1. Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban– Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
I really enjoyed this movie and it is my favorite in the Harry Potter Franchise. After Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the pace and embellishments pick up and feel more polished. A lot of the minor characters are more fully developed and some depth is added to Harry’s background. Harry needed a familial ally and Sirius Black, played excellently by Gary Oldman, is a wonderful character. While the beginning of the film drags a little, the pacing and action picks up once Sirius Black finally appears. There is some excellent time travel plotting, which is a great plot device that is never mentioned again in the franchise. However, the film lacks the darker edge that is apparent in the book and the future movie installments. In some regards, The Prisoner of Azkaban movie strikes a lighter tone. Daniel Radcliffe is allowed to do some angry shouting and gesticulating, but it is almost comical because his voice had yet to drop. However, the narrative is bursting with an enthusiastic energy that makes the story feel truly magical. Everyone just looked like they were having a blast making the movie and it makes the story a lot of fun to watch. Plus Harry gets a super cool broomstick to play Quidditch.
The book version is the longest in the series and the film adaptation is the second shortest. Due to some focused screenwriting and Daniel Radcliffe’s acting skills, the movies manages to be avoid most of the pitfalls of the book. Harry’s anger is brought to the forefront of the narrative without making Harry seem too unlikable. The film really hits its stride when all the wizard eccentricities are dealt with and the action moves to Hogwarts. Most of the mystery and mystical elements are toned down and the plot is mainly driven by Harry’s anger. There is some politically charged subtext but it is not a dominant theme. Imelda Staunton does a great job making Dolores Umbridge seem both evil and saccharine at the same time. And her high pitches laugh is wonderfully annoying and don’t get me started on her office decor. No one needs that many pictures of cats. The finale is contains a great fight between Voldemort and Dumbledore, which is surprisingly tense for a PG-13 movie. This movie is also the last time Voldemort appears supernaturally threatening. However, the film suffers from its short screen time and the whole narrative feels incredibly rushed. I would have liked about 30 additional minutes.
3. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2-Directed by David Yates
I would have ranked this movie higher but the “epilogue” struck a bit of a flat note and felt out of place. Showing all the main characters as adults was a great way to end the book but it did not translate well on the screen. Mainly because the aging make-up was unrealistic and made all the actors look more geriatric than middle-aged. On a plus side, the film does not show all the characters deaths that are detailed in the book. This is because there just was not enough screen time, but the exclusion does not detract from the narrative. Unlike The Deathly Hallows Part 1, the main protagonists are a lot less angst ridden and more relatable. Probably because everyone is too busy trying to stay alive to walk around bemoaning the travesty of their lives and romantic relationships. The main dramatic arc deals with Harry trying to come to terms with his fate and the sense of guilt is handled with subtlety. He finally accepts the fact that he has to die in order for his friends to survive. Though it is a shame that Voldemort just does not seem all that intimidating in this film. Unlike other fantasy film series, there was not a real sense of closer. It just kind of ends with that random shot of middle aged Ron, harry, Hermione, Draco, and Jenny. The highlight was definitely Professor McGonagall glee at calling down the stone soldiers at Hogwarts.
4. Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire-Directed by Mike Newell
Welcome to the movie that introduced the world to Robert Pattison, aka Edward Cullen. Though this is pre-vampire pale skin so he actually looks attractive. Cedric Diggory is much more attractive than Edward Cullen. And Pattison made the concept of bathing with a screaming egg seem completely normal. An acting achievement if there ever was one. Anyways, this film deals with the Triwizard tournament, which Harry is mysteriously entered into. I love the visuals in this film, the world surrounding Hogwarts seems so magical and otherworldly. In most of the other films, Hogwarts looks like it could be located anywhere in the British Isles. I feel like this film makes the landscape appear more exotic and magical. Narrative wise, the film is told as briskly and economically as possible. There is a minimal amount of “fluff” and superfluous details. My favorite scene is when Professor McGonagall is attempting to teach everyone how to waltz. Brendan Gleeson’s Mad Eye Moody dominates the film. Mad Eye Moody is the right mix of oddness, resourcefulness, and intelligence. And his cynical grumpiness balances out the teenage angst and romantic shenanigans. Voldemort is a little cartoonish in this film but is suitably villainous. The fallout from Cedric’s death is a tad saccharine but the screenwriters did a good job of not letting the characters become overly melodramatic. Favorite moment, when the competitors form the French and Scandinavian magic schools show up at Hogwarts. I want a flying carriage.
5. Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince-Directed by David Yates
As this is the film where Dumbledore dies, it is a bittersweet viewing experience. For some odd reason this is also one of the funnier movies in the franchise. The film begins slowly with Harry desperately missing Sirius Black, even though they barely knew one another. Though is makes sense since Harry was desperately craving a normal family relationship and then he lost the one family member who cared just after meeting him. Then the narrative takes a detour and becomes a bit of a romantic dramedy where everyone occasionally remembers that Voldemort is trying to kill Harry. And Draco Malfoy spends a lot of time looking miserably at a cupboard. Rupert, Daniel, and Emily all have excellent comic timing and do a good job with the lighter dialogue. However, the screenplay is littered with some frivolous dialogue that is oddly disjointed with the heavier dramatic moments. Even though Dumbledore dies in this movie, Michael Gambon looks a lot more comfortable in this role than previously. Also, Alan Rickman is just perfect as Professor Snape. As a drama, the film is quite muted when compared to the rest of the franchise. Arthur Weasley is oddly unfazed by the destruction of his house, which feels oddly out of character. Dumbledore’s death feels rushed and undramatic. Overall, this is one of the weirder Harry Potter films both in structure and tone.