Ranking Every Movie in The Harry Potter Series


As Potterheads, we love every movie in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. But if you had to rank them, which movie is the best of the bunch?

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down and attempted the impossible task of ranking all of the Harry Potter novels from Philosopher’s Stone to Deathly Hallows. Many disagreed with my order, and last week, the Wizard’s Council met and discussed their own rankings. But one of our number ranked the movies instead. It gave me pause and made me consider something: the books would rank one way. But the movies? I would rank them in a totally different order than the books.

Many in the world always insist that the movie versions of novels are never superior to the written ones. Harry Potter is one of the few series where this thought, though held by some, does not seem to be the majority opinion. The books and the movies are both beloved equally across the fandom. And yet! Some of the books translated better to screen. Some, especially the later books in the series, have scenes in them that almost felt like they were deliberately designed because Rowling knew they would be made into movies. And one novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was famously split in two, in order to keep plot cuts to a minimum.

So which of the movies is the best? Which ranks dead last? We here now present our rankings of the eight Harry Potter movies.

Next: Number 8: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

There’s always one that has to go at the end. Many of my fellow Wizard’s Council members listed this one as their least favorite book, but for me it’s my least favorite movie. The second of the two Christopher Columbus “kiddie” movies, it has all the childishness of the first movie, without any of the surprise or charm of it. In fact, if anything, it takes all the weaknesses of the second book and magnifies them. What pleasures and differences the first and second book have are largely removed, turning Chamber of Secrets into a near beat-for-beat retread of the first movie.

This is incredibly frustrating. I already went over the weaknesses of the book it’s based on—it introduces us to many facets of the Wizarding World, but it does so in such a childish manner that readers don’t know the import of what they just experienced. Now take that and force it into a rerun of Sorcerer’s Stone.

To be fair, Columbus didn’t have a lot of time to differentiate the movies properly, since both were filmed back-to-back over an 18-month span in order to ensure that the child actors in the lead roles didn’t have a chance to even think about hitting puberty before they were done making them. But as a result, Chamber suffered, and winds up at the bottom of the pecking order.

Next: Number 7: Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

7. Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

Putting Goblet of Fire so close to the bottom is painful to my soul. This is, as I said before, my personal favorite book. There’s so much action and adventure. There’s romance, there’s the Yule Ball, there’s the Triwizard Tournament, there’s the opening up of the Potterverse beyond the narrow streets of Diagon Alley, the waystation of Platform 9 3/4s, and the walls of Hogwarts. For the first time, we see major slices of the Wizarding World, including the Quidditch World Cup, the Ministry, other Wizarding cultures and schools, and the media.

And the movie cuts half of it.

Now, let’s be fair—Goblet was always going to be hard to adapt. After three movies that remained very faithful to the books, the producers were no longer adapting slim novels that ran about 300 pages, but were trying to streamline down books that were 700+ pages long. The cuts were going to cause complaints. But in attempting to cut the story down, much of exposition that grounds the proceedings went out the window. For the first time the movie assumed you must have seen the previous ones and offered little explanation when it dropped you into the world. Moreover, those cuts meant there are places where the movie almost doesn’t make sense. And let’s not get into cutting that Rita was an animagus, or how badly those in the Wizarding World who are first told of Voldemort’s return take it. So frustrating.

And finally, and this is a personal irritant—the look of the movie is so left-field in comparison to everything that came before and after. Did all the barbers go on strike for a single Hogwarts year? What WAS with the haircuts?

Next: Number 6: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

Now, there were a million good reasons to split the final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, into two movies, and as some will tell you, all of them were dollars and pounds sterling. Now that’s not totally true, but one can see why some movie fans would be bitter—especially since the choice to split Deathly Hallows up paved the way for other, lesser series to do the same with their final installments. But if there was ever a way to highlight the weaknesses of a tome-like fantasy book, it’s by splitting it in half.

Now, in my esteemed opinion, the back half of Deathly Hallows, including the second “pull back the curtain” reveal that introduces the titular objects, makes up for a lot of the early half of the book’s failings. But the truth is that once Harry, Hermione, and Ron take off for an extending camping session, the books grinds to a near halt for chapter upon chapter. There are some delights to be had in it—Lee Jordan’s Radio Free Wizarding World, for instance. But in what seems to be an even more inexplicable choice, all that is bloody cut. The resulting first half of the movie involves a whole lot of woods moping and not enough action, which is saved for the second movie. At least they gave us the reveal of the Deathly Hallows and Dobby’s touching death sequence, or it might have seemed like nothing happened at all.

Next: Number 5: Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix

5. Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix

If the cuts in Goblet of Fire was upsetting, that’s nothing on Yates’ first go round on the Harry Potter movie carousel. Though his aesthetic and his method of streamlining was loved enough by the producers and Rowling that he was kept on for the rest of the series, this first one is kind of horrifying in how close to the bone it cuts the story. It’s like Yates did the same thing to the story as he did to the cast members’ hair: cut it to a very disconcerting, nearly military short level.

Order of the Phoenix is the longest book in the series by far. It clocks in at a doorstopper-sized 870 pages, yet at 138 minutes, the movie is the second-shortest of all eight Harry Potter installments. (Thank you to Dan for being our Potter Marketwatch and doing the numbers on these for us.) This means that although some of the things that grated on me about the book were mercifully cut (much of Harry’s snit-throwing, for example), so was just about everything else.

Thank heavens for Imelda Staunton’s movie-stealing turn as Dolores Umbridge, which sealed in celluloid one of the most memorable personifications of the Banality of Evil ever created. It’s the reason the movie ranks as high as it does.

