5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – In what would mark the final director change for the series; David Yates makes his debut with this politically tinged film. This film also happens to be the only film not written by Steve Kloves, but his writing team led by Michael Goldenberg crafted Potter’s most adult entry to that point. Yates deftly navigates themes of power and corruption through wonderfully realized characters. This film also features the return of Sirius Black as well as some of the franchises best Harry-Snape scenes. It culminates in a visually arresting and surprisingly moving battle between for Voldemort and Dumbledore at the Ministry of Magic. With his clear handle on character, theme, and set pieces it is no wonder Yates stuck with this franchise to the end.
4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Yates second brush with the franchise finds him dealing with some of the lightest and darkest material. The chemistry built between Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson is quite apparent in this film. Though at first this film has many romantic comedy elements, Yates tackles some devastatingly dark material. Writer Steve Kloves builds to Dumbledore’s death while weaving in Voldemort’s back story. Also Half-Blood Prince has arguably the best cinematography of all eight films, not to mention Nicholas Hooper’s phenomenal score. Half-Blood Prince is one of the best films in the series.
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone- While it may not be as flashy or refined as the rest of the films in this franchise, Sorcerer’s Stone deserves immense credit. This film laid a foundation off which the other films could be built. Christopher Columbus was not only responsible for putting together the incredible cast but he also captured Rowling’s wizarding world on film in a manner that felt relatable and wholly transcendent. Sorcerer’s Stone is told through the eyes of an eleven year old and so the film was always going to skew a bit younger than subsequent installments. Columbus however refuses to talk down to his audience and wisely side steps delving into cartoony kid movie land. The winning combination of charm and smarts permeates throughout. Columbus nails the founding friendship of our three heroes culminating in a grand finale that lets each one of them shine.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II – Deathly Hallows Part I is primarily an intro, but Deathly Hallows Part II hits the ground running. Part II is operatic in nature as it builds to a grand finale where it all began – Hogwarts. Perhaps the film’s most difficult task was to establish Snape as (arguably) the hero with a single sequence. Yates, Kloves and Alan Rickman rise to the challenge in one of the most emotional moments in the franchise that leaves the audience in tears. Harry Potter closes in glorious fashion in a film that not only serves as a superb conclusion but also as a wholly satisfying entry in its own right.
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – The importance of the Prisoner of Azkaban to the Harry Potter film series cannot be overstated. This film established the creative direction and formula for the films that followed. Azkaban is also the film where Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson come unto their own as actors. Radcliffe in particular shows great chemistry opposite Gary Oldman and David Thewlis as the character’s unending search for a father figure continues. Cuaron also had the inevitable task of recasting Dumbledore following the great Richard Harris’s passing. Michael Gambon picks up the mantle of Dumbledore beautifully. The merits of Prisoner of Azkaban are almost unending and while the Potter franchise would lead to other outstanding entries in subsequent years, Cuaron’s film still marks the creative highpoints in one of the best, most diverse, and most satisfying film franchises of all time.