The Best Movie Ever | Harry Potter
Movies come and movies go, but some seem to last forever. And while many of the films that followed in its wake seem to have already been lost within the short-term memory of popular culture, Harry Potter seems to linger. The orphaned child who became a wizard was created by author J.K. Rowling and spawned a beloved series of novels, a beloved series of films, and now a spin-off prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from the many of the makers of those other hit movies.
Yes, Harry Potter seems to be with us forever now. But with eight whole movies, everyone is bound to have a favorite. This week on The Best Movie Ever we’ve asked our panel of critics – Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Collider’s Brian Formo – to each pick the one Harry Potter movie that they believe stands head and shoulders above the rest. They couldn’t agree on a thing (as usual).
Find out what they picked and why, let us know your favorite, and come back next Wednesday for another all-new, highly debatable installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!
Witney Seibold’s Pick: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
As a snarky twentysomething in 2001, the popularity of the Harry Potter novels and their subsequent feature film was immediately something to be suspicious of. When one is in their 20s, and they are presented with something that is primarily being consumed by children, the natural reaction is to recoil. Ask a college student what they think of One Direction, for instance. You are at the age when rejecting childhood things is the hip thing to do. As such, I and many of my peers roundly refused to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in theaters. We didn’t want to be part of this dumb kiddie phenomenon, and were sure to voice that opinion as often as we could. That would make us cooler, right?
Roger Ebert changed my mind. He gave the film four stars and spoke eloquently about its enchanting qualities and magical tone. Simultaneously, I was granted an opportunity to see the film for free. I draped a cloth over my prejudices and went to the theater. And yes, dear readers, I was enchanted. It was a bright film that was indeed magical, and it was possessed of a childlike sense of discovery. I don’t know how fans of the novels were reacting, but I felt like I was discovering how wonderful the wizard world was with Harry.
As such, I entered Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with a good deal of enthusiasm. Chamber of Secrets still had the childlike wonderment, but also a more cohesive story, more expansive characters, and, even more than the first, a quirky sense of humor; there is, for instance, a beat-up flying car that seems to operate under its own will. Kenneth Branagh deliciously hams it up as a blowhard wizard rock star teacher, and the late great Richard Harris projects an authoritative, but grandfatherly warmth which colors the film for the better.
The subsequent sequels were less impressive. Popular opinion is that the third film in the series is the best for its muddy qualities, street clothes, and darker tone. It’s also the first in the series that makes the enterprise feel less like an exploration of a world of wonder, and more like another rote thriller. The fourth film recaptures some of the magic, but by the time we get to the fifth, it’s all downhill. Going back to Chamber of Secrets reveals the height of the series and the glories of a grand kids’ entertainment.
Brian Formo’s Pick: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The Prisoner of Azkaban was the film where the Harry Potter series came of age. The world of Hogwarts had been built but it couldn’t continue as constructed, following every whimsy and book thread, because J.K. Rowling’s books by this juncture were getting thicker and thicker with tangents unrelated to Potter’s own coming of age. So Steve Kloves, who adapted each Potter book, adopted a new approach with Azkaban: he focused only on the sections where Potter was directly involved or witnessed events. There are still magical and imaginative asides, of course, but this is the first film where we view Hogwarts entirely from his vantage point.
What boosts Azkaban narratively is that Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are all entering puberty. They’re slightly more rebellious and individual in their thoughts, their desires and even their dress (minor hair and uniform changes come into play here). Sexual awareness is introduced even if it isn’t acted upon. A runaway scenario is included. There’s just a little more edge in Azkaban from the teenagers, but also it’s necessary perhaps most for this story because wrongful imprisonment and the methods of retaining sanity while wrongfully imprisoned are expressed through the story of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman).
