Here is a ranking of every “Harry Potter” movie from worst to first, including the first two features from the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise.
Caution: This article contains spoilers.
10. The Deathly Hallows, Part 1
This slog through the early days of the Horcrux Hunt includes a painful representation of the deep and yet artificial jealousy that grows between the trio of friends. (That darn locket!) Ron vs. Harry feels like Frodo vs. Sam — the digression of both friendships is downright unwatchable.
And dear god, can we please just all forget the incredibly awkward dancing scene between Harry and Hermione?
The process of learning how to kill Voldemort is an intriguing storyline, but, as mentioned, I can’t help but wonder whether there are absences in the second movie that could have been a nice way to enrich this movie.
1. The Half Blood Prince
We see a side to Snape previously unseen. Not only do we get to peer into his younger life, which apparently includes an incredible aptitude for classwork, but Snape is a focal-point in training Harry in legilimency and in the death of Dumbledore. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.) Legilimency also challenges the perfect perception about Harry’s parents — they are more than just eulogy. James Potter was something of a bully.
And, painful as that sequence may be, the movie sets the stage for the absolutely brutal finality of not just Hogwarts as we know it, but also of the tremendous change coming in the Wizarding world.
This movie is such a profound pivot point in the books and movies, and straddles the line between good and evil and adolescence and adulthood. The drama between Ron and Hermione can grow tiresome, but it’s also a uncomfortably true story of (temporarily) unrequited teenage love.
9. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
This movie got murdered by critics, setting a record-low for a Harry Potter movie on RottenTomatoes.com. It confuses action with narrative progress, and takes an exasperatingly long time to explain a very small amount of background. Who is Credence? How will Grindelwald rise to power? Why can’t Dumbledore stop him? (By the way, I do not believe that Credence is who Grindelwald says he is.)
The movie quickly establishes just how powerful Grindelwald can be during the opening scene, when he makes his escape from the grasps of the The Magical Congress of the United States of America. But beyond that, he feels like an underdeveloped and muted character — which is a disappointment when his character is supposed to have an enchanting and convincing personality.
The movie builds upon the strengths of the first “Fantastic Beast” movie by showing Newt’s fantastic apartment, filled with creatures in wonderful and vast habitats. While the plot rambles like the first movie, the adventure feels a bit more significant this time, because this two-movie hunt to find Credence carries a greater importance. We’re not just watching a handful of wizards trying to save a life — that life is apparently the deciding factor in the war to come.
On a few occasions, the filmmakers grounded the movie at Hogwarts after we met a young and energetic Dumbledore. The infusion of Hogwarts and Dumbledore brought some stability and familiarity to the wild and action-packed storylines. But as usual, Dumbledore recruits another powerful wizard to do his dirty work (See: Newt and Harry). We must wait for the next film to see Dumbledore in action.
8. The Chamber of Secrets
Let’s get this out of the way: Gilderoy Lockhart is the worst. I feel better. A too-long magical mystery, this movie provides few memorable moments outside the scenes when it dwells in Tom Marvollo’s past, which teases the origin of the world’s most dangerous wizard. Perhaps few moments stand out because the movie crams in almost all of the book, which proved problematic in the wandering plot.
But Dobby’s arrival is fun. The Malfoy family becomes not just deplorable but deadly when Lucius puts a book in Ginny’s cauldron at a shop in Diagon Alley. And we get a sense of just how expansive Voldemort’s web of influence can be. He can live through a journal and use it to create murderous proxies? (We, of course, don’t know yet that it is a Horcrux.)
7. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The scene when Newt Scamander and Jacob Kowalski enter the suitcase is outstanding. It’s an imaginative and exploratory education of these fantastic beasts. It’s also an exploration of Scamander, whose charming but mysterious backstory comes slowly to light. Though Scamander is distant and eccentric, he’s likable with a strong moral compass in a world where segregation (between Wizards and Muggles) is leading to conflict.
The final twist and introduction of Grindelwald stages the coming battle against Scamander and informs some of the head-scratching elements from the film. It also build hype for what should be (or should have been) an exhilarating series that dives into the relationships of Scamander, Grindelwald and the still mysterious Albus Dumbledore. (Just like Harry learns in the final movie, there’s so much to Dumbledore, who was about 150 years old when he died, than we know.)
