The books are better.
There, I said it again. For more on that note, check out my previously published "Top 10 Worst Harry Potter Book-to-Movie Changes". But today we shall focus on the positives, and thankfully the Harry Potter movies are abound in praiseworthy elements. The casting is perfect, the sets are amazing, and the world they meticulously brought to life is as enchanting as it is full of eye-dazzling details. It's pure filmmaking magic (lame pun pathetically intended).
But I digress, what we are talking about today isn't the best of anything in the movies, but the top 10 moments where movies take that extra effort to differ from the beloved source material, and do it pitch perfectly. These moments represent the movies taking the biggest risks, and hence reaping the sweetest payoffs. These are the bonus points that justify the whole idea of film adaptation, and the reason why we would want to watch them more than once.
Without further ado, here are the 10 best book-to-movie changes in the Harry Potter series.
Honorable Mention: Aunt Petunia's Lament
Meant as an opening scene for Deathly Hallows Part I, it features a disillusioned Aunt Petunia starring one last time at the empty rooms of her once familiar home, before she had to leave with her family to go into hiding. Reminding Harry that he wasn't the only person that lost someone when his mother died, and that she herself also lost her sister, suddenly Petunia became a real character, a human being, instead of your caricature stepmother cliché.
Followed by Dudley and Harry sharing a final handshake, this scene served as a wonderful closure to the Dursleys' arc, and hammered the idea of upcoming darkness straight home. To make this scene even more rewarding, Petunia in the book never managed to say those words to Harry, even though she visibly wanted to. We were left wondering what she had in her mind, and this was such a great way to fill that void.
Unfortunately, this scene was eventually left on the cutting room floor, hence not a formal entry on this list. The movie's opening montage worked fairly well on its own, not to mention that Petunia's secret envy to Lily, her dislike of a young Snape and her untold commitment to Dumbledore were never even hinted at in any movies before or after, so maybe after all it was the right call for pacing and continuity's sake.
Still a pity though.
10. The Ending to Chamber of Secrets
Back when Harry Potter had happy endings, oh the good old days. After Harry completed his annual year-end ritual of defeating Voldemort and saving the day, he got to celebrate his heroic victory in the end-of-term feast, with Gryffindor winning the House Cup, a reinstated Dumbledore, a gigantic pat on the back from a released-from-Azkaban Hagrid and a de-petrified Hermione by his side. It was a pretty good evening.
All of these things are featured in the movie version, but Chris Columbus clearly knew which tune to dial up. We got a sweet reveal of Hermione returning from petrification, followed by an adorable tackle-hug with Harry, but only an awkward handshake with Ron. It was a big deal because as of that time, the Ron-Hermione relationship was still far off in the realm of fan speculation. Was Rowling trying to tell us something? Adding icing on the cake is Hagrid's glorious return from his wrongful imprisonment, a dramatic entrance courtesy to Errol, Ron's family owl, being an overall stupid bird (nice touch there). Hagrid shared a heartwarming scene with the golden trio, followed by a standing ovation from all students and staff.
Although content-wise it wasn't too different from what Rowling put down in words, it took a glossed over paragraph and morphed it into a glorious ending to the chapter, avoiding another "back to Dursleys" finality like the first movie. And who can forget John William's epic closing piece? I am proud to say that I declared way back then that this would be the perfect farewell music for the entire franchise. And it WAS the final score for the end of Deathly Hallows Part II!!! I could die a happy man.
9. Double Trouble
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Something wicked this way comes!
These are the lyrics that graced our ears as our gang arrived at Hogwarts, and we've been hearing them ever since. Leave it to John Williams to create actual real-life magical music. Lyrically inspired by Shakespeare's witch chanting in Macbeth, the song was performed by a students choir, conducted by a remodeled Professor Flitwick, weirdly enough, complete with frogs and ravens. The song perfectly captures Rowling's trademark sense of humour and the underlying backstory of witchcraft history that was hinted at but never fully explored.
One has to wonder how this scene even came to exist in the first place, because why would anyone even consider using a magical choir unless these tunes have been in the back of Maestro Williams' mind for some time now?
8. Buckbeak Ride Is Awesome!!!
It almost seems inconceivable now, but in the book, Harry didn't enjoy his ride on the back of Buckbeak, one of the many Hippogriffs that Hagrid unwisely brought to his first Care of Magical Creatures lesson. As skilled as Harry is on a broomstick, riding a living, breathing and agitated fantastic beast (get it?) proved an uncomfortable and bumpy journey, not to mention rather scary as Harry constantly worried about slipping off its side. Not unlike a real person on horseback for the first time, is it?
