Feeling a bit nostalgic? Let's take a look at the Harry Potter movies, in order of subjective preference.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004): We begin with a contradiction. This isn't actually my favourite Harry Potter film. However, I do have to recognise it might well be the best one. Why? This is a movie which demonstrates big-budget special effects franchises can be about something more. Adolescent longing and the feeling of being trapped and misunderstood pervade this story. Although a tad too long, this might well be the richest of all Potter movies in terms of themes and characters. Gary Oldman's performance as Sirius Black is stellar, and David Thewlis' turn as Professor Lupin is equally touching. 'Azkaban' might be the most intimate of all the films.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009): This might well be the most underrated of all the movies. One's first impression upon viewing is usually that 'nothing happens' until the end. However, repeated viewings reveal a deep tapestry of emotions and genres, ranging from romantic comedy to murder mystery. 'Prince' might also be credited with the most significant tonal shift in the series, where Potter and his friends turn definitively into brooding adults amongst surroundings that become increasingly hostile and dark. This movie also showcases some of Alan Rickman's best work as Snape. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography is a particular technical standout. It's my personal favourite.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011): If the previous seven movies are all setup, this is one huge payoff. Featuring some of the best scenes of the franchises, as well as conveying a sense of epic doom and wartime resilience, 'Hallows' Part 2 successfully ends the saga with a bang, which not many movie series can claim to do well enough. Alexandre Desplat's great score, as well as Eduardo Serra's beautiful cinematography all serve a large-scale and truly epic story. Like its predecessor on this list, the film is infinitely re-watchable.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001): It must be noted just how well the first Potter film has aged. Sure, the special effects are somewhat dated and the lead trio's performances are still to be improved. Nevertheless it's easy to see how the first movie charmed audiences worldwide with its sense of awe, wonder and joy. With a horrifying villain and complex central mystery, 'Sorcerer's Stone' is an easy film to recommend, with scenes that remain iconic to this day and a simple 'dark vs light' dynamic that works very well.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005): Mike Newell's entry into the Potter canon is a solid and enjoyable film. With an enticing concept of a 'wizard's tournament', we get to see how the lead trio evolves from children into teenagers, complete with jealous rages, misunderstandings and tantrums. This is also Ralph Fiennes' first appearance as Lord Voldemort, with a return to life that is truly terrifying. The only thing preventing 'Goblet' from being higher on this list is that some of the plot threads woven into the story don't fully relate to the main characters, and often feel accessory. These feel like a hangover from the Chris Columbus movies, with 'cool stuff' instead of 'meaningful stuff.'
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010): There are some moving scenes in 'Hallows' Part 1. However, too much of the story is spent on showing the main characters wandering aimlessly in the woods, staring at each other and lamenting the loss of innocence engendered by the events of "Half-Blood Prince.' What we get in an uneven but still enjoyable 'arthouse' movie of the road trip variety. Characters come and go, imparting guidance on Potter and his friends. One can't shake the feeling it's all but a big tease for the finale.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007): Similarly to 'Hallows' Part 1, 'Phoenix' seems to argue that the wizarding world is turning darker by the minute. Most of this is contextual information, with lots of plot exposition and secondary villains that don't really accentuate the main story. Most Potter fans will recognise that this is more a problem with the book than the film itself. Contrary to 'Half-Blood Prince', where small actions have huge consequences, 'Phoenix' showcases lots of epic battles that don't seem to impact the characters in a meaningful way. Potter trains rebellious students, Dumbledore disappears, and (spoiler!) Sirius Black dies. That's it, really.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002): 'Chamber' isn't a bad movie. It is, however, too long and spends much of its running time away from the central story. Distracted by the 'cool' factor, Steve Kloves' script really tries to recapture the magic of the original film at the expense of what could have been a compelling and engrossing mystery. The special effects in this movie are more advanced, and have aged better than those in the first one. Yet, this isn't enough to keep an older viewer engaged beyond the first or second viewing.
Now that the Skywalker Saga has officially ended, I thought I'd share some of my own ideas of what the best instalments were and which ones are avoidable... It's been a long journey!
The Empire Strikes Back (1980): The sequel to the original Star Wars movie, what this film achieved cannot be understated. From its iconic twist to its darker and more mature tone, the second 'original' movie proved that you could make a high-budget film with silly costumes and puppets that had heft, tension and substance. There isn't one scene in this movie that could be cut, in this writer's humble opinion. It has only gained in beauty with time, and its visual effects are still impressive, despite being over 40 years old. Co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, this script proves that what Lucas desperately needs is a co-writer. Kasdan would go on to write several great Star Wars movies, including the one below.
