The Wizarding World series is interesting in that despite commercial success, it lacks a lot of what a great fantasy series like say, Lord of the Rings has in spades: consistency. A director with a vision, using the same composer and cast throughout. Obviously elements like the recasting of Dumbledore were unavoidable, but the mish mash of directors and composers putting their stamp makes the series feel muddled. Perhaps that’s why it has, unlike it’s Tolkien cousin, never achieved academy recognition in addition to commercial reception. That said, the current state of the ‘Fantastic Beasts: I guess we’re still going with that title because we have nothing better’, draws the Hobbit prequels to mind, unfortunately. Both are underwhelming prequels extenuating a smaller, tonally different source book to try to emulate prior successes. Still, it’s fun to throw out what order we’d rank these films in. They’re all a similar level of quality, unlike say, the Pirates of the Carribean series, so no two lists will be the same. So with that: alohamora! Let’s dive in.
10. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Easily the weakest of the series. A non coherent plot, messy character motivations and an uninspiring performance from Johnny Depp as the titular big bad. Though, there are still some great moments; the opening scene, the triumphant return to Hogwarts, complete with John Williams swell, and the fantastic performance of Jude Law as a young Dumbledore. Sadly, most would agree it belongs pretty firmly at the bottom of the list.
9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
A nice return to the Wizarding World, but sadly lacking a lot of what makes the earlier films great. Most of this comes down to stakes, and unfortunately, the overcomplicated plot setting the seeds for its own quintology just feels far more bare bones and run of the mill than prior stories. Eddie Redmayne is an excellent choice and a suitably different protagonist to bland and overly perfect Potter, but even he can’t save what ultimately serves to be a pretty underwhelming, un-magical experience.
8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part one
The slowest paced of the Potter entries is still a fine film, but tends to drag its heels for much of its run time. Despite being the first part of the culmination of years of establishing plot, this one takes its time just a little too much and unfortunately, the pacing suffers. That said, it still has its stand out moments; the dramatic sky chase, the lovely moment between Harry and Hermione in the forest, and of course, the death of the fictional character embodiment of marmite: Dobby the House Elf.
7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The tonal turning point of the series, the introduction of brilliantly disgusting one shot character Delores Umbridge gives this film much of its appeal. It suffers greatly from missing some wonderful elements from the book (which all the films do to some extent) though here it is most jarring with the cringe worthy, awkward, wooden romance between Harry and Ginny beginning to blossom. The performances from the cast show their greatest improvement yet, with the addition of kooky Luna Lovegood as a particular highlight. A fantastic visual effects battle between Voldemort and Dumbledore towards the end too, sets the standard for all films to come.
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
AKA the one where everyone has super long hair for some reason! Seriously though, this one is good, if a little clunky. It again misses some great details from the book, but the introductions of both Barty Crouch Jr and Mad Eye Moody are brilliantly realised for the big screen. It’s also the most action packed yet, yet unfortunately begins the trend of tonal and stylistic dissonance from the previous film. This is particularly notable in the absence of John Williams as composer, which leaves the series like a clumsily brewed polyjuice potion, missing its crucial secret ingredient from here on out.
5. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone
The one that started it all still holds up today. That said, it has to be taken on its own merit as a far more child friendly entry that reflects the tone of director Chris Columbus’ other blockbuster hit; Home Alone. The filmmaking on display here though is truly charming, with an ace blend of practical and computer generated effects where later entries would unfortunately favour the latter exclusively. The child performances are obviously pants, which is a bit odd when you consider more recent kid led ventures like Stranger Things, but the adult characters, particularly the gentle soul brought to Richard Harris’ take on Dumbledore in addition to the casting perfection of Alan Rickman as Snape, shine through.
4. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Perhaps a bit of a wild card pick, but this is my personal favourite of the series. It’s the funniest, for one thing, with some surprisingly subtle comic acting from a liquid luck infused Daniel Radcliffe. It also features the most Snape yet, which is more than a contributing factor. It’s perhaps the least ‘Harry Potter-ish’ of the series as it gears up for the epic two part finale, but also creates a great atmosphere that feels more realised than the three films prior. Though totally different to Philosophers and Chamber, it seems to be the most sure of itself entry since those two. We also get the introduction of Jim Broadbent as brilliantly bumbling Professor Slughorn: perhaps the best casting since Harris as Dumbledore.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part two
Now this is how you end a series. Following a clunky, exposition heavy first part, director David Yates was now finally free to let the plot breathe, with a much better pace and some really nice character moments. Ralph Fiennes chews the scenery as the garishly evil, yet camp, Voldemort and enjoys every second. He’s wonderful. We’re given the most action packed entry yet, with the magical effects absolutely pushed to their limits. The almost lightsaber-esque dual between Voldemort and Harry in the films third act, is a particular highlight. Musically speaking, the callbacks to former films using the Williams score was nice, if bittersweet at the lack of consistency throughout.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The only one without Voldemort! The first not to be directed by Chris Columbus! A scary old grandad pretending to be Dumbledore! What is this?! While that’s all true, Prisoner of Azkaban is still tight. It acts as a natural springboard into the darker, grim tone of the later films. The acting from the core trio finally starts to see some improvement (note- some – see Harry ‘crying’ at Hogsmeade for a lesson in crocodile tears) and the plot is actually pretty faithfully brought to screen. Professor Lupin actor David Thewlis is a strong addition to the cast and there’s more than a little Snape to love in this one too, which is never a bad thing.
1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Philosophers Stone without the growing pains- Chamber of Secrets is, in my opinion, the peak of the series. It has a brilliant tone that manages to escalate the darkness in a natural way, its soundtrack is littered with distinct leitmotifs that only the masterful Williams can produce and it boasts Kenneth Branagh, Shakesperianly hamming it all the way to hell as the single funniest character in HP history. Additionally, if you’re one of the two people who hadn’t read the book before hand, it also acts as a pretty intriguing mystery, with the titular Chamber which would show a greater significance as the series continued. Personally, I’d have loved to have seen a world where Chris Columbus took on the whole saga and shown how he would’ve approached the darker, later instalments. Imagine a world with Columbus, Williams and Richard Harris throughout…wouldn’t that have been a sight to see. Still, what we have is pretty decent. Let me know below, how you’d order the series.