CineNation Ranks the Harry Potter Movies

In honor of the 20th Anniversary of the book release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the CineNation writers wanted to find out what is the best Potter film.

Jun 26, 2017 · 10 min read

Want to feel old? Today marks the 20th anniversary of the initial UK book release of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone (a.k.a. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States). To celebrate the Harry Potter phenomenon, the writers of CineNation were each asked to compile their rankings of the 8 Warner Brothers films (not including spin-off Fantastic Beasts) in order to determine the best Harry Potter film. You’ll find the surprisingly diverse results in the chart below, with the films (at least 1–6) being represented by their corresponding Dark Arts professors. (Sorry Uber-fans, but there were no HD photos of Amycus Carrow online).

It may be deduced that our writers represent three different types of Harry Potter fans — those who love the nostalgia of the beginning, those who love the darker turn of the middle, and those who love the excitement of the conclusion. Where do you fall? With whom do you agree most? Disagree?

(Bonus points to whoever can figure out the reasoning behind the color scheme. Hint: Voldemort’s photo doesn’t count.)

The Nostalgic Nargles (1–2)

Alex (Best: SS, Worst: GoF)

Although not a trendy pick, the first film in the Harry Potter franchise is the series’ best. The film does a marvelous job introducing the world to filmgoers. I saw the opening film in theaters — dressed up as Harry Potter — and have fond memories of the first movie. From the iconic first moments of Quidditch to “There’s a TROOOOOLL in the dungeon!”, the first film gives us magic in the fictional and realistic sense: as viewers we can, somehow, believe this world. The characters are marvelous and interesting; there is a great sense of companionship that we, as viewers, do not want to leave when the film ends.

As for the other choices, they mostly fall in the order I enjoyed the books. The sixth is my favorite book and felt the movie did a good job conveying the crucial moments of the series onto film. I was Potter-ed out by the time the final movies came — really two films? They did not pique my interest. I hate the fourth book and the movie. It’s easily the worst. There is so much filler and fat to both the book and movie; I almost gave up on the film series after the fourth film.

David (Best: SS, Worst: DHP1) — Not Pictured in Graph

1- Sorcerer’s Stone

2- Goblet of Fire

3- Prisoner of Azkaban

4- Order of the Phoenix

5- Half-Blood Prince

6- Deathly Hallows Pt II

7- Chamber of Secrets

8- Deathly Hallows Pt I

The momentum began with Sorcerer’s Stone and although the film is too cheesy with a smattering of Columbus-quirk, it projected the novel’s spirit into cinematic legend. Goblet of Fire is the only good teen sports flick of that decade with merpeople…I think. Might sound hyperbolic, legend, but Bond hadn’t seen a competitor the likes of Potter until then. Eventually, David Yates would take the childhood earnestness and darken it shades of emo. The back half of my list comprises the Potter films that I find are too bogged down with pacing issues, overstuffed, crowded in the wrong places, but even these Potter films have their triumphs. Chamber of Secrets especially benefitted from a shorter runtime. Alas, here are eight powerful, iconic coming-of-age story cycles.

The Darker Dementors (3–5)

Thomas (Best: PoA, Worst: CoS)

I’ll justify my number one choice by addressing my last two choices. Christopher Columbus is a perfectly fine director of excellent children’s films. So why should he be expected to make the Harry Potter films anything more than that? When he signed on to the series, the Goblet of Fire book hadn’t even been released yet. He really had no way of knowing what a dark, exciting and complex tale the series would become. The first two films are fine, but they are ultimately just quality children’s films.

Cuarón completely changed the game when he treated Prisoner of Azkaban as a dark fantasy adventure for all audiences. Columbus’ glimmering golden halls of Hogwarts needed a layer of grime and darkness, and Cuarón delivered that. Perhaps best captured in his vision of the dementors (easily the darkest thing brought to the series at that point) and the more foreboding areas he added to Hogwarts (the iconic clock tower), Cuarón’s touch would pave the way for future directors to approach these films as more than just children’s entertainment.

Brandon (Best: PoA, Worst: CoS)

Prisoner of Azkaban might not be everyone’s favorite movie in the series, but it is the actual best film in the series. It was the first movie that truly showed where the franchise could go. The franchise could go dark, and it wasn’t just a typical family film. Having someone like Alfonso Cuarón direct it was a brilliant decision, because he re-invented the visual world of the films, which was later carried over into the later films. Chris Columbus did a good job starting the series, but Cuarón legitimized it. I also feel like it is the first movie where you truly believe that Harry Potter is the Chosen One.

I also have to defend Order of the Phoenix because I feel the movie gets a bad rap. I think it is the second best because, like Prisoner of Azkaban, the film pushes the visual world of Potter. You get this from the creepy opening scene. I also really like the introduction of Dumbledore’s Army and how the students work together. The success of the franchise was dependent on the younger actors of the series and the fifth film truly showed the young actors coming into their own.

Chamber of Secrets is the worst movie because it feels like it didn’t take a risk in any way. Was it dark? To some degree yes, but when comparing it the other films it isn’t dark at all. My main critique is that it feels too similar to Sorcerer’s Stone and nothing really stands out (except for Kenneth Branagh).

