel as substantial as it does. There is a lot of momentum to be found here, a lot of building dread as we inch towards the final showdown. Yates makes some fairly unconventional, if not risky directorial moves here, and it mostly pays off.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Cuaron)
So basically it’s all been said before. This is the film that changed everything; the one that took the franchise in a different direction via director Alfonso Cuaron. The characters and the film are treated with the kind of respect that emphasizes the scale of the unstable environment the students find themselves in year after year. Things became more laid-back, uniforms become sparse (is that Harry wearing JEANS?!) and boys act like boys hanging out after hours. Quidditch is thankfully not as important and emotions boil just barely under the surface as they are confronted with life head-on. The film is also unique because it stands alone as a film where Voldemort is entirely absent. This also has the introduction of my favorite Harry Potter character (besides Snape) with Remus Lupin as well as the equally wonderful Sirius Black. While the Shrieking Shack scene barely touches on the intensity of the book, it is still executed with confident excellence. This is also my favorite book, meaning that the story itself is near and dear to me, making me love it all the more.
1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, Yates)
Simply put; I find the sixth film to be the most flat-out satisfying of them all. That it somehow manages to be both the funniest film and the most intense is incredible. It is also the most visually stunning of the bunch, rich in visual tone and composition. Draco’s arc is still unstably creepy; Felton’s finest moment to be sure. Jim Broadbent gives an underrated performance as Slughorn, with each scene flashing layers that suggest so much. Voldemort’s memories are severely truncated, but perfectly executed. It is a seamless balancing act of so many moods, plot threads and impending doom. It is difficult to go much further than that. It is the only film to have zero missteps; everything works exactly as it should. We also get our first sense of how the wizarding world’s instability effects the outside world, still broadening the danger at hand. I cannot praise this film enough; in my eyes, it is perfect.