Friday, 26 June 2015

Ranking the Harry Potter Books and Films

Today marks the eighteenth birthday of the popular Harry Potter series (oh, I win the award for the Biggest Understatement of the Day, do I? How nice). The book that first took us on a journey aboard the Hogwarts Express, The Philosopher's - never Sorcerer's - Stone, was released on 26 June 1997.

To mark this occasion, I've decided to give my ranking of both the books and the films of which I have differing opinions. Unlike the film series, which I think wildly varies in quality, ranking the books is a hugely subjective task - when reading them as a youngster I was convinced the books got better and better. But let's see what I think now...

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Book: 5/7

An enchanting beginning chapter of the series. Its whimsical tone - much more so than other books in the series - means it can sit comfortably alongside such children's classics as Alice in Wonderland.

Film: 6/8

A very faithful rendition of the novel, with great casting choices, including the closer-to-the-text Richard Harris version of Dumbledore and the instantly loveable Hagrid as played by Robbie Coltrane.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Book: 4/7 

Being the first Potter book I ever read probably helps this one jump a few places. That said, I love the device of the haunted diary and it's thanks to this book's magic that I am writing about Harry Potter today.

Film: 5/8

Chamber is very much more of the same as the first film - which makes it all the more likeable in retrospect, after the changes the series would take later on. It's close but this one just pips Philosopher to the broomstick.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Book: 3/7

Most Potter fans I know choose this as their favourite - and it's not hard to see why. The Marauders' backstory and the time travel element in particular proving to be the highlights.

Film: 4/8

The most visually striking of all the films, though the stark change from the previous two is jarring. The newly-stylised look - plus the inclusion of werewolves, serial killers and dementors - make it less of a family film and more of a horror fantasy.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Book: 7/7

To me, the story - the Triwizard Tournament is held at Hogwarts - feels more tangential to the overall arc of the books than any other, even though of course it results in Lord Voldemort's return.

Film: 7/8

The first film that really struggles to adapt the - admittedly brick-sized - book to the screen and one which makes some annoying deviations. Gambon's Dumbledore in particular is angry and frustrated a lot of the time, a far cry from the always collected headmaster of the novels.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 

Book: 6/7

The length may be indulgent but it is never a slog to read and effectively raises the stakes for the later books. It also introduces fan-favourite characters like Luna Lovegood and the series most despicable villain. No, not Voldemort...

Film: 8/8

The... interesting decision to turn the longest book into the shortest film of the series leaves the story feeling truncated. That said, Imelda Staunton as Umbridge  - yep, she's the one I was talking about - is one of the best casting calls of the series and is the saving grace of the film.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Book: 2/7

A grim and foreboding novel, but one with humour and romance in it too. Highlights include Voldemort's fascinating backstory and the heart-wrenching ending. Dark times are a-coming...

Film: 3/8

An unpopular opinion, but this is one of my favourites of the series. The plot doesn't translate too well (with much of the book's content removed) but the tragi-comic tone and the performances of the three leads - plus Gambon's finest hour - make it one of the stylistically best adaptations of the books.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  

Book: 1/7

In this case, younger me's assertion that the books got better and better was right. A hugely shocking, entertaining and satisfying finale to the septology that does all you could have wanted it to do. 

Film(s): Part 1 - 2/8 Part 2 - 1/8

Again, I think I am unusual in liking the slower-paced road trip movie-esque first part almost as much as its energetic sequel. Finally, the films know just how to balance slavishly adapting the novel and intelligently inserting their own material. A brilliant duo to bow out on.


  1. I like the first half of the last film, too, even if splitting it in two has started an unnecessary new trend. My least favourite book is easily the Order of the Phoenix, because there is such a heavy, oppressive atmosphere throughout it, mostly thanks to Umbridge - she is SO unpleasant - and the Ministry's disbelief in Harry's story. And the film, likewise is probably my least favourite. I think the Prisoner of Azkaban is a very good film, but not a very good adaptation - it's the first one that veered a little away from the books, giving it the freedom to tell the same story in its own way, which is a strength in a film, but it missed out so many details that it didn't always make sense. Also I really hated how the werewolf looked nothing like a wolf, as if it had got stuck halfway through transforming. Wasn't a fan of Lupin's moustache, either, but that is a minor quibble.

    1. Oh, yes, I definitely don't approve of that trend - but I think it did serve a narrative purpose with Harry Potter.

      Good point about Order. It is certainly one of my lesser favourite books. Prisoner is indeed better if you don't think of it as an adaptation. I see what you mean about the wolf and Lupin but what niggles at me is the bizarre change that happens to Flitwick!


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