A Franchise Review is where we look at the whole series of movies in a franchise and review them as a whole rather than individually. As with all Views from the Sofa reviews, it will be rated out of 5 and means that even a franchise which contains 5-star movies could be negatively affected by being too long, too many movies and having a few too many duds in the pack.
The first franchise review is one of the most successful of all time. When Harry Potter started it seemed like a small, quite timid movie, tentatively dipping a toe in the fantasy waters. A huge audience and box-office taking meant that the movies got bigger and bolder with each new instalment.
It is very telling when you look back at the franchise as the first two Harry Potter movies are quite child-focused. It focuses much more on the silliness of the stories, the child-like wonder of the world that audiences are entering and a lot of the scenes are more about showing off the school rather than telling an actual story. This is fine though and done very well but when revisiting the series, it is jarring when compared to the more story-focused later entries.
It isn’t that the later films improve in quality, just that the quality is placed elsewhere. Each film looks impressive but it becomes much more plot-driven than about making audiences stare wide-eyed at the screen (although each film definitely holds this in some way). This means that from the third film onwards (The Prisoner of Azkaban), the series shifts a gear and starts to become a more mature film series. Where a wider, darker story was always hinted at, from Prisoner of Azkaban onwards, death and longer lasting effects for all characters take a prominent role.
This is probably why Prisoner of Azkaban is many people’s favourite Potter movie. Audiences grew-up with the franchise and this movie began to recognise this by becoming less of a kids series and much more of a Young Adult franchise. This was also reflected in the cast, particularly the three lead characters.
How the producers of Harry Potter managed to get this so right is a miracle. Casting children in the hope that they will retain and remain skilled actors through the ten following years you’d need them is a tricky gamble but one that paid off for the franchise. Daniel Radcliffe gets better with every film and embodies the wonder and then tortured hero that Potter becomes. Emma Watson goes from geeky, annoying girl to strong, mature leading female while Rupert Grint makes one of the biggest transformations, from comedy best friend to one of the more unlikely heroes of the whole series.
In fact, the franchise’s biggest strength was it’s casting. The first film (The Philosopher’s Stone) managed a casting coup with Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, adding talent from across British film and television in the form of Gary Oldman, Imelda Staunton and Kenneth Branagh. The greatest piece of casting within the franchise is of course Ralph Fiennes as the series villain Voldermort.
Perfectly teased throughout the franchise’s first three films, it comes with the highlight of the series, The Goblet of Fire, that we get his first full introduction and from then Fiennes steals the series. His threat level increases and he stands toe-to-toe with some of the series heavyweights, including the excellent Michael Gambon as Dumbledore.
It is this increasing threat level that manages to keep the Harry Potter series feeling relevant. There could be an accusation of some of the films feeling slightly “samey,” using the same story-beats with a different threat each time. The fact that the “Master of the Dark Arts” teacher seems to be the villain or at least linked to the villain, each movie made for a frustrating narrative.
As did the issue of the books the movies were based on being too large to adapt. Story-threads felt discarded or rushed in later movies and some of the wonder that punctuated the first films seems to have gone. There was also some trouble with adding scenes not in the books, just to make the film feel more action packed, a problem The Half-Blood Prince faced, a movie that hold a great, important moment but feels very off-balance in quality.
Luckily, Harry Potter is a movie with a definitive ending and in that respect, the franchise doesn’t disappoint. The finale, split over two movies, manages to tie-up the franchise is a satisfactory way. It still faces the same issue of the first half not feeling as quick-paced or even relevant as the second half but once that final showdown starts, you can’t help but feel excited and reflective of the eight movies it took to get to this point.
Overall, The Harry Potter Franchise is without a doubt a strong one and a template for how to make a movie franchise. It starts small, introducing characters and mild threat and then slowly amps up the drama and maturity with each movie. It is a series that stays in-line with the it’s aging audience and delivers a great pay-off in final film.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) – 3.5
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) – 4
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – 4
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) – 4.5
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – 4.5
- Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009) – 3.5
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) – 4
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) – 4