A Boy Wizard in a Muggle World
Muggle world, meet Harry Potter: At the start of J.K. Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, baby Harry has survived the murder of his parents by the most powerful dark wizard, Lord Voldemort (played by Ralph Fiennes.) Escaping nearly unscathed, Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is left with a lightening-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead, and a figurative spell cast over the wizarding world as the lone surviving victim of “He Who Must Not Be Named.” But he knows none of this: Harry lives in an uncomfortable cupboard under a stairwell with his uptight and downright dreary muggle—non-magical—aunt and uncle, Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths)—until he receives an invitation to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Harry vs. Voldemort: Round Two
The “Chosen One” embarks on his first year at Hogwarts, where he becomes fast friends with the gawky, ginger-haired Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and the school’s own Einstein in hair style and intellect, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). He also finds allies in headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and half-man-half-giant Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). But for every fan who flanks the “Boy Who Lived,” there’s a former Death Eater or student who’d like to see him succumb to Voldemort, among them potions professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) and icy blond classmate Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). The New York Times wrote the first installment had a “dreary, literal-minded competence,” but that diehards didn’t seem to care: It was “like seeing ‘Beatlemania’ staged in the Hollywood Bowl, where the cheers and screams will drown out whatever’s unfolding onstage.” Watch the real magic of the 2001 Chris Columbus flick when the baby-faced Harry searches for the immortality-granting Sorcerer’s Stone and comes face to face with the Dark Lord for the second time.
Tom Riddle’s Diary Spells Trouble
After a summer hiatus spent at the Dursleys, Harry and the wizarding gang return to Hogwarts for their second year in the Columbus-directed Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Sorting Hat hardly finishes placing students in their houses before something is amiss in the castle: cryptic messages scribbled throughout Hogwarts’ hallways announce that the Chamber of Secrets is open. The decidedly darker flick gets more complicated when Harry is given a diary by a petulant weeping ghost, Moaning Myrtle, that illustrates a scene of its previous owner and the friendly-yet-oafish groundskeeper Hagrid as students themselves. Something wicked this way comes.
Inside the Chamber of Secrets
A basilisk, a sword, and a phoenix mean only one thing for Harry Potter: an excursion into the mysterious chamber. Before Harry can learn more about the diary’s owner, Tom Riddle, the enchanted book goes missing and Hermione discovers that a snake-like basilisk is petrifying students—literally. When Ron’s flame-haired younger sister Ginny goes missing, Harry is confronted in the chamber by the specter of Tom Riddle, who turns out to be Voldemort. The Chamber of Secrets’ glimpse into Voldemort’s miseducation as a troubled Hogwarts student, along with Ginny’s brush with a venomous death, gave the second flick its own spell-binding identity. “It possesses a confidence and intermittent flair that begin to give it a life of its own apart of the literary franchise,” Variety wrote.
The Prisoner of Azkaban Escapes
If Alice had her rabbit hole, then Harry Potter had the chamber. By the third film, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, “Harry is no longer someone you can mess with,” wrote Roger Ebert. The “Boy Who Lived” has fully delved into the magical realm—complete with ties to a convicted killer holed up Azkaban, a deathly prison guarded by the soul-sucking Dementors. At the start of Potter and company’s third year at Hogwarts, Sirius Black (Gary Oldham), a wizard implicated with Voldemort in the murder of Harry’s parents, has escaped the prison. Black, an “Animagus” with the power to change into a dog, tries to enter Hogwarts to see Harry, to no avail. Also on the run is Ron’s beloved pet rat Scabbers who, along with Black, is not at all what he seems. When Ron is dragged into a shack by a large black dog, Harry and Hermione follow as the true identities are revealed.
A Time-Turner to the Rescue
The cauldron runneth over: When Sirius reveals himself to be Harry’s father’s best friend—and innocent—Harry, flanked by Hermione and Ron, naturally, attempts to bring him back to Hogwarts to proclaim his innocence. But faster than any wizard can mutter “Avada Kedavra,” Sirius is knocked out by Remus Lupin, a werewolf-cum-professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Dementors, who’ve been guarding Hogwarts, close in on Sirius and Harry, moments away from passing out himself, when a mysterious figure resembling his father uses a Patronus charm to drive them away. Harry awakes in Hogwarts to find that Sirius has been captured, but with a suggestion from Dumbledore (played by Michael Gambon in the remaining films) employs Hermione’s Time-Turner—a device that allows her to attend multiple classes at once—to save the day.
The Quidditch World Cup
What’s a good summer vacation without a little sport? In between their third and fourth years at Hogwarts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione score tickets to the Quidditch World Cup, leaving muggle sports in the dust. Quidditch is the soccer of the wizarding world, where players fly on broomsticks and score goals against each other until the seeker catches the Golden Snitch. Like any happy occasion in the Potter series, a day at the Quidditch stadium goes terribly awry when Voldemort’s minions take over. And that’s not even the real competition at stake in 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The Triwizard Tournament
Film four marked the first non-PG rating for the franchise and, aside from plenty of adolescent crushing a la Hermione and Ron, “He Who Must Not Be Named” gets violent. Dumbledore announces a tournament between Hogwarts and two other wizarding schools, inviting students to submit their names into the Goblet of Fire, which selects one student from each school to compete. Enter the dashing Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson pre-Twilight), Hogwarts’ favorite for the competition—and Harry, who’s suspiciously selected by the spitfire goblet. After two rounds of hair-raising challenges in the tournament, dueling a dragon and swimming among them, Harry and Cedric join forces in the final round to find the Triwizard cup in a massive bewitched labyrinth. The teamwork turns out to be a bad bet for Cedric: The cup is a Portkey, an object that transports those who touch it, and the two are sent straight to contend with Voldemort. The fourth installment was such a departure that Slate warned audiences, “Weak-willed parents of similarly aged children should prepare for night sweats and bed-wetting. It’s scary, kids.”
