Twenty years ago, Bloomsbury published J.K. Rowling’s debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first installment in a saga that would span seven Potter books, eight Potter movies, and numerous spinoffs and extensions, in the process becoming one of the defining stories of a generation. Since Dumbledore isn’t here to help us pull any celebratory crackers, we’re marking the occasion by toasting Rowling’s magical creation — and the two decades of euphoria that it’s brought us. We solemnly swear that we are up to no good.
Consider the opening sequence of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, first revealed to Muggle eyes 20 years ago today. Harry Potter doesn’t speak in the book’s first chapter; he appears only in its final pages, a sleeping tot with a fresh forehead scar. But the chapter is important, depicting a bifurcated world we’d come to adore. It’s magical, mentioning brigades of owls and adults in strange cloaks, then showing a professorial Animagus, a flying motorcycle, and a wizard named Albus with a twinkle in his eye. "The Boy Who Lived" starts a lengthy build toward a climax, yielding, eventually, a battle between that boy and the Dark Lord whose soul suffered eight distinct deaths. It suffers from no negatives and contains plenty of delightful details besides, from Dumbledore tucking his beard into his belt to the foreshadowing of Sirius Black. It is, all components considered, exposition nonpareil.
It’s also just the first of many. The wizarding world has expanded over the last 20 years from number 4 Privet Drive to a whole universe of action and magical fun. But which canonical work of Potter fiction is the most magical, the most fun — the best overall Harry Potter creation?
That’s a tricky question to resolve, and I haven’t an Auto-Answer Quill; moreover, I know that preferences vary as widely as Three Broomsticks orders and that my opinion alone isn’t a sufficient answer. It’s best, then, to break the question down into component rankings — in this case, seven (a magical number, of course) different categories, with one point for 20th place in a category and 20 points for first place — then add up each score for a final tally and ultimate ranking.
Alas, no Pottermore posts or J.K. Rowling tweets make the cut, as only the following 20 full works, for 20 years of Potter fiction, are considered: the seven main books, the eight main movies, the three "textbooks" written for charity, and the two works released in the past year, the Cursed Child play script and the first Fantastic Beasts film. Grab your broom and let’s take flight.
Rowling’s works didn’t all carry the same stakes, nor were they equally vital to her grand creation. Importance to the plot matters, but importance to the overall Potter experience matters, too. If the 20 works formed a Jenga tower, which could we remove without the Potterverse toppling, and which are most essential to its structural integrity?
20. Quidditch Through the Ages
Quidditch is fun, but even as the main series progressed, the sport became more a diversion than anything central to the plot. Many Potter fans haven’t even read this book and are none the worse for it.
19. The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Beedle is more important than Quidditch because it features the version of the Deathly Hallows fable that appears in the main story and plays a key role in Harry’s ultimate choice, Horcruxes or Hallows (and a key role in the decisions of tattoo-seeking Potter fans).
18. Cursed Child
As much as we might resist its plot and characterizations, it does teach us about the main crew’s futures, so it can’t rank last. (Note: I haven’t seen the play, but rather only read its script, so Cursed Child might rank worse both here and in other categories than it would for a theatergoer.)
17. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, book
It inspired a movie, sure, but even that film drew very little from its namesake textbook. The Beasts book has no plot and exists as an encyclopedia rather than a story.
16. Deathly Hallows: Part 1
This movie sold the fewest tickets of the main eight, per Box Office Mojo’s estimations, which isn’t a surprise because it serves mainly as an opening act for Part 2, hinging itself on relationships and introspection while setting up the core plot resolution for its successor.
15. Prisoner of Azkaban, book
Azkaban was the only book not to feature Voldemort in any form, which makes it the least additive to the overall story arc.
14. Chamber of Secrets, movie
13. Goblet of Fire, movie
12. Half-Blood Prince, movie
11. Order of the Phoenix, movie
None of these films is unimportant, but a casual viewer could skip large swaths of them and still understand the direction of the series. Order gets the slight edge because it was the first Potter movie overseen by David Yates, who ended the directorial carousel by nabbing the last four of the main series’ films and is set to direct each entry in the Beasts quintet.
10. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, movie
The first Fantastic Beasts plot is irrelevant from the perspective of the main seven-book-and-eight-movie story line. But we’re considering the entire Potterverse here, and in addition to widening the viewer’s grasp of the magical world, Beasts launched a new, five-part series that has made nearly $1 billion with just its first installment.
9. Chamber of Secrets, book
8. Order of the Phoenix, book
7. Half-Blood Prince, book
All three of these books contain important elements for the endgame, with the introduction of Tom Riddle’s diary, the prophecy, and the concept of Horcruxes, respectively. Phoenix and Prince gain a boost for Harry’s expanded development in those books, and Prince beats its predecessor because Dumbledore’s death resonates more than Sirius’s.
6. Prisoner of Azkaban, movie
After director Chris Columbus crafted the first two movies as direct page-to-screen translations, Alfonso Cuarón proved by helming Azkaban that the films could work as imaginative adaptations rather than rote copies. It also ditched the constant robewear, a tweak future films followed.
5. Deathly Hallows: Part 2
4. Deathly Hallows, book
The Potter series didn’t need a transcendent conclusion to boost its popularity or financial success, but that it resolved as such anyway doesn’t hurt its legacy. Using the Jenga analogy, moreover, removing Hallows from the tower would leave a gaping hole where Voldemort’s demise and the completion of Harry’s hero journey belong.
3. Goblet of Fire, book
The fourth book returned Voldemort to corporeal form and contained a number of crucial firsts. It was the first to go really long; the first three averaged around 360 pages, while the next four averaged almost 760. It was the first to go really dark, with the characters and plots maturing alongside their fervent child readers. And it was the first to kill off a nonvillain on the page, with Frank Bryce’s death in the first chapter and Cedric’s near the end setting the tone for the rest of the series.
2. Sorcerer’s Stone, movie
Movie studios have abandoned any number of fantasy-genre adaptation series after disappointing initial efforts, from The Golden Compass to Eragon. So despite the books’ popularity, the first Potter movie still contended with tremendous stakes. Sixteen years, multiple theme parks, a new spinoff series, and millions of new readers and watchers later, Sorcerer’s Stone is now the movie defining what a successful YA adaptation looks like.
1. Sorcerer’s Stone, book
A wizard can’t conjure a Patronus without a happy thought, and the Potterverse can’t form without its first book — itself sparking many happy thoughts — launching a literary and cinematic empire.
For the movies, I averaged each film’s Rotten Tomatoes critic and audience scores; for the books, I multiplied each text’s Goodreads score by 20 to get a rating out of 100, creating a comparable set of scores to the movies. They ranged from 75.2 (Child’s 3.76/5 Goodreads rating, multiplied) to 92.5 (Hallows: Part 2’s Tomatoes blend). Part 2 is the only movie to place in the top seven by this method, which indicates either that Goodreads and Tomatoes aren’t on equivalent scales (probably true!) or that the books are just better than the movies (also probably true!).
19. Beasts, movie
17. Beasts, book
16. Order, movie
15. Prince, movie
T12. Stone, movie
T12. Chamber, movie
T12. Goblet, movie
10. Hallows: Part 1
9. Chamber, book
8. Azkaban, movie
7. Stone, book
6. Order, book
T4. Azkaban, book
T4. Goblet, book
3. Prince, book
2. Hallows, book
1. Hallows: Part 2
Ultimately, the series’ most compelling draw is its magic, which manifests as both spells and the atmosphere the stories create. We enjoy the characters and plots; we immerse ourselves in the wizarding fantasy.
Elsewhere in the Potterverse, magic fills a reader’s heart with joy. Cursed Child brings mostly frustration.
19. Hallows: Part 1
Camping isn’t magical.
There’s a surprising dearth of magical sensibility in Quidditch, which reads the most like a textbook of any of the supplements. It’s still entertaining, but more for its amusement than its enchantment.
17. Chamber, movie
16. Chamber, book
Knowing my sabermetric bent in sports analytics, a colleague jokingly asked if I would assign any of the Potter works as "replacement level." I didn’t, at least directly, but Chamber’s magic in both book and movie form appears to fit the bill best. Fawkes is fantastic and the diary’s power mysterious, but there aren’t any standout examples of magic, either.
15. Prince, movie
14. Order, movie
13. Prince, book
We don’t see much new magic in these installments, and their overall moody atmosphere and morose color palette dim the aura, too.