Next: Number 4: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Yates’ second go round with Potter was the Half-Blood Prince. Though he cut Order of the Phoenix down the bone, for his second take on the Rowling novels, he was not quite as stingy. Still, my first response to seeing it was that it was a second case of sticking so closely to the main plot that all the delightful details were once again missed.

One of the most egregious parts of the Half Blood Prince is that, unlike with all the other “fat” Potter book adaptations, the producers didn’t stop at removing delightful details—this is the only movie where they added something that doesn’t happen in the books in their place. The “Burning of the Burrow,” which happens during Christmas Break from Hogwarts, is an event made up from whole cloth in order to have an extra battle and fix in the audience’s minds several of the more villainous Death Eaters, as well as to give the big-named actors in those roles more to do. And although the incident was adapted for the videogame version of Harry Potter, because it is not in the book, it is not considered canon by most fans.

Still, the movie did get a lot of stuff right—the Pensieve memories, for instance, streamlined as they were. Also the final trip with Dumbledore to try and obtain Slytherin’s locket. And of course, the horrific moment when Snape kills Dumbledore is pitch perfect, allowing all of the ambiguity of the scene to play out as it does in the book. The movie might have cut most of Dumbledore’s funeral scene, but the “wands up” moment was both cinematic and has become iconic in the Wizarding fandom.

Next: Number 3: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1‘s loss was Part 2‘s gain. Where the first half of the two-part installment was saddled with all the “going nowhere slowly in the woods” scenes, the second half begins with confirmation of Voldemort gaining the Elder Wand and the break-in at Gringotts, and it never looks back. From there, it’s back to Hogsmede, where the Dumbledore backstory is revealed, and then on to Hogwarts, where all the best things in Harry Potter movies happen. (One might argue part of the weakness of the first half of the movie stems from the complete absence of the school.)

The amount of time the second half of the movie has to devote to the latter half of the novel almost excuses splitting the two films up. This is especially true when we reach the point of Harry’s sacrifice, when he goes to face Voldemort and be killed. This needed every moment the movie could spare devoted to it. Unlike with Order of the Phoenix or Half Blood Prince, one never feels as if Deathly Hallows Part 2 is leaving anything we needed to see on the cutting room floor. Hermione and Ron get their romance and Neville gets his moment in the sun. The movie even considered giving Malfoy a redemption moment that was not in the books, but wound up cutting it.

And though everyone—and I mean everyone—made fun of the “old age” makeup job the golden trio were forced to sport 19 years later, even that couldn’t really let down the movie. After all, all was well.

Next: Number 2: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone

Chamber of Secrets may have been the nadir of the series, but that’s because the movie it was following was so successful it probably seemed best not to disturb the formula. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (or Sorcerer’s) Stone was the movie that kicked off the franchise, and although it was aggressively aimed to appeal to “all ages” and stand as a “classic family movie,” it was never willing to truly dumb itself down for audiences. Much like the first book in the series ground itself in children’s classic literature, the first movie in the series grounds itself in children’s classic movies. It approaches each place in the Wizarding World that we visit with the right tone of awe and whimsy, every who’s who of the British acting world is given their entrance, and even Richard Harris seems fresh in his first appearance as Dumbledore.

But the reason that the first movie stands so tall is that if it had not been as good as it was, the entire enterprise would have gone off the rails. The success and the existence of the other seven movies are due to the wonder and beauty of this introduction to the Potterverse, and without it, Daniel Radcliffe would just be another footnote next to Dakota Blue Richards.

Next: Number 1: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

In my book rankings, I spoke of Prisoner of Azkaban as being one of the most important novels in the Harry Potter canon, because it contains the revelation that catapults the series forward from the thin, child-oriented novels to the fat novels that are aimed towards more mature readers. When it came to the movies, there was a lot riding on this one, and not just because of that revelation (though that too was *very* important.) The first Harry Potter movie had been a runaway hit, so much so that Chamber of Secrets’ major comedown was not enough to derail the series. But with a brand new director stepping in (Alfonso Cuarón) and the three main child actors moving from cherubic moppets surrounded by A-list UK talent to young actors who needed to carry the movies on their own shoulders, nerves about sticking the landing had to be running high.

They didn’t just stick the landing—this movie swings for the fences hard and knocks everything out of the park. After this movie came out, the friends and acquaintances around me who had always staunchly insisted they “didn’t read” when they saw my fantasy tome habit, ran out and bought Goblet of Fire because they couldn’t wait two years to know what happened next. Everything works, from the magic CGI of the Maurader’s Map, to the reveal that the teachers and adults around Harry have done their best to keep him ignorant of certain relationships, to even Ron’s loss of his beloved rat Scabbers. Hermione starts her transition from looking more bookish to looking like the glamorous movie version of the character, but she more than makes up for it by not just leading the charge to save Buckbeak, but also delivering the right hook heard round the world to Malfoy’s face. (I could watch a ten-minute loop of that the same way I can watch a ten-minute loop of Tyrion Lannister slapping Joffrey.)

And if that wasn’t enough, this movie also has the task of introducing Michael Gambon as Dumbledore after Richard Harris’ death. And though his portrayal of the great wizard is markedly different, it works as Harry and his friends, who are growing up, stop seeing him as this amazingly tall and grandfatherly but remote figure, and start seeing him as someone a little more accessible, and a touch less tall. I understand why this was Cuarón only turn with the franchise, but considering how well he aced it, it’s amazing they never tried to get him back.

Next: Best Harry Potter Characters Cut from the Movies

Disagree with these rankings? Do yo think the Books and the Movies should rank the same? Or is this entire enterprise foolhardy, as everyone knows the answer to “Which Harry Potter installment is the best?” is “All of them!” Sound off in the comments!