This is the Best Harry Potter Movie, According to Rotten Tomatoes
Lumos maxima! We're shining a light on the Tomatometer scores for every Harry Potter movie to establish the ultimate ranking, from worst to best.
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The Best Harry Potter Movie: A Countdown
The law of averages virtually guarantees that every storied film franchise will serve up a dud. Even universally-beloved series like James Bond and Indiana Jones have their crosses to bear (Die Another Day and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, respectively); certified stinkers that even hardcore fans widely acknowledge as an all-time low. There’s one franchise that bucks this trend, though, consisting of no fewer than eight films, each one garnering an impressive Rotten Tomatoes score of 77% or higher. This charmed series? Harry Potter, of course.
Although it’s hard to believe, it’s been more than 20 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone made its theatrical debut, transforming an already popular series of books into a bona fide cultural phenomenon. From this very first instalment, it was clear the producers had nailed the magic formula, and the film was as much a critical success as it was a commercial one. What’s perhaps most impressive, however, is that this critical success was sustained throughout the subsequent seven pictures, each one “Certified Fresh” (achieving a consistent “Tomatometer” score of 75% or higher) by the aggregate movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes.
Although all Potterheads likely have their own favourite flick in the series (this coming from a Prisoner of Azkaban fan!), it’s fascinating to see how those personal preferences stack up against each film’s Rotten Tomatoes score. So grab your wands, and prepare to discover how the eight iconic films rank in our countdown to the very best Harry Potter movie.
8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – 77%
Considering it’s earned a very respectable rating of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes (putting it on par with Gladiator and Sin City, for perspective), it seems a mite unfair to call The Order of Phoenix “the worst Harry Potter movie.” It’s even more unfair when you consider how many magical moments you’ll find throughout this fifth instalment, which (in this muggle’s humble opinion) should be nowhere near the bottom of the heap.
So why is it there? Presumably, it’s because many fans take umbrage (no, not that one!) with the fact that it condenses the longest of J.K. Rowlings’ novels (800-odd pages) into just 138-minutes, making it the shortest entry in the series and losing a lot of plot threads in the process. But there’s no evidence of a hatchet job on-screen, as the tale—which focuses on the Ministry of Magic’s escalating smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore—is beautifully paced and shifts effortlessly from fun and fantastical to sombre and, at times, downright scary. As the tyrannical new administrator of Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge (played to perfection by Imelda Staunton, above) is so completely, utterly vile, she very nearly succeeds in supplanting the Dark Lord himself as the film’s “big bad.” I say very nearly, as the climactic battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort in the vault-like chambers of the Ministry of Magic is nothing short of epic.
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7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) – 77%*
If you thought The Order of the Phoenix was a dark ride, buckle your seatbelts. In setting the table for the series finale, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 puts Harry, Ron and Hermione through the wringer. As they embark on a quest to hunt horcruxes, our heroes find themselves isolated from friends and family, and—for a great deal of the film’s second act—even pitted against each other. Apart from a fun opening sequence (above) in which the Order assembles an army of Harry decoys thanks to a big batch of polyjuice potion, it’s grim and gritty, with nary a glimpse of Hogwarts and its cozy trappings. That’s not to say it’s badly done, by any means—it’s just a dramatic contrast from the more playful tone of the first four films, effectively raising the stakes, and hinting at the horrors in store should our heroes fail.
[* Technically, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is tied with The Order of the Phoenix at 77% on the Tomatometer. To break the tie, we factored in the Audience Score for each. As The Order of the Phoenix earned an 81% Audience Score, and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 an 85%, it tipped the scales in favour of the latter in our countdown to the best Harry Potter movie.]
6. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) – 81%
Rewatching Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s astonishing to realize how much they got right from the very beginning. I mean, casting this one couldn’t have been easy. For the three leads, they needed not only talented child actors, but talented child actors who could commit to a further seven films, literally growing into their roles on a very-nearly yearly basis. Luckily, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were up to the task, serving as our guides in this utterly charming introduction to Hogwarts. Between the sumptuous design, the sweeping score and the assured adaptation of J.K. Rowlings’ source material, it’s hard to imagine a more solid foundation on which to build the series. More so than any of the films that followed, The Philosopher’s Stone succeeds in making magic look fun. From the visit to Ollivander’s (“The wand chooses the wizard!”), to the Sorting Hat, to the first broomstick ride, Harry’s initiation into the wizarding world is also our initiation, and we share in his sense of wonder at all of these incredible experiences, brought to life so beautifully on the big screen.