Ultimately, though, what really makes Azkaban the best Harry Potter film is that an auteur was behind the picture in Alfonso Cuaron. Yes, he was coming off a “sex picture” in Y Tu Mama Tambien, but there are elements in that road movie that lent itself very nicely to the Potter-verse. Cuaron has a patience behind the camera that his youthful characters lack. He is not bored in observing in the way that teens are bored by stillness and are prone to restlessness. That patience finds truths and in Azkaban, Cuaron gave us the truest expression of teen angst at Hogwarts.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
As Brian already pointed out, fealty to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels had become a bit of a luxury by the mid-point of the movie franchise, and after the second film in the series something would always have to go in order to crunch these things down to a meaningful running time. (Heck, even the first two movies managed to do away with the fan favorite Hogwarts poltergeist, Peeves.) This left many of the Harry Potter films, including The Prisoner of Azkaban, focused more on the plot and mythology of the series than the characters, or the enticing idea of living within Rowling’s magical world.
Except for Mike Newell’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the film that (mostly) got it right, and which plays most like watching a Harry Potter novel play out on camera. It’s an absurdly plotted motion picture, much like the big, since neither of them explain why Voldemort’s cronies go to such absurd lengths to accomplish a goal that could have been solved by a simple kidnapping. But it’s an adventurous treat to find Harry Potter shanghaied into a tournament of wizards, squaring off against dragons and mer-people and labyrinths filled with marvelous monsters.
But the real selling point of Goblet of Fire is Newell’s attention to detail, and the way those details fill the frame instead of drawing attention away from the characters. Christopher Columbus’s Harry Potter movies were a sightseeing tour in which pacing be damned, audiences were going to luxuriate in every fanciful concept. Alfonso Cuaron’s film ignored any detail that wasn’t specifically important to the plot (even if it would lead to plot holes later in the series), and David Yates’ films were solemn trudges through the darkest corners of the universe, where no joy dared be found.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a film in which childhood enthusiasm abounds, only to be wrenched away at an unexpected moment. It’s an escapist fantasy full of homework, in which the minutiae of the wizarding world matters, entertains, but doesn’t drag the story down. (And it’s also the film that took S.P.E.W. out of the movies, ruining Ron and Hermione’s first kiss down the road, but oh well, few films are perfect.) It’s the closest the films came to doing the books proper justice, and it also happens to be pretty darned spectacular. Best Harry Potter ever.
The Top 10 Things The Harry Potter Movies Left Out (Spoilers!):
The borderline psychedelic Luna Lovegood (we’re guessing her parents were heavy into the pixie juice) was a breakout but minor character in the last few Harry Potter movies, and if we’re being fair she didn’t have a lot more to do in the books either.
But if there’s one classic Luna Lovegood sequence that they cut from the films it’s the time in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when she got to announce a Quidditch match. Instead of keeping track of trivialities like the score she “kept attempting to draw the crowd’s attention to such things as interestingly shaped clouds and the possibility that Zacharias Smith, who had so far failed to maintain possession of the Quaffle for longer than a minute, was suffering from something called ‘Loser’s Lurgy.’” We’d have paid to see that.
WHY IT GOT CUT: It has nothing to do with anything really. It’s just a “fan favorite” scene.
SHOULD IT HAVE STAYED IN? Absolutely. If there’s one thing the deeply moody Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince could have used, it’s a bit of comic relief.
Peeves the Poltergeist is as old as Hogwarts itself. Supposedly he “came with the building” when it was erected in A.D. 993. A damned nuisance, the poltergeist roams the halls freely, tormenting students and faculty alike at the most inopportune moments. He pelted the first year students with walking sticks in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, plugged keyholes with chewing gum in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but actually made himself useful by driving Dolores Umbridge nuts in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. A fan favorite character, he finally proved himself by fighting valiantly at the Battle of Hogwarts. He still torments the school to this day.
WHY HE GOT CUT: Actually, he almost didn’t. Rik Mayall, aka Drop Dead Fred (above), played the character in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but he got left on the cutting room floor. The character was left out of the other films entirely, presumably because of his relative inconsequence to the plot, and Rik Mayall’s footage, for whatever reason, has never surfaced in any form.
SHOULD HE HAVE STAYED IN? Meh. The readers love him as an X-Factor in the halls of Hogwarts, but he never really had anything significant to do in the stories. If we’d had our way there would have been an occasional side moment of the poltergeist doing something annoying, but there was certainly no need to dwell on him.
