Top 8 Harry Potter Movies

by Eric Melin on July 12, 2011

in Top 10s

Eight movies and 10 years ago the enormously popular film series about the boy wizard from J.K. Rowling began. The quality of the “Harry Potter” movie adaptations has varied wildly over the years, and one of my major complaints is that as the books have progressed, so have their page counts. This meant more and more things had to be left out of the movies so the filmmakers could turn in movies that weren’t egregiously long. As a moviegoer who hasn’t read any of the novels, I’ll be honest: It’s been kind of alienating. Characters have done inexplicable things and plot points seem to happen for no other reason than, well—they have to. Because that’s what the book says.

On the other hand, there have been two that stick out as emotional and exciting experiences on their own. what follows is my list (admittedly, a cheat on the numbers) for Top 10 Tuesday this week–the Top 8 Harry Potter Movies. If you have a list you’d like to contribute to the site, email me at

8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Director David Yates’ second “Potter” film has some impressively atmospheric cinematography that is sacrificed at the hands of a bleary-eyed screenplay by “Potter” veteran Steve Kloves. More than any other film in the series, it’s like a rough sketch that the filmmakers are hoping Potter fans will fill in with memories from the novel. Two budding romances—between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) and also between Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint)—are badly mishandled. The relationships are vague and forced. The importance of the “half-blood prince” textbook is barely touched on. The supposedly questionable loyalty of Snape (Alan Rickman) is obvious from a maddening amount of foreshadowing. (I really felt sorry, however, for Yates in the newest film when he was forced to explain in a flashback what we had already figured out two movies ago.) Many of the film’s “mysteries” don’t work because their central conceit is that we aren’t supposed to be sure what’s really happening. Yet each one of these plot points are robbed of their inherent drama because they are all too obvious. The final showdown with Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is unforgivably bungled, as Harry’s courage is held in check in the most contrived way possible.

7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2006)

Despite excising a major subplot, this film still bites off more than it can handle. It continually strands its three young leads in perpetual states of teen angst with little believable resolution. There is so much ground to cover in one event-filled school year that it feels incomplete, as if the actors knew they were allowed only one quick scene every half an hour to squeeze in all the details that only disciples of the books will pick up on. Everyone this time out assumes Harry’s ego is getting the best of him, including his best friend Ron. This is the first of many moments where the characters turn on a dime because the dense plot must continue forward. Director Mike Newell skims too quickly over a great opportunity to showcase Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s teen anxiety during the Yule Ball. Where TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” had the time and ingenuity to elevate teenage insecurity into actually encapsulating the end of the world, “Goblet of Fire” throws in a couple sullen faces and lightning-fast character turnarounds that don’t make sense. Newell ends up playing tag with his three leads, as they each trade off exhibiting one forced change after another. I empathize with the difficulty of trimming such a huge book, but fewer garnishes could have brought more focus. “Goblet of Fire” also does the unforgivable for any fantasy movie, telegraphing the twist ending so far ahead that when it inevitably arrives exactly how you had expected, you just want the movie to finally end.

6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

The politically-motivated Ministry of Magic and virtually everyone in the movie refuses to believe Harry when he tells them the vicious killer of his parents has returned. Nevermind Harry’s track record of successes or the unique heritage he possesses. It’s an annoying device to have him trying to convince people of what the audience already knows to be true throughout the entire film. We know there’s something else at play, and it’s a tedious wait with little payoff when Dumbledore’s reasoning for leaving Harry out in the cold is finally revealed. It also hinges too much on an annoying “boy who cried wolf” device that stunts its drama. Dolores Umbridge, however, (played by a catty Imelda Staunton) steals the show. She’s all fake courtesy and curt attitude—a smiling sadist. Like the best fascist leaders, she has an unwavering moral superiority that gets her through the “tough decisions” she must make while running a tight ship. Staunton makes this fiendishness very funny, eliciting laughs in the most unlikely of moments. As Sirius Black, Gary Oldman is the biggest disappointment, especially compared to what we’ve seen from him in previous films. His warmth towards Harry is obvious, but he gets little opportunity to expand his character beyond winking a lot to show his Godson he’ll always be on his side.

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

It’s weird that Yates and crew gave Ron, Hermione, and Harry so much time to develop and deepen in “Part 1,” because for the conclusion of the series, it’s back to business as usual, cramming all the major elements of the plot into one movie. It feels very episodic in nature, and some of the episodes (like Harry’s return to Hogwarts) work quite well. Others (like Harry’s conversation with an important figure from his past)—well, not so much. If the similarities to “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” were present before, they’re even more obvious now, and Yates bungles some moments of built-in hugeness with very ordinary staging and a lack of dramatic weight. The world and the myth-making elements are all there, but it just isn’t utilized as effectively as the movies that have influenced it. And, yes, unfortunately, the movie comes down to a whole lot more pointing of those infernal wands; what may be the least cinematic showdown ever.  All is not lost, but it’s just a frustrating way to end the series—a return to the tepid and spotty results of movie numbers four, five, and six. Even the film’s final moments lack the weight they needed.

