For many fans of the Wizarding World, the Harry Potter movies were their first experience with the franchise, and for decent reasons. They had a great cast of up-and-coming child actors and established, talented stars alike, along with capable direction and a fun setting. They’re approachable films, and while they’re not Oscar contenders, they can be some of the most entertaining decent-to-great blockbusters. The best among the Harry Potter movies is often a fluctuating list for varying reasons, but with a few key suspects that stand out amongst the rest on both ends of the spectrum.
Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts Movies Ranked from Worst to Best
The Wizarding World continues to expand with recent additions and even a massive video game recently released. But on the film side of things, Harry Potter movies and their spin-offs have certainly seen better days than their best over a decade ago, as evidenced by the entries below:
11. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Plenty was going for this entry. Johnny Depp and Jude Law ate up the scenery as Grindelwald and Dumbledore. But it was also loaded with exposition and difficult to enjoy without feeling like you had to be taking notes to keep up. While this can be played off as “something more for the fans” it’s difficult to justify such a claim when the film is produced on a $200 million budget. But, the fans are legion, and Harry Potter as a franchise proved itself to be critic-proof here.
10. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
This is a fun topic because it involves the recasting of Grindelwald due to the tabloid sensation (and the social media fatigue that came with it) about Johnny Depp’s legal disputes with Amber Heard. The recasting of Mads Mikkelsen was an excellent choice because he’s just such a superb villain actor, but the audiences were harder to convince this time around.
The fans who saw it begrudgingly can admit that typical popular favorite Depp was outdone in this role. However, due to a disappointing run at the box office in a post-Pandemic landscape, the original ambitions for a 5-film Fantastic Beasts franchise appear to have fizzled after this entry.
9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The first film in the new spin-off series featured an excellent, talented cast including Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Colin Ferrell, and more in a well-made new look into the Wizarding World. It felt like the most comfortable approach to Harry Potter lore in that it directly used said lore as inspiration while creating something new. The audiences were eager to see this film as well, easily the most successful of the spin-off films in multiple arenas as a result.
8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This film was quite enjoyable when it was released, but it was also only the sophomore effort, an ambitious, long adaptation of the second book. But in retrospect, it felt quite grating at parts. It was an overall darker film, which felt a bit premature in some capacity as the rest of the films seemed to get gradually darker with a more organic execution. It’s corny with some of its actings, but overall still a valid experience, just overly long.
7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
This is going to probably be a more controversial choice for some pretty clear reasons. Imelda Staunton is amazing as Dolores Umbridge. Returning characters like Remus Lupin are welcome additions to the cast, and the Dumbledore vs. Voldemort duel was epic. But the rest of the plot felt uninteresting, with many of the main characters feeling less compelling to follow, and a romantic subplot that seemed bereft of any real chemistry. It’s not that this movie is bad, it’s just in some ways the least great.
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1
Despite Deathly Hallows being a shorter book than Order of the Phoenix, the film franchise stood to gain more at the box office by splitting the final entry into 2 parts. From a less cynical standpoint, it also gave viewers a more broad experience of the book’s story, resulting in Part 2, a better movie overall. The biggest pitfall of this movie is that exact production decision, halting the momentum as viewers get invested, making them wait a year and shell out more money to see the end. It’s a perfectly entertaining movie, but certainly a prime example of the sunken cost paradox.
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This is the Harry Potter movie that took many viewers by surprise. It raised the stakes in the series, bringing Voldemort to the playing field in the most direct way possible, and shocked viewers with one of the first major character deaths. It introduced a charismatic star out of Robert Pattinson, who would go on to be involved in some pretty great projects, and would firmly establish the darker tone to rapidly get moodier with each installment.
4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Sorcerer’s Stone
Philosopher’s Stone was great in one of the most innocent ways possible: it felt simply the most magical with the fewest instances of VFX. It had genuinely terrible CGI when examined up close to today’s standards, but it also felt more authentic than many future entries as well. These were children going to a gorgeous boarding school to learn witchcraft and wizardry, only to learn of a dangerous quest for an incredible relic kept within the school.
It also feels genuinely heartfelt, with Harry’s anguish as an orphan on full blast, and the scene where he gazed into the Mirror of Erised to see his parents smiling behind him was haunting and tragic.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2
This entry felt less artistically motivated in its placement on the list and had more to do with how satisfying it was as a conclusion. After the end of Part 1, it felt pretty easy to upstage it with what was to come. The Battle of Hogwarts was exhilarating, and hearing Molly Weasley channel some real Ellen Ripley vibes when facing down Bellatrix Lestrange, saying “Not my daughter, you bitch” felt awesome to experience. It felt like the most satisfying moment in the franchise on a fanservice level, but also had some of the most impactful moments. The word “always” likely has been seen as far more poignant ever since fans saw this one.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
While this movie was certainly another dark turn compared to previous installments, it also was full of hope. It had an engaging mystery including the Marauder’s Map, an escaped inmate from Azkaban closely linked to Harry’s past, and menacing Dementors. Gary Oldman is wonderful as Sirius Black, in an utterly charming redemption story. The horror elements in this film were great too, incorporating werewolves and some of the best-looking and most iconic magic of the entire franchise, the Patronus Charm. It was well-paced, compelling, and heartfelt, hitting all the right notes.
1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
This film carried itself immensely with the help of strong performances from its cast, intriguing plots, and a compelling setup for an explosive finale. Students at Hogwarts are being recruited in the most direct senses to Voldemort’s cause. Some of the most crucial characters to the plot are killed tragically, but not without meaning. In terms of franchise filmmaking, this movie as an adaptation of the penultimate book in the saga did everything it needed to, living up to the standards set by The Empire Strikes Back and other similar films.
Harry Potter has seen better days in terms of both prestige and reputation among the fans, but it’s undeniably received an endlessly entertaining slate of films spanning 2 decades. This is no mean feat and should be appreciated for how it has been embraced into the cultural zeitgeist and made a killing at the box office.
- This article was updated on February 10th, 2023