The Harry Potter film series was wildly successful, to say the least, and the magic isn’t over quite yet. Even though the series has ended there are more J.K. Rowling stories to look forward to. A spin-off prequel series, The Fantastic Beasts, will consist of five movies the first of which is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It’s hard to believe that it’s been close to fifteen years since the first film made its debut and took the world by storm and there no indication that the franchise known as J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World will start to lose steam anytime soon.
The numbers behind the film series are almost as incredible as the story itself. Every Harry Potter movie was a major success at the box office, in fact, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) was the only film in the series that is not among the 50 highest grossing films of all time. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two holds number 8 on that list and is one of only 26 films to ever gross over $1 billion at the box office.
Over the ten years it took to make the eight films, the studio spent over $1.3 billion on their production. That may sound like a lot until you know how much profit they’ve made on their investment– try a cool $6.5 billion…
But what exactly went on behind the scenes? Today we let you in on a few set secrets:
15. Too Skinny To Play Dudley
A lot can happen in a year. In the time between filming Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Melling experienced a positive change in his personal life, but it almost cost him his role as Dudley Dursley. Harry lost so much weight between the two films that he no longer fit the character description of a podgy boy.
Luckily for him, the producers decided that instead of recasting the role they would put him in a fat suit so that he could still resemble the character. The special face and body prosthetics that he required took the makeup department almost six months to create. They looked incredibly realistic, but sadly nearly all his scenes ended up cut from the movie in the end.
14. The Whomping Willow and The Flying Car
Even trees can end up being film stars! That was certainly the case for a beech tree in National Trusts Ashridge Estate, estimated to have been several hundred years old. The tree was scouted by the crew of Harry Potter and became famous as the violent Whomping Willow which destroys Ron’s dad’s flying car in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Sadly, the tree has since collapsed due to age and fungal decay. The tree was used for filming other shots that involve the car actually in the tree were done by building an 85 ft tall model tree.
The bad news for car lovers is that cars were definitely harmed, badly, during this scene. During the filming of the scene where Ron and Harry crash the car into the Whomping Willow, no fewer than 14 Ford Anglias were destroyed.
13. The Seven Harrys
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, there is a scene known as “Seven Harrys”. In this scene, the Order rescues Harry and takes him to the Weasley house. Once there, his friends all drink Polyjuice potion and become replicas of him. This is done to confuse those who are hunting Harry and allow him to travel under protection. This short (but incredible) scene alone took a whole two days to film and was incredibly complex for everyone involved.
In one interview Daniel Radcliffe revealed that he and the doubles had done up to 90 takes just for one single shot— so you can appreciate how exhausting it must have been. Daniel also revealed that he loved playing the “Ron” version of Harry and impersonating his “funny” walk.
12. Ron And Rupert Both Have Severe Arachnophobia
Rupert Grint shares his fear of spiders with Ron, so when it came to shooting the scene involving hundreds of spiders and the giant Aragog in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, not much acting was required on his part. Instead, he only needed to draw on his own fear. In fact, Rupert says that his fear is so intense that he’s even afraid of rubber spiders! Luckily, most of the spiders in the scene were CGI, but Rupert admits he’s never watched the completed scene.
Rupert’s case of Arachnophobia is actually quite severe and he says that it has definitely had an impact on his day-to-day life. He admits to checking his shoes, pillows, bedding and clothing for spiders several times a day. He even put off traveling to Australia, which is famous for its huge eight-legged creepy crawlies, due to his phobia.
11. Understanding Snape
The character Severus Snape was a firm favorite among fans and J.K. Rowling kept his true allegiance a mystery right up to the end. Although no one else except Rowling knew the truth, she shared it with actor Alan Rickman, who played the part of Snape to help him understand the character better.
Due to the fact that Alan had a deeper understanding of Snape and his motivations, he sometimes found himself in conflict with the directors. They would disagree about how certain scenes should be played out and about conflicting acting directions all because Rickman knew so much that they didn’t. They may have had different ideas about Snape and how he ought to be portrayed, but we think they brought it together perfectly on the silver screen.
10. Watch Your Wand, Helena
Helena Bonham-Carter played the ruthless and demented Bellatrix Lestrange and gave a sterling performance, really managing to get under the skin of this wicked witch. But she accidentally took the sadism just a little too far and ended up hurting one of her co-stars.
Her victim was the handsome Matthew Lewis, who plays the part of the awkward Neville Longbottom. The incident occurred during the filming of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where Bellatrix is holding Neville hostage in the Ministry of Magic. In the scene, she runs her wand over his head and he pulls away, but while filming she accidentally stuck the wand deep into his ear. Matthew needed medical attention and was deaf for a few days due to damage to his eardrum, but reports say that it healed just fine.
9. Testing Whether The Trio Understood Their Characters
When the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuaron, wanted to find out if his three leading actors truly understood the characters they were playing, he gave them an unusual task. He asked Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint to each write an autobiographical essay about their alter ego. The essay had to be detailed from the birth of the character until their time at Hogwarts.