4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

A little bit scarier than the first installment, “Chamber of Secrets” is also a bit long. But the art direction and special effects again are top notch, and since the extensive background info was already set up in the first film, this one was able to concentrate more on the mystery at hand—which actually works most of the time. Kenneth Branagh is a very funny surprise as the publicity-hungry wizard, and the late Richard Harris (so missed in later movies) was excellent again— a real bond was forming there between he and Radcliffe. The themes in these books and movies are so universal and simple, yet wrapped up in this hugely creative imaginary world. That’s what helped to make the first two successful. “Chamber of Secrets” had a couple head-scratching scenes and dragged a bit in the middle (just like the first one did), but overall, it was fairly solid.

3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Do you remember the first time you saw Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry portrayed on film? What an exciting place it was, filled with all sorts of detail—like paintings populated by actual people! The special effects were inherent to the storytelling. The introduction to the fully formed, detailed world of wizards and muggles itself was a lot to take in, and first films in a series always benefit from portraying that world (look at “LOTR: Fellowship”).  Harry’s backstory was intriguing and special: The orphan who is treated like crap finds out that he’s special and a whole new world opens up to him. The first Potter movie had the advantage of being just that—the first Potter movie. Before things got oppressive and heavy, there was just the right balance of danger and fun. Oh the days when the franchise was so young and full of promise …

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

The decision to split “Deathly Hallows” into two movies couldn’t have paid off more. Director Yates has the time to spend with Harry, Ron, and Hermione that he hadn’t had up to this point and the movie is 100 percent better for it. The characters have time to breathe—or in the specific case of this movie—they have a lot of time to reflect on the dire nature of their situation and how strong their friendship is. This is the first to be freed completely—finally—from the confines of Hogwarts. Because the trio is way outside of that safety net, it’s also scariest movie yet in the series. Characters make life-altering decisions, some lose their lives, and there are shades of the Third Reich as the Ministry of Magic starts rounding up those who aren’t purebloods. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is the second-best in the series next to “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” even though it doesn’t really have an ending.

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Director Alfonso Cuaron may not have followed the book, but he easily created the most emotionally true and stirring tale from a series that lost steam steadily after this go-round (with the exception of “Deathly Hallows Part 1.”). It was the first movie to go really dark, reflecting the teenagers’ growing pains, and Harry’s growing unease with his past. This movie has all the heart that many of the other movies want to have and the visual style to transcend the series and stand alone as a great metaphor for teen angst. The final scene where Harry must realize his own potential in a very adult way (against terrifying cloaked Dementors) packs more of an emotional wallop than any that has come since. Considering all the supposedly dramatic things that happened in the five movies since then, that statement is a firm scolding to the directors that followed Cuaron. Maybe the three films that directly followed should have been split up into two movies, because there were plenty of subplots and side adventures that could have filled up their running times and given the characters enough time to register the big changes they were going through. Now that the series is over, I can safely say that “Azkaban” is the only Potter movie that works on its own.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Duane July 12, 2011 at 7:35 am

Disagree. Half-Blood Prince is top 3 and definitely a WAAAAY better Yates production than Order of the Phoenix.


2 Duane July 12, 2011 at 7:39 am

“…one of my major complaints is that as the books have progressed, so have their page counts.”

Really? Is that true in all cases or just like Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix?


3 Xavier July 12, 2011 at 7:55 am

This is exactly as I would rank them (having not seen the last one that just came out). My order of the books would have to go
1. The Order of the Phoenix
2. The Half Blood Prince
3. The Prisoner of Azkaban
4. The Philosopher’s Stone
5. The Goblet of Fire
6. The Deathly Hallows
7. The Chamber of Secrets


4 Eric Melin July 12, 2011 at 9:03 am


I realize that for many, Half-Blood Prince was a big one. For me, it was the ultimate alienation for a series that had excised so much information and relied so heavily on the book readers to fill in the blanks of what they left out (to imbue certain moments and characters with qualities from the books) that they forgot how to tell a cohesive story. The things that happen in the movie are inherently dramatic, yes, but the film didn’t earn the right for those moments to be that way.

