There are so many great scenes in the Harry Potter movie franchise, from the whimsical takes in Christopher Columbus's Sorcerer's Stone to the stunning cinematography of Alfonso Cuarón's Prizoner of Azkaban to the atmospheric drama of David Yates's later films.
Narrowing down the best scenes from the eight movies is a tough task! But it's also a fun way to remember the highlights that made the franchise's 10-year run so iconic, emotional, and special.
Here are our picks for the best scenes and moments from the Harry Potter movies and why they stand out!
20. Harry Releases the Snake and Traps Dudley (Sorcerer's Stone)
In an early scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, when the Dursleys bring Harry along on their trip to the zoo, Harry talks to—and releases—a large snake from its glass terrarium.
We witness Harry conversing with the snake, and we also see Dudley get trapped in the snake's enclosure.
Not only is this the first real magical moment of the entire franchise, but it's actually really funny and there's great satisfaction in Dudley's discomfort since he's such a brat.
19. Fred and George's Fireworks (Order of the Phoenix)
In some ways, Dolores Umbridge is more evil than Lord Voldemort himself. The sharp contrast between her sweet appearance and sadistic methods make her one of the most truly disturbing villains in cinema.
That's what makes this iconic scene—where George and Fred ride in on their brooms to cause fireworks and unleash all sorts of havoc during the O.W.L.s—so satisfying and hopeful.
This scene is the first time someone really stands up to Umbridge, and the fact that it's hilarious is just a bonus on top.
18. Dobby Is a Free Elf (Chamber of Secrets)
The moment when the enslaved house-elf Dobby becomes a free elf is surprisingly sweet. The key to his release rests in the enslavement conditions: house-elves are freed when their owner gives them a gift.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry sees an opportunity to make Lucius Malfoy unwittingly release Dobby from slavery by handing him a book with a sock inside.
When Lucius hands the book to Dobby, he receives the sock from Lucius and ends up being set free. It's a great moment because of the sympathy we've developed for this little elf.
17. Snape Dressed as Neville's Grandma (Prisoner of Azkaban)
Alan Rickman plays a great scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when he shows up as a boggart dressed in Neville's grandmother's clothes.
This scene is an illustration of turning one's fears into something ridiculous to make those fears less terrifying, and the bewildered look on Snape's face makes this perfectly clear for all of us watching.
16. Ron Calls Out Hermione's Name in Front of Lavender (Half-Blood Prince)
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ron ends up getting a girlfriend in Lavender Brown, who turns out to be quite intense and obsessive.
Later in the film, when Ron is injured and incapacitated, she comes to visit him in the infirmary only to get upset when she sees Hermione already there by his side.
I love when Ron calls out for Hermione. In this moment, we get a first glimpse of their feelings for each other.
15. Helena Bonham Carter as Hermione Being Bellatrix (Deathly Hallows: Part 2)
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the scene where Hermione turns into Bellatrix Lestrange via Polyjuice Potion and tries to impersonate her at Gringotts Bank is just so much fun.
Not just for the narrative implications, but also because we get to see Helena Bonham Carter's incredible acting skills.
In seeing Bellatrix acting as Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix, we get to see how the actress perfectly captures the awkward nuances of Hermione, and you can tell that she's a completely different person despite appearing to be Bellatrix on the outside.
14. Hermione Punches Draco (Prisoner of Azkaban)
There's no doubt that Draco Malfoy is a total jerk to Hermione throughout the entire series. To see her finally stand up to him and punch him in the face? Completely awesome.
It's always great to see a villain get a dose of their own medicine. And while Draco is more complex than most of the other villains in Harry Potter, that doesn't excuse his hating of Mudbloods. This scene was a lesson a long time coming.
13. Umbridge Taken By Centaurs (Order of the Phoenix)
While George and Fred's fireworks during the O.W.L.s was great, Dolores Umbridge being taken by the centaurs is her true comeuppance—and it's so satisfying.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hermione misdirects Umbridge and gets her out into the woods by telling her that Dumbledore's secret weapon is out there. Her bluff pays off because they end up running into Hagrid's brother and the centaurs.
When they move to take Umbridge, she pleads with Harry to tell them that she means no harm. His comeback—"I'm sorry, professor, but I must not tell lies"—is delivered so savagely that it has you cheering.
12. Harry Meets Hagrid (Sorcerer's Stone)
Hagrid's entrance in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which also happens to be the first time Harry meets the giant wizard and learns about Hogwarts, is an awesome moment.
The fact that we first see him as a huge menacing silhouette in shadow makes his subsequent goofiness so lovely. This is, of course, helped by the fantastic performance by Robbie Coltrane.
After rooting for Harry and waiting for the moment when he's finally revealed to be a wizard, it's extremely satisfying to see Hagrid bust in to take him to where he belongs.
11. Harry's First Quidditch Match (Sorcerer's Stone)
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Quidditch was an exciting way to introduce us to one of the many magical aspects of Hogwarts.
All while Harry is meeting new classmates, studying entry-level magic, and exploring the grand castle of Hogwarts, he also learns that he has a natural aptitude for broomstick flying.
This results in him being picked as a Seeker in a match of Quidditch, the high-octane sport of wizards. And when Harry nabs the Golden Snitch? Every kid watching wished they could be him.
10. Harry's Name Is Picked (Goblet of Fire)
There's an argument to be made that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the best film in the franchise, and the moment that starts off the whole plot is when Harry Potter's name is pulled from the Goblet.
As soon as Dumbledore utters his name, a heavy silence blankets the room. He's too young—he shouldn't be able to participate! Not to mention he never entered his name in the first place. But his name was picked and the rules are rules: Harry must participate now.
