Harry Potter vs. Harry Potter: Are the books better than the movies?

By Talia Klein Perez
*Updated 2018
Though it’s been years since the last Harry Potter book and movie were released, J.K. Rowling still captivates wizardry fans with her Fantastic Beasts franchise. The latest release, Fantastic Beasts 2, has fans longing for the days of the gifted wizard, when the only thing that made as big a splash as a new Harry Potter book was a new Harry Potter movie. While the books have broken numerous records, the final movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two previously held the highest American box office opening ever, a record it held for four years. But which ones are better, the books or the movies?
We examine three arguments in favor of the Harry Potter books, and three in favor of the movies.


The books are better than the movies


Imagination is more powerful than a movie

When you read the Harry Potter books, you can picture the characters looking and behaving in the exact way that makes the most sense to you. However, in the movies, the directors and actors force their interpretations onto you. For instance, the movies’ assumption that Hermione was white was not implicit in the book. This became clear when black actress Noma Dumezweni was cast for the West End production of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Not to mention that in the movies, Dumbledore was played by two actors, Richard Harris and Michael Gambon, which can disturb the image one may have had of the Dumbledore they imagined from the books.


Stuff is left out of the movies

It’s inevitable that, for time’s sake, the movies can’t include the full range of parallels and references that make the books so fabulous. But the parts that are cut out aren’t irrelevant. For example, the movies leave out the sassy strength of Ginny Weasley’s character and what was in Dumbledore’s last letter to Petunia Dursley. Most drastically, the entire plotline with Dobby and the other house-elves is dropped from all the movies. Also, in the movies, we don’t get to hear what Harry – or anyone else – is thinking. Perhaps viewers are meant to deduce his thoughts from the music, framing and expression on the actor’s face. However, that intimacy is a lot more accessible when thoughts are written out on the page.


Movies grow old but books never do

No matter how many years pass, when you read the books, the characters, scenes and action that you see in your imagination will be relevant to your time period. In contrast, the movies get dated, and their special effects eventually look old-fashioned. It happened with Star Wars, after all. Plus, the images of the characters you create in your head remain unchanged, keeping the stories timeless. The actors in all of the Harry Potter movies, however, inevitably age and move on to other roles. Seeing a grown-up Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in other movies or entertainment news takes away part of the charm of their original roles when we go back to view them again.


The movies are better than the books


The characters come to life

When you read the books, it takes time to learn each character’s traits and features until they appear in your mind. When you watch the movies, however, you get the full force of each character’s persona the first time they appear on screen. Plus, while not all characters are fully developed in the book, the actors’ personalities shine through in each movie, no matter how minor their parts. Not to mention the inspired casting for the movies. Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart in book two, for example, makes more of the phony teacher than Rowling could. Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort gave more menace to the part than the print villain. And Julie Walters made Molly Weasley into everyone’s dream mother.


Background music and special effects provide new depth

The movies’ music and special effects are among their added value. The soundtrack to each movie enhances the drama, comedy and pathos of the storyline in a way which a book can’t convey. John Williams’ iconic ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ became the leitmotif of all the Harry Potter movies; his magical music set the tone for movies one through three. Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat deliberately wrote darker music for the darker Harry Potter movies four to eight.

Let’s not forget that Harry Potter is all about magic, and isn’t magic meant to be seen, not just read? This is where the movies’ special effects enhance the books’ magic scenes, action and mystical creatures. While the Quidditch matches are fun in the books, they are downright exhilarating when you watch Harry soar around the goals in the movies. Similarly, Dumbledore’s duel with Voldemort in Harry Potter five heightens the plot’s tension. Plus, the stories’ creatures, such as Hippogriffs, house elves and dragons, are more spellbinding in the movies thanks to CGI.


Some changes are for the better

By adapting certain parts of the storyline, the changes in the Harry Potter movies make the series more intense. One example is the death of Hedwig. In the book, she accidentally dies, and no one gets any opportunity to mourn her, especially not Harry. In the movie, Hedwig sacrifices herself to protect Harry when he’s ambushed by Death Eaters. It gives a non-human character the ending that she deserves and lets Harry – and all the viewers – mourn her properly.  Another example is the decision to cut Blast-Ended Skrewts from the movies. Doing so made the story line tighter. And the movie’s decision to show the torture of Hermione by Bellatrix Lestrange adds to the tension of the cinematic moment.


The Bottom Line: Whether you prefer Harry Potter as books or movies depends on your imagination and life experiences. What matters is that Harry Potter lovers get to enjoy the story twice over, on screen and in writing. Which version do you prefer?


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