In the movie, despite some initial apprehension, Harry soon realized that this may be the ride of his life, and embraced it with open arms. It was an exhilarating experience for him and for us. The scene cleverly took the opportunity to showcase the amazing landscape of Hogwarts, and though we've seen it many times before, we fell in love with this place all over again. It was impossible not to. More essential to the plot was its contribution to audience's connection with Buckbeak, setting up the upcoming emotional rollercoaster related to this creature. The movie simply wouldn't have the time to establish a relationship between Hagrid and Buckbeak like in the novel, and this move was a stroke of genius.
Once again, praise be with John Williams, whose score elevated the scene straight up to cloud number 9. In case this piece hasn't been permanently engraved on your brain circuits, search for "Buckbeak's Flight" and give it a go. You're welcome.
7. A Walk In The Moonlight
The Marauder's Map is one idea from J.K. Rowling that I was never quite sure of. Its introduction came out of nowhere. It is way too powerful not to be used more often. Besides, it raises so many questions, the first and foremost being why nobody ever saw the name Peter Pettigrew on Ron's bed (creepy), or Barty Crouch Jr. where Moody should be (granted Harry saw it once), but also the morality crisis it poses. How is it even okay for any one person to possess an all-monitoring GPS? This is what Morgan Freeman almost resigned for! Couple this with Harry's Invisibility Cloak, fastest broomstick, lucky potion... this is the magical equivalent of turning on "God Mode" in your Bethesda RPGs.
But I digress, in an original scene from the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry did by chance see Peter Pettigrew's name on the map, and he promptly decided to check out what the heck is going on. What followed was a daunting and intense sequence that would shame many so-called horror directors. In a heart-stopping moment, he walked right past Peter but didn't see anyone, which led him to believe the map was malfunctioning, although we know better, don't we?
Unfortunately Harry didn't pack his Invisibility Cloak because he's a moron, and was caught by Snape whom we have legitimate reasons to suspect was biologically nocturnal. Joining them almost instantly was Lupin, who helped Harry out of the tight spot, much to Snape's annoyance. Curiously, this scene appeared to be a combination of another part of the 3rd novel, after Harry's first illegal venture to Hogsmead, and a different midnight stroll in Goblet of Fire, in which case it was fake Moody who prevented Snape from punishing Harry who was chasing Barty Crouch's name on the map. Way to throw the next director under the bus, Alfonso.
6. Snape's Reaction to Werewolf Lupin
You probably have detected my enthusiasm towards the third movie adaptation. It's true, I believe Alfonso did the best job in adding original materials and flavors into the Harry Potter world, and here's another reason why.
Facing their Defense-Against-The-Dark-Arts-Professor-turned-Werewolf, which I'm sure will prompt the school to hire more reliable people for this post in the future, Harry, Ron and Hermione were at a loss of what to do because...well, none of them were vampires. Unexpectedly and in a departure from the book, Snape turned up with an murderous look on his face, seemingly ready to strangle Harry with his bare hands after Harry knocked him out and robbed him of his personal vengeance.
Sensing that he wasn't given the appropriate attention from these rotten kids, Snape turned around and saw the werewolf mere feet away, the "holy Merlin's beard galloping gargoyles" look on his face was spot on. Interestingly, his instinct reaction was to perform his teacher's duty and shield these students from harm, even yelling at Harry to get back to where it's safe when he ran after his injured godfather.
Bear in mind that at the time, fans had no idea of Snape's true allegiance, whilst Rowling and the late Alan Rickman were among the few who actually knew, which makes this scene an ideal birthplace for millions of fan theories. Looking back, it was the perfect messed-up reaction for a conflicted character.
5. Felix Felicis
Another deus-ex-machina device which we're tempted to question as to why it's not used more frequently, Felix Felicis is lucky potion, granting its drinker maximum fortune within a limited time. Sounds pretty good, right? However, the movie may have offered us an alternative explanation as to why it was used only once. It gets you high.
The sequence in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in which Harry consumed some lucky potion to convince Slughorn to surrender an important piece of personal memory, is downright hilarious. You could tell Daniel Radcliffe really was having way too much fun mimicking the clanking pincers of a dead giant spider, at it's funeral no less, in front of a devastated but confused Hagrid, probably wondering what the heck is this kid on.
All jokes aside though, the original tale of Lily Evans sending Slughorn a magic goldfish, which disappeared the day she was murdered, was genuinely affecting, and made Slughorn's eventual surrendering of the memory all the more impactful.
4. Hermione's Obliviate Spell
Again, taking an obscure line of the book and making something special out of it. Whether it was David Yates or Steve Kloves the screenwriter who recognized the potential emotion this scene could evoke if done well (and done well it was), he deserves a cookie.
