Total Recall

Total Recall: Harry Potter Movies

With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II hitting theaters, we run down the young wizard's complete filmography in chronological order.

by | July 14, 2011 | Comments

Daniel Radcliffe

After 10 years and several billion dollars, the Harry Potter film franchise is finally drawing to a close this week with the eighth installment in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. With the kind of deafening buzz that goes with being one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year — not to mention almost universally positive early reviews from critics — the final Potter is the undisputed film of the week, so when it came time to put together this week’s Total Recall, we knew what we had to do. While you’re counting down the hours to the big premiere, join us for a look back at some of the critical highlights (in chronological order) from one of the most successful franchises of all time!


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

By 2001, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books were a worldwide phenomenon, with the first four installments in the series selling millions of copies and helping reignite the market for young adult literature along the way — but that was still no guarantee that filmgoers were going to turn out when the Hogwarts gang showed up on the big screen. Of course, we all know what happened next: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone kicked off our ten-year cinematic infatuation with Ron, Hermione, and the Boy Who Lived, grossing nearly $975 million while doing an impressive job of managing the nearly impossible balancing act between staying true to the book and offering a reasonably streamlined film. It entertained audiences while piquing the curiosity of critics like Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader, who wrote, “I hear the J.K. Rowling books are great, and on the basis of this 2001 movie I’m ready to believe it.”


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

After setting up the war between Harry and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) with Sorcerer’s Stone, the Potter series set about untangling the mysteries of the Dark Lord’s past with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which posed a crucial riddle (Tom Riddle, to be exact) regarding the evil wizard’s true identity while foreshadowing Harry’s eventual romance with Ginny Weasley. Along the way, Chamber served up a deft blend of comedy and drama, plenty of magical thrills, and a terrific supporting cast that included John Cleese and Kenneth Branagh. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is superior to its predecessor in every way,” wrote Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press, calling it “more thrilling, more entertaining and, yep, more magical.”


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

In Harry Potter’s world, things are often not as they seem — whether they’re magical train stations, flying cars, talking paintings, or even the legends of long-lost family friends who have been locked away in wizard prison for murdering one’s parents. It’s a lesson Harry learned in Prisoner of Azkaban, which introduced filmgoers to the menacing Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), a shapeshifting convict whose escape is of grave importance to Harry and his friends — but not for the reasons they might think. The recipient of the Potter films’ best reviews (up ’til now, anyway), Azkaban found things getting mighty dark for our young wizards — and gave Alfonso Cuarón a turn in the director’s chair, taking over after Chris Columbus handled the first two installments. As far as Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek was concerned, it was “The first true Harry Potter movie — the first to capture not only the books’ sense of longing, but their understanding of the way magic underlies the mundane, instead of just prancing fancifully at a far remove from it.”


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

At a whopping 734 pages, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire nearly doubled the length of Prisoner of Azkaban, leaving screenwriter Steve Kloves the more-difficult-than-usual task of pruning away all but the most essential bits of story for the film. The final result clocked in at more than two and a half hours, but still skipped over or condensed quite a bit of the book. Fortunately, the story that remained — an account of an underage Harry’s surprise entry in the Triwizard Tournament, his struggles to overcome the challenges of the contest, and his first showdown with an ever-more-powerful Voldemort — was more than enough for filmgoers, who shelled out more than $895 million at the box office, as well as critics like Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, “It’s not until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that a film has successfully re-created the sense of stirring magical adventure and engaged, edge-of-your-seat excitement that has made the books such an international phenomenon.”


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

As the curtain rises on the fifth Potter film, the wizarding world is in a tizzy over Lord Voldemort’s return, split between two factions: those who believe Harry’s contention that He Who Must Not Be Named is back for vengeance, and those who think the whole thing is nonsense. Unfortunately, Hogwarts’ newest professor, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), falls squarely into the latter camp — and when Harry, Ron, and Hermione take it upon themselves to lead a group of students through secret self-defense courses, she makes it her mission to keep them in line by any means necessary. New director David Yates and incoming screenwriter Michael Goldenberg had their work cut out for them when it came to whittling down the 870-page book, and ultimately, plenty of fans and critics felt Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix suffered in its screen translation — at 78 percent on the Tomatometer, it’s the worst-reviewed in the series. But even if it wasn’t quite on par with its predecessors, Phoenix was enough for critics like Desson Thomson of the Washington Post, who said Yates and Goldenberg “have transformed J.K. Rowling’s garrulous storytelling into something leaner, moodier and more compelling, that ticks with metronomic purpose as the story flits between psychological darkness and cartoonish slapstick.”


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

For most of the Harry Potter films, Voldemort lurked in the peripheral darkness, gathering his forces and getting ready to strike — but after the climactic battle that closed The Order of the Phoenix, everyone was aware of his return, and all bets were off. As Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens, Voldemort’s campaign of terror has begun in earnest, and his army is everywhere — even within the hallowed halls of Hogwarts, where Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) are working overtime to thwart a plan involving Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) and Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). Calling it “the franchise’s best so far,” David Germain of the Associated Press praised Prince for “blending rich drama and easy camaraderie among the actors with the visual spectacle that until now has been the real star of the series.”


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

After struggling for years to trim J.K. Rowling’s increasingly unwieldy books down to feature length, Warner Bros. decided to split the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, into two films — a controversial move that was applauded by those who felt it would give the filmmakers an opportunity to spend more time fleshing out the story, and derided by others, who saw it as a money-grubbing move by the studio. Whatever the reasons for the split, it meant that Deathly Hallows, Part 1 would end roughly in the middle of the book, which finds Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the run from Voldemort and his minions while they struggle to find and destroy the Horcruxes — bits of the Dark Lord’s soul, magically preserved in a series of artifacts, granting him immortality as long as they exist. It all adds up to a film that couldn’t help but feel like a setup for the final chapter, which had a definite dampening effect on some critics’ enthusiasm. For others, though, the penultimate Potter stood on its own merits: “Even though it ends in the middle,” argued the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, it “finds notes of anxious suspense and grave emotion to send its characters, and its fans, into the last round.”

In case you were wondering, here’s how the Harry Potter movies stack up according RT users’ scores:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I — 87%
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — 85%
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — 82%
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — 81%
5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — 80%
6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — 75%
7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — 74%

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.

Finally, here’s Daniel Radcliffe meeting one of his many fans: