I published Worst to Best Week a few months back looking at my favorite franchises from the worst film in a franchise all the way to the best film.

I love the Harry Potter films that are based on the wonderful book series by J.K. Rowling.  The Potter books may be my favorite book series of all time (surpassing King’s Dark Tower books and Asprin’s Myth series) and I find that they did a ….decent job translating the series.  Lots of plots condensed for time here (the books were huge) but they did a fine job.

I hadn’t included the film Fantastic Beasts because I hadn’t seen it yet.  So now that I have I’m republishing the piece with Fantastic Beasts added in!  Where did it stack up with the rest of the Potter series?  Read on…

#9 – Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter is a Young Adult series and as the book is written over a seven year time span it fits that the first two years are a bit shaky.  You are introducing the core concepts and characters.  As most of the acting is done by kids you need to cast kids who can act.  That is never easy.  The first two films were kicked off by director Chris Columbus who, up to that point, had directed films like Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire.  Columbus did a decent job directing these two films but they both felt very kid like unlike what came later.  Of course it is based on the books and this is the way the books – they get darker as they get on.  But there’s something about both Columbus films that just aren’t great.

What they did get right was the casting.  Everyone was casted wonderfully in these films and even though the principal actors might not have been the greatest actors starting out they really grew into their roles to becoming amazing talents.

But as for the Columbus films themselves I find them so extremely lacking.  The first one had the job of introducing us to the characters, introducing us to the wizarding world, and keeping us invested.  I would say all three of those requirements were satisfied.  The big HOWEVER here is that I don’t think Columbus and his crew were able to properly translate Chamber of Secrets.  It just feels like the worst film.

It’s not the screenwriting…at least I don’t think so.  That was handled by Steve Kloves who handled most of the writing for these films.  Perhaps it is the source material?  It’s possible.  Thinking back about the books this one could also be considered one of the weakest of the entire series Rowling wrote.

The kid actors really didn’t come into their own.  I really felt they did with Prisoner of Azkaban.  But here it still felt like Chris Columbus was on the losing side of trying to bring out good performances.  I think he just threw the kids up there with lines memorized and just hoped the adults in the film did great.  The adults did a wonderful job – particularly Kenneth Branagh who makes his only appearance as Gilderoy Lockhart.  Lockhart is a wonderful character and Branagh plays him wonderfully.

#8 – Sorcerer’s Stone

My gripes with Sorcerer’s Stone are primarily the same as Chamber of Secrets.  Chris Columbus had a hell of a task here.  Bring this huge, magical series to life.  Then he had to cast a bunch of 11-12 year olds to star in the film.  Were they the best actors in the world.  No.  Not really.

The casting turned out to be great because the cast, especially the principals, grew better with age.  But doing a whole movie with a bunch of kid actors?  Hard.  Very hard.  Throw in tons of special effects that the kids then had to pull off and you have a whole other animal.

I do believe Columbus did the best he could but, again, relied on the adult actors to truly pull off the film.  They cast some amazing actors to do this.  John Cleese, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Hart (YAY!), John Hurt, Alan Rickman, and Richard Harris – amongst others.  They do a magnificent job.  They truly made Coltrane (yes…he’s a big guy) look like a mini-giant.  Alan Rickman became known to a whole new audience and probably would have been best known for Snape for many, many years to come if he wasn’t taken from us so early.

The plot is cute – the first book felt very James and the Giant Peach to me.  Young kid not being raised by his parents ends up on a whirlwind adventure.  Here Harry learns his parents were wizards, that he is a wizard, that wizards exist, that a wizard school exists, and that he has been chosen to go to school.  For a boy with no friend who sleeps in a cupboard under the stairs with relatives who abhor him it is quite a way to jumpstart one’s life.  At school he makes friends, he makes enemies, and he starts to learn the truth about himself.  There’s a very kid-like mystery and Harry, somehow, ends up defeating the “bad guy.”

If I watch these movies in a marathon I usually end up just skipping the first two unless I am REALLY in the mood.  It’s a great franchise but the later films truly show how bad the first two films are.

#7 – Half-Blood Prince

The Half-Blood Prince is actually a decent movie but a HORRIBLE adaptation of the book.  I had gone back and reread the series over a year ago and when I got to Half-Blood Prince I was really shocked at how amazing the books was and how poorly they translated it to screen.

Of course they had to pull off some amazing flashback sequences that are essential to the plot and they pull these off quite well in the film.  It shows off early Voldemort as Tom Riddle and some events that really shaped his life.  It also introduces the Horcruxes – the items created by Voldemort that hold a piece of his soul, therefore keeping him alive.  It’s Dumbledore who involves Harry with all of this and ends up bringing the lad to darker places then he probably ever wanted to go.

This is the point of the franchise where things firmly fall onto Harry’s shoulders.  Having great friends help because Hermione and Ron are there for him.  It’s also the part where Harry finds a book that helps him better understand magic…a book that once belonged to someone close to him.

The film had to show all this, kill of a major character, have another character completely turn evil, and rev up for the finale all with just over two hours.  With a book that was over 600 pages it was a huge task to take on.  Out of all the screenplays written by Steve Kloves this one could be “the worst.”  And it truly isn’t bad.  It was just a tough book to bring to the screen and he certainly did his best.