12. Beasts, book
11. Beedle, book
Neither Beasts’ creatures nor Beedle’s stories contain an abundance of magic themselves, but they create a whimsical ambience that epitomizes the sheer fun that Rowling’s world can inspire.
10. Hallows: Part 2
9. Hallows, book
Magic is a comforting, omnipresent companion by the time Hallows rolls around, plus there are enough sparks of novelty — the stone soldiers, the great Gringotts caper, the tale of the Hallows and personified Death — that it still feels somewhat fresh.
8. Azkaban, movie
The Patronus is the most visually arresting spell used regularly in the series, and it features prominently in Azkaban. Other visual displays of wizardry, such as the Marauder’s Map animation, add to the film’s charm, and it carries that ineffable magical quality that defines the best Potter moments.
7. Azkaban, book
6. Order, book
These books enchant as they widen the magical map, taking readers on tours of Hogsmeade and the Ministry, respectively. Comparing Honeydukes’s sweets to terrorizing brain tentacles doesn’t make sense in any other context, but as far as the Potterverse’s batch of magic is concerned, the two new places are welcome additions to the canon, with the Ministry in particular providing a vital institutional look at the world.
5. Goblet, movie
With apologies to Norbert(a), the Goblet movie gives viewers their first real dragon imagery, and it doesn’t disappoint. Harry’s first Triwizard task deviates from its book description, but it works, and following the book’s magical lead (more on that momentarily) does, too.
4. Beasts, movie
What’s better than one dragon? A whole cast of wonderfully inventive creatures. The scene in which Kowalski first tours Newt’s briefcase single-handedly places Beasts high on this list, and the exposure to a new wizarding community helps, too.
3. Stone, book
It’s impossible to read the "Diagon Alley" chapter, or Harry’s first step inside the Hogwarts Great Hall, or his first time afield the Quidditch pitch, and not be swept away by imagination.
2. Goblet, book
First introduced in Goblet are: professional Quidditch, magical competition, international wizardry, fully grown dragons, daring new spells, an entire set of underwater creatures, magical flashbacks, and in-depth wandlore. The book exudes magic from its scar-dream start to its hex-on-the-train finish.
1. Stone, movie
Stepping into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — the theme park, not the abstract concept we’ve been discussing thus far — replicates Harry’s entrance to Diagon Alley down to the music notes swirling overhead. It’s the most purely magical and freely joyous moment in all of fiction. Look at Daniel Radcliffe’s expression of wonderment in that scene. That’s not bad acting; that’s probably the same face I made upon seeing Diagon Alley at the theme park, before breaking into a giddy grin.
The Diagon Alley entrance might be perfect, but not all of Potter canon can make the same boast, as many fall short of an Outstanding OWL mark for their nonsensical character moments or magical missteps. Here, the ranking order is reversed, as the works that rate worst by this metric appear first and receive the lowest score, while their error-free counterparts come later and earn higher marks.
This isn’t the time to delve into everything wrong with Cursed Child (it is now CANON that Voldemort impregnated Bellatrix; I’m mad just thinking about it). As my editor, Mallory Rubin, wrote upon the script’s release, "The world is sort of familiar, and the characters loosely resemble the ones we’ve long cherished. But the story’s nose is too long; its eyes are the wrong color; and its scar isn’t where it should be."
19. Prince, movie
Where to begin? This angsty teen romance somehow messes up much of that romance — Harry and Ginny’s first kiss comes at the wrong place and time, and the two characters’ actors have no chemistry. Young Tom Riddle looks creepy rather than charming (as he’s supposed to appear in order to seduce others to his aid), while the Pensieve scenes cut out some of the best memories from the book. And the film forgets its title for much of its runtime, barely mentioning the titular prince at all.
18. Chamber, movie
The acting isn’t great, the spiders look the bad sort of terrifying, and it’s somehow the longest film despite adapting the second-shortest book. Lucius Malfoy attempting to kill Harry in the middle of a Hogwarts hallway is one of the more baffling book-to-film changes in the series. And on a rewatch, it’s hard not to notice that the CGI wasn’t yet up to the standard we’d find in later installments.