At the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry, Ron and Hermione must face a series of challenges – each crafted by a different teacher at Hogwarts – in order to save the eponymous magic rock. In the movies these challenges were limited to Hagrid’s three-headed dog “Fluffy,” Professor Sprout’s defensive vegetation The Devil’s Snare, Professor Flitwick’s Flying Keys, Professor McGonagall’s life-sized Wizard’s Chess Set and, of course, Professor Dumbledore’s Mirror of Erised. But the books contained a few more challenges, including Professor Quirrell’s Mountain Troll (pre-defeated for Harry by Professor Quirrell, luckily) and, most importantly, Professor Snape’s logic puzzle: an impossibly long riddle tied to a series of potions which were poisonous if the riddle were solved incorrectly. It was a defining moment for Hermione Granger, who managed to solve the whole conundrum in her head.
WHY IT GOT CUT: Time, probably. Adding too many challenges might have neutralized the tension of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’s finale. The filmmakers made Professor Sprout’s challenge into more a logic puzzle, giving Hermione a different – though decidedly less impressive – time to shine.
SHOULD IT HAVE STAYED IN? We’re 50/50 on this one. It’s hard to make a logic puzzle cinematic, and as stated above adding too many challenges might have made the climax a lot less suspenseful, but Hermione deserved a bigger moment at the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone. We’d have found a place for it, but we’re not shedding many tears over the omission.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry finally learned why Voldemort went to the trouble of killing his parents in the first place: there was a prophecy which stated that – it’s too long to include in its entirety and explain – a boy would be born at the end of July, 1980, to two parents who had thrice defied Voldemort and lived to tell the tale, and who would have the ability to destroy the Dark Lord. That’s Harry all right.
But – and this was the twist – it was also Neville Longbottom, the son of two aurors who were driven to madness by Deatheaters after suffering the Cruciatus Curse. (Incidentally, if you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, nothing in that last sentence makes sense.)
In a genuinely clever narrative device, the prophecy – which usually gives away the ending in stories like this – left a backdoor which could have led to a surprise ending in which Harry wouldn’t ultimately kill Voldemort, but Neville would.
WHY IT WAS CUT: Dumbledore accurately surmised that Voldemort chose which boy was the subject of the prophecy by focusing all his energies on Harry. Since the prophecy – SPOILERS – didn’t come true for Neville, keeping it in the movies would have placed undue focus on Neville and distracted from the main plotline.
SHOULD IT HAVE STAYED IN? Again, there was plenty of time for this in the books, but not enough time in the movies. Although we would have liked to have seen more of Neville in the films, he did get a little more to do in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire than he did in the novels and ultimately had his hero moments in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
The Dursleys were total dicks to Harry Potter: forcing him to live underneath a staircase, treating him like an indentured servant, preventing him from attending to Hogwarts… Yeah, “dicks” is the word we’d use. In particular, Harry’s cousin Dudley was a gluttonous, entitled, complete jerk of a boy for five whole books, until Harry saved him from a Dementor in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In The Half-Blood Prince Dudley barely appears at all, and commits confusing acts like leaving a tray in front of Harry’s door, causing stuff to spill when he opens it.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, however, Harry finally realizes that the odd gesture was, in fact, an awkward peace offering. Saving Dudley’s life finally made Dudley into a halfway decent individual who finally saw the error of his ways. The conclusion to the Dursley story was glossed over in the final films, and limited to the Dursley family running away in a cowardly manner in the first few minutes of The Deathly Hallows Part 1.
WHY IT WAS CUT: The only possible reason we can think of is for time, but with two whole movies in which to cover J.K. Rowling’s final book that’s not much of an excuse.
SHOULD IT HAVE STAYED IN? Yes. The audience spent way too much time with the Dursley family over the course of the franchise to deny them their only redeeming moment. Especially when it would have added, at most, maybe two minutes to the finished film.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry learns more about Voldemort’s life history than just about anyone else in the world. One of the key revelations, which motivates the villain’s every action in the series, is his family history.
