Worst to First: Ranking The Harry Potter Films

Harry Potter Movie Posters

In keeping with the Halloween-y theme Lebeau has been fostering this month, I’ve decided to offer up another installment in the popular new “Worst to First” series. Although the Harry Potter series might initially seem to have a less obvious link to everyone’s favorite horror-themed holiday, if you take just a moment to tally its Halloween credentials you will likely be convinced that it is a pretty clear fit. In fact, I’d argue that any need to second think such a consideration only points to the unique and personal qualities J K Rowling’s world of wizards, witches, trolls, charms, hexes, and horcruxes possesses. After all, this is a series in which magical people wear pointy hats. That’s about as cartoon Halloween as you can get. Harry and friends became so famous of their own accord that they seem to exist outside of any reductionist genre.

The Harry Potter series began with the modest kids book Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (The American release would be switched to Sorcerer’s Stone) penned by British author Rowling, but strong word of mouth and a few excellent reviews gradually transformed the bespectacled young wizard into a household name on both sides of the Atlantic. The film series was a foregone conclusion by the time the second book in the series was setting up shop in the NY Times best-sellers list. All seven books have sold more than 50 million copies and there are plenty of people out there who will do a double take if you admit that you haven’t read them yet.

So let’s get on with ranking the film versions!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Summary: Unknown British youngsters team with some of the most honored names in UK acting to tell the story of an orphaned and downtrodden boy who finds out he is actually a wizard. In fact, he’s not just any wizard; he’s “the boy who lived,” surviving an attack by the great evil Lord Voldemort, destroying his power and sending him into hiding when Harry was just a year old. He is whisked away into the hidden world of wizards and witches and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he makes friends and enemies and learns to ride a broomstick so he can play one of the dumbest sports ever invented.

What’s Good: When you’ve got actors like Maggie Smith, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane, and Alan Rickman at your fingertips there will naturally be some stuff worth seeing. Each one of these actors, along with David Bradley (as Argus Filch), manages to inhabit their given roles first time out in a way that makes them seem entirely plausible and comfortable in their magical surroundings. Also, Columbus really nails the reveal of the Hogwarts Express, the steam engine that carries the young wizards and witches to school each year.

What’s Bad Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the magical reveals in the first movie. The stakes don’t seem nearly high enough for Harry early in the film and his adoptive aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, are not satirized with the savagery they deserve. How can a story about an abused kid finding out he is more powerful than his abusers possibly contain so little catharsis? (Oh, there’s the huge castle I’ll be living in – ho-hum). Warner Brothers hired the director of Adventures in Babysitting and Home Alone, and boy that’s what they got. Also, while I hate to speak ill of the dead, the great Richard Harris did not still possess the vitality necessary to play Dumbledore, and was well aware of it, saying he didn’t wish to be obligated to all of the sequels in his senior years. He had initially intended to turn down the role, but said that his granddaughter talked him into it. This is one time where a veteran actor should have listened to his own instincts.

Verdict: Potter fans tend to give this first installment in the film series a bit of a pass because it is just that, the origin of their beloved epic. Although it is fair to say that the establishing of the huge world the coming stories would inhabit is a huge job, I’d say Columbus did it in a pretty unimaginative paint-by-numbers fashion.

On Page 2 – Number 7


Posted on October 16, 2015, in Movies, sequels, trailers, Worst to First and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Let me say right up front that I am a Muggle. I have seen each movie one time and once was enough. I’m glad I watched them all, but I don’t have any real desire to revisit the Harry Potter movies. Having not read any of the books, I only ever half understood what was going on anyway. I always felt like I was missing puzzle pieces watching the movies.

    I don’t really feel qualified to rank the HP movies myself. My recollection was that the series improved when Columbus left. Beyond that, I don’t really remember which movie was which or have much of a preference. But reading your explanations, I can nod that they seem reasonable.

    Some day, I may have to read the books and/or revisit the movies. I’m sure those who have done so will get a lot more out of the HP lands in Universal. Maybe I’ll make an effort before our next Uni trip whenever that may be.