17. Beasts, movie
This film’s intersecting plots were sloppily grafted onto each other rather than seamlessly woven together, and unsurprisingly, they didn’t all make sense (I’m looking at you, newspaperman Jon Voight). Surprise Johnny Depp was a controversial inclusion, and the exploration of America’s wizarding customs wasn’t as thorough as Rowling’s Pottermore previews promised.
16. Order, movie
Most of the Order film’s issues arise from the absence of something good — detail, depth, explanation — rather than the presence of something bad. The Department of Mysteries appears to consist of a college library’s subbasement level rather than rooms of mystery and intrigue, the Cho-Harry relationship takes up a lot of screentime but isn’t explored beyond a surface level, and viewers at large lack a sufficient understanding of why, say, Snape’s worst memory means so much in the context of the series.
15. Hallows: Part 1
Part 1 was an extended preview for the final film, and it labors for large stretches. The pacing is off and the interpersonal conflicts don’t quite click. The Harry-Hermione dance scene might be the most controversial in the entire cinematic series.
14. Beasts, book
The three complementary books are all anodyne affairs, but they aren’t attempting to do much, either, so they can’t earn too much credit for the absence of negatives.
11. Azkaban, book
Azkaban had few flaws, but even Rowling admitted that introducing time travel "opened up a vast number of problems." That’s a big one, and it knocks an otherwise solid story down the list.
10. Stone, movie
Similar to the Azkaban book, the first movie suffers from the presence of one large flaw: in this case, the acting from inexperienced preteens. I don’t blame them! I refuse to watch the VHS tapes of my middle-school drama productions. But Stone is a harsh contrast with the later movies in this regard.
9. Hallows: Part 2
This movie features several goofy and uncharacteristic moments: Voldemort hugging Draco, Voldemort using his robes like a locker-room towel to whip Harry, Voldemort turning to confetti. Some adaptive changes stand out, too: Fred dying offscreen, McGonagall sending all Slytherin students to the dungeons, Harry destroying the Elder Wand before fixing his phoenix-feather stick first.
8. Goblet, movie
The absence of magical creatures to defeat in the maze was disappointing, as was the decision not to show any of the actual gameplay at the Quidditch World Cup final. Also, I must ask, HARRY, DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE?
7. Chamber, book
6. Stone, book
These books don’t contain any flaws worth discussing, but they also don’t contain as much depth as later sequels. Thus, they drop a few spots on this list because they don’t have to contend with as high a level of difficulty.
5. Hallows, book
4. Prince, book
3. Order, book
Parsing the books’ negatives requires picking at the smallest of nits; they’re all practically perfect. These three drop because they can lag at points in their bulging middles; Hallows paces a tad slow, nothing much happens during the school year in Prince, and the Firenze-as-teacher arc in Order isn’t an urgent reread.
2. Azkaban, movie
I blame the time travel issue on the movie’s source material. The lone demerit here comes from the occasional still-iffy CGI, like Lupin’s skinny werewolf figure.
1. Goblet, book
Once again, I can’t think of any flaws worth discussing. That Goblet manages that feat while folding tremendous ambition into its storytelling and also never faltering with its pacing is sufficient reason for it to win the category.
The Ringer’s Potterheads rated each work on a scale from 1–7. The office loves Goblet of Fire, apparently.
20. Child (2.8 average rating)
19. Chamber, movie (3.6)
T17. Beasts, book (4.0)
T17. Beedle (4.0)
16. Quidditch (4.3)
15. Beasts, movie (4.6)
14. Stone, movie (4.6)
13. Prince, movie (4.8)
12. Hallows: Part 1 (4.9)
11. Order, movie (5.0)
10. Chamber, book (5.1)
9. Stone, book (5.2)
8. Hallows: Part 2 (5.4)
T6. Order, book (5.5)
T6. Prince, book (5.5)
5. Hallows, book (5.6)
4. Azkaban, movie (5.7)
3. Goblet, movie (5.8)
2. Azkaban, book (5.9)
1. Goblet, book (6.7)
Magical moments aren’t the only elements that can change a text’s estimation; a great big climax — often including its own manifestations of magic — can do even more for a reader’s remembrance of a given story. The series has plenty of thrilling final-act moments to parse, but some rate better than others by excitement, ingenuity, and creative construction.
