“Harry Potter” films celebrate 20-year anniversary


The Catalyst / Photo courtesy of Peyton Daley

Senior Peyton Daley (left) and her sister, Parker Daley, ‘20, are big “Harry Potter” fans and visited the Hogwarts attraction at Universal Studios in 2010.

Say the name “Harry Potter”, and everyone knows who you are talking about. The book series stands out as one of the most influential literary works of all time, with over 500 million copies sold worldwide and having been translated into over 60 languages. It was only fitting that the stories which captured the hearts of so many readers came to life with eight spectacular movies. Two decades after the premiere of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, HBO Max hosted a two-hour long reunion special called “Harry Potter 20-Year Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” with the cast and producers of the Potter films, which was released on New Year’s Day.

The magic of the movies enticed audiences around the globe; the thrill of the impossible was made accessible through television screens, so close it felt like one could reach through and join the characters as they waved their wands, mixed potions and flew through the sky on broomsticks. Although CGI technology has advanced significantly since the first Potter films, there are still few other movies that are able to portray fantasy elements so successfully. The reunion featured behind-the-scenes footage that gave viewers a glimpse into how the magic was made as well as new interviews with cast members that provide more context on special effects from their perspective.

The actors came back to the original sets for “Return to Hogwarts” to reconnect with one another, allowing fans to relive their favorite memories of the Potter world and also getting to see them as people outside of the context of their characters.

While Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are now household names, they were just barely 12 years old when the first movie came out, and were relatively new to Hollywood. The special included many flashbacks to footage from the films of the actors growing up with their characters on camera, as well as providing the stars with an opportunity to reflect on the impact of experiencing fame at a young age and working on the movies for a majority of their childhood.

Luckily, the young cast noted that they thrived in the positive environment on set, where producers and the adult cast cared for them, supported their growth as actors and allowed them to be children and enjoy themselves. Part of the reason that the acting felt so natural and relatable was that the actors actually were having fun on set and really did form close friendships. In a group interview during the reunion, Radcliffe, Watson and Grint teared up as they explained how they still have a strong bond and are like family ten years after the last movie was released.

Many members of the older cast also came back for the reunion, including Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) and Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort). Although they did not grow up in Potter films like the younger cast members, the movies still had a large impact on all of their lives and careers. They shared the stories of how they got involved in the franchise and their experience working with child actors.

Between the eight movies, there were four different directors. Christopher Columbus led the first two movies, and his previous work on children’s movies like “Home Alone” allowed him to help the new actors develop their skills. His style is lighthearted and focuses on Harry’s excitement and wonder as he enters the fantastical world of magic, with his adaptations staying the closest to the books. Columbus set the stage for the remainder of the movies by establishing the franchise’s success early on.

Alfonso Cuarón took over for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, which marks a turning point in the series as he gave the movie a darker mood and focused on more mature themes. In the reunion special, he discussed in depth his creative process and why he chose to change the direction.

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” saw yet another change in directing. In the anniversary special, Director Mike Newell explained how he sought to tell a coming of age story with the fourth movie. At this point, the characters were fourteen years old, and Newell decided to focus the film on their first romances and teenage struggles.

The remaining four Potter movies were all directed by David Yates. He shared his vision for closing out the series through his interviews. In particular, he offered more insight into his idea for the final battle scene between Harry and Voldemort, which varies greatly from the books.

One face that was noticeably absent from the reunion was author of the Harry Potter series J.K. Rowling. She was only featured through interview clips that had been recorded in 2019. Rowling has recently faced criticism from fans and Harry Potter cast members alike for Twitter comments targeting the transgender community. There was speculation that this may be the reason she was not present at the reunion, but Rowling’s team and the studio have confirmed that she was invited and chose not to attend, feeling that the archived footage would suffice.

The Potter movies did not only change the lives of the cast, directors and producers. The legacy of The Boy Who Lived lives on as a timeless source of happiness and reminder of hope for viewers across the world. HBO’s “Return to Hogwarts” gave everyone a chance to appreciate the impact of this story and see their favorite actors together again one last time.