6. The Order of the Phoenix
They do such a good job painting Dolores Umbridge as a deplorable character that the movie experience becomes significantly less fun than the rest of the movies. It’s fitting that Umbridge’s Hogwarts would suck for those attending and thus the viewers will feel the pain of Dolores Umbridge’s Quill. And so in some ways, that’s a win for the filmmakers. But I’d prefer my Harry Potter movies not to leave my hand covered in blood, thank you very much.
The other shortcoming of this film comes in the form of Cho Chang. She is a central figure in the books as Harry’s first big crush. And frankly, she is essentially they only woman in Harry’s life aside from Ginny, who Harry marries. Cho is a big deal, but her character is undeveloped and scapegoated.
As far as positives go, this movie develops the relationship between Harry and Sirius, which makes Sirius’ death gut-wrenching. In the department of mysteries, we begin to see the heroics of Neville Longbottom, an unexpected hero.
5. The Sorcerer’s Stone
After the movie spends a bit too much time introducing the viewers to the Dursley family, we finally get the visage of Hagrid walking through the rainy doorway (which is now doorless because he blew the thing off it’s hinges). The magic begins — Dudley gets his pig tail.
From then on, we’re whisked away to the wizarding world with Harry. Diagon Alley is terrific. Hogwarts is gorgeous. Quidditch works well on the big screen. And the introduction to Voldemort is a not-too-scary taste of the magical darkness that comes with the bright halls of Hogwarts.
The child actors aren’t fantastic — but the filmmakers sidestep the struggles of the young actors with a luminous first depiction of the boarding school for witches and wizards.
4. The Deathly Hallows, Part 2
The movie clearly couldn’t cover the expanse of the second half of the book, which begs the question of why they didn’t advance Part 1 further to focus on the more interesting details than the ones highlighted in Part 1 (and we’ll get to that movie eventually).
Should it have been better? Yes. For example: Where were the giants and the centaurs in the Battle of Hogwarts? Their involvement would’ve been epic. Still, considering the difficulty of concluding the series and conveying a complicated, plot-filled finale, the movie stands up well on its own. In particular, the movie gracefully concluded Snape’s storyline with his tragic end, which only made his death more profoundly sad.
3. The Goblet of Fire
The three tasks in the Tri Wizard Tournament are some of the most exhilarating moments in all of the books. The movie does well to dramatize and visualize those moments. But as is true for most of the series, the movie doesn’t do the book justice. For instance, the presentation of Durmstrang and Beau Batton is a bit tacky. Aside from that, the tasks are exciting cinematic adventures, especially the final one, which lands Harry in the middle of Voldemort’s revival. At that point, the movie aptly captures just how mortally dangerous and ruthless Voldemort can be in the final scene. R.I.P. Cedric Diggory.
I just wish someone had taught Daniel Radcliffe how to fake crazy before he completed the final scene when he’s supposed to shed tears over Cedric. That was an exasperatingly poor bit of acting at the crux of the film.
What’s more, the filmmakers may have transported us to a fun cultural experience at the Quidditch World Cup, but they didn’t grant us any viewership of the match itself. That was a disappointment.
2. The Prisoner of Azkaban
It’s everyone’s favorite book. But it’s not quite the best movie.
You’ve got to love the time travel. (“Don’t be silly, Ron. How can anyone be in two classes at once?” A nice bit of misdirection by Ms. Granger.) The Time Turner provides a terrific twist of narrative. But it’s not the best twist of the film. After all, we meet the real Sirius. Turns out, “mass murdering Sirius Black” has taken down mice but not men and women. Black is a friend and not a foe. Because of the introduction of Sirius, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew, this movie dives more deeply into the history of Lilly and James Potter. I, for one, drank it up like Butter Beer.
This is also the final movie before Voldemort takes his own physical form, but it’s foreboding, as the movie is shot significantly darker than the previous two films. We get to know the grounds better thanks to the Marauders Map, the lessons with Hagrid and the trips to Hogsmeade. The Whomping Willow practically becomes a character in itself. The introduction of Buckbeak doesn’t disappoint. It’s a ranging movie that sticks to so many of the things we love about the Harry Potter series.