T18. Beasts, book
This rubric isn’t fair to the three complementary books, but a lack of real action is a reasonable demerit. Sorry, Babbitty Rabbitty.
17. Hallows: Part 1
This film doesn’t so much rise to a single peak as it reaches the same height several times — the escape from the Ministry, the escape from Xenophilius’s house, the escape from Malfoy Manor.
This script has a climax, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good or entertaining one.
15. Hallows: Part 2
The final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort stretches forever and somehow contains elements of hand-to-hand combat before culminating with the same Christmas-colored wand crossing we’d seen before. It also gives no in-the-moment explanation for how Harry is able to overcome the Dark Lord (unlike the book), and falls flat emotionally following the highs of seeing Snape’s memories, Harry’s forest walk, and Harry’s conversation with Dumbledore in King’s Cross.
14. Beasts, movie
A run-of-the-mill duel, a powerful dark wizard who underestimates a magical inferior, lots of lights and flashes and bangs — we’ve seen it before. But unlike in the main Potter story line, we don’t care as much for the characters involved.
13. Chamber, movie
12. Chamber, book
11. Stone, movie
10. Stone, book
These climaxes are kind of indistinguishable, in part due to the two movies’ fidelity to their source material. There’s nothing wrong with them, but the plots aren’t as ambitious, the magic as intense, or the emotion as strong as they manifest in the series’ later crescendos.
9. Azkaban, movie
8. Azkaban, book
Azkaban’s finale stands out as it revolves around a magical phenomenon that’s never seen again in the series, and it provides edge-of-your-seat tension for the duration of the time travel sequence — no small feat given that we see entire scenes occur twice over.
7. Goblet, movie
6. Prince, movie
5. Order, movie
Each of these films’ finishes features at least one astonishing image that belongs on a poster, though the totality of each climax isn’t powerful enough to move past its written counterpart. Goblet has the series’ first real duel and Harry-Voldemort wand crossing, Prince has Dumbledore’s inferi-repelling firestorm and fall from the Astronomy Tower, and Order has the series’ best duel.
4. Prince, book
"Severus … please …" The interplay among Dumbledore, Draco, Harry, and Snape on the Astronomy Tower crackles with electricity, supported by not one but six books’ worth of development and emotion. My pulse is rising just thinking about it.
3. Hallows, book
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the Hallows climax begins, though all moments — starting with Harry’s walk into the forest — warrant a spot high atop this list. I admit feeling a tinge of disappointment when first encountering Hallows’ dialogue-heavy conclusion, as Harry lectures Voldemort about wandlore and love before the two spray each other with a single spell apiece. But on subsequent readings, I’ve grown to appreciate that final confrontation as a perfect encapsulation of the series’ morals. Love is important, as is trust in others and the power of friendship. And the Hallows finale brings all those themes to the fore.
2. Goblet, book
Voldemort’s back! Cedric’s murder is the series’ first hard-hitting death! Harry interacts with his parents! Moody’s twist is revealed! The Goblet finale has it all and raises the stakes for the rest of the series; as my editor reminds me in an all-caps message, "Childhood ends for Harry and for us, Zach! I’ll never forget it!"
1. Order, book
This climax isn’t just about the Voldemort-Dumbledore duel (though again, that one was the series’ most sensational), it’s also about the multiple chapters of captivating duels preceding that battle in the Ministry’s atrium: Every soldier of Dumbledore’s Army who traveled with Harry to the Department of Mysteries receives a moment to shine and transform the D.A. lessons into quality magic against a Death Eater. Democratically dispersed heroism makes the fifth book’s climax both enchanting on its own merit and a fitting ending to the book at large, and the subsequent revelation of the prophecy cements the stakes established in Goblet and adds a new vein of speculation about the relationship between Harry and Neville, one of the series’ best side characters.
After the climax comes the falling action, full of subtlety and resolution, and we’ll follow that same pattern here. The Potter series is so vast and its details so enjoyable that not all its positives can be accounted for in the specific categories above. It’s necessary, then, to examine each work by virtue of all the bits of juicy goodness it presents, including compelling acting performances, clever subplots, and memorable one-liners.
Harry’s and Draco’s sons become friends, and Hermione’s ascension to minister is a satisfying character detail. But beyond seeing a new side of the Trolley witch, we don’t gain much of anything in Cursed Child.
