Many fandoms have very passionate fans who will forever go to bat for the franchise they love, but none are quite on the level of Harry Potter fans. It is this kind of sustained dedication that makes the recently announced HBO TV series adaptation of these books a financially viable option for Warner Bros, despite how creatively bankrupt such an idea sounds on the surface. But does this franchise actually need this proposed fresh coat of paint?

Is the Wizarding World worthy of the continual fan admiration it receives? Well, while it undoubtedly has its ups and downs, the ‘Harry Potter franchise’ is comprised of consistently solid movies, most still holding up despite many being close to two decades old at this point. But which among them should be heralded as the best the franchise has to offer, valuable lessons in adaptation and world-building, and which fail to meet these high standards of quality? Here’s our ranking of All Harry Potter Movies!

11. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

I would bet a good amount of money that even the most dedicated fans of this franchise don’t really understand what happens in this film. It simply doesn’t make sense to someone with even a passing knowledge of the franchise. Plot point after plot point is introduced, with the worst offense of all being they aren’t even developed in this film, simply set up for later installments. A whole new roster of supporting characters is introduced, but there is no space for them, given nobody from the first film is dropped, instead lingering and eating up screentime with little to do. Every element of the film remains disparate until the very end, when all the plots collide awkwardly in a laughable conclusion that might be visually impactful but doesn’t resonate emotionally in any way, given the little time we get to spend with the integral characters.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” plays fast and loose with character motivations, and the whole film is plagued with a sense of reverse engineering. It is self-evident that the conclusion of this spin-off franchise had already been decided before outlines for the actual meat of the film, i.e., the narrative had even begun. The progression of the movie from point A to point B is obvious. But the film meanders in such a way that it ends up feeling both predictable and confused. It’s a painful entry in a spin-off franchise that was already showing signs of being past its sell-by-date despite being only three years old at the point of release.

10. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

It was a film so mind-numbingly forgettable that it single-handedly unleashed a killing curse on the entire franchise, utterly obliterating any form of investment fans had and now essentially serving as the insipid climax of a messy trilogy. Some of the rides in Harry Potter World at Universal Studios have more thoughtfully constructed and engaging stories at their center. However, unlike the previous entry, at least this one can be followed without a comprehensive knowledge of the Wizarding World to scratch the surface of understanding.

Again, it is plagued by too many characters and rather effortless (in the negative sense), flat acting from most of the cast, including, unfortunately, the very talented Mads Mikkelsen, whose talents are severely underutilized as the recast Grindelwald. The fact that three different actors have played the character of Grindelwald in just three films is a testament to the messy state of the franchise. The world feels increasingly hollow, divorced of any imagination in favor of ham-fisted nostalgia-baiting and a return to the past rather than looking forward, something that might have been able to drum up interest in additional installments.

The major problem at this franchise’s foundation is that the “Fantastic Beasts” films never know what they want to be. Tonally, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is all over the place, and it is never clear who exactly it is for. On the one hand, it needs to appeal to younger viewers, necessitating a whimsical sense of adventure with cute and colorful creatures designed to sell toys. On the other hand, it needs to appeal to older viewers, so it is packed with dark, lore-heavy elements that are more interesting to read about than actually watch in action. After the abysmal previous entry, it would have been a challenge to create something worse, but “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a respectable attempt in that regard.

Also Read: “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” is a Bittersweet Franchise Retrospective

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 (2010)

Splitting book-to-film adaptations into multiple parts is rarely a successful endeavor, as one part is often left significantly weakened as a result. In the case of the “Harry Potter” series, dividing the climatic finale into two relatively lengthy installments doesn’t quite come together. It leaves “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One” as nothing more than a tedious set-up with little payoff. It isn’t a narratively satisfying watch, as there is no real conclusion.; it just ends. While book loyalists would contend this point, the best of this franchise has a shrewd understanding of the necessity of cutting and trimming the fat of the books to deliver something more cinematic. Unfortunately, with the two-part approach, the writers got a free pass on that process, as filling time is more important than editing down. Much of the film, therefore, arrives as padding.

Aside from maybe Dobby’s death, the film lacks any truly memorable sequences, with an underwhelming plot that spins its wheels. The sense of childish wonder to be found in this ingenious world filled with rich and vivid detail is lost, as the characters spend a large proportion of the film somberly trekking through a forest. A fundamental problem with this film is that it feels skippable for anyone wanting to binge through the franchise, given its lack of a unique identity. It still possesses many of the key traits that make this franchise work for so many, but at this point in the franchise, David Yates seems to be coasting on fans who previously earned goodwill.

8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” exemplifies the frustrating growing pains of a franchise undergoing an identity crisis as the light tone of the first few films makes way for something darker, something for a more mature audience. It is made even more frustrating because it is the entry in the franchise with the most missed potential. The opening setpiece of the Quidditch World Cup is sorely underused.