    • There are lots of very enthusiastic fans of the Harry Potter world out there, and some of them rival Trekkies in their fandom. I’m certainly not one of them, but once the films got more mature and more artfully produced, I became a fan. There is some stuff in the books that is not in the movies, some of which helps you understand what’s gong on. Overall, the film adaptations are pretty good, though, when you consider how bad some other film adaptations have been. There is one scene in the fifth book that I really wish had been put on film, but otherwise they mostly covered the important stuff. The first chapter of the sixth book could be its own film short.


      • Yep, I know there are some very ardent fans out there. And while I am not one of them, the series (books and films) seems worthy of their loyalty. There are worse things to be a fan of. While the movies didn’t fully win me over, I am very impressed by their existence at all. When they made the first one, I didn’t expect the movies to remain popular enough to warrant adapting every single book. And I definitely had my doubts they would do so quickly enough to retain the original cast of primary characters (the late Richard Harris notwithstanding).


  2. Yay! Harry Potter finally found its way to LeBlog! Ok you’ve got me. I’m a total Harry Potter nerd. The thing is – before I ever really got in touch with the whole HP-universe, I used to totally rip on it. I made fun of Harry Potter and everyone who liked it, because I thought it was the most childisch and silly thing and didn’t understand how especially grown-ups could be so enthousiastic about it… That was, until the day came Prisoner of Azkaban was on TV and I just happened to come across it, and I was already so bored with everything else on TV that I decided to watch it for a bit…. It took about 15 minutes before I was hooked. Over the next few months I first watched all the movies and then read all the books. What you said Lebeau, is very true: there are many puzzle pieces missing from the movies and I felt the exact same way watching them, so that’s why I decided to read the books as well and I’m very glad I did. The books contain crucial information and backstories which were left out of the movies. Especially Order of the Phoenix was completely hacked up – they literally left half of the book out of the movie!
    I agree mostly with your ranking, daffy! Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite too. Although there is one thing I personally disagree with (although I know your position on the subject is generally the most common one – I’m the minority here): I absolutely love Deathly Hallows Part 1. It’s exactly the quiet, meandering story-telling that I appreciate so much. In my opinion, the whole “alone in the forest” part of it, gives room to some of the best in-depth character development. The scene with Harry and Hermione dancing to Nick Cave’s “Oh children” (excellent choice of music by the way!) is, to me, the most beautiful and delicate moment of quiet intimacy in the entire series. And the forest-segment as a whole is unique in that it is a time of calm and reflection in an otherwise very action-packed (and sometimes exhausting) series. I love it.

    On another point, I also respectfully agree that Richard Harris wasn’t suited for the role of Dumbledore. He didn’t carry the weight necessary for the part. I love Michael Gambon, he has the exact right kind of authority needed for such an important role.

    One more thing: a while ago I created a poll on IMDb asking who would you have liked to have survived the series? Considering the killing-spree Rowling went on towards the end, I thought it was a very interesting and relevant question, and the results are pretty cool. I personally voted for Sirius Black, but it was a hard choice. I could’ve given my vote to anyone, I really cared about almost all of these characters. (Except maybe Scrimgeour, I’m surprised he even got four votes! haha) Anyway here it is: I hope you’ll all vote! (and sorry for plugging my poll like this on your blog Lebeau, hope you’ll forgive me 😉 )


    • I think I probably would have liked the quieter moments in Deathly Hallows part 1 if I had been more invested in the Ron/Hermione relationship, but since we had never really gotten enough positive connection between them it was hard for me to care about Ron skulking off. The books do a better job with the inner lives of these characters and how it informs their relationship.

      The difficulty with Order of the Phoenix is that the book is something like 870 pages long, the longest of all of the books. If they’d wanted to include everything from the book they would’ve had to make it into 2 movies like they did with Deathly Hallows. I feel like the mainstream audiences might have become reticent to invest in that, especially when this was a story about what happens between Voldemort returning and the war really beginning.

      I’ll go take a look at your poll!