19. Chamber, movie
Kenneth Branagh is Professor Lockhart, and Shirley Henderson as Moaning Myrtle is just the right amount of giggly. The other details in this film are more forgettable than enchanting, though.
18. Beasts, book
Beasts’ charm arises from its magical essence, which reflects better in a previous category than this one. The best case for bonus points is the voicey doodles and notes passed between characters in the margins.
17. Goblet, movie
Durmstrang’s heavy-metal entrance to the Great Hall makes me want to shout "Krum! Krum!" and certain displays of magic, like the Quidditch World Cup fanfare, capture the imagination. Seeing our heroes in dress attire both flattering (Hermione) and hilarious (Ron) is a movie-specific positive, though there’s not much added value elsewhere in the film.
16. Chamber, book
There’s lots to like here, from the blend of emotions — fear, surprise, intrigue — invoked by Harry’s exploration of Tom Riddle’s diary to the Horcrux foreshadowing that holds up on a reread. This book is a bit less innovative than others above it, though, so it can’t push any higher up the list.
Rowling’s keen sense of irony permeates Quidditch’s pages, and she adds further bonus points by first dabbling in developing the intercontinental wizarding world.
14. Hallows: Part 1
Fred and George dominate the early part of the movie with jokes in the seven Potters scene and the latter’s sly "morning" comment. The real standout is the animation during the Deathly Hallows tale.
13. Stone, movie
"Hedwig’s Theme" enters our lives (as do magic, Quidditch, Hogwarts, etc.; we’ll get to those). For the movie specifically, Vernon’s and Petunia’s physicality translates especially well to the screen, the feasts look scrumptious, and Voldemort’s unicorn buffet provides a proper scare.
12. Order, movie
The Weasley twins’ fireworks display is better here than in the book, and the soundtrack shines under new composer Nicholas Hooper. Special consideration goes to Imelda Staunton, who embodies Umbridge’s peculiar brand of saccharine authoritarianism in one of the most spot-on acting jobs in the whole series.
Dumbledore’s literary commentaries offer a new look at the man as a scholar. Each tale also benefits from a distinct tone and moral: "The Warlock’s Hairy Heart" is delightfully dark, while "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" teaches that extraordinary power lies in teamwork rather than magical devices — a lesson also found in the core Potter series.
10. Goblet, book
Goblet doesn’t rank higher here because so much of its essence was already captured in other categories. It’s not devoid of bonuses, though: Rita Skeeter’s fake news is the funny kind, and Neville deserved to find a talent after several years of flailing about. The intra-novel foreshadowing is a strength, too, with the various Barty Crouch appearances and the portkey’s debut early on.
9. Prince, movie
The Weasleys’ shop is as fun as imagined, while Katie Bell’s cursed-necklace encounter is conversely — but suitably — terrifying. It’s clear the child actors have blossomed by this point, too: For instance, Tom Felton excels as tormented Draco, and Daniel Radcliffe’s one-liners and drunken, Felix Felicis–enabled acting add much-needed humor.
8. Hallows: Part 2
This movie rates highly here in part because it features the series’ best soundtrack, which I listened to on loop while writing this piece. Elsewhere, McGonagall’s "I’ve always wanted to use that spell" line brings a cheer, and the stark brightness of King’s Cross against a dark and grimy progression serves as a strong visual cue.
7. Beasts, movie
The Muggle Kowalski is tremendous, Alison Sudol as a Legilimens is a delight, and Eddie Redmayne as Newt portrays a sensitive, nontraditional male hero. I’ll also double-dip a touch with the "Magical" category to award extra points for the Bowtruckle and Niffler, who are just so cute.
6. Azkaban, book
Lupin and Sirius inject the series with its first real dose of history, a welcome expansion after two books of present-set world building. The course offerings widen, too, allowing readers to witness Hagrid’s bumbles as a teacher and Hermione’s struggles in a class for the first time, the latter a relevant C-plot for all the nerdy readers.