My thesis is that the book readers bring all the backstory and information that was left out of the movies into the theater with them. The scripts for 4, 5, and 6 especially were just a mess.

When the book is written on these adaptations, I think the general consensus will be something like: “It was cool of them to visualize as much of the story as they could, but it was not much more than an “A” for effort.

Thanks for your ranking. Curious to see where the last one falls after you see it. For my money, they bungled the ending pretty badly. It had vary little of the heft it should have had.


5 Jimmy July 12, 2011 at 11:08 am

Being a huge HP fan of the books and movies I can’t help but to comment.

As the last film release approaches I’ve been watching them in sequence, just finished Phoenix. It’s interesting how these films progressed in story; I’m not sure if they’re meant to be stand alone films or a series. I do agree they leave a lot to the actual readers to fill in the blanks, like how did Barty Crouch Jr. hoax everyone in Goblet of Fire? I think they used too many broad strokes to create the story and also a lot of dumb pointless little ones for the sake of showing off the magic of the world we have been watching. I think of another example in cinema where this has happened: the story of Boromir and Faramir and their father. One that just watches the movies would have to watch the extended versions to get the whole story of what happened. I, not having read the books but appreciated the movies immensely, didn’t care much. As for Harry Potter I don’t know if the casual follower of the movies care much. Not saying they don’t ask questions (my older brother does all the time) but the story that spans 7 heavy books does tell the skeleton. If we want the complete and total plot let’s ask for a made for TV 7 year mini-series next time.

Care if I share my thoughts on the list?

8. Half-Blood Prince- Not exactly my favorite book or movie. I see this as a prequel to the finale, it set up the horcruxes, Dumbledore’s death, and the relationships. I think even the book didn’t have much of a plot to go off of.

7.Goblet of Fire- This one happens to be my favorite because of the overall fun atmosphere of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Honestly, I don’t know what character turn arounds you’re talking about except for maybe Ron’s.

6. Order of the Phoenix- For a long time I liked this one, but I think it was because of the whole end scene of the massive duel. Loved those parts. The problem I have with this movie is the tone, for the most part it’s so dragged down and depressing. In the whole arc of the story it’s important to know that it’s Harry’s most difficult year in school with everyone not believing him, his teenage hormones and Umbridge being a total biatch.

5. Deathly Hallows Part 2- Haven’t seen it but I have high hopes for it. I can see the very ending being totally awkward though.

4. Chamber of Secrets- Don’t have much to complain about for this one. I think the story was well drawn out and came together in the climax.

3. Sorcerer’s Stone- Again, nothing to complain about. Seeing the magic for the first time, nothing can replace that. It had a good balance fun and plot.

2.Deathly Hallows Part 1- I agree that the trio needed time to think and live outside the comfort of Hogwarts. I get way frustrated at this movie because there’s so much dead space which could have been used to give information to the audience. In the book there’s other action that gives the trio detail what happened, wish they would have kept some of those parts in.

1. Prisoner of Azkaban- Actually I think he followed the book quite well. The cinematography was a massive change from the first two, good or not? I don’t know. I do think that this film has a lot of the most awkward acting parts (“HE WAS THEIR FRIEND!” Why was he crying but not crying?) and the worst ending shot of them all. I’ve always seen this story as a stand alone because it doesn’t involve the villain directly like all the others do.

Eric, totally support your list and your reasons.


6 Eric Melin July 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm


Wow. Great comments, man! Yeah, the out-of-character character turnaround I remember from ‘Goblet’ specifically was Ron’s. Maybe if they had spent more time on it, it would have been more believable, but that’s been my main criticism of the entire series. I like your idea of a TV miniseries–but then again it would never have had the budget–ha!

Maybe I need to see ‘Azkaban’ again, but that scene where he seems himself at the end and makes a tough decision was the best ‘hero’s test’ in the entire series, I thought. On ‘Pt.1,’ what you call “dead space” was so needed in my eyes, but who knows–maybe they could have inserted important plot info too without too much clutter…


7 Jimmy July 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Defiantly with Ron. I forgot how he turned around in the book, if it was as “oh, you wouldn’t want to battle a dragon so you must’ve not put your name in the goblet” sort of thing. I forgot. Either way, I agree that it was forced and didn’t make much sense. They could’ve made it more “oh shiz my best buddy almost died! I should back him whether I believe him or not.” I don’t know, I digress.

One “beef” I have with the ending of Azkaban was that the whole Sirius Black/ Wormtail confusion was explained so quickly. I, who has read the books and understand the story, was afraid for the casual movie goer would be confused about what happened. “Now Sirius is good? I don’t get it.” But I guess if you understand that plot point then it’s all good.