#6 – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The first spinoff movie from the Harry Potter franchise follows British wizard and magizoologist (read: weird guy who collects weird magical creatures) Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he lands in 1920s New York City.  Newt is on his way to Arizona but he arrives as something magical and mysterious is attacking New York.

Scamander ends up losing some of his magical creatures and ends up in the hands of ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).  After Tina realizes all of the chaos isn’t Newt’s fault she (kinda) helps him in his quest to regain his creatures.

Along for the ride is Dan Fogler.  I love Dan – love him in Fanboys and Balls of Fury.  I always thought it a shame that he never blew up bigger but was glad to see him play the straight man in this film as a man caught up trying to help Newt.  His Jacob Kowalski doesn’t have any magical powers but that doesn’t stop him for helping along the way.  It was pretty fun watching a muggle (or as they are called in America a No-Maj) helping a magician.

The film is decent but is definitely overlong.  J.K. Rowling herself wrote the screenplay and it really felt like the editor didn’t want to edit anything big out because they were afraid of hurting Rowling’s feelings.  Cut thirty minutes and this film would have been better.

Redmayne and Waterston aren’t great leads.  They aren’t very fun to watch.  Luckily Fogler and Allison Sudol (playing Tina’s sister Queenie) save this film with some amazing performances.  Throw in some appearances from Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell and the movie actually isn’t all bad.  It is decently entertaining.  Maybe just to see how adults act in this magical universe or how magic is in America.  Really director David Yates did a fantastic job bringing 1920s New York to life.  The film LOOKS AMAZING.  I just wish it was a tad shorter.

 

#5 Order of the Phoenix

The only screenplay not written by Kloves, Phoenix is a decent adaptation of the book which has members of a secret order trying to prep for the incoming doom that comes with the resurrection of the evil wizard Voldemort.  It brings back several characters from the book Prisoner of Azkaban which was fun to see actors like Gary Oldman and David Thewlis back into the fold.

As each movie gets darker this one brings a dark character dressed in pink.  It’s Dolores Umbridge who is brought in by the magic government to teach the Dark Arts class at Hogwarts.  She’s a real handful and while the kids want real training against the Dark Arts her teachings don’t come up to snuff.  Harry is having a very hard time at school with having seen the return of Voldemort and his classmates not really believing the events of what happened previously.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione, along with a group of kids, form a group called Dumbledore’s Army which aims to help each other learn how to use magic.  It’s a pretty great strategy that vastly improves the skills of the students.  It all comes to a head when the kids are discovered, Dumbledore is forced from the school, and the school is then ruled by a despot.

There’s a big battle scene at the end of this film with characters dissipating and reappearing all over the place that just felt off to me.  It felt more Star Treky with characters just “beaming” in and out.  I get that it is part of the universe for the characters to be able to do this – but ….I don’t know.  I just don’t like how it was done.  A decent film in this universe.

#4 Deathly Hallows Part 1

I like how they broke up Deathly Hallows into two films: one basically a travel movie and the other a war film.  This one is the travel one as the team of Harry, Ron, and Hermione search for the items to defeat Voldemort.  I always liked this book…how this was Harry Potter’s “Year 7 at Hogwarts” except the dude skipped senior year to go defeat evil.  The book was so massive I was happy they didn’t try to shove it all into one movie.  EXCEPT IT STARTED A TREND where every franchise (Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent) felt like they had to stretch their last book into two movies.  Why?  Two movies = more money.  GENIUS!  The storytelling didn’t really call for it in those films – the Deathly Hallows films really did call for it.  The worst offender of this strategy?  Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy.  Man did he stretch a 200 page book into 9 hours of blah.

Beyond abandoning one tiny part of the book that I loved (where Dudley finally realizes that his cousin is a big deal and he shouldn’t have been such a dick to Harry) I thought it was a pretty great adaptation.  Harry and friends, really out of their league, try to find the remaining Horcruxes in the hopes of killing Voldemort for good.  Nothing is easy for them – EVERYONE is looking for them.  Voldemort has taken over and he wants nothing but Harry Potter dead for his reign to be validated.

There is infighting between the core group of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  I liked that.  It wasn’t just, “Hey let’s go!”  They are in it together…sort of.  But when there’s problems they fight.  They leave.  The stakes are high but they can still bicker like kids.  Love it.  (Of course it really wasn’t their fault…it was the evil influence…but still…love it).

The film saw the return of Dobby.  Dobby was all over the books ever since his appearance in Chamber of Secrets but only appeared in that movie alone.  And in Chamber he came off kinda…Jar Jar Binksish.  He redeems himself here.  He totally does.  You love that Dobby has returned to help his friends.

Out of the two films the second truly destroys the first.  The best scenes are in that second part of the book.  Again – the first book and first movie are about acquiring and destroying the Horcruxes – the second is really about what happens when they succeed.

Still…a great film.  Especially the entire beginning scene with the Order of the Phoenix trying to get Harry out of his house.

