But now that I've seen them all, it was inevitable that I (and I'm sure every fan, magazine, blog, etc,) would take time to rank them in terms of greatness. They've all conjured a spell on fans worldwide, but of course, some of them--depending on the director--had a stronger, longer-lasting spell than others.
For all the magical moments, and every thrilling charm cast with visually-arresting, cinematic wizardry, what makes the POTTER films stand apart from most fantasy films (mainly all the copycats that came after it, trying to become the next Potter-like blockbuster), it's the acting, the quiet moments, the way each character latches him or herself onto your heart, no spell require, that makes them, special. Even the evil characters you can't completely hate, because the level of acting of these British actors is so potent, so natural.... to this day I'm besides myself that not one of them has been properly singled out during awards season. The films became more like the endearing drama of an orphan boy, his two awesome best friends, and the dire circumstances surrounding him, forcing him to face evil at such a young age, that just happened to be set on a magical realm. The magic, for all the amount of it that existed, was always secondary to the characters. That's how Jo Rowling wrote them, that's how (starting with) Alfonso Cuaron and his successors filmed them, that's why movie after movie they became greater and bigger, enchanting even those who've never bothered or care to read the books.
So without any more delaying, here's my ranking of all 8 films:
- HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN: I know there's a few who don't think highly of PRISONER OF AZKABAN, but that's just foolery. AZKABAN was the film that changed the franchise and set it on it's way to greatness. Alfonso Cuaron brilliantly got the characters out of the light touch of the first two movies and into darker territory, he also got them out of the school uniform and made them more real. Watch the first two films and then this one, and you can just see how he was able to bring the "actor" out of Daniel, Emma, and Rupert. From this point on, they weren't just mere "child actors," they were actors. Also the casting of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore after the passing of Richard Harris was just genius. His Dumbledore is the one people will forever remember, and not because he played it more than the late Richard did, but because he made Dumbledore human, instead of the regal, kind yet detached version from the first two films. Harry's winter isolation, rebellious/angry attitude, his pain, his realization of having family (Sirius) are all moments that connect you with him. AZKABAN remains the template by which the succeeding directors base their takes on each following book. Just try to imagine what HARRY POTTER AND.... would have looked like, have Chris Columbus kept directing or if the other directors had followed his lead?
- HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1: Here's the thing, Part 2 is freaking awesome in every level, and though I don't mind the relentless action, Part 1 has more intimate moments that hit home a bit more. It's the quiet before the storm and it's dreadful. We have an idea of how badly the storm is going to break, but the quiet, the wait, the hesitation, confusion, uncertainty on Harry's, Hermione's, and Ron's faces while on the run with seemingly no one to turn to, makes you feel desperate for them. Ron's departure, and Hermione's heartbreak, Harry trying to console her with a dance, Harry's face seeing his parent's grave, even freaking Dobby's death, just tears you apart.
- HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2: The end we have all been waiting/dreading, and how emotional it was. After multiple viewings, I have to say, I've started feeling sad for even Voldemort as the last horcruxes were destroyed and he felt it. Even when he brought Harry's supposed dead body back to Hogarts to brag, you could see the trepidation in his eyes, here he was finally unstoppable with harry dead, and yet, even he wasn't sure anymore. Ralph Fiennes played him brilliantly during those final scenes, showing the madness consuming him, and his fear of certain death. And yet, it was so (understandably) busy that it left very little room for the special moments. Bellatrix's death seemed rather too quick for her character, and Fred's, Remus', and Tonk's dead should have felt more emotional, yet they didn't quite reach the level they should have been for these characters. On the other hand, Severus' demise was as shocking and sad as it should have been, and Harry's view of his memories through the pensieve were effective on conveying the tragedy and heroism behind his character. Alan Rickman remains the acting MVP through the whole series, hands down.
- HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: Sirius death, Bellatrice's emergence, Harry and Cho's kiss, Dumbledore and Voldemort's showdown at the ministry of magic, the delicious malice of professor Umbridge.... taking a clue from Alfonso Cuaron, David Yates took over from Mike Newell's and his uneven rendering of GOBLET OF FIRE, and brought the films back to their "characters first" focus, and the result was as explosive and exciting as Hermoine pointing her wand and shouting: "bombardo!"
- HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: Though David Yates skillful eyed should forever be commended for creating magic out of the last 3 books in the series, HALF-BLOOD PRINCE will forever be his least effective. In terms of character development and acting, it is one of the strongest. Michael Gambon does so much with Dumbledore on this one, he should have been nominated in the same way that Ian Mckellen was for THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Tom Felton gives so much gravitas to Draco, it is like seeing the character anew. But, and though I've tried to judged the films on their own and not compare them to the books, and it is true that all films differ from aspects of the books, the changes on HALF-BLOOD PRINCE are so glaring that they just can't be ignored. Harry and Ginny's kiss, the burning of the burrow and excising Dumbledore's funeral from the film are nearly unforgivable.
- HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS: Looking back, this is probably the most surprising of all the films, because no one expected Chris Columbus to reined in his penchant for showy moments, and actually put greater emphasis on the story. Oh, he still indulges himself on magical aha! set pieces, but not as over the top as the first film.
- HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE: The most uneven of all 8 films. Mike Newell tried to compromise between the special effects showmanship and cuteness of the Chris Columbus films, and the character development of Alfonso Cuaron, leaving GOBLET OF FIRE entertaining yet not the soaring epic it should have been. It must be pointed out that he also had to condense the longest book, which also made the film feeling like it was missing something, by everything that was left on the floor of the cutting room.
- HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE: Though full of magic, and granted, base on the first novel which was very much aimed at kids, Chris Columbus opted to go for the cuteness of his HOME ALONE movies, leaving SORCERER'S STONE a thrilling first look at the world of HARRY POTTER but one with no emotional connection. You never feel worried for Harry and Co. You don't develop empathy during the scene of in which Harry sees his parents in the mirror. But you do laugh at all the little enchantments cast, all the moments of discovery, and all the cuteness on screen. It doesn't leave you wanting more.