  3. Ah, wow. I had wondered if a Harry Potter post such as this would appear on Leblog. There is an 8th grader Harry Potter fan in the household, and she has asked me to make sure I tell her when such an article might be posted “on that movie blog you are always on”. She is going to have strongly held opinions about ranking both the books and the movies, so that information will be forthcoming some time later this evening.


  4. I have read a few of the Potter books and seen a couple of the movies but don’t know the series well enough to rank them–although I know enough Potter lore to be aware that the Crumple-Horned Snorkack can’t fly, I am far from a real expert.

    I have always been impressed with the strong casts that were put together for the Potter movies, and in particular I want to join in the Jim Broadbent admiration you’ve expressed here. He is a real treasure. In light of the recent mention of Gilbert & Sullivan here (in the Razzies thread from yesterday), I will mention my favorite Broadbent performance of all, as W. S. Gilbert in Topsy-Turvy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. POA is your favorite? I’m sorry, but that is my least favorite HP movie. It does a very bad job of adapting one of my favorite HP books.


    • In preparing for writing this article I looked around the web and found a wide range of opinions on the topic. Some do, in fact, share your own feeling that the film did not adapt the book well. After recently both re-watching the film and reading the book, I can’t say I agree with this point of view. One of the few drawbacks to some of the books is that they spend an inordinate amount of time sitting down and carefully explaining the back stories to a point that I found unnecessary and tiresome. While it is true that the films sometimes err in the other direction, Prisoner of Azkaban is one (in my view) that explains just enough without spending the painful amount of time on exposition that the novel does. When asked by my Sister-in-law how I had liked the novel version of Prisoner of Azkaban, my response was “surprisingly talky.”


      • Maybe I can understand that if you watched the movie before you read the book, you will get a different perspective. And I’m not saying that the POA movie is bad. But I deeply dislike four things about it.

        1: Those creepy and annoying talking shrunken heads in the Knight Bus. Ugh, you have no idea how much you hate them. They were never there in the books either, so I don’t know what the point with them was.

        2: They did not bother with explaining who the Marauders were. I mean, really? There was no way for them to spend one minute on that?

        3: I don’t like much of the scene, where we watch Harry and Hermione observing themselves after they went back in time. There are too many details, that were not in the book, and Hermione’s stupid line about seeing what she looks like from the back is especially painful.

        4: Harry did not get his new broomstick from Sirius until summer, but he got it for Christmas in the book. Yeah, it is a small detail, and I really wish that it didn’t bother me, but it does.

        So yeah, I see it as a poor adaption of a really good book. And yes, it is a my least favorite HP movie.


    • I have a lingering anger for the third and fourth movies from watching them when they came out and feeling like they no longer captured the feeling of the magical world.

      In addition to filming in a different castle starting with Azkaban (understandable and necessary, I realize), Cuaron was intent on having the leads in Muggle clothes “to show their personalities” more, and I’ve heard somewhere (though I can’t find a link to back it up – maybe it was DVD commentary?) that he had the actors supply some of their own clothes. Hence from one movie to the next Hermione becomes much more fashionable, something I have NEVER FORGIVEN. (I’ll save my rant on why the wizard-raised Luna would be so loyal to a Muggle brand like Converse for another time). There seems to be a push to make them “relatable teens,” with more jokes like the “Is that what my hair looks like?” one mentioned by Furlenna, which compromised some of the characters’ real, canon personalities.

      There were also a lot of cinematic flourishes in each that weren’t in the book – Harry’s ride on the hippogriff that would have taken up a significant chunk of class time, the “Something Wicked This Way Comes” choir, etc. – that made me pretty angry as a kid who’d basically memorized the book.

      I hate Goblet of Fire for two moments that I felt were COMPLETELY contrary to the book – RageSmash Dumbledore banging Harry into a cabinet and shouting “DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE?” (in the book he calmly asks if Harry did it, Harry denies it, and he calmly says something like “well that’s that” in classic goofy Dumbledore way), and the final maze challenge just being a death trap instead of a battle of wits and cleverness. They go on and on in the books about how the Tournament isn’t supposed to be actually dangerous – hence Harry’s determination to save all the captives in the lake being derided as idiotic. It’s supposed to set up that Cedric’s death is a HUGE shock. In the movie, the maze is purely scary and dangerous, and there’s a sense that all the champions could die.