#3 Goblet of Fire

Man this is a great film.  The kids really grew in the third movie but by the fourth film their acting really began to shine.  Daniel Radcliffe was really spectacular and truly felt like Harry Potter at this point.  Once again he is at odds with everyone when he finds himself an unwilling participant of a tournament at Hogwarts.  Everyone – including Ron.  Without friends (except Hermione) it is Harry’s loneliest time at the school he really thinks of as home.  Most of the school favors the other Hogwarts participant Cedric Diggory (a decent Robert Pattinson).  And being a younger kid Harry is really out of his league magic-wise.

Two other schools show up and I dug seeing these different members from these different schools.  One seems like a magic school of cute French girls.  The other seems like badass Russian guys (in the movie they are also played like an all-boys school but the book mentions women who go to the school.

So a Russian dude, a cute French girl, Edward from Twilight, and Harry Potter find themselves having to go through three difficult tasks to try and become the champion.  Harry is forced to play along but finds himself helped by several others including Hagrid and newest school teacher (and awesome badass) Mad Eye Moody.

The special effects here were top notch – especially the parts where Harry found himself up against a badass dragon.  The director here was Mike Newell who was not known for his special effect films – especially with a filmography that includes Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco.  I thought Newell did a kickass job with this entire film.  He got some great performances out of the young actors.  The film looked great, was shot well, and moves.  It feels at times like an incredible action film which is quite exciting.

Brendan Gleeson was a wonderful addition as Mad Eye Moody.  The character kicked butt and really was amazing every single second he was on-screen.  Then, of course, things weren’t always what they seem.

This film sees the return of Voldemort and wonderful British actor Ralph Fiennes was cast.  He was amazing in the role (and continued to be through the rest of the series).  I love the look they gave Voldemort and I’m sure Fiennes had a ton of fun with this film.

The downside?  The film brought us Robert Pattinson – who they cast in Twilight.  Man was I tired of looking at that guy’s face.

#2 – Prisoner of Azkaban

Man it is hard to put this movie at #2.  I LOVE this movie.  Directed by Alfanso Cuaron the man was like a genius.  Every single thing that was wrong with the first two films Cuaron somehow course corrected.  This included the performances of the kids.  The kids were just great.  It not longer felt like they yelled ACTION and the kids read their lines.  It actually felt like these kids were actually ACTING.

The book and movie are just so weird and Cuaron makes them even more so.  Right from the beginning when Harry leaves his home to hit the road and knows not where to go…it feels so different from what we had seen before.  The film was so dark.  It didn’t feel like a kids film even though it is starring a bunch of kids.  And there is someone out to get Harry Potter….the man who set up his parents to be killed…his own godfather.  Who did they cast?  Gary Oldman.  Once again the casting director should get a friggin gold star.   David Thewlis was also introduced as Lupin the new Dark Arts teacher – he kicked ass.  Michael Gambon took on the role of Dumbledore from Richard Harris (who had passed on).  He kicked butt.

Sure it was weird that the guy who directed Y Tu Mama Tambien was directing this effects heavy film but he got it all so, so, so right.  And as the lone film which doesn’t at all deal with Voldemort it feels a bit more free.

It’s a perfect film.  It is.  I think everything in this film is just amazing.  It is so great that if I want to watch these movies I just want to start with this film and not the horrible first two films.  Why be bored by them when you can start with a masterpiece.

Many people dislike this film!  They are crazy.  Sorry…you are completely nuts.  The only reason to maybe dislike it is disliking the adaptation from book to film where they play it a bit loose.  Fine.  Whatever.  Beyond that Cuaron hit it out of the park.  I really wish he directed the rest of the films.  He did not.  A shame.

#1 Deathly Hallows Part II

I went back and forth if this film was #2 or #1 on the list.  What it boils down for me is the culmination of everything that came before coupled with what is essentially an action film.  This is what the entire series comes down to and director David Yates (who directed all the films since Phoenix) does a wonderful job with this one.  It really does stand above the rest (maybe…again…Azkaban is SO good).

The film basically deals with Harry, Ron, and Hermione wrapping up with the Horcruxes then finding their way to Hogwarts.  The Order of the Phoenix show up as does Voldemort, his minions, and basically an entire army.  Hogwarts becomes the battleground of this war and it all comes down to what happens with Harry Potter.  It is quite shocking what Harry has to do to win.  I won’t say it…I feel like even though this book and movie has been out for years I still might spoil it.  Let’s just say Harry has to do something you feel no protagonist would do in a kid’s book.

The battle is long and intense.  The special effects are amazing.  The action is phenomenal.  And there’s consequences.  Not everyone survives.  People you LOVE die.  Of course we all know good will conquer bad.  But how we get to that point is quite a story.

Even before the battle there is a quite intense scene where the characters have to break into a very secure bank to break into a vault that is even more secure.  When everyone catches on they find themselves between a rock (those after them) and a hard place (an irritated dragon).  It is an action sequence that is exquisite in execution.

I think I’m done talking about these movies.  I’m still not too sure about the order of #1 and #2…but I think I’m right about Part II being the better film.  The thing is…every film after Prisoner of Azkaban can be very good. To wrap up at the end with this much passion was just a beautiful way to end it all.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know what you think!!!