Unsurprisingly, Emma soon presented Cuaron with a 16-page missive all about the life and times of Hermione Granger. Daniel Radcliffe handed in a short one-page story, but when the director asked Rupert for his, he refused to write one saying “I’m Ron; Ron wouldn’t do it” to which Cuaron replied, “Okay, you do understand your character”. Classic.
8. How Rupert Grint Became Ron
Before Rupert auditioned for the role of Ron, the only acting that he’d been involved in was parts in school plays. In one of these, he played a fish, cloaked in a layer of bubble wrap as his costume. When he heard about the open casting call, he decided to try out for the role of the ginger-haired Ron and sent in an audition video. When he didn’t get a response back, he decided to send another one, and this time he got more creative. The video was in three parts; one of them was a rap(!), the other an impression of one of his school teachers, and in the last segment, he read some dialogue as Ron.
7. Dumbledore’s Office
The set of Dumbledore’s Office was full of interesting props, including one of the most expensive props used throughout all eight movies.
If you watched closely during the scenes that take place in the headmaster’s office, you probably would have noticed all those thick books on the bookshelves– well they are actually mainly old telephone books that were wrapped in leather. Remember the Memory Cabinet? The set designers needed to make over 800 glass vials for this scene and hand-label them too. And the most expensive prop? It’s one that actually doesn’t get that much screen time. It’s Dumbledore’s telescope, which sits on the second floor of the office and is engraved with the signs of the zodiac. It’s actually designed so that you can sit inside it and gaze at the stars– cool, huh?
6. All That Food
Remember all the long tables in the Great Hall scenes that are laden with food? In the first Harry Potter movie, all the food was the real deal. The director Chris Columbus wanted it that way in order to recreate the scene perfectly from the book.
But he soon ran into a problem– under the hot set lights, the food quickly spoiled and started to stink. So, for future movies they froze food instead and used it to create molds which were used to create fake food models. The welcome feast in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire included a mix of real edible pieces and models made of resin. Although this must have been really hard work, they did a really good job– you can barely tell the difference!
5. The Knight Bus
The Knight Bus is introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as a service to help witches and wizards who find themselves stranded in London after dark. This three-level creation was really brought to life– twice!
Yes, that’s right, there were actually two Knight Buses– one used for filming and the other for stunts. It was made using vintage London double-decker buses and the filmmakers cut the top section off of one and added it to another to create the towering vehicle.
The “stunt double” was fitted with a more powerful engine to enable it to pull the extra weight and fitted with counter balances to prevent it from toppling over when it took corners. A section of London roads was shut down every night for three weeks to allow the film crew to shoot the scene.
4. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes
You’ll surely remember the magical little world of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes? It’s the magical joke shop that Ron’s twin brothers, Ron and George, open together and it appears in the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It’s an incredible scene and what makes it even more magical is that almost everything you see appeared in the books first.
But even though the shop doesn’t get that much screen time, it was still a ton of work to create. An entire line of products and packaging needed to be made for this scene and it took a team of designers six months to complete the task. In doing so, they used just over 300 liters of silicone! Yes, that’s right; no real sweets were harmed during this scene.
3. Behind The Scenes At Ollivanders
The scene where Harry first holds his wand is probably one of the most important moments in the film series. Knowing this, the filmmakers really pulled out all the stops to make it memorable. But just what did it take to bring Ollivanders to life?
Before we get to Ollivanders, though, you may also be interested to know that nearly every wand that you see in the film was designed especially for the wizard it belongs to. There are loads of small and interesting details – for example, the Death Eaters’ wands have skulls on the handles. The only exception was the wands made for the large fight scenes; these were from a collection of generic wands for the extras.
2. Daniel Was Hard On Wands
The prop department must be a super interesting place to work on the Harry Potter set, right? Well, Daniel Radcliffe has certainly kept them very busy over the last few years.
Let’s start with the wands. Okay, there have been eight films, so how many wands do you think Daniel Radcliffe went through during that time? Ten? Fifteen? Try up to seventy! According to inside sources, he would play with them all the time, eventually wearing down the paint…
What about those trademark round spectacles? I mean, how many pairs of glasses could you possibly go through in eight movies? Well, Daniel has been through over 160 pairs; pity the poor person who had to make all of those– it must have been a full-time job!
1. Harry Potter’s Stunt Double Was Left Paralyzed
When David Holmes arrived for a day of work at Warner Bros Studio, doing stunts on the set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in January 2009, he had no idea that his day would end in tragedy. He was practicing what is considered to be one of the most dangerous stunts in the industry for the film when he had a terrible accident that would change his life forever.
The stunt involved him being pulled backward and slamming into a wall to replicate the effect of a massive explosion. After landing on the crash mat, he found himself unable to move and was rushed to the hospital where doctors had to break the news to him that he would be paralyzed from the chest down with limited movement in his arms. He was only 25 years old.
Daniel Radcliffe, who worked with Holmes on Harry Potter since 2000, visited David in the hospital and later hosted a charity dinner to raise money for his medical costs. The two are still close.