What makes this scene so fantastic is how mysterious it all feels. In one moment, everything changes for Harry and he must find out why—before it's too late.
9. Werewolf Attack (Prisoner of Azkaban)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is often cited as people's favorite entry in the Harry Potter franchise, and for good reason!
This is the film that introduced a much darker tone, one that paved the way for more adult themes and serious scenes—and it didn't get much darker than the werewolf scene.
As the moon shines through the clouds, the helpful Professor Lupin begins to transform in one of the more disturbing and frightening sequences of the film.
If you were a child watching this in the cinema, you can bet that this moment would be seared into your young, impressionable brain.
8. The Flying Ford (Chamber of Secrets)
Directed by Christopher Columbus, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets managed to squeeze in an impressive amount of fun into what amounted to a darker film than its predecessor.
One such moment of fun? When Ron Weasley comes to collect Harry using his family's flying car.
Though Dobby had warned him not to return to Hogwarts, Harry ignores the warning—and with Ron's help, he escapes the Dursleys' house and flies off back to school. Unfortunately, neither Harry nor Ron know how to fly the darn thing.
Even so, when we finally hear the whistle of the Hogwarts Express, it all amounts to comedic gold and a fantastic welcome back to the wizarding world of Hogwarts.
7. Hermione and Ron Finally Kiss (Deathly Hallows: Part 2)
This moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, when they've just destroyed a Horcrux and the stakes are at their highest, is when Ron and Hermione finally give in to their feelings for each other in an emotional and climactic moment.
Some fans still debate whether it was right for Ron and Hermione to end up together, but I think it makes sense. (Her ending up with Harry would've been fine, but the chemistry wasn't there.)
6. Spiders Attack (Chamber of Secrets)
"Can we panic now?"
After Hagrid is mistakenly identified as the perpetrator of crimes against Hogwarts, he's whisked away by Dumbledore, Cornelius Fudge, and Lucius. However, he's able to get in a quick word to Harry: "Follow the spiders."
The scene that comes next is iconic, if for no other reason than how traumatizing it must've been for so many children watching.
Harry and Ron walk into the woods and eventually stumble upon Aragog, Hagrid's pet spider who happens to be the size of a caravan. The sentient arachnid gives Ron and Harry the information they need to prove Hagrid's innocence.
But nothing is so easy: Aragog apologizes to the boys as he allows the hundreds of his hungry baby spiders to feast on them. So, the boys turn and book it with the eight-legged monsters hot on their heels.
5. Dumbledore Drinks the Horcrux (Half-Blood Prince)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gave us several upsetting scenes, but this one—where Dumbledore is wracked with agony—is perhaps the most upsetting in the entire Harry Potter series.
After Dumbledore and Harry discover that Voldemort has divided his soul into six different Horcruxes, they seek them out to destroy them. This leads them to a deep cave that houses the Potion of Despair.
Dumbledore recognizes what this potion means. He knows that drinking it will cause intense, insufferable pain, but he also knows that the Horcrux can only be destroyed if he drinks it.
What makes this scene so memorable is how distressed, how pained, and how hopeless Dumbledore becomes. The paragon of stoicism and dignity becomes a pitiful wreck, and we hate to see it.
4. Snape's True Intentions Revealed (Deathly Hallows: Part 2)
The flashback scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 that reveals Snape's true intentions is my personal favorite moment in the entire Harry Potter series.
It's just so well-done and it makes you think back on every move you saw him make in all the previous movies. The fact that he was actually "helping" Harry the whole time? A staggering revelation.
Seeing Snape's love for Lily and his true intentions as a Death Eater double agent has a huge emotional impact, and it makes you see him and appreciate him in a completely new way.
3. Dobby's Death (Deathly Hallows: Part 1)
This isn't the only death scene on this list, but it's definitely the saddest of all the death scenes in Harry Potter.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna, and Dobby are on the run. As Bellatrix is torturing Hermione, Dobby rushes in to save the day—and when they all "disapparate" to escape, Bellatrix throws a knife at them.
When they arrive on the other side, they all seem fine. That is, until Dobby whispers for help. The knife that Bellatrix threw has fatally wounded him.
It's a hard scene to rewatch. It's not just sad but gut-wrenching. Dobby was always good-natured and wholesome, so watching him die in such an unexpected and sudden way was a monumental blow.
2. Harry in Limbo (Deathly Hallows: Part 2)
During the climactic battle sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Harry is killed when Voldemort hits him with a curse. But instead of a black void of emptiness, Harry wakes up in Limbo with Dumbledore there waiting for him.
As they talk, Dumbledore presents Harry with two options: he can return to life at Hogwarts and finish the battle, or he can move on to a different plane of existence. Harry, of course, chooses the former.
The scene is made more poignant by the fact that these two friends got to see each other one last time, and both know that this is their final goodbye. And with Harry returning to the fight, it cements him as a hero who will do what's right even when the times are tough.
1. Dumbledore's Death (Half-Blood Prince)
What a way to end a film. Of all the moments in Harry Potter, Dumbledore's death in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is, without a doubt, the most shocking.
Just as Dumbledore returns from obtaining the Horcrux, he's ambushed by Draco, Bellatrix, and Snape. As Dumbledore pleads for his life, Snape unleashes the blow that kills him, sending him sprawling from the tower and to the ground, lifeless.
Knowing that the franchise was near its end, many fans left the cinema in disbelief. How could things be going so poorly for our heroes? How could Dumbledore, the great patriarch of Hogwarts, be killed so callously? By Snape, no less?
It's an ending that feels similar to the end of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, in that the villains seemed all but certain to win. It was a moment that gripped the entire fan base.
Without a doubt, Dumbledore's death was the most important, dramatic, and memorable moment in the entire franchise.