The Harry Potter film franchise, based on British author J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels, recently turned 20, and celebrated its legacy with the HBO special, Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts. However, the series is anything but a relic of the past. New films continue to be made from Rowling’s Harry Potter-adjacent series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, with the newest entry, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, opening this week.
Meanwhile, the films and novels of the original series remain highly popular, attracting a new generation of viewers while continuing to enchant original fans. Whether you are new to the series, love the video game spinoff Hogwarts Legacy, or just love revisiting your old favorites, many streaming options are available. Here is a helpful guide to where you can find each of the films streaming.
This opening chapter in the saga — also known by its British title, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone — introduces Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) as they discover both delights and darkness during their first year at the fantastical Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Chris Columbus, who had had scored blockbuster family hits with Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, directed this first entry in the franchise. Columbus had proven his facility with directing kids and he got charismatic performances out of the young actors that would set up the series for long-term success.
Critics and fans alike found Rowling’s story world fully realized on screen in all its enchanting splendor. The movie also established the series’ hallmark of stuffing the cast with famous British actors, with Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Julie Walters, and John Cleese in just the first entry alone. The movie was an enormous hit, earning more than a billion dollars globally and setting up Warner Bros. for a long and profitable run.
The second movie in the franchise chronicles Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s second year at Hogwarts and finds our fearless trio working to unearth another mystery that threatens the school. New characters include a vain Dark Arts professor, Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh); the intolerant Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), father of Harry’s nemesis, Draco (Tom Felton); and the Malfoy’s House-Elf, Dobby, a CGI character that Harry frees from the Malfoys, earning his eternal gratitude.
Released only a year after Sorcerer’s Stone, the sequel was also a big hit, providing another welcome dose of magic to holiday audiences. Although some viewers and critics find Chamber of Secrets a little too similar in plot and tone to the first movie, it still provides its share of wonderments, including a flying Ford Anglia, an attack by giant spiders, and what many fans consider the most excitingly staged Quidditch match in the series.
Rowling turned the series darker as her three protagonists began to grow up and confront the disturbing evils within the Wizarding World. Harry’s third year at Hogwarts is both more dangerous and more personal, as he must elude the escaped prisoner Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who has threatened to kill him, while endeavoring to discover the truth about his deceased parents.
To tackle the movie’s darker tone, and to bring a fresh aesthetic to the franchise after the repetitive Chamber of Secrets, the producers turned to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who had made several acclaimed movies, including a critically heralded version of another classic children’s novel set in in a boarding school, A Little Princess (1995). Critics and audiences responded to the dark beauty of Cuarón’s vision for the material and The Prisoner of Azkaban stands as one of the best-loved films of the series. The movie is also notable for having Michael Gambon take over in the role of Professor Albus Dumbledore after the death of Richard Harris, who played the character in the first two films.
Once Rowling found massive success, she achieved the Stephen King-like power to publish books of any length, which she took advantage of by making the later novels in the Harry Potter series into massive tomes. Of course, readers loved having more of a good thing, but this also led to fan, ahem, disenchantment with some of the later movies as less of the literary material made it onto the screen.
The novel of Goblet of Fire — which, like the movie, chronicles the events of the Triwizard Tournament between rival schools of magic — is one of the longest books, coming in at 734 pages, and the screenwriters had to confront the problem of what to change, compress, or leave out entirely. Readers were not altogether happy with some of the omissions, but the movie was still a huge popular success and the second highest-grossing film of the year behind Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
The fifth entry in the series finds Harry struggling with his new status of pariah, after being expelled by the Ministry of Magic for using magic outside of Hogwarts, even though it was in self-defense. The ministry further errs by refusing to believe that Lord Voldemort is making his imminent return. Harry and company must also struggle against one of their most pitiless adversaries — Professor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, who attempts to divide and conquer the school.
British television director David Yates took over directing duties in the series starting with The Order of the Phoenix, and the producers were obviously impressed with his understated craftsmanship because he’s directed every film since, including all the Fantastic Beasts movies.
Considered by many to be the best of the films, The Half-Blood Prince features a refreshingly grown-up tone and probably the most beautiful cinematography and production design in the series. That’s not a surprise given that this was the most expensive Harry Potter film, as well as one of the most expensive films ever made. The money is up on the screen, though, as the special effects are truly dazzling in this one, including an opening attack on London by Death Eaters that foreshadows Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) growing power over the Wizarding World.
The Half-Blood Prince deftly balances brisk action and a foreboding tone with a light, romantic touch as the characters battle the most calamitous curse of all: Becoming teenagers.
Rowling had concluded her seven-novel Harry Potter saga a few years earlier, leaving Warner Bros. looking at a bare cupboard. The solution of course: Make two films out of the final novel. The fans certainly won’t mind!
Part 1 is mostly a set up for the final battle as Harry, Ron, and Hermione forgo their final year at Hogwarts to attempt to collect and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, the magical devices that make Voldemort’s immortality possible. Like any two-part conclusion worth its salt, the first part of Deathly Hallows leaves our heroes in crisis as Voldemort musters the forces of darkness for his final attack.
The epic conclusion and the most financially successful of the Harry Potter movies was acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. In Part 2, the evil Voldemort finds corporeal form on Earth and the peoples of the Wizarding World are forced to choose sides in the final battle of good versus evil.
If both the story and the special effects are more than a tad reminiscent of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, nobody cared by this point. The legions of fans were happy to see their heroes triumph, and the epilogue featuring our grown heroes sending their own kids off to Hogwarts is undeniably moving.
After raking in billions off the franchise, Warner Bros. wasn’t about to close down shop and go home — not if there were more stories to tell. And there were! Sort of …
Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wasn’t a novel in the Potterverse, but rather a slim illustrated compendium of magical creatures within the universe “written” by the fictional Newt Scamander. It would take great imagination — along with an army of screenwriters — to concoct a story from a book that has no proper story. But franchises have been undaunted by greater narrative obstacles (see: Transformers). And so Newt became a flesh and blood character played by Eddie Redmayne who becomes embroiled in magical events in America 70 years before the events of the earlier series.
Most fans and critics felt this first sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them missed an opportunity to solidify the narrative meandering of the first movie. Instead, The Crimes of Grindelwald feels even more like a mechanized tour through the Wizarding World than the first one, with an even less magical story to tell.
Controversy also surrounded the film due to various public scandals involving J.K. Rowling and the movie’s star, Johnny Depp. But despite the controversies and poor reviews (37% on Rotten Tomatoes), the movie was a financial success with global grosses in excess of $650 million, paving the way for at least two more announced squeals after The Secrets of Dumbledore.