I defiantly think that space could have been filled with at least Dumbledore’s past or more discussion about the horcruxes. Dumbledore’s past had a huge article in the Daily Prophet from Rita Skeeter about his family situation. They touched on it like once. I know they will in Part 2 but it is essential for not only Harry to question Dumbledore’s character but also the audience needs to as well. JK Rowling did an amazing job at this. The genius was to think Dumbledore as perfect throughout all the series. JK does an excellent job to paint out 3 dimensional characters that are not wholly good or bad. This is especially the case for Snape as well. I hope Snape’s memories scene and King’s Cross will fix a lot of the holes left.

Sorry, I’m just very opinionated about the story. I know and understand that films are flawed.

PS- I’m curious what JD thinks about the series as a whole as he is a fan of the books as well.


8 Xavier July 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm

No worries I thought it might be interesting, for you to see where I ranked the books, considering I agree pretty much 100% with you on the movies. I’ve read all the books and enjoyed them (I was 10 when I read the 1st book), but I’m definitely not what you’d call a hardcore fan.
I always did get the feeling that the movies were glossing over a lot of the character points I enjoyed in the books. As I continued reading I got that sort of Lost/How I Met Your Mother feeling, that the more the series grew the harder it was going to be to finish it in a satisfying way and I simply didn’t think that the author (or creative talent behind those TV series) had the chops to pull it off.
I’ll have to see for myself but the way you felt about the end of the last movie is essentially how I felt at the end of the book, with a massive deux ex machina, conveniently bringing everything to a close then a tacked on epilogue that was pretty ham-fisted in delivery.
By the sounds of it I think a lot of your problems with the last movie are probably more functions of having to follow the book than problems with the movie itself


9 Nathan July 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I enjoyed your Harry Potter rankings. We have a writer who hasn’t read the books either and I like hearing his perspective as well. As fans of the books (I usually avoid books of movies before the film but HP is a whole other phenomenon) we are sometimes blinded by the story telling. Like you said, I personally liked Part One of Deathly Hallows quite a bit because of the time they spent with the characters. However, I actually thought it would be more difficult to understand what was going on for non readers. But you said the opposite. So did you actually retain all that horocrux talk from Half Blood Prince and were able to follow along? Or was it more that you enjoyed the characters more and the details of the plot were less important? Or another option? I always felt the movies did cram way too much stuff in them and thought if I hadn’t read the books I would think the movies would be just OK or less. But I have and I think most of the movies are good not great with the second one being extremely boring. Although I do believe these last two are the best, I think Azkaban is the turning point for the films. I thought you might be interested to know in a recent EW article the young actors credit Alfonso with teaching them to actually act.


10 Eric Melin July 13, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Cuaron taught them how to act AFTER they made 2 movies with Chris Columbus? Ouch.

I’ll admit to a definite level of not remembering everything from all previous Potter films. I am of the opinion that if a movie can make me ‘feel’ like I know what’s happening even if I forget the details, then it can still succeed. I didn’t retain all the details from movie to movie, but I knew there was a mission to collect/destroy these things and that all hope seemed to be lost at the end of Part 1, so I was more or less in the game.

That said, if the emotional experience is solid the whole way though,the plot DOES in fact matter less for me.


11 Jimmy July 14, 2011 at 1:45 am

I really wish I had the luxury of judging the movies solely on the quality of the movies. It’s difficult to put myself fully into the mindset of “okay, how GOOD are these movies based on plot, character development, acting, etc…” Having the read the books my loyalty is to the books because that’s where the true HP doctrine is.

Did these movies make me “feel” something? Yes, at very different times in the series. Why? Probably because I’m connected to these characters not just through the screen. I feel like my judgment isn’t a fair one on a strictly movie based because I have this bias.

All I can say is that for a fan they were fun and told the jist of the story. The acting was alright, maybe not the greatest adaptations of the characters but they’ll do.

I guess it comes down to who were these movies made for? Casual movie goer or fan of the books? I think they’re for the fan of the books.


12 Gobbles July 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm


You should be less defiant and more definite, imho.


13 Herp Derpson July 17, 2011 at 6:21 am

I will leave out HP7Pt1 because I have not seen it, but here’s my ranking:
1: Prisoner of Azkaban
2: The Deathly Hallows Part 2
3: Goblet of Fire
4: Sorcerer’s Stone
5: Order of the Phoenix
6: Chamber of Secrets
7: The Half-blood Prince (boring, unappealing scenery and a bad ending.)


