Revisiting this film was easy. Revisiting it with the expressed purpose of criticism was difficult. After all, this film holds a truly special place in my heart, one that no other Potter film can really take. As a matter of fact, all of the Potter films hold a very, very special place in my heart, and it was hard to watch all of them as a critic might. Nonetheless, I did, in the hopes that they would hold up as well as I had remembered them.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone didn’t.

I hear again and again from fellow fans about how this was one of the best films in the franchise, mostly because of how “magical” it all was. Looking back, I’m not sure what they are talking about. Everything about this film feels totally fake, from the often-terrible acting to the often-atrocious writing, nothing about the film is genuine. However, this is mostly due to one person: Chris Columbus.

Simply put, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. His track record had already proved that he was an incompetent director, and this only confirmed it. Aside from dragging performances out of the kids, he doesn’t do anything interesting or artistic whatsoever. Later directors, like Cuaron and Yates, would let art director Stuart Craig go wild, really allowing him to create a universe. Here, Columbus keeps him on a tight leash, and the film looks drab and bland as a result.

Of course, there are some saving graces. The trio of child actors playing our heroes clearly improved over the long shoot, and you can tell simply by their performances which scenes were filmed earlier and which later. And of course, all of the adult actors are phenomenal, except for one. Richard Harris has gained a lot of love in the HP fandom for his portrayal of Dumbledore, but I actually think that Michael Gambon does a much better job with the role. Harris looks like he’s sleepwalking through the performance, not even trying to emote. Gambon, on the other hand, is really, truly trying to make Dumbledore feel like a human being, and not just a walking exposition-machine. But we’ll get to Gambon when he actually shows up.

The story is, of course, great. However, I credit that mostly to Rowling herself, and not screenwriter Steve Kloves. Kloves would go on to do some very interesting things with the source material in later films, but here he stuck very closely to it, as if afraid of making a mistake.

That’s really the major problem with this film. The cast and crew didn’t yet know how to make a successful Potter film, so they played it safe and refused to make any bold choices. Now, Sorcerer’s Stone is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s probably the worst Potter film. However, there’s one good thing about all of this. That means that it can only get better from here.


Published by

Josh Rosenfield

Josh Rosenfield is a Film Media major at the University of Rhode Island. He has been writing Popcorn Culture since 2010.


  1. I disagree with nearly every single argument you are trying to make against Sorcerer’s Stone. Primarily you preference of Michael Gambon over Richard Harris is unsettling. Gambon overacts and overdramatizes Dumbledore as crazy and someone with a lack of self-control while Harris portrayed a much wiser and controlled Dumbledore who placed all his emotion in his dialogue rather than physical actions.

    Also, so what if the younger actors aren’t acting protégés at his point in their career? They portrayed innocence and excitement you will find in any child in a way that no experienced actor could ever capture. While you see the faithfulness to the book as a weakness, I see this as its greatest strength. Christopher Columbus had a lot of respect for the source material let the story stand for itself as he should have. If he had allowed too many alterations to the source material it would have been really irritating and distracting taking away from the great world J.K. Rowling created. (I consider the first book the best of all the books) As the very first adaptation of the books, the movie didn’t have the liberty to make any as you so called “bold choices,” and did the right thing that pleased the greatest number of fans of the book.

    But what really tops off this movie and gives it the magical feel as well as the second and third movie is John Williams absolutely perfect score which captures the essence of Harry Potter. Finally the more light-hearted tone is personally much more enjoyable to watch and makes you feel good inside while the later films take themselves too seriously and have a generally more depressing tone.

    I believe that the more light-hearted tone and focus on the theme of friendship is what makes Sorcerer’s Stone accompanied by John William’s magical score is what makes Sorcerer’s Stone a truly great movie that set the stage (and standard) for the rest of the films to be great.
    However, how much someone enjoys a movie is of course completely subjective and no two people will ever agree on everything. I just found it interesting how strongly I disagreed on every single point you made. While you thought the first movie was the worst in the franchise, I thought it was the best. I guess we’ll agree to disagree.

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