The Harry Potter franchise may just be one of the most influential franchises of all time. Not only was each chapter and entry into the series commercially and critically successful, it tapped into a cultural zeitgeist that ensured each film was as relevant as the last and provided the franchise with a growing fanbase, despite being set in the fantastical world of witches and wizards. With the first big screen comeback, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (set years before the Harry Potter franchise) just a few hours away now, I take a look back at the franchise and rank them from worst to best, as anticipation builds for the new world from J.K. Rowling.
A quick disclaimer - I love this franchise and each film on this list is solid, and does has more than a few redeeming factors. In fact, I probably wouldn't rate any of them below a 6/10, which says an awful lot about the series. This list has changed order on a number occasions, including during the write-up itself, and will continue to do so. Maybe I'll do another one in a couple of years, to see how it has all changed. But, without further ado, check out my ranking and be sure to let me know your own!
8. Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Pretty much a staple at the bottom of everybody's Harry Potter list, the franchises' second film - The Chamber of Secrets - lacks the magic (no pun intended) in what makes Harry Potter such an incredible film series. It feels unnecessarily padded and wasteful with its runtime, while occasionally feeling like a rehash of plot points and ideas from the first film - instead of expanding the film series, it simply extends the first film which results in an uninspired second feature. Some of the acting is at its shoddiest and the plot arc with the spiders feels uneventful and unneeded in the whole scheme of things. It doesn't help that the idea of a serpent living under a school freaks me the hell out. Essentially a whodunnit, Harry Potter is a better franchise than this, as they prove with the other seven films.
Summary: By no means a bad film, The Chamber of Secrets lacks the magic of other instalments and feels simply an extension of the first film, rather than an expansion of the series.
7. Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone (2001)
The film that started it all isn't bad - in fact, it's really quite good - but for a franchise starter feels surprisingly inconsequential. It does absolutely marvellous work in world-building and character-setting and the introduction to the Great Hall has to be one of the series' most defining moments, with a heap of superb production values to help convey that, but it struggles with creating much of a story beyond that of creating a universe for the characters to live in. It feels very sanitised and light and, although aligned to be family-entertainment, is insufficient in even hinting at the darker themes that should be at the forefront of the picture. It often lacks an emotional pull (admittedly though, it's difficult to compare chapter one to latter chapters, with emotion more easily conjured the deeper we go into a story and the longer we spend with the characters). It also struggles in its conviction; one is never convinced the school or characters are actually engaged, despite being set against a backdrop that would imply otherwise. If it sounds like I'm being harsh, I probably loved this film on first viewing - but it doesn't carry the same gravitas as later films in the franchise.
Summary: Philosopher's Stone is a good introduction to the wizarding world of Harry Potter with fantastic production values attached, but it lacks an emotional pull and conviction, and feels weaker only in comparison to the other films of the series.
6. Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Other than the film's final twist which, although absolutely heartbreaking and shocking, feels unearned, Half-Blood Prince feels like a stepping stone between the middle and the finale, which is always a difficult place to find yourself, reflected in the film's own overdrawn middle act. Looking for a reason and a drive to advance the story to the show-stopping conclusion, it ponders a little too much and considers little else, feeling more like a waiting game than anything else. It does have its moments, like Bellatrix Lestrange's attack on the Wesley Burrow on Christmas Eve, the Death Eaters assault on Millennium Bridge and the third act's death that sets in motion the further two films to come, but the overwhelming feeling of 'filler, not killer' pushes the sixth film into the bottom half of the list.
Summary: The Half-Blood Prince features some terrific set pieces and sets the finale up well, but ultimately feels too much of a stepping stone and not an individual chapter in its own right.
5. Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
A firm favourite among other fans of the franchise, Prisoner of Azkaban is pushed into fifth place because on this list because it feels wholly unconnected. While a change in director is never a bad thing (it worked wonders for The Hunger Games franchise - keep your eyes peeled for a similar list to this in the coming weeks) and Alfonso Cuaron's work here is undeniable effective, it doesn't seem to gel with the other seven films. As with Half-Blood Prince, Azkaban needs to handle the transition from the beginning to middle and does so remarkably well, if it didn't feel more standalone than it does. It's notable change in tone and visual is arresting but overwhelming and really feels like the franchises' outlier because it tries so hard to strive from the first two (all too similar) chapters. Its deep focus on character building and world enhancing is respectful and generally well-executed, even if it creates many plot holes regarding the time-turning plot device. Everything steps up its game with this third instalments, but it also takes too much of a step away from what we've familiarised ourselves with.
Summary: Prisoner of Azkaban represents a turning point in the Harry Potter franchise and taking on a darker tone more suitable to the franchise, it strives for something too far away that it ultimately feels unconnected.
4. Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire (2005)
The Goblet of Fire clocking in at only number four is entirely my own fault. Its been over-watched by my own admission and I find little enjoyment in it nowadays - although I do recognise that this is one of the strongest films of the franchise. The Triwizard Tournament that is at the centre of the film is a superb idea that plays out terrifically well, with a genuine level of intensity and danger that the series has only hinted at before. It sets the middle section of the franchise in motion particularly well, with the introduction of the reborn Lord Voldermort representing another turning point - everything steps up a level and begins to feel a little more consequential. Furthermore, the acting feels a lot more sophisticated in this fourth chapter, with more subtlety found in the both lead and supporting roles, leading to a more mature and significant chapter. Is it bad to admit I still find the graveyard sequence at the end of the film completely terrifying? It's deeply powerful and the whole Triwizard tournament allows for a whole range of technical skills to be demonstrated to the best of their ability on screen. It's a brilliant film and I hope to one day to be able to watch it with the same level of fondness as I do now.
Summary: The Goblet of Fire takes on a whole new maturity, darkness and sophistication, suggesting that Harry Potter franchise is well underway and racing towards a whole new era for the series.
3. Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix (2007)
I have an absolute soft spot for The Order of the Phoenix. Not only was it my first experience of IMAX 3D, it was also the first Harry Potter film I saw on the big screen, making the experience all the more special. Whether its my sentimentality to the film getting in the way, The Order of the Phoenix feels the most exciting film of the collection, bar the finale of course, and carries on the maturity and sophistication found in the Goblet of Fire. From the introduction of Bellatrix Lestrange to her terrible dead at the conclusion, or the formation of Dumbledore's Army to the entire Ministry of Magic set piece at the conclusion, it is relentless in excitement with a number of defining points that make the story so enjoyable. It may not feel as crafted and rounded as a number of other chapters but it moves the story on swiftly and enthusiastically with vigour. Plus, Imelda Staunton's Dolores Umbridge is loathsome and rivals Voldemort's villainy, in one of the franchises' best performances.
Summary: Order of the Phoenix continues the Harry Potter story with excitement and vigour, competing for the series' 'most stunning' title with excellent set pieces and production values, including the spectacular and powerful Ministry of Magic third act.
2. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows - Part One (2010)
The Deathly Hallows - Part One became one of the first in a growing trend to split its final source material into two films and I truly believe it works out. Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent and Avengers (very soon) are other examples that followed suit with varying degrees of success. As with Mockingjay - Part One (of The Hunger Games franchise, which is considered by many as its weak point), Deathly Hallows - Part One works superbly in its ability to build on its characters, even at such a late point in the game. It may not be the most action-packed of the franchise, or even the most exciting, but it is a welcome break from the 'ready, set, go' mentality that has continued pretty much since Azkaban. To readjust and deeply focus on the three central characters specifically so close to the final battle is a smart move that feels very under-appreciated. Furthermore, and I don't even need to name names, but the heartbreakingly finale and character death has to be one of the most devastating in a loooooonngg time. I'm still not over it. And finally, lets not forget Hermoine's telling of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, completed with such gorgeous imagery and animation, which very well may be my favourite moment of the entire series.
Summary: The Deathly Hallows - Part One makes the decision to focus largely on the characters at the heart of the story and it largely works, ensuring Part Two works even more powerfully and profoundly.
1. Harry Potter & The Death Hallows - Part Two (2011)
'Saving the best till last' is a phrase created regarding the Harry Potter franchise, right? Deathly Hallows - Part Two, being the chapter the whole series has worked towards, ensures the pay off is superbly executed, with a certain weight and power attached to it. Cinematic and stupendous, everything comes together - with a huge thanks to the streamlined and focused Part One - in an almost faultless way, with the film infamous for its ruthless approach and conclusion feeling incredible cathartic. Each performance is solid and convincing, particularly that of the late Alan Rickman, and although I can't say I agree with every decision J.K. Rowling made regarding character end-point, I can understand them, which demonstrates a great talent on her behalf in encouraging the story to unfurl naturally, rather than forced or unrewarding. It is with a great sense of relief that the conclusion feels like such a successful pay off, rewarding fans and causal viewers alike for sticking with it through the journey, which was almost always entertaining, but rarely as powerful as chapter 7.5. To put it simply, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows - Part Two is pure magic.
Summary: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows - Part Two is a thrilling, exciting and magical conclusion to the franchise, with terrific visuals, themes and performances playing out against a story that feels powerful and worthy of the ten year build up. It may just be one of the strongest finales in cinematic history.
Well, that's that. Do you agree with my ranking or have I got it all terribly, horribly, unforgivably wrong - either way, be sure to let me know! Keep an eye out for more of these in the future, as I had such a cracking time ranking these, and be ready for my Fantastic Beasts review in the coming days. Until next time!