This feature originally ran in November 2018. It was updated on May 30th, 2022, to include the third Fantastic Beasts film.
Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of the still-expanding Wizarding World cinematic universe.
A viewer of a certain age will remember what the run-up to the release of 2000’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone felt like. Just a couple of years earlier, the Boy Who Lived arrived on American shores with a slightly altered first installment title and the many wonders of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world in tow. Potter phenomenon was already well underway, but the idea of being able to bring Hogwarts and its inhabitants to life set the excitement at a fever pitch. Everything from the gentle John Williams score to the first images of Daniel Radcliffe as the onscreen Harry suggested that fan expectations were about to be delivered upon.
Whether they were or not from that point is really a matter of perspective. To some Potter-heads, the films can never truly match the richness and depth of Rowling’s ever-expanding universe. To others, they’re to be taken as their own version of the Potter story, adaptations comprehensive enough to work (or not work) as their own retelling, independent of the books. Others got to grow along with the series, watching its actors age onscreen as the characters did on the page, growing up as Harry and Ron and Hermione had to as the story progressed. To many, at least these days, they’re the eight movies always playing on some cable channel somewhere.
Regardless, 18 years and billions of dollars later, the Potter books have spawned eight adaptations, two spin-offs (the Fantastic Beasts films), and a lifetime of book vs. movie arguments. So we’ve decided to take our best shot at dissecting the magic of those ten films, what makes them tick, and which manage to best match (or even add to) the story that created a new generation of dedicated readers and fans. Accio ranked list!
(A quick note, before we begin: the “Cast” section for each main series entry, after the first, will only include additions per film, to avoid re-naming a who’s-who of European acting royalty along the way.)
— Dominick Suzanne-Mayer