In Depth

Harry Potter movies, ranked from best to worst

Marking the boy wizard's 20th anniversary - from the spellbinding outings to the damp squibs

As the first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, turns 20, we look at the screen adaptations of JK Rowling's beloved wizarding saga.

Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuaron took over from family-friendly stalwart Chris Columbus for the third film in the series, bringing with him a very different vision of Hogwarts. 

Gone was the cosy candlelight and colourful house banners of the previous two films, replaced by crooked Gothic spires, shadowy corners and a washed-out palette. The change in tone was a risk, but it chimed perfectly with the story's darker sensibility, and the resulting film is widely regarded as the best of the bunch by critics.

By firmly imprinting his own slant on the source material, Cuaron "brought to the Potter franchise a quality curiously missing from the two previous films," wrote The Atlantic's Christopher Orr: "Magic."

Buy The Prisoner of Azkaban on Amazon

Deathly Hallows: Part Two (2011)

The "best possible end for the series", as the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern put it, the final film in the franchise is certainly the fan favourite - viewers gave it an average of 8.1/10 on IMDb, the highest score of all eight movies.

It's not just sentimental value that propels Deathly Hallows: Part Two to the top of the list. The film is a rip-snorting, awe-inspiring and frequently heartbreaking send off to the wizarding world, culminating in a truly epic battle at Hogwarts.

Even among all the spectacular spell battles and collapsing masonry, the quieter moments are never lost - the deaths of beloved characters like Severus Snape and Fred Weasley ought to tickle even the toughest of tear ducts.

Buy The Dealthly Hallows: Part Two on Amazon

Goblet of Fire (2005)

The fourth book in the series, released in 2000, boasts one of the saga's most memorable plots, as Harry unravels the mystery of how he was involuntarily entered into a daredevil wizarding tournament, while simultaneously trying to stay alive.

The film captures the twists and turns with a style "so assured that its 144-minute running time feels half that," said Newsweek's David Ansen.

While some subplots are cut for time, the book's most vivid passages, such as the Yule Ball, the lake rescue and the graveyard showdown with Voldemort, are handsomely transposed to the screen under Mike Newell's sensitive direction.

With a Brit at the helm for the first time, the fourth film "seems more in touch with the innate Britishness of Rowling's books, both in its sense of humor and in its boarding-school setting," sais the AP's Christy Lemire.

Buy The Goblet of Fire on Amazon

Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Director David Yates, who took over the franchise in 2007's Order of the Phoenix, is in full swing in this lively adaptation of the penultimate Potter novel.

The film "navigates potentially choppy shifts in scale with grace and ease", wrote Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, moving seamlessly from the rom-com shenanigans of its adolescent protagonists to the horror-infused final sequences.

Half-Blood Prince is admittedly "more about atmosphere than story", said the AV Club's Tasha Robinson, but masterful cinematography and a moody vibe "give a surprising weight to adolescent love affairs and an exceedingly minor mystery". 

Buy The Half-Blood Prince on Amazon

Deathly Hallows: Part One (2010)

Given the hefty page count of JK Rowling's final tome, it is understandable that the studio decided to split it into two films, but the decision inevitably condemned Part One to subordinate status. 

David Yates' directorial vision remains strong, the special effects are superb and the actors all game, but it's difficult to escape the feeling that Part One is essentially two hours of set-up for Part Two.

The end product is "beautifully shot" but "soulless", said the New York Post's Lou Lumenick. It delivers "no dramatic payoff, no resolution and not much fun".

Buy The Deathly Hallows: Part One on Amazon

Order of the Phoenix (2007) 

The fifth film in the saga features sterling performances from the adult cast, who benefit from the film's focus on the titular order. Imelda Staunton's loathsome Dolores Umbridge is particularly memorable.

However, wrote the New York Post's Kyle Smith, "the parade of subsidiary characters can’t do anything to disguise the stasis of a drawn-out story that is just killing time until the final battle". 

The good news is that the action - when it arrives - is dramatic and stylish, largely thanks to new-boy director David Yates, who would go on to helm the remaining three films. 

Yates' take on the source material "feels like the product of a vivid cinematic imagination and not just a slavishly faithful transposition", wrote LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. 

Buy The Order of The Phoenix on Amazon

Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Chris Columbus' workmanlike adaptation of the second novel in the series, generally regarded as one of Rowling's weaker entries, met with a lukewarm reception from the critics.  Columbus faithfully plods through the pages, said Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, "a hat-in-hand approach to Rowling that stifles creativity and allows the film to drag on for nearly three hours".

The film is notable, however, for a marked improvement in the child actors' performances. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint "radiate a newfound confidence", said Newsweek's David Ansen, setting them in good stead for the more challenging material ahead.

Buy The Chamber of Secrets on Amazon

Philosopher's Stone (2001) 

The first film in the franchise, released in 2001 to much fanfare, got decent notices at the time, but looking back the flaws are clear.

The three young principals are stiff as a board, the special effects are underwhelming and much of the run-time is taken up with exposition, with a hastily crammed-in mystery at the end.

That said, there is an undeniable thrill in seeing the characters and locations so dear to readers' hearts coming to life for the first time. The adult actors are perfectly cast: Alan Rickman's Snape and Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid, in particular, seem as if they were lifted directly from the pages of Rowling's books.

If director Chris Columbus is guilty of glacial pacing and an uninspired vision, he did impart a vital legacy to the franchise, says Movie Nation's Roger Moore. "He set a production values bar, and a casting one, that the series would uphold to its very end."

Buy the Philosopher's Stone on Amazon

For the full range of Harry Potter collectables visit the Wizarding World Store on Amazon 


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