The Force Awakens (2015): Similarly to the above entry, this movie brought audiences back to Star Wars in a triumphant manner, earning $2+ billion at the worldwide box office. J.J. Abrams' first pass at Star Wars was an incredibly fun, nostalgic and thrilling experience. Despite the gap in years between the first movie in 1977 and this instalment, the main feeling was that we picked up right where we left off, both in tone and scale. We were also introduced to incredible new characters in the form of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Finn (John Boyega). Drawing heavily on The Empire Strikes Back, this is one of the best reboots in recent memory.
The Last Jedi (2017): Having to choose between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi for the no.2 spot was difficult. They are both bold, visual experiences with plenty of charm and substance. One of the main reasons for placing Rian Johnson's entry below its predecessor is simply its length and pace. While the many turns, surprises and callbacks are appreciated, there is a feeling that too much is packed into this entry. All good things, of course - from the heartbreaking finale, to the many battles and quiet moments of stillness throughout, there are many well-executed ideas to spare. One only wishes Johnson had been given two movies to write instead of one, as this film feels at times like a Shakespearian play - fascinating, dark and deep, but also overlong at times.
Star Wars / A New Hope (1977): The original Star Wars still holds up - not necessarily because of the quality of its visual effects, nor its chaotic storytelling. What is impressive about Lucas' first big budget movie is the sheer enthusiasm and vision of its filmmaker - a mix of crazy characters, practical effects, Japanese-inspired costumes and a villain whose very name would become iconic. Crucially, A New Hope is a simple film, in which a princess needs to be rescued, and the evil Empire defeated. This is a celebration of storytelling itself, with good guys, bad guys and everything in between.
The Rise of Skywalker (2019): Similarly to its predecessor The Last Jedi, there is a lot packed into this final movie. Unfortunately, most of it is either too quickly disposed of, or simply unnecessary. Its visual effects are stunning, and the story does bring its characters' overall arcs to a close in a definitive way. Beyond these broad strokes however, one gets the feeling that many vital scenes were cut from the film in favour of pacing, or as a reaction to reception to The Last Jedi. The result is a movie that feels broadly 'right' on the whole, yet infuriatingly confusing at the same time. Between a bang and a whimper, The Rise of Skywalker closes out the saga not in the best way, but ultimately for the better.
Return of the Jedi (1983): George Lucas' conclusion to the 'original' trilogy is heartwarming, family-friendly and operatic in the best possible manner. The only reason for placing lower than Rise of Skywalker is that while that movie suffered from too many cuts, this one could have used a couple. The film starts off promisingly with a rescue and character moments, and then slows down significantly down the line. We are then faced with 30+ minutes of the main characters talking to Ewok puppets and meditating on the meaning of life. This is by no means a bad movie - for instance, the end sequence where Darth Vader faces off Luke Skywalker is simply beautiful - only an overdrawn one.
Revenge of the Sith (2005): This one too is overdrawn, by quite some extent. Although its large scale and operatic qualities are undeniable, Revenge of the Sith smothers its powerful story with puzzling execution. Many of the film's best moments rely on its central character's turn to the dark side, however in terms of running time most of the movie focuses on other elements - such as the cyborg General Grievous, a war on forest planet Kashyyyk, and generic battles that don't really land. What this feels like is the first draft of a script - littered with interesting ideas, but not focused at all.
The Phantom Menace (1999): There are good things in the first of the new 'prequel' films - just not enough. Lucas dispenses with mythology and focuses on the rather simple story of a princess having to be protected, harkening back to A New Hope. Yet the movie also sabotages itself with incomprehensible pacing and CGI-laden landscapes that don't create emotional resonance. There are highs, such as the final showdown between Darth Maul (Ray Park) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), and the racing sequences on Tatooine, but they don't make up for a confusing movie. Again, this feels like a first draft. Where is Lawrence Kasdan?
Attack of the Clones (2002): The follow-up to The Phantom Menace showcases what often doesn't work in Star Wars, such as weak dialogue, confusing plotting, and slow pacing. Again, there are highs in this film. I remember distinctly watching this as a child, and this was in fact the first Star Wars I ever saw in the movie theatre. It says something that although this is easily the worst instalment, I was still drawn to the universe and characters. Nevertheless, as an adult, I have to admit there are very few things that pull me back to this particular movie. If one can credit it with one thing, it's that it was the first major Hollywood movie to be shot on digital cameras, and would kick-start Sony's CineAlta camera line, resulting in the F55 and F65 in use today.