To preface this list, I want to establish that these are my personal preferences. You're free to have your own. I have gone through many lists and read many opinions so I know that you probably won't think like I do. I also want to say that regardless of the ranks of each movie, I like every single one of them and have watched each more than once. I will probably watch each film many more times in the future, so there is no hate on this list, just a guy who loves to talk about Harry Potter.
Harry Potter Films From Worst to Best
8. Deathly Hallows – Part 1
7. Half-Blood Prince
6. Goblet of Fire
5. Order of the Phoenix
4. Philosopher's Stone
3. Deathly Hallows – Part 2
2. Prisoner of Azkaban
1. Chamber of Secrets
8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1
I know there are many people who like this movie more than I do, but I never saw this one on anyone's top three. It's not hard to understand why. Of all of the recent splittings of books for a film adaptation, this is the only one I understand, accept, and even support. The last two movies cut a lot of things out but the choice of what to leave behind was logical and it felt seemless on screen. However, to maintain the core structure of the story, they had to include a lot of vital elements that implied a four hour movie. The film had to allow our characters to grow, change, and doubt themselves, and not just react to the next plot point that had to be hit. The splitting of the last novel had to be done.
DH Part 1 does a good job on the development of the characters, but its downfall is that the last book has a good 3 act feel to it. When you split that, you lose of bit of the pacing, especially when the 2nd act is just 3 characters in a rather quiet setting. To put it bluntly, there are many points where the films dull. What pulls it through is how much we know and like about these characters but that is not enough to get this entry higher on this list.
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Ok, this is where the controversy begins. I do realise a lot of people really like this one. I am of the opposite opinion. I'll say this now, despite having said that DH was hard to make for the screen because of the issues it had to overcome, I do think Half-Blood Prince was the hardest book to adapt in the series. It relies heavily on exposition and isn't very plot driven. Since our POV is with Harry, we don't get a lot of visibility on what is happening outside of Hogwarts. Hell, Voldemort doesn't even show up in this one. So the adaptation goes the logical route, it focuses on our characters and their emotional struggles.
While this is certainly entertaining, it never feels as if it's moving towards an end game. There is the Hermione and Ron drama, and Harry and Dumbledore are exploring Voldemort's past, but what is the goal? It mostly seems to be solving the Draco mystery, but that feels like a side plot when we know Voldemort is out there. There are a lot of events throughout the movie, but no real plot to tie them all together. At one point, the film even realises that there is nothing going on, so they stage an attack on the Burrow that totaly falls flat. Ultimately, like with DH Part 1, what pulls it through are the characters that are very well written and portrayed. Tom Felton shines as Draco and Michael Gambon delivers a performance of Dumbledore that feels closest to the source material. Yes, it even beats out previous performances by Richard Harris. The jokes are at points very funny, but you go see Harry Potter for the magic and adventure, and I missed some of that here.
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Our sixth entry has the opposite problem of what Half Blood Prince had. Goblet of Fire has too much going on. In fact, there was talk about splitting it into two parts like with DH. Honestly, I think this would have made the film suffer from the same problems as I previously mentioned, so I'm glad that decision wasn't made. The final product was a movie that tries to introduce a lot of new subplots and characters but fails to flesh them out. Despite that, this entry is still very entertaining. The sets and effects are amazing to look at and the narrative keeps you on the edge of your seat. If a few more unnecessary subplots had been cut, I think there would have been a better connection between the audience and the characters. As for what we have, it's an exciting adventure and I like this movie a lot for it.
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I was very torn between putting this movie over or under Goblet of Fire, but I chose to place OotP at number five because I do think this one is more balanced. I like the fifth book more than most folks do, so I may be biased on this one. The strengths of the film is its great pacing, its dedicated time to the characters, and its ability to keep the plot interesting. However, I do think it lacks in flavour. While GoF had the structure of the plot flooded with subplots, OotP keeps the basic skeleton of the plot but lacks the meat.
It's challenging to explain what I mean by this exactly. The most clear example I can offer is the final battle in the Department of Mysteries. The Dumbledore vs Voldemort fight is amazing, and I'd argue it is better in the movie than in the book, but the rest of the skirmish feels bland. We don't know what spells they are casting, the Department of Mysteries isn't fleshed out enough, the battle is not as long as I would have liked, and I wished more characters had gotten hurt. I wish the film series took chances to have longer entries. This is the shortest installment in the series. Why not give a few more minutes to this battle, or Grawp?, They could have given more time to plot points they kept in but didn't fully explain. What I do think keeps the plot interesting and full of emotion is the presence of Umbridge. She makes you forget that the Voldemort plot is happening, so you channel all your hate towards her character. She is so vile and you love to hate her so much. The character keeps you engaged with the plot inside Hogwarts. Major props to Imelda Staunton. Like I said, the movie succeeds in its characters and pacing, but by reducing the plot to the bare minimum, it doesn't flow well enough.
4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Starting the second half of the list is the first movie in the series. PS had the tough job of making us fall in love with the franchise, enough to hook us in and keep us invested. It did that by doing what it absolutely had to do. It valued the introduction of the world over the introduction of the characters. This film had to be magical, and that's exactly what it pulled off. Everything from Diagon Alley, to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, to the first sighting of Hogwarts, to Quidditch, has a sense of wonder. There are plenty of exploration sequences, where the camera simply lets us watch all of these magical things. It makes us wish that we had them in our lives.
