The Harry Potter Movie Series That Could Have Been

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone almost turned out much differently...

Harry Potter and the Sorcerors stone poster

The first movie in the planned Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Themfilm series hits theaters this week and it’s got us all nostalgic about the beginning of that other magical on-screen franchise from J.K. Rowling. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Harry Potter.

The big screen adaptations of Rowling’s best-selling children’s book series is old news now, hardened in the cement of time, but 15 years ago this month, millions of Harry Potter fans went to theaters to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stonewith bated breath, unsure of what they would find. And it could have been a very different movie than what we got…

Here are some elements that were considered in the development of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stoneand the Harry Potter film franchise in general that could have changed everything we have come to know about this on-screen magical world… including the latest Fantasticaddition. 

It could have had a different director.

Though few would cite Chris Columbus as their favorite Harry Potter director, there’s no disputing that the man behind the camera for Sorcerer’s Stoneand Chamber of Secretsplayed a vital role in crafting the on-screen look for the entire series. As the director of the first film in the franchise, he had immense power in who was cast and what the world looked like. And Columbus wasn’t the first guy offered the job. 

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Steven Spielberg was originally a frontrunner for the job of directing the Harry Potter movies. Though Spielberg seemed interested (though with a few caveats, outlined below), he ended up not to take it. Instead, he went on to direct Artificial Intelligenceand Minority Report.Guys, we could have had Harry Potter and the Minority Report

Eventually, of course, the job was given to Columbus, though not without some initial trepidation from J.K. Rowling. Warner Bros. president Alan Horn told the L.A. Times: “She did not know Chris Columbus’ work and she had some trepidations. She thought perhaps it should be a British director.” Columbus and Rowlin met, however, and hit it off. The rest is Hogwarts, A History.

It could have been animated.

You know how I was waxing poetic just then about the importance of a director in the franchise-building process? Well, if Spielberg had taken on the project, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stonemight have been animated rather than live-action. According to that same Collider article, Warner Bros. was hoping to secure DreamWorks as a financial partner in the project. It was DreamWorks who suggested Spielberg for the gig, and it seems like making the film into an animated version was at least considered during the discussion/negotiation process.

I like animated films as much as the next movie-goer, but it’s hard to imagine the Harry Potter franchise packing quite as much of an Expecto Patronum, especially in the later installments, if it were animated. Part of the magic of the books and movies comes from the implicit understanding that the world of wizards exists just around the corner from the world we know. That’s not impossible to get across in animated form, but it’s a lot easier when it comes to live-action. We already knew magic was possible in animated movies. The live-action Harry Potter films let us imagine magic was real in our world, too. 

(Art featured above from Deviant Art user TwiggyMcBones)

It could have been condensed into fewer installments.

As controversial as the decision to split the adaptation of the final Harry Potter book into two movies is, it’s hard to imagine condensing any of the Harry Potter books (especially the last four tomes in the series) into fewer than seven films. But, with Spielberg as a potential director and DreamWorks as a potential partner, that’s what was tentatively on the table.

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When The Sorcerer’s Stonewas released, four of the seven Harry Potter books had been published. This means that, of the Harry Potter books already out in the world when the movie was in development, only one had a plot that would have been especially difficult to conflate with another. (Though good luck getting the plot intricacies of Prisoner of Azkabaninto a movie that also has Harry’s introduction to Hogwarts and the Chamber of Secrets shenanigans.) 

However, as we time travelers from the future now now, there is so much plot (like seven Horcruxes’ worth) packed into the seven Harry Potter books. It would have been a shame to have to condense it even further than the eight movies we ended up with, which, sometimes, don’t seem like enough. (Yeah, I’m still holding out for the Harry Potter TV show.) 

It could have had a very different cast.

Time to talk cast because, even though it sometimes seems like every actor in England was in this film franchise, there are actual other actors who could have (and, in some cases, almost did) secure lead roles in Harry Potter. These almosts include Ian McKellen (who was offered the role of Dumbledore), Tim Roth (who was offered the role of Snape, but starred in Planet of the Apesinstead), and David Thewlis (who actually did star as Lupin, but was almost cast as Quirrell).

The biggest almost-change? American actor Liam Aiken — who would go on to play Klaus in A Series of Unfortunate Eventswas reportedly given the role of Harry Potter before the offer was revoked on account of him not being British, a detail that Rowling insisted upon for whomever would be playing her protagonist. And, now, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Daniel Radcliffe inhabiting this role. (Well, and Jamie Parker.)

Some food for thought while we launch into the next era of the on-screen Harry Potter universe.