Why the Harry Potter franchise deserves more respect

Every movie series has its weak link. Indiana Jones has his Crystal Skull, and Star Wars has its Phantom Menace. The Harry Potter franchise, meanwhile, has been of consistently high quality, Luke argues...

The 19th of November will see the feted release of the penultimate instalment of a franchise now so engrained in popular consciousness that its looming absence will leave an empty pair of boots it will probably take another worldwide phenomenon to fill.

Since the release of The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone almost nine years ago, the Harry Potter films have grossed close to five and a half billion dollars at worldwide box offices, making the adventures of the titular bespectacled one and his little chums the single most lucrative franchise in cinema history, dwarfing even Star Wars and James Bond in terms of pure ticket sales.

When you take the longevity of these other franchises into account, this is, frankly, staggering, as Star Wars has been an iconic brand for 33 years and James Bond has lent his name to more than three times as many films as Daniel Radcliffe’s pubescent wizard.

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Only movie producers would be so reductionist as to assess a film’s success in terms of fiscal gain, however. The rest of us (i.e., consumers, i.e., those that matter) would be far more likely to judge a franchise on its other merits.

After all, it could be said that The Phantom Menace, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen and the most recent Indiana Jones were all wildly successful, but only a businessman whose only sense of taste was in his mouth would describe these films as anything other than frightful tripe of the highest order. So, in most people’s eyes, these films were abject and abominable failures.

The Potter films already have the money angle covered, but what can be said of their quality? Assuming the final two films maintain the standards set by their predecessors, will Harry Potter be remembered as one of the single greatest franchises in cinema history? Before you scoff at the possibility, consider its rivals, as you may be hard pressed to find one of such relentless consistency.

‘Quality’ is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and is therefore a difficult thing to quantify and compare, so in dire need of some empirical structure, we can, of course, turn to the wild statistical inaccuracies of the Internet.

According to Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, the weakest instalments in the Potter series were the first two films, and there probably won’t be too many fans of the series who would disagree with this. Rarely, for a franchise, the films have improved with each entry, and even the supposed wobbly initial instalments were rated at an average, between the two sites, of 71% and 72.5%, respectively.

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Comparing this to the 57% and 59% averages awarded to the first two Star Wars prequels at least shows some indication of the gulf in quality between the series’ supposed weakest links.

Comparing anything to the Star Wars prequels is unfair, granted, so let’s look elsewhere.

The Top 10 most popular franchises, complete with the average ratings of their least renowned chapters, are: Potter (71%), Bond (Die Another Day, 57.5%), Star Wars (57%), Lord Of The Rings (92%), Pirates Of The Caribbean (47.5%), Shrek (49.5%), Batman (19.5%), Spider-Man (61%), Jurassic Park (45.5%), Indiana Jones (71%). It could be argued only Potter and Lord Of The Rings can claim to be completely dud-free zones, despite Crystal Skull‘s inexplicably respectable score.

These figures are the very definition of arbitrary and are merely illustrative, but they do demonstrate a point: Harry Potter has never had his name attached to a duff film, and thinking of another franchise of such consistency over a comparable number of entries is really rather difficult.

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Star Trek has had its ups and downs, The Godfather ended with a squelch, as did X-Men, Alien got so bad Ridley had to rescue it, Superman guffed, The Terminator was killed by a director with a ridiculous name, McClane became ludicrously invincible, the list goes on.

In fact, besides Bourne, Lord Of The Rings, Toy Story, Back To The Future and Potter, any blockbuster franchise pursued long enough eventually and inevitably hits a low point somewhere along the line.

Harry Potter has managed six films thus far without any hint of a loose wheel, and this is many more than any other franchise mentioned. Perhaps this is due to the requirements of the source material, implying JK Rowling’s books are partly the reason? This could certainly explain Bourne and Lord Of The Rings‘ comparable quality, in that they are all adapted works, but not Toy Story or Back To The Future.

Potter could partly owe it to the cast, a who’s who of everyone British and brilliant, or to its brave choices in director, none of whom have been afraid to imbue their films with their own personal takes on the universe without stealing the essence from it.

Whoever signed Alfonso Cuaron deserves some kind of congressional accolade for foresight and intestinal fortitude, and Mike Newell and David Yates were unexpected, understated, and brilliant choices to helm these juggernauts, both coming from backgrounds of drama and character over green screen and MTV.

Perhaps Potter was the franchise where the financiers weren’t afraid of the braver choices, or where no single helmer stayed around long enough to become a delusional despot but, whatever the reason for the constant high quality, its presence is impossible to ignore.

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It seems the thing preventing Potter being held in equally high regard as some of those mentioned above is a defining moment, a high-water mark, if you will, the presence of which makes up for the occasional stinker. Potter never had an Empire Strikes Back, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Aliens or Dark Knight, but it has also never suffered any Clones, Crystal Skulls, Resurrections or Forevers.

Whether you agree Potter is the best franchise of all time or not is, of course, entirely subjective, and this article was not to attempt to convince you that it is. The point being made here is that, whenever discussion turns to ‘the greatest franchise of all time’, all those mentioned above are thrown in, despite their undeniable shortcomings.

Surely it must be acknowledged that Potter is now up there with the best of them in terms of repute, not just box office takings, and that the final two films signal the end of something quite remarkable. These are films based on books, sure, but taken as nothing but a series of movies, there may not be another that can match its enduring excellence for some time.

It is now taken for granted that each film will be, if not better than the last, then pretty damn close, and how many brands can lay claim to this in the run up to their seventh entry?

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