Alaina (Best: GoF, Worst: OoTP)

This film really hits the sweet spot of all the films. We have tons of canon with the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the love interests are in play, and it’s the beginning of the darkness for these films. Goblet of Fire brings a real sense of reality to the story as the trio goes through a lot of normal kid things, like crushes and terrible hair, but also emphasizes that they are not normal kids at all because of the return of Voldemort. The writers played with a lot of charm and humor, which I appreciated because as the films progress they get darker and darker. This is also the first time we really see Voldemort, which turns the whole series on its head and sets up the final task of defeating the Dark Lord. Also Robert Pattinson is in it, who would later go on to play Edward Cullen, and that’s hilarious.

Placing Order of the Phoenix last was hard for me to do, because I love all of the films at a base level, but man — I couldn’t remember what this film was about. They’ve gotten haircuts — so, cool — but other than that it’s a lot of pushing through plot and introducing plot points that are never explained. Those orbs in the Ministry of Magic are important and they just broke them and didn’t give them their proper due. But what was the worst fault of all is not even TOUCHING on the fact that Neville was almost the Chosen One. I swear the book has an entire chapter on this plot point and the movie never even mentions it. It’s disappointing. Also, once again, this movie is so blue-toned and dark that it’s hard to watch. We get it, it’s sad and troubling. Overall, this movie didn’t do it for me, and the only times I remember it I think about how much I don’t like it.

Brett (Best: GoF, Worst: HBP)

Not gonna lie, Harry Potter isn’t really my ‘thang’. While some of the Potter films are enjoyable enough, I don’t consider any of them to be cinematic masterpieces. Most of the Potter movies are so devoid of any life or color it’s borderline depressing.

But if I had to choose, the Goblet of Fire is easily the best one. It was one of the few Potter films that actually seemed to have some life in it, and the story built itself up to a satisfying and emotional climax. The Sorcerer’s Stone suffers from some terrible CGI, but it’s still an enjoyable romp for younger children. The Prisoner of Azkaban is overhyped, but it is technically one of the better ones. (There’s was a werewolf in there somewhere, right?) The Chamber of Secrets was pretty good but mostly forgettable until the serpent shows up at the end. Order of the Phoenix should have been good — it’s about a rebellion after all — but by the end I’m always bored to tears. Deathly Hallows Part 2 killed Snape. The less said about Deathly Hallows Part 1 and its weird foray into the forest the better. Is the Half-Blood Prince even a thing?

The Finale-Loving Firecrabs (6–8)

Dan (Best: HBP, Worst: PoA)

I always seem to be alone on this choice, but Half-Blood Prince is the best film. After the somewhat-disappointing Order of the Phoenix, it was a welcome return to form for the series. It’s takes the best parts of each previous film — the magic of SS, the mystery of CoS, the adventure of GoF, and the darkness of OoTP. Half-Blood Prince takes me on an emotional roller coaster — I am frightened as Harry and Dumbledore venture into Voldemort’s cave, I laugh at Ron’s love potion foibles, I am hurt for the broken-hearted Hermoine. Snape’s betrayal to Harry is heartbreaking, especially to readers of the book, who know the truth when poor Harry is stunned and confused. And the emotional funeral for Dumbledore gives me chills every time.

I thought Prisoner of Azkaban was the best book, as it involved what were quite possibly the biggest twists in the whole series. One, the revelation that Sirius Black was not only a good guy, but Harry’s godfather; Two, that Harry and co. actually were able to save both Sirius and Buckbeak from their executions; and Three, that Ron’s pet rat was actually Voldemort’s #2 the whole time. But the weight of these revelations, which were all vital to the future of the films, were lost. This was the only one directed by Cuarón, and, I have some qualms with the creative choices made — from the “normal kid” clothes worn by the students to the CGI werewolf sequence to the omnipresent giant pumpkin patch.

Sean (Best: DH2, Worst: PoA)

I could spend a lot of time extolling virtues of some movies, or griping about absent book plot points that weakened other movies (Why did Draco build the Vanishing Cabinet if there was no battle?) for many of these films. However, as some of my compatriots have wrongly put Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban as the best Harry Potter film, I feel I must expand on why it’s the absolute WORST.

I remember watching the movie in theaters as a teenager, age 16. And the stupidity just stacked up for me. The random shrunken heads. The scene wipes akin to the love child of prequels Star Wars films and 5th grade PowerPoint presentations. The stupid bluebird. The Whomping Willow that looked more hilarious than terrifying. The werewolf that looked like a chihuahua fell into a taffy puller. My mother had to angrily shush me and my older sister several times during the film as we basically gave it the MST3K treatment. And this was not a film we intended to harangue. This is a series my entire family loves. But the film was ultimately a massive disappointment for me (the shock of the massive changes to the structure and layout Hogwarts suffered, as well as the loss of the pitch-perfect and gone-too-soon Richard Harris, notwithstanding), and no amount of Buckbeak flight scenes or Draco getting punched in the face could save a film with terrible, pointless creative choices.

Now it is your turn to participate. We put together a little survey so that everyone can vote on their favorite and least favorite Harry Potter film. We also included a few more questions for you all that we hope you enjoy regarding the Potter franchise.

Click here to help us rank the Harry Potter Franchise!

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CineNation is a multi-media conversation connecting lovers of television and film from around the world