The Triwizard tournament comprises a series of underwhelming challenges, and the film only really starts getting good towards the end with the return of Voldemort and the tragic death of Cedric – perhaps the franchise’s best one-off character. The tense conclusion demonstrates that director Mike Newell would have been better served tackling a later project in this franchise, as despite hailing from a comedic background, it is the tonal mismanagement that lies at the heart of the film’s issues.

Despite problems in this regard, it still marks a huge step up in quality from those at the bottom of this list. The production design is still top-notch, and key supporting characters get a decent amount to do in the narrative. It also manages to combine fun hijinx in the form of the Triwizard tournament framing device with genuine stakes and the sense the franchise is building towards something greater. As the middle-entry in the franchise, there are definite problems as it tries to bridge the gap tonally, and many elements feel somewhat underdeveloped. However, it still possesses the magical, for lack of a better word, charm that is found within the very best of the franchise.

7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Out of all the films in the franchise, the second entry, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” stands as the longest at a whopping 2 hours and 41 minutes. This will be far from surprising to many, as the film does nothing to disguise this fact. The opening act of this film is pretty good, and it serves to expand the world in a very assured and natural way, never getting lost in the world-building whilst ensuring it remains a core part of this franchise and doesn’t stagnate. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart, is my favorite character in this franchise, thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s delightfully hatred-inducing performance. Let’s not forget that this film introduces the beloved Dobby.

It does, however, center itself on a mystery with apparent answers, not one that can sustain engagement for the ridiculous runtime, and the third act is far and away one of the weakest the franchise has to offer, with Harry coming face to face with a giant CGI monster, saved by a textbook example of Deus ex Machina. These problems don’t hamper the film massively, but they prevent it from being anywhere near the upper echelons of the series. Christopher Columbus’s confident guiding hand is still in full effect. However, the novelty of seeing the young cast bring these characters to life has already worn off, making for one of the most unremarkable films in the wizarding world.

Also Related: 20 Years Of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone: What Made The Wizarding World So Enchanting

6. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Many, including myself, were skeptical that a spin-off to the “Harry Potter” franchise would arrive as nothing more than a soulless corporate cash grab. However, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” managed to surpass all expectations by actually being decent for the most part. Sure, it has problems. Overstuffed by the need to introduce and make us care about a completely new selection of characters, David Yates’ fairly tired and bland directorial style and inconsistent pacing are chief among them.

Yet, despite this, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” does breathe much-needed new life into the franchise. The New York period setting expands the world and is brought to the screen with fantastic production and costume designs. Eddie Redmayne’s socially awkward, off-kilter performance as Newt Scamander is charming. Jacob and Queenie’s romantic subplot is handled well, and it does feel like the core messages of championing outsiders and fighting oppression are at the heart of what the film is trying to say and do.

This is the only film in this spin-off franchise with a clear identity separate from the “Harry Potter” series. It honestly could have existed and would have been better served as a stand-alone. It’s a cheery adventure that doesn’t have the emotional resonance of the best of the franchise but one that certainly made audiences across the world optimistic about the future—at least for a short time.

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Harry Potter Movies - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Many will be quick to herald “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” as one of the franchise’s most underrated films. While to an extent this might be true, it is often an entry that audiences don’t talk about, sandwiched between far more epic scales of both “Order of the Phoenix” and the “Deathly Hallows” duology – there is a reason for this. The slower-paced, more character-focused entry is slightly underwhelming compared to the films that surround it. Whilst it is an undoubtedly important piece in the overall puzzle, with the death of Dumbledore, the establishment of the Horcrux Maguffins, and the villainous arc of Snape coming to ahead, it does feel somewhat slight, lacking a truly engaging first or second act.

Hugh Bonneville is an example of stellar casting. This brings something different to the franchise while feeling perfectly believable. The central cast is on top form now that the main three kids—Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint—are all at an age where the dramatic beats between them, something the film prioritizes, feel natural. But when binged, it does feel like an extended rest, overly gritty, with not very strong source material underscoring it.

Perhaps, if “The Deathly Hallows” was just one film, it wouldn’t feel like this entry and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” were treading such similar ground. Still, since that decision was made, and since David Yates’ construction of tone is so similar in both this and the aforementioned seventh entry, they appear to serve basically the same functions and instill “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” with an unfortunate sense of redundancy.

4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Harry Potter Movies - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

In many ways, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” feels like the definitive entry in this franchise. Wand-battles, inventive settings, a focus on growing up in this magical world, and seeing the world through the eyes of the protagonists, as opposed to them being thrust into something far bigger than themselves, endearing supporting characters, detestable antagonists – this is a film with a lot going for it. Ralph Fiennes gets a chance to really flex his talents, the death of Cedric still affects character motivations in a way that feels true to life, Gary Oldman and Helena Bonham Carter are given good material to work with given their increased relevance, and Imelda Staunton is phenomenal as Dolores Umbridge, perhaps the best exemplification of how to adapt a book character to screen.