The scene involves Emma Watson's Hermione preparing to embark on the perilous journey of hunting down Horcruxes and finally Voldemort himself, from which she may never return. In an attempt to protect her Muggle parents, blissfully ignorant of the waging magical war, from any harm, and to ensure they live out their lives happily should she be unable to return, Hermione used Obiliviate charm to erase all memories of her existence from her parents' minds. Cue a heart wrenching track shot of Hermione disappearing from their family photographs, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that Harry Potter's tale is no longer the whimsical children's fantasy that we were introduced to. This is war, and it will have consequences.
Will we die, just a little?
3. Motorbike Chase Scene
It's not everyday you can find a vehicular chase sequence in Harry Potter, and it isn't hard to imagine that at least one of the reasons Rowling included it in her final book, is that it had great potential for silver screen spectacle. Riveting as it was to imagine the thrill of the action based on Rowling's captivating writing, seeing it manifested on screen was a dream come true. But aside from the movie's inherent medium advantage, there are a few changes it made that, gasp, actually improved upon the story?!
Hear me out. In the book, the biggest casualty during this chase, other than George's ear and Alastor Moody, was Hedwig, Harry's loyal companion since his entry into the wizarding world, and frankly, the symbol of the franchise. Hedwig was killed inside her cage by a stray curse targeting her master. Pity that she didn't even get to fly in the last outing, but war is war.
The chase continued and Harry's real identity was blown (as per Bourne style) as he used Expelliarmus, the rudimentary Disarming Charm, instead of more advanced and deadly defensive magic, so they called Voldemort himself into action. Honestly, it never convinced me that simply because they witnessed Harry perform this relatively simple and basic spell once, that they would so strongly associate it with him, to the point that they would risk their own lives on the bet. Because if Voldemort arrived and it turned out to be the wrong Harry, you can bet somebody will end up as snack for a certain snake.
In the movie, Harry initially let Hedwig go free, only for the loyal snowy owl to return during the most intense of the chase, plunging herself to the Death Eater aiming to kill Harry, and was shot down casually by a Killing Curse, right in front of a horrified Harry. It was as powerful a moment could be and a much more fulfilling sendoff for our favorite owl. Moreover, it was Hedwig's involvement that exposed Harry to the Death Eaters, which simply made so much more sense.
2. Tent Dance
Another win for film originality, the scene takes place when Harry and Hermione are at the most "lost" moment of their lives, homeless, friendless, aimless and, more importantly, Ron-less, with an impossible mission but no clue where to even begin.
Then O Children came on the radio, Harry decided that a break from all these imminent death nonsense was overdue, and asked a quiet moping Hermione for a dance. Discarding the Horcrux just for a few minutes, no doubt symbolic for a whole world's weight on their shoulders, the two wordlessly shared a sweet dance. It wasn't the best music to dance to, nor were they even close to being skilled dancers, but that's what made it so real.
Unfortunately like all good things, the song ended way too soon, and the two, as if by consensus, returned to their individual corners in silence. Moments like this make these characters exponentially more relatable, because sometimes you just want to be free from your responsibilities and troubles, if only for an instant, and share a dance with Emma Watson.
1. The Tale of the Three Brothers
This, is why the movies need to exist. Rather than a change to the plot or dialogue, or an original sequence, the changes made to Hermione narrating this crucial fairy tale are inherent due to shift of medium. You simply cannot have your audience look at someone, not even Emma Watson, read a book for 10 minutes, especially when the story is so pivotal to the plot that it cannot be abridged.
Then this scene came along. Created by Framestore, directed by Ben Hibon and supervised by Dale Newton, this shadowy animated sequence became a highlight in the series. It was visually stupefying and artistically unique, stealing the movie but never distracting from the story it was meant to tell.
Harry Potter novels featured many large portions or even entire chapters dedicated to reading newspapers, articles or books, and the movies have always found ways to relay core messages in other manners, with varying results. However, this particular sequence was so unavoidable, it was almost like J.K. Rowling deliberately challenged the film crew to tackle it, and they passed the test with flying colors.
So here we are, having revisited most of my personal favorite and least favorite movie changes in the Harry Potter franchise. Obviously there too many that failed to make the list. I also liked Harry drawing a cake for himself on the floor to indicate it was his birthday, the extended first task of Triwizard Tournament, and the devastating moment where Snape cries over the lifeless body of Lily...whom he always loved...and was willing to die for (*weeping*)...wait a second, did he leave baby Harry in that crib?
Ian Rideout from Alberta, Canada on July 05, 2018:
Again, great list, and very well written. I think those deleted scenes with the Dursleys should have been included in the film. The opening montage we did get was still well-done, but I really wish they could've found a way to include both.
It's nice to see some appreciation for Harry and Hermione's dance. I know it's controversial with the fandom, but I've always thought it was a beautifully-done scene, and one of the more profound moments of the series.