Twenty years ago, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone premiered in cinemas around the world, introducing movie audiences to the story of a boy wizard destined for greatness.
The books had already redefined the Young Adult fantasy genre and spawned a radical fanbase. The movies went one step further and drew in countless more fans—and even got them reading again.
While the saga of The Boy Who Lived ended ten years ago as of this writing, it’s not uncommon to revisit Harry Potter’s story year after year, even as we await more stories from the Wizarding World. (Yes, that includes the Fantastic Beasts movie series.)
In this article, I’m celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter by ranking every single movie released so far, including the Fantastic Beasts spin-offs. Where do you think your favorite Harry Potter movie sits?
10. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
The Crimes of Grindelwald begins where its preceding film ends, with Gellert Grindelwald escaping from MACUSA custody and fleeing to Paris to draw more followers to his devious cause.
This prompts Albus Dumbledore to send his former student Newt Scamander to Paris and retrieve Credence Barebone before Grindelwald does. The result? A movie that divided both fans and non-fans.
Most of the complaints centered on its overly complicated plot, which muddles the movie’s overall pacing and weakens the internal logic of the Harry Potter mythos. But despite its heavy flaws, there’s some great wizarding action and more fantastic beasts to see.
9. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets follows Harry Potter’s second year at Hogwarts, when the heir of Salazar Slytherin opens the Chamber of Secrets and sends out a monster to petrify students.
Meanwhile, Harry struggles with his rival Draco Malfoy and his pompous professor Gilderoy Lockhart.
This second film of the series is often labelled the “worst.” Yet while the length and the childish bits can turn people off, there are golden moments to savor here: the flying car sequence, the appearance of house elf Dobby, and the performance of Kenneth Branagh as Lockhart.
8. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them traces the beginnings of magizoologist Newt Scamander, who goes to New York City for a special assignment. However, his creatures escape from his suitcase, he goes to retrieve them—and is caught in a conflict between wizards and muggles.
What was originally known as a textbook for Harry Potter now serves as a way to continue the franchise. For all its worth, Fantastic Beasts works as a fetch quest, where the creatures themselves get to shine. And Eddie Redmayne as Newt has his awkward charm, too.
The first half of the ultimate finale, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 sends Harry, Ron, and Hermione on a quest to find and destroy Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes. On the way, they learn of the existence of the Deathly Hallows: three powerful weapons that may aid their journey.
Stakes are high on the last book of the Harry Potter series, and Deathly Hallows: Part 1 suitably pays off every element to set up the events that lead to the Battle of Hogwarts in the second part.
While many scenes look overwhelmingly dreary, the dramatic moments are what gives this film its edge. And the character deaths and revelations here will shock even the most die-hard Potterhead.
In Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic firmly denies that Voldemort has been brought back to life.
To make matters worse, they place the ruthless Dolores Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor (and later, headmaster). This prompts Harry and company to form Dumbledore’s Army.
Order of the Phoenix is the longest book of the series, so not all of its details are brought to life in this movie. However, it’s still packed with tension that builds up to Harry and Voldemort’s face-off.
From its sporadic moments, the best element here has to be Dumbledore’s Army (which introduces fan-favorite Luna Lovegood) and their rebellion against Umbridge’s rule.
5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sees the fallout of Voldemort’s reveal to the magical world, leading Dumbledore to prepare Harry for battle against Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
In the process, the boy wizard finds a textbook belonging to the “Half-Blood Prince” and learns more of Lord Voldemort’s past.
Adaptation-wise, this is the most problematic of the series since many elements are shortened or excised, including aspects of Voldemort’s backstory and Dumbledore’s fate.
Nevertheless, it’s an example of a book-to-movie adaptation that succeeds on overall execution: the cinematography is eye-catching; the subplots are more mature; and Alan Rickman’s Snape is at his best.
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
The one that started it all, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone begins Harry Potter’s journey in becoming a wizard. While known to be the “Boy Who Lived,” Harry seeks to learn more about his magical parents, the ways of the magical world, and the evils within.
The first Harry Potter movie may not be the best, but it offers everything that fans—both young and old—needed: an innocent origin story of fiction’s most popular boy wizard. It’s nostalgic to watch twenty years after and see how the saga was able to build from scratch.
3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
The fourth entry of the series sees Harry Potter mysteriously selected by the Goblet of Fire to participate in the Triwizard Tournament.
As Harry focuses on preparing for the tournament’s dangerous challenges, he deals with recurring nightmares and the complexities of growing up into adulthood. All the while, an old enemy of his returns.
Goblet of Fire is a favorite among fans and audiences. It knows how to jump from coming-of-age dilemma to tense action to dramatic stakes—and they felt truly poignant, especially with the Yule Ball scene.
The world-building is amazing, too, with the opening Quidditch World Cup and the introduction of other magical schools. It truly succeeds everyone’s expectations and raises the stakes emotionally.
The final chapter of the saga, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 continues Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s quest to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes, leading them back to Hogwarts.
All the while, the Dark Lord and his Death Eater army invade the school, prompting Harry’s allies to take one last stand to defeat them.
All roads lead to the Battle of Hogwarts, and the entire movie delivers on its intense action and emotional moments. The cast and crew gave it their all in this last outing. Yet, once again, the one who has the best resolution is Alan Rickman’s Snape, whose arc is just excellent.
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The cream of the crop. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban follows Harry in his third year at Hogwarts. When news spreads of the prison escape of Sirius Black—one of the closest friends of his late parents—Harry prepares for his arrival as darkness looms over Hogwarts.
There’s no denying that Prisoner of Azkaban is the most widely-acclaimed Harry Potter film of all. It’s all thanks to Alfonso Cuarón’s direction, where every scene is superbly executed. The change in tone is most welcome. In turn, it sets the stage for Harry embracing his destiny.
Whether you’re a fan or not, you can watch Prisoner of Azkaban without watching the rest and still enjoy this most excellent film.