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.