      However, at some point I gave up on being invested in the movies. I think it’s a shame that they switched directors so much, so the overall series doesn’t feel cohesive at all. I’m waiting for it to be rebooted as a miniseries with one director who knows all 7 books going in.


      • Thank you! Yeah, POA and GOF are my least favorite HP movies. Which is really ironic, since they are based on my two favorite HP books.


      • I totally understand that when a movie adaptation doesn’t meet your own expectations based on books you’ve read and loved with characters you’ve taken to your heart it is easy to be very disappointed. I’ve had to deal with it myself a few times.

        a few things:
        1) I am coming at this from the point of view of someone who saw the movies first and then read the books, so when there were differences while I was reading the book, for the most part my reaction would be “oh, that’s different. That’s interesting!” If there was extra stuff in the book I got to see it as a ‘bonus,’ whereas your perception of the movies was that they left out really important stuff. I have to say that most of the stuff that got cut for the movies didn’t bother me. They’re movies. They are a different art form and the studio just cannot make double versions of the last four books. That just wouldn’t be feasible. Stuff has to get cut.

        2) Let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly. If you’re suggesting that Hermione in the books does not care about her looks, then I don’t think that’s right. She intentionally lets her large teeth get shrunken down to a size she thinks looks better.

        3) They actually spend a lot of time in The Goblet of Fire book saying that whoever put Harry’s name in the goblet was out to get him because the tournament was so dangerous. They say it several times. Also, if the tournament was not supposed to be dangerous WHY WAS THERE A HUGE SPIDER IN THE MAZE?!?! That spider injures Harry’s leg pretty severely and nobody could see what was happening. The ones who were not going to be hurt were the loved ones who had been kidnapped by the mer people. The champions could easily have been killed. Dragons can kill in an instant no matter what precautions you take. Giant spiders are fast and lethal.

        4) The frog chorus singing the “Something Wicked This Way Comes” song is pretty awesome as far as I’m concerned. Did you just not like it because it wasn’t in the books?


        • Okay… Maybe I can go along with what people keep telling me, that books and movies are different art forms. And I understand that some sub-plots and minor characters have to be cut out. But with POA and GOF, it was like they hardly tried to follow the source material. OOTP is a rather loose adaption too, but I don’t mind it as much that time around, because I don’t like the book.


        • Hey!

          I came into these movies pretty young and have only revisited a few since, so my perception is definitely colored by how rabidly I loved the books.

          To answer your points in a skipping-around-order, with things like the frog chorus, it was frustrating to see things ADDED when they cut so much “for time.” For something as beloved as the HP books, those additions felt like a little too much artistic license. Totally agree with Furlenna’s comment that “it was like they hardly tried to follow the source material” – to me those movies both felt INSPIRED by HP, but not as much like an adaptation of those books as I would’ve liked, if that makes sense. I immersed myself in this world for seven books and all of my adolescence! I don’t wanna sit through a musical number I never asked for!

          Fair points about the maze. I was mostly annoyed, I guess, that there was NO cleverness or skills involved – it was just a dangerous maze to navigate. Tonally, that moment felt completely off to me.

          And finally, I’m not saying Hermione didn’t care about her looks, just that the lovable frizzy-headed nerd I adored disappeared between the second and third movie. They smoothed out her hair a good deal and I seem to recall her actually wearing Uggs in one scene – I don’t know that Hermione was ever FASHIONABLE in a trendy, “would purchase Uggs” way. I think that undermined the transformative moment they still tried to play up at the Yule Ball in the next movie and it’s where she started to feel a little more like Emma Watson than Hermione. I’m totally fine with Hermione coming into her looks and her sense of style over the course of the series, but the rapid switch in POA stung a 13-year-old nerd like me to see one of my own misrepresented.

