Harry Potter: What Makes it Most Successful Series in Film History?

“Harry Potter” is the most commercially successful series in film history.

But how and why?

Remarkably, no matter who the particular director is, or the specific release date (summer or winter season), each of the seven chapters was a hit, and give and take, grossing domestically the same amount of money.

See Table below.

Moreover, the popular appeal of each film is also not conditioned by the relative artistic quality of the given film, or by the critics reviews. Naturally, some installments were more highly acclaimed than others.

Looking back, at least four elements have contributed to the continuous, immense success of the “Harry Potter” series.

First and foremost, the magic of Rowling’s densely plotted and emotionally involving books. Reportedly, the single thread of the story was very much by design, and the author had a very clear idea of the direction of Harry’s journey. It’s important to remember that when the first picture was made, only three of the seven books had been published.

Second, the consistency of the high-caliber casting, manifest in two ways. The fact that the three leads, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, were played by the same gifted actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, should not be underestimated. (For a while there were rumors that this may not be the case, when Watson took too long to commit to the last films of the series).

One of the many pleasures of watching this movie is spotting the parade of splendid British actors, two dozens of them, each playing his or her role, small or big, vividly and with conviction. The film’s huge ensemble includes (in alphabetical order) Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Matthew Lewis, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Julie Walters and Bonnie Wright. (You can practically write a chronicle of “Who’s Who in British Cinema” based on the Harry Potter film series, because, at one time or another, they made a striking appearance in one or more of the pictures).

It’s noteworthy, that only one major actor, Richard Harris, had died during the course of the decade, and he was replaced by the equally talented Michael Gambon. As an actor Gambon is less eccentric than Harris was, and in this chapter it serves well his character, Professor Albus Dumbledore, particularly when his troubled relationships with his brother Aberforth (Ciaran Hinds) id depicted.

Chris Columbus, essentially a craftsman, launched the franchise, directing the first two movies, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and “Harry Potter and the Chmaber of Secrets” (2002).

Producer David Heyman then shifted gears and hired Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, who staged “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”  In my view, is the most impressive chapter artistically, though it must be pointed out that it’s the least commercially successful (domestic gross was $250 million).

The versatile British director Mike Newell helmed the next chapter, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005), and while it did well ($290 million), the film was directed in impersonal mode (like most of Newell’s pictures, which may explain why he is not considered to be an auteur).

In 2007, the series was put under the helm of David Yates (then better known for his TV work), who has directed half of the franchise, or to be more precise, the last four movies. Initially, there were doubts about Yates’ filmic talents and technical skills to tackle such a demanding project, but they were quickly dispelled.

Yates handled his first two films, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner, servicing the plot and characters efficiently. Over the past four years, however, Yates has improved as a filmmaker, and “Deathly Hallows Part 1” and especially “Part 2,” represent his best work to date, blending effectively subject and style, plot and characterization, atmosphere and special effects.

But perhaps the key factor, the crucial variable, in the success of the series has been the coherence of the writing, due to the fact that the gifted screenwriter Steve Kloves wrote all but one—“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”of the episodes.

From the start, author Rowling gave her blessing and full support to scribe Kloves: “Steve really got the books. I was always accepting of the fact that changes must occur in the process of moving from the page to the screen. But even the scenes that were different were always very true to the spirit of the books.”

Harry Potter Series: Stats and Numbers

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Director: Chris Columbus

Release Date: November 16, 2001

Box-Office Gross: $317.6

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Director: Chris Columbus

Release Date: November 15, 2002

Box-Office Gross: $262.0

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Release Date: June 4, 2004

Box-Office Gross: $250.0

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Director: Mike Newell

Release Date: November 18, 2005

Box-Office Gross: $290.0

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Director: David Yates

Release Date: July 11, 2007

Box-Office Gross: $292.0

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Brother


Director: David Yates

Release Date: July 15, 2009

Box-Office Gross: $302.0

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1


Director: David Yates

Release Date: November 19, 2010

Box-Office Gross: $295.0