Only after the magic is introduced does the focus shift to the characters and plot. It was a wise decision since the first book is the thinnest. This entry has all the characters establish their relations with each other, so we understand them in future installments. The roster is kept small and the plot is easy to follow, so it ends up being just a fun, simple, magical adventure. The special effects are somewhat dated, the older actors sometimes over act, and the acting is a little wooden from the young cast, but it never gets annoying.They are actually pretty adorable, which I think also best describes this first installment movie. Even when I'm 80, I'll still adore PS for being just that.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
After I saw this movie, I felt confident that Mockingjay Part 2 was going to be a homerun, just like this was. I turns out that this film is more special than I gave it credit for. Sorry for my little rant on the Hunger Games, but it made me understand how great this entry is. It is the electrifying and action-packed climax to the series, but also because it tells a great story, has an excellent rhythm, and closes the 10 year development of our characters in a satisfying way. The only thing wrong with this movie is that, like with OotP, its length feels short so it can't have moments for all of the characters that we love. I have to point out two things that felt awkward. First, the epilogue. It felt at some points a little too cheesy, but John Williams' score thankfully made it awesome. Secondly, the final confrontation with Voldemort felt anticlimactic because no one saw it. The movie does a poor job of explaining why Voldemort dies. It is somewhat explained by Harry after the battle, but I think it confused some people. However, in that scene, Neville kicks ass, so who cares? In the end, my point is that this movie is awesome and could have easily not been. This makes me appreciate it a little bit more. Everything it does with the characters works on screen as it did on page, and my only main gripe is that it didn't do more.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
This choice will probably be understood by most of you. Prisoner of Azkaban is generally considered to be one of the best in the series, if not the best. This movie excels in everything. The ambience, characters, visuals, and plot all come together. Up until now I never mentioned the changes in directors as the series went along, but I have to here because this is where it was felt the hardest. You can immediately feel Alfonso Cuaron's stamp, just from the change in the colour pallet. It fits well here since this is the one story where Voldemort's presence is felt the least. It's a great moment for a transition as our characters grow up. It isn't necessarily a change towards a darker tone because the movie is relatively light hearted. That's what makes this film a good one. It would have been easy for this entry to become a very serious movie without the whimsy and magic that is needed. While it feels like the characters and our story are taking the next step forward, they still feel familiar. They've just developed. Some fans find the change jarring and don't think it fits the book. I actually think it enhances it. Once again our cast shines, there are gorgeous effects to look at, and the dramatic moments are very well executed. From an objective point of view, this one is the complete package of what you want in a Harry Potter movie.
1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This is the surprise twist ending that reveals how subjective this list is, and may anger some of you. Chamber of Secrets is appreciated by some, but it's in the minority as far as rankings of the movies go. It's also the lowest ranked of the series on IMDB. So this is the most personal of my eight placements on this list, and I'll try to explain myself as objectively as I can. Keep in mind, I love this movie somewhat irrationally.
The first thing people say against this movie is that it's too long and that Columbus should have taken more chances in cutting some corners. While I do agree some scenes could have been cut, I don't get why you would want to. Despite it's length, CoS is always moving forward. It never stops, whether it's introducing new characters, putting us in an action scene, or setting up the mystery. It feels rather brisk. Honestly, I've sat through many movies that are considered masterpieces that are and feel way longer than this. I don't understand why it's so big of a sin for CoS to demand the same from the audience for only two hours and 35 minutes. Being an adventure movie and not a drama, I think this film is justified in its run time right and should pause only to give the characters and audience some breathing time. This occurs during the talk at the Burrow and Harry writting Lockhart's letters. For me, this only fleshes out the world we love so much, and I really appreciate it. We still talk about Gilderoy Lockhart today because he was given his due time to shine in CoS, even though he never appeared again.
The acting from the kids has vastly improved, especially from Emma Watson. In the first movie she felt like she had to insert whimsy into all of her lines; she is more relaxed here. Rupert does an overly comedic Ron. For the way his material his written, he is genuinely funny, if only for his faces. Dan faces a tough challenge here but he transmits Harry's doubts in a believable way, especially when he finds out that he's a parselmouth and in his final scene with Dumbledore. I've seen far worse child acting, and you can't demand extremely serious performances from something that nine year olds read. Regardless, this movie does in fact take a darker approach, but only due to the nature of the story. The stakes feel a lot higher here because the threat is no longer Voldemort's return, which is something many people still don't understand. This hits closer to home for the audience because the students that we know are in peril. I think it makes the story and the antagonist much more threatening.
The effects are also much better. The movie uses more practical effects and it shows, especially in the Quidditch sequence. And the use of CGI is left for Dobby and the Basilisk, which are better effects today than many bad effects I see in recent movies. Even the spiders are built practically, it shows the director's desire to make the world and the creatures feel real.
The one complaint I do acknowledge is how the film polarizes Ron and Hermione, with Ron being just comic relief and Hermione being super wise. It reduces their characters to stereotypes. Harry is actually the one who gets the bigger development.
I know I've gone into defense mode in why I like this movie so much, and once again, I show how personal this choice is. I do hope you at least understand and accept my preference. Ultimately, I put this at number one because it's the one I enjoy watching the most. It's a great magical adventure with some incredible set pieces, an intriguing mystery, a sense of whimsy, and characters I enjoy watching (despite some of them being stereotypes.) They're the things I love most about Harry Potter.
Like I said in the beginning, these are my choices. I've seen and heard many others, and I would like to hear yours as well. If you want to, post them below. I'm really interested in hearing what they are. Thank you for reading.