          I love this debate, though. It says a lot about these two movies in particular that they’re ranked as your faves but our least favorite. No one is here fighting for the Chris Columbus ones – the filmmakers clearly had vision for the response to be so polarizing.


  6. So, here’s what we got. For the record, resident Potter expert was laughing hysterically over the Quiditch comments. She loved the post, and thank you for posting this on Friday since she doesn’t have to do homework on Fridays.

    I’ve asked her to comment and sort of free associate while I type….

    Her worst to best: 8)Deathly Hallows 1 7) Chamber of Secrets 6) Deathly Hallows 2 5) Sorcerers’ stone 4) Order of the Phoenix and then, 3 way tie:
    Prisoner of Azkabanan, Goblet of Fire, and Halfblood Prince.

    Deathly Hallows 1 was entertaining for about the first quarter and then seemed to become filler. “Secrets” was better, but still slow and confusing compared to the book. In fact, she thought if you had not read the book, the movie would be very off-putting. DH pt 2, again, dragged in the first half but she thought the second half was epic, if a tad cheesy. Sorcerer’s stone, some leeway for being the first, but she thought the presentation was watered down in regards to the Dursleys. You have a difference of opinion on the need for a lot of backstory. She finds it almost crucial for a movie to be able to stand alone, as opposed to the audience being required to read the book to understand it. Phoenix: not a traditional setup, until towards the end, the drawn out love story was not as entertaining, still a good storyline and featured a fight at the end that was “amazing”. From her description, she appreciated the writing and character development.
    Which brings us to the top 3. They all share a mix of drama and adventure, but they are each totally different. Prince of A had a satisfying conclusion, Halfblood had a “super sad: ending, yet it prepared you for the next movie. The colors and lighting appeared to become more somber, and the emphatic opinion is to not take a small child to see Deathly Hallows or Goblet of Fire. “You do not want little kids to see that.”
    She can’t decide between those three, and the books are “all awesome.”


    • So great to hear from your loved one, RB!
      I think we actually agree on a movie needing to stand alone. A few of the movies fail to emphasize important points. In contrast, the books tend to over-explain a lot of the time. What I’m looking for in a movie is something in between.


  7. Harry Potter!! Read all of the books. I thought it was fun initally to see them being translated to the screen. I got kind of bored after the fourth one though, which I also felt was to high-paced (and simply stopped watching the movies after that). So I can’t really rank them, but I agree on the third as the best. Cuaron did without a doubt a great job there.


  8. I posted this on Reddit to try to get a little extra participation. Here are the comments: posted there:

    [–]philliefanatic9 3 points 3 days ago
    A new page load for every slide? Nope.

    [–]LemnzestManateeRavenclaw Student 1 point 3 days ago
    I’m actually surprised how much I agreed with this list. Number 1 is my favorite HP movie too.

    [–]AmEndevomTag 1 point 3 days ago
    I totally disagree with HBP’s ranking. That movie would be dead last for me. It managed to leave out basically all the interesting scenes from the book. And in exchange we got a shitty “The Burrow is burning” scene.

    [–]jimsorrell 0 points 3 days ago
    The fact that HBP isn’t shafted into last and forgotten about is laughable.

    They really seem to dislike the Half-Blood Prince!


    • These are people who are entirely invested in the books. Large portions of The Half-Blood Prince book are flashbacks. Yes, much more-so than the movie which has some of that going on too. It works fine in the book but it’s just not a great idea in my opinion for this story in this medium.


      • Yeah, as someone who hasn’t read the books, I don’t need nor do I want that from the movies. This was posted in the HP subreddit as opposed to movies. May have gotten a different reaction there. I try not to wear out my welcome at Reddit. Those people are vicious! Hopefully it got us a few extra participants. I’m still looking for a few more rankings on the Elm Street WtF.


  9. I would put Order of the Phoenix as the worst movie.
    It was also the worst book.

    I think that the Prisoner of Azkaban has a pretty much universal rating at NO# 1


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