The Wrath of Dolores Umbridge
In the fifth film, The Order of the Phoenix, there is no magic spell that can get Harry out of trouble. After using magic illegally in the muggle world to thwart a Dementor attack at the Dursleys, the Ministry of Magic nearly expels the teenage wizard from Hogwarts. Enter the Order of the Phoenix, a secret organization founded by Dumbledore to fight Voldemort. Harry is taken to the Order and warned that the Dark Lord is searching for a prophecy about him, stored at the Ministry. The prophecy becomes the farthest thing from Harry’s mind; when he returns to Hogwarts, the new Ministry-appointed Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Umbridge, is nothing but diabolical when Harry insists Voldemort has returned. And, all this time, he thought the Dark Lord was bad.
Throwdown in the Ministry
With a plot rife with “repressed sexuality, paranoia, Fascism, madness, death, and acne,” according to New York Magazine, there’s little the David Yates-directed flick forgoes. The Harry Potter franchise finally gets the magical equivalent of a knockdown drag-out shoot-em-up when the Order and Voldemort’s Death Eaters, including the deranged Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), come face to face in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry. When Harry has a premonition that Sirius is being tortured in the Department—where the prophecy Voldemort so desired is stored—he brings Dumbledore’s Army, his own after-school magic-practicing crew, to face down the Dark Lord. But the “Chosen One’s” kid army is no match for the evil-doers. They are high school students, after all.
Harry Potter’s First Kiss
It’s no John Hughes teenage tryst, but wizards experience the awkward teenage years, too. Harry’s romance with Ron’s little sister, Ginny, plays out against an increasingly sinister climate. In The Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort and his loyal and lethal followers descend onto London, hatching a plan for Potter-rival Draco Malfoy to kill Dumbledore. Suspecting Draco, Harry casts a spell on his foil using a truly evil breed of magic found in his Potions textbook. The spell was written by a previous owner of the textbook, the self-dubbed Half-Blood Prince. To ensure no one else stumbles on the disturbing magic, Harry and Ginny sneak away to hide the book—and for some alone time.
Dumbledore and Harry Go Horcrux Hunting
The sixth flick might have been called “as comfortable and reliable as an old shoe,” by the Los Angeles Times, but it also introduced Harry’s final mission in the series. In an effort to guarantee his immortality, Voldemort divided and stored his soul in seven objects, called Horcruxes and can only be killed when all are destroyed. Two of the Horcruxes have already been destroyed—Tom Riddle’s journal, destroyed by Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, and Voldemort’s grandfather’s ring, done in by Dumbledore. When the venerable headmaster invites Harry to help him destroy another, it’s the beginning of the end.
R.I.P. Albus Dumbledore
In a plot twist that almost put Rowling’s readers over the edge, Dumbledore faces an untimely death when he and Harry return to Hogwarts to find the castle overrun with Death Eaters. When Dumbledore comes face to face with Draco and his cronies, the Death Eater-in-training can’t bring himself to kill his headmaster, prompting professor Severus Snape to cast the Avada Kedavra curse himself. Sans bearded leader, things get even worse for Harry: the Horcrux he retrieved with Dumbledore is a fake, initialed “R.A.B.” by the wizard who destroyed it.
The Horcrux Hunting Continues
Flanked by the soon-to-be star-crossed lovers Ron and Hermione, Harry sets out to destroy the remaining Horcruxes in part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Back at Sirius Black’s home, the trio discover that the “R.A.B.” on the fake Horcrux is the initials of Black’s younger brother and that the Horcrux, a locket, now belongs to the treacherous Dolores Umbridge. The locket proves to be one very expensive piece of jewelry: the three disguise themselves and sneak into the Ministry of Magic to retrieve the necklace, narrowly escaping to the countryside. The Horcrux causes turmoil in its wearer, leading Ron to storm off when he believes Harry and Hermione are having an affair. But he returns just in the nick of time: After a visit to a historian in Godric’s Hollow in search of the only sword that can destroy Horcruxes, Harry nearly drowns fishing the sword out of a lake. Ron rescues his friend and destroys the locket, but not before seeing his worst—and most scandalous—fear realized: Harry and Hermione in a topless embrace.
The Deathly Hallows
Behold the holy trinity of Voldemort’s quest for immortality: the Deathly Hallows. Throughout their search for Horcruxes, Harry, Hermione, and Ron encounter a mysterious symbol that represents the Deathly Hallows, made up of the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility. Before the trio can find out too much about the Hallows, they’re captured by Death Eaters and imprisoned in Draco Malfoy’s home. As a duel breaks out between the trio and Voldemort’s cronies, the Dark Lord breaks into Dumbledore’s tomb to steal the Elder Wand, which belonged to the headmaster. Harry’s m.o. is clear at the end of the Yates’ flick, described as “necessarily dark and serious,” by Entertainment Weekly—destroy the remaining Horcruxes and retrieve the Deathly Hallows. And kill Voldemort, of course.