The Kafka-esque nature of the plot, Harry trying to convince everyone as to the return of Voldemort only to face large road-blocks at every turn, makes for an immediately engaging central throughline, and the CGI, which had been ropey up until this entry, was finally mastered allowing for some of the best action set-pieces in the franchise. There are no outstanding issues with the film, aside from the obvious directorial choices from David Yates, his curtailing off the work of others, and not really bringing any unique flavor that makes this individual project novel in any way. Nonetheless, “Order of the Phoenix” is still one of the most rewatchable entries, by nature of it being one of the shortest, containing everything you could ever want from a Harry Potter film.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

Harry Potter Movies - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (2011)

The final part of a film series is never easy to get right. Especially when seven films precede it, all of which are universally beloved. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” gets it right, though. I argued previously that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” was drastically underserved by the source material having been split into two parts. However, this problem is negated somewhat by the fact that “Part 2” is so much better for it. A quick pace can be achieved without sacrificing the smaller character moments needed to make a finale such as this satisfying.

Everyone, down to the minor supporting characters, is given something to do, and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight – without losing the sense of grandiosity built right from the beginning. The stakes are never higher in this franchise than they are here, rightfully so, but it really does feel like a culmination of a decade’s worth of filmmaking. The ending is perhaps a little sentimental. But the creative team, both behind and in front of the camera, certainly weren’t burnt out and were on top form to produce one of the best franchise finales ever.

Read More about Harry Potter Movies: The 10 Best Moments in the Harry Potter Film Series

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Harry Potter Movies - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

At the risk of stating the obvious – bringing a world-class director into a franchise – someone who would be later recognized with a Best Director award at the Oscars – was a good decision. However, it is important to highlight that the auteur X-factor provided by Alfonso Cuaron makes “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” one of the best in the franchise. Chris Columbus may have helped establish the visual language of the franchise. Still, it is arguable that it was Cuaron’s adoption of a slightly darker, more mature tone that provided the blueprint for the next fifteen years of filmmaking efforts the franchise would produce. This third entry has a sense of experimentation that kept the franchise fresh, and the technical competency on display means that it arrives as easily the most visually distinctive entry to date.

The time-travel shenanigans don’t completely work, neither does the Knight-bus sequence nor many of the odd zooms and post-production effects. However, it takes bold, refreshing swings and is well worthy of admiration. The film builds on the lore of the franchise and is undoubtedly one of the most exposition-heavy entries, but it never feels that way. All of the details about the Marauders, Harry’s parents, and Patronuses are seamlessly integrated, underlining the character’s decisions throughout the narrative. For many book loyalists, this film is one of the weaker entries given the stark departure from how spectacularly the world was brought to life in the first two films, but in terms of constructing something cinematic, a work that is not only a brilliant adaptation but a brilliant film within its own right – “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” succeeds with flying colors.

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

Harry Potter Movies - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

While we might take the design and aesthetics of this franchise for granted twenty-three years later, it is vital to remember that it all began with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Obviously, this was never going to be the only film in the franchise – there was less riding on it in this regard than with other first franchise entries. Still, the fact that Christopher Colombus and the entire creative team hit the ground running in such a way, nailing every element of this world from the books on the first try, provided the unshakable foundations from which this multi-billion dollar series could flourish.

Sure, the CGI perhaps wasn’t quite up to scratch in 2001, or at least wasn’t at a level where every ambition could be fully realized, but much of the film is still visually impressive, and for every understandably dodgy child performance is an impeccable performance from a world-class talent. Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, and Richard Harris all bring spectacular gravitas to the world, embodying their book counterparts immaculately. Even smaller roles like Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw are cast perfectly. The first act may be cartoonish, and the plot may be simplistic – perhaps there is an extent to which an undeniably subjective sense of nostalgia does cloud my judgment somewhat. Still, every piece of merchandise and pop-culture iconography from this film series is owed to Colombus for a film that deserves to be a case study for compelling world-building and serve as a masterclass in adaptation.

If this film didn’t so perfectly capture the spirit and tone of the novels, we might still have gotten the ten subsequent entries and spin-offs, but they would have been significantly hampered had this film not been as creatively successful. It is not that every movie in the Wizarding World franchise has been trying to chase the success of this one only to fail or that the film stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of quality. Still, instead, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” laid the foundations and allowed the rest of the franchise to be of equal quality, something which could only have been achieved with this film being as good as it is two decades later. It’s a beloved classic and one worthy of its place as the best of the franchise.

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