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5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) – 82%
In his review of The Chamber of Secrets, legendary film critic Roger Ebert writes, “The first movie was the setup, and this one is the payoff.” And what a payoff! The longest film in the franchise uses its 161-minute run-time to delve deeper (quite literally) into the Hogwarts setting, while further fleshing-out its students and staff, who already have the warm familiarity of old friends. In this decidedly darker adventure, they’re tasked with an intriguing series of mysteries to solve, each one leading to the next: Who is trying to prevent Harry from returning to Hogwarts? What terrifying force is petrifying Muggle-born students? What is the Chamber of Secrets? It’s a fascinating puzzle that maintains a breathless pace throughout. Although this is our last glimpse of Richard Harris as the definitive Dumbledore, it’s ultimately Kenneth Branagh who steals the show as lovably flamboyant fraud, Gilderoy Lockhart.
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4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) – 84%
And just like *that*, everything changes! The Half-Blood Prince is less a film in its own right than an advancement of several major story arcs for the series. The fact that it’s virtually plotless doesn’t seem to matter much, though, largely because those developments are downright epic. From Snape’s true allegiances to the nature of horcruxes, earth-shattering revelations are delivered fast and furious, interspersed with some lovely character moments between Ron and Hermione, whose budding romance is sensitively handled. Less convincing, it must be said, is the relationship between Harry and Ginny, which is stilted and awkward in comparison. It’s the downbeat climax, however, that lingers long after the credits roll: the disturbing torture of Dumbledore at the hands of Harry in an attempt to recover a horcrux, and the headmaster’s heartbreaking final bow.
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3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) – 88%
The tale of the Triwizard Tournament remains a firm fan favourite, although to be completely honest, I’ve never quite understood why. Don’t get me wrong, the central concept of Europe’s top wizarding schools duking it out in a magic-fueled Olympics is absolutely brilliant, and there’s plenty of fun to be had with the set pieces crafted around the individual challenges. What I find a bit frustrating here is the tone, which just feels a bit… Off. In the first three Harry Potter flicks, magic is presented as something that’s fun and awe-inspiring—a gift that wizards and witches are lucky to possess. In The Goblet of Fire, it seems more like a curse that weighs heavily on everyone’s shoulders; particularly Ron and Hermione, who are in a completely miserable mood throughout. Granted, they’ve got plenty of reason to be, given their treatment by Tournament officials: At one point, they’re actually kidnapped and chained underwater as props in a Tournament contest. Poor Cedric Diggory fares even worse, of course, murdered so that Voldemort can finally be reborn. It’s a fairly radical shift in tone to a darker, more cynical Hogwarts than we’ve seen before, and (for me, anyway), the transition is a bit of a bumpy ride.
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2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – 90%
“But you know happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” Wise words from Dumbledore, in a film that positively sparkles with wit and whimsy from the very first scene in Privet Drive. I mean, has there ever been a more satisfying comeuppance than Harry’s, erm… Inflation… of Aunt Marge? It’s one of those magical moments that will have you cheering from the sofa, and it sets the tone for the rollicking roller coaster ride that follows. From there, we get Harry’s dizzying trip on the Knight Bus, then the chilling Dementor attack on the Hogwarts Express… It’s just one iconic set piece after another, culminating in the mind-blowing, time-paradox climax. Note the metronome-like “tick-tock” that’s subtly layered into the soundtrack as soon as the Time Turner is activated… It’s the attention those those tiny little details that make The Prisoner of Azkaban a worthy runner-up to the best Harry Potter movie.
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1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) – 96%
After seven films, it all comes down to this… Given the 10-year build-up, it would have been so easy for The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 to disappoint. That the final film in the series not only lives up to its own hype, but is also ranked the best Harry Potter movie on Rotten Tomatoes, says it all. Unexpected heroes are born (stand up Neville, and even more shockingly, Snape), and some are lost (the brief cutaway to the bodies of Lupin and Nymphadora is gut-wrenching) in this truly epic showdown of good-versus-evil. It genuinely feels like anything can happen as Hogwarts Castle is reduced to rubble, and beloved characters become unwilling warriors (McGonagall’s thrashing of Snape is just wonderful). Although some fans take issue with it, the coda of Harry, Ron and Hermione 19 years later, completing the cycle by accompanying their own kids to Platform 9¾, is pitch perfect. After all they’ve been through (particularly in the previous three films), these kids deserve a happy ending. And so do we.
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