14 REER July 19, 2011 at 6:42 am

I think that part 1 was a disjointed film, it starts with a lot of information, characters ( who never appear before) Harry with the glass that idont have any idea where it comes from ( i know in the book is explained). The most interesting was all the camping scene but i feeled rushed. I agree with your review of part 2 but i cant hide that was very emotional for me, for all these years with the characters and hogwarts. Its a shame because i really liked the work of Yates before. For me half blood prince was very good its the first time in the series that the characters breath and they looks natural. Its a character movie for me

1-Prisoner of Azkaban
2-The Half-blood Prince
3-Order of the Phoenix
4- Chamber of Secrets
5- The Deathly Hallows Part 2
6- Sorcerer’s Stone
7- The Deathly Hallows Part 2
8- Goblet of Fire


15 REER July 19, 2011 at 6:44 am

I want to agree that the 5 is part 2 and the 7 is part 1.
And sorry for my english


16 Elle August 6, 2011 at 1:35 am

“As a moviegoer who hasn’t read any of the novels, I’ll be honest: It’s been kind of alienating. Characters have done inexplicable things and plot points seem to happen for no other reason than, well—they have to. Because that’s what the book says.”

As someone who has read the books, let me tell you: Steve Kloves writes incomprehensible scripts, and it has little to do with simply leaving out explanations that were made in the book. In fact, not only does Kloves make nonsensical alterations to the book, he actually adds things which don’t make sense. Every one of his scripts has left me puzzled. It’s not simply a matter of leaving things out for time. He just makes odd choices.


17 Elle August 6, 2011 at 2:17 am

As for my ranking:
1. Deathly Hallows, Part 1 – for me, this is by far the best, and the only one I think works entirely as a movie
2. Order of the Phoenix – for all of its flaws, I think this was a pretty decent movie; Umbridge and Dumbledore’s Army are great and the acting is better than in the any of the previous movies.
3. Prisoner of Azkaban – this movie works best for me as a series of moments, rather than as a complete movie. The script often didn’t make sense, and the climatic scene in the Shrieking Shack was handled very poorly. However, its biggest strength over the other 7 movies is atmosphere.
4. Goblet of Fire – not great, but mostly fairly entertaining
5. Half-Blood Prince – a big ol’ mess of a movie, I thought, though it had its highlights, such as Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn.
6 & 7. Sorceror’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets – I found both movies excruciatingly stiff and awkward. However, the introduction of the magical world in both movies was fun.
8. Deathly Hallows, Part 2 – I just didn’t think this movie worked, and it had fewer redeeming qualities than any of the others. But everything concerning Snape was good I thought.


18 hugh October 8, 2011 at 6:01 am

1. half blood prince
2. deathly hallows part 2
3.deathly hallows part 1
4.goblet of fire
5.prisoner of azkaban
6.philosophers stone
7.chamber of secrets
8. order of the phoenix


19 Lauren November 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm

I like many of the points you made here, but I am a bit confused as to why Azkaban is your number one choice. I guess maybe because you didn’t read the books but the ending was so messed up (The Shrieking Shack scene was WAY to short). They also never explained about who “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs” were which just makes no sense to me. Why were the patronuses disks and not animals? I also don’t think Gary Oldman and whoever played Lupin were right for those roles. Could be because I was a pre-teen girl when that third book came out and had a probably unhealthy crush on the fictional character Sirius Black so he wasn’t good-looking enough for me :-P .

Love your critique of the 5th movie, esp. the “winking” comment about Sirius. That was the best book in my opinion and the movie was pretty bad and left out the great touching moments between Sirius and Harry. When I look back I think that the Hallows Part 1 was the best movie for me. I agree with everything you said. There was a very ominous mood and we had a chance to really see some much-needed character development. The Harry-Hermione dancing scene was so touching and a great addition. The last movie was such a disappointment :(


20 Regi November 17, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Wow. I had no idea the movies were so bad until reading this blog.

One thing puzzles me. Anyone is certainly within their rights not to read the books, but are you really so angry as you sound at the people who did read them?

By the way, I agree that Azkaban is the best of the lot, but I call second place a tie between Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows part 2.


21 peeves February 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Here are my top 8 films. I think Azkaban is the worst because it didn’t seem dark enough to me compared to Fire thru hallows part 2.
8.Prisoner of Azkaban

*big gap*
7.Sorcerer’s Stone
6.Chamber of Secrets

5.Order of the Phoenix
4.Goblet of Fire
3.Half-Blood Prince
2.Deathly Hallows part 1
1.Deathly Hallows part 2


22 Wayne June 26, 2012 at 10:46 am

Seriously? The 3rd Movie. I can’t believe you put Cuaron’s blandness at no. 1


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