5. Prince, book
Prince served as a transitional tale, moving the main story line into both the past and future. With the former, more history emerges as the Pensieve memories offer insight into Voldemort’s development in a more intimate manner than is typical for storybook villains. For the latter, Snape killing Dumbledore was a legitimate shock and set up years of fan theories and speculation. In the moment, meanwhile, "The Other Minister" grants an amusing glimpse into Muggle-magical relations, and Harry and Ginny exhibit a real bond that shows why they make a strong and supportive couple.
4. Stone, book
We first learn about and experience almost all forms of magic that will end up appearing in the series, and all the little details involved in the world’s creation, from Ollivander’s character to the Sorting Hat rhymes, cohere. Quirrell’s surprise villainy is a pleasant twist and delivers the first of many opinion shifts regarding Snape.
3. Azkaban, movie
The scenes between Lupin and Harry are some of the series’ most emotional, and the Knight Bus scene and Harry’s flight atop Buckbeak provide action thrills. Emma Thompson as Trelawney and Felton as Draco offer standout acting, and the Marauder’s Map and Time Turner animations are imaginative and hold up years later.
2. Order, book
Order is the longest book by more than 100 pages, allowing plenty of space for small details to shine. For instance, the other professors (led by McGonagall) make a show of mocking Umbridge, and the Slytherins’ "Weasley is our king" serenade is funny in the moment and provides a delicious dose of irony later. Character development is a plus as well, with Ginny emerging as a dynamic presence and Harry experiencing an evening as a bloodthirsty snake, and the book dives into darkness from the outset, with dementors appearing in the first chapter and Harry receiving his expulsion letter in the second. The entire extended Department of Mysteries sequence, from rotating doors to violent brains to the post-hoc Time Turner destruction, is magnificently choreographed.
1. Hallows, book
Order is a strong contender, but Hallows is the clear winner in this category. Hedwig’s early death was more shocking than Dumbledore’s, and an effective tone-setter, too. Rowling flexes her development muscles by molding Xenophilius as a layered, empathetic character in just a few pages; she then paints our favorites with shades of gray with Harry’s use of the Cruciatus curse and all the Dumbledore reveals. It’s a big book for house elves, between Kreacher’s redemption, Dobby’s heroics, and the kitchen workers running around cleaving Death Eaters’ ankles in the final battle. It’s also a big book for humor mixed into the darkness, with Peeves’s victorious "Voldy’s gone moldy" cheer and Aberforth and his goat. Finally, the run of chapters from "The Prince’s Tale" to "The Forest Again" to "King’s Cross" is unrivaled.
20. Cursed Child (13 total points)
19. Quidditch Through the Ages (29)
18. Fantastic Beasts, book (32.5)
17. Chamber of Secrets, movie (34)
16. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (44)
15. Beedle the Bard (45.5)
14. Half-Blood Prince, movie (58)
13. Fantastic Beasts, movie (61)
12. Order of the Phoenix, movie (62)
11. Chamber of Secrets, book (68)
10. Goblet of Fire, movie (81)
9. Sorcerer’s Stone, movie (83)
8. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (91)
7. Prisoner of Azkaban, book (93.5)
6. Half-Blood Prince, book (104.5)
T4. Prisoner of Azkaban, movie (107)
T4. Sorcerer’s Stone, book (107)
3. Order of the Phoenix, book (114.5)
2. Deathly Hallows, book (118)
1. Goblet of Fire, book (123.5)
The Azkaban movie rates well above any other film. The Stone text benefits from introducing the characters and world we love. I open (my heart) at the close to divulge that Order is my personal favorite. And while fictional series across mediums — TV, books, film — often struggle to conclude with both a satisfying and sensible ending, Deathly Hallows serves as the counterexample of the rare finale done right.
Yet Goblet the book is a worthy winner thanks to its all-around dominance: It won two categories, placed second in two more, and finished behind only the Sorcerer’s Stone movie and book in a fifth. More than three-quarters of my colleagues who voted in the staff poll gave the fourth novel a perfect 7/7 score. It’s funny, intricately plotted, and full of competition and games; it fosters new relationship dynamics while exploring its extant ones — Harry and Ron, Ron and Hermione — with more depth and empathy than before. It balances expanding the world’s magic quotient with turning the series deadly and dark, and it serves as the all-inclusive center of a series that never flagged. I want to reread it now. I want to reread the whole series now. And if you’ve read this far, you probably do too. Happy 20th birthday, Potter series. Mischief managed.