It turns out that Voldemort is an almost direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin… so direct, in fact, that his family tree didn’t even fork. Voldemort was the result of centuries of inbreeding, leading to mental instability and violence in his biological line. When his mother seduced a Muggle with a love potion, Voldemort was the result, and the conflict between his “Pure” blood and his “Mud” blood spawned his genocidal tendencies.
WHY IT WAS CUT: Because… ew.
SHOULD IT HAVE STAYED IN? We would have included some flashbacks of Voldemort’s lineage in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to better motivate the villain, but in all fairness would definitely have skimmed over the incest thing. As dark as the later movies got, they’re still intended for kids and that is not a conversation most parents want to have their pre-teens. Or teens. Or even their adult children for that matter. Because… ew.
Harry’s best friend, Ronald Weasley, has a pretty large family. Six siblings, in fact. Naturally, some of them were bound the get the short shrift in the Harry Potter movies, but some shrifts are shorter than others. His sister Ginny and his brothers, Fred and George (twins) all got their fair share of screen time, and yet his older brothers Charlie, Bill and Percy were all but cut from the movies altogether.
For Charlie, this was no great loss. He spent most of his time in Romania studying dragons. Bill and Percy had a lot more to do, however. Bill showed up suddenly in the Deathly Hallows movies, suddenly engaged to Goblet of Fire’s Fleur Delacour. It was jarring moment for those who hadn’t read the books, in which their love story had been a recurring subplot for a book or two, and was tested dramatically when Bill was bitten by a werewolf at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Moreover, Percy Weasley had betrayed the family for several books by allying himself with the bumbling Ministry of Magic, but finally saw the error of his ways after the unmistakable return of Voldemort at the end of The Order of the Phoenix.
WHY THEY WERE CUT: Too many damned characters, really. And how were the filmmakers to know that Bill’s marriage would be a central plot point in The Deathly Hallows? Oh right, J.K. Rowling could have told them. Oh well…
SHOULD THEY HAVE STAYED IN? We’re fond of Percy’s subplot but it lifted out of The Order of the Phoenix pretty neatly, so we’re not going to complain about that. A little lip service really should have been paid to Bill, though, given his significance in the last film. We’d have shown Bill and Fleur in the background, canoodling during an Order of the Phoenix meeting. That would have kept the wedding from coming out of left field for audiences who hadn’t read the series.
Yes… “S.P.E.W.” It stands for The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, and was founded in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by Hermione Granger. She was a smart girl with genuine social issues at heart, but somehow it never occurred to her that as acronyms go, “S.P.E.W.” isn’t exactly the easiest to promote. Although in all fairness it’s a lot better than her first idea, S.O.A.F.M.C.C.C.L.S. (or “Stop the Outrageous Abuse of our Fellow Magical Creatures and Campaign for a Change in their Legal Status”), which she couldn’t fit on a badge.
The society, which Hermione had trouble drumming up support for (even within the elfish community) was a surprisingly worldly subplot for the otherwise otherworldly Harry Potter series, and was a frequent point of contention between Ron Weasley, who grew up accepting elves as a servant species, and Hermione, who campaigned tirelessly for their rights. The subplot finally ended in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Ron wanted to fight to save the lives of Hogwarts’ elves, prompting Hermione to give him their first kiss.
In the final film, their first kiss takes place after they destroy one of the last Horcruxes instead.
WHY IT WAS CUT: S.P.E.W. was a digression from the already packed plotline of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Although the filmmakers probably didn’t know it would precipitate such an important moment in the last book of the series, it’s also unlikely that they would have devoted any time to it anyway when a kiss, essentially, is “just a kiss.”
SHOULD IT HAVE STAYED IN? “A kiss is just a kiss” our ass…! While on the whole S.P.E.W. wasn’t a terribly influential plot point in the Harry Potter series, the culture clash it represented between Ron and Hermione came to symbolize the opposing mindsets that kept them apart romantically. When that clash ended, it gave their first kiss greater significance than surviving a great ordeal – something they had already done together countless times – ever would.
We didn’t need to see “S.P.E.W.,” necessarily, but we did need to reference their difference of opinions on that kind of mature, socially conscious issues in order to give the conclusion (and by extension, the beginning) of their love story greater weight.
Peter Pettigrew had a lot to answer for: he was the one who revealed to Voldemort the location of Harry Potter’s parents, directly leading to their deaths, and afterwards he vanished, leaving Harry’s godfather Sirius Black to take the fall. After hiding out as Ron Weasley’s pet rat, of all things, he was unmasked and escaped yet again after Harry prevented Sirius and Remus Lupin from killing him. Later, he resurrected Voldemort, sacrificing his own hand in the spell… a hand which was replaced by Voldemort himself.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pettigrew caught Harry as he was attempting to flee Malfoy Manor and tried to strangle him, but when he was reminded of the life debt he owed Harry Potter from The Prisoner of Azkaban he stopped, and his magical arm strangled him to death for betraying Lord Voldemort.
WHY WAS IT CUT: We have no damned idea. He’s an important character and he’s completely forgotten after having his death scene cut out of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. He does not return for Part 2, nor does his uppance ever come. Weirder still is the emphasis placed on his life debt to Harry in the movie version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a setup that was never paid off, adequately or otherwise, in the final films.
SHOULD IT HAVE BEEN LEFT IN? Absolutely. Leaving a principle antagonist without an ending of any kind is just awkward storytelling (and that’s being kind).
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry receives “The Marauder’s Map,” which magically reveals the location of any individual at Hogwarts in real-time. But who the heck were “The Marauders?” It’s a good question, and one that the movies never answer. In the books we learn that The Marauders were a group of troublemakers consisting of Harry’s father and Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew and Remus Lupin, who created the map so they could sneak around Hogwarts and accompany Lupin on nights when he turned into a werewolf. This, along with most other elements of James Potter’s backstory, is completely omitted from the film franchise.
WHY THEY WERE CUT: It’s easy to see why the filmmakers might have considered The Marauders an incidental plot point. They worked their magic, if you will, many years prior to Harry’s story.
But learning about The Marauders was an important moment in the Harry Potter books: they tied Harry’s own rebellious actions in with those of his parents and justified a number of ongoing story elements like the nature of everyone’s Petronus, the relationship between Harry’s father and Professor Snape, and so forth.
SHOULD THEY HAVE BEEN LEFT IN? Yes, if only in retrospect. Harry’s connection with parents' past became more important as the books and films went onwards, since most of the last two books (and three movies) were rooted in the events that preceded his own birth. A cursory amount of exposition, at least, should have been included.
The sixth book and movie of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is called “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” We’re not trying to be tautological here… we’re making a point.
“The Half-Blood Prince” is not an incidental plot point: it’s in the title. So when the filmmakers decided in the sixth movie to never explain what a “Half-Blood Prince” is, it’s jarring at best, and bad storytelling at worst. For the record, “The Half-Blood Prince” was, in fact, Professor Severus Snape, whose mother, Eileen Prince, was a pure blood wizard and whose father, Tobias Snape, was a muggle. Hence, he was a half-blood… and half a “Prince.” There, was that so hard?
Although hardly the biggest plot point missing from the Harry Potter movies, the fact that the movie called attention to it on every single piece of advertising and never actually got around to explaining what it meant – even though Snape does begrudgingly say the line, “I am the half-blood prince” – makes it the most obvious and, as such, the most gaping omission from the entire film franchise.
WHY IT WAS CUT: The sixth film is swimming in backstory and, frankly, lacks much action, so the explanation of the “Half-Blood Prince” is but one casualty of the many intriguing revelations from the original book.
SHOULD IT HAVE BEEN LEFT IN? Yes. Yes. YES. Seriously, we know it doesn’t seem like a big deal but how the heck do you make a movie with “Half-Blood Prince” in the title whose plot largely revolves around the meaning of the phrase “Half-Blood Prince” and never actually explain what it means, when the material is right there in front of you in book form? It’s just bizarre.