Harry Potter – movies or books? Or do you love them both, albeit a little differently? It’s one of the few cases where both a series of novels and of books were so good that you can be a superfan of all of the above. That’s not to say, though, that they’re exactly the same.
Adapting any book – even just one – to the big screen is a long and complicated matter. A movie naturally has to depict everything in visual terms, while a book can appeal to a reader’s senses, intellect, imagination, and more. Books can also take readers in different directions while still holding on to a larger theme or storyline, while it’s much harder to make a movie that way. How do you get all those dimensions into a two-hour format? The decisions often become about what to cut and how much you can cut before you come up with a completely different story.
Changes can involve taking out characters or reducing their roles. Other times, it can mean adding visual elements that actually create new dimensions to the story. In the end, filmmakers just have to make their decisions and then make sure the end result stays true to the real spirit of the story.
Sometimes, they win; sometimes, they lose. Here’s a look at 8 Times The Harry Potter Movies Butchered The Books (And 7 Times It Was Better).
16. Better in the Books – The Deathday Party
Making movies out of books means making a lot of decisions about what to leave out since it’s pretty much impossible to translate the complexity of a novel to two hours or less. Sometimes, though, you feel like filmmakers underestimate the value of certain scenes. The Deathday Party is one such an example. It doesn’t add to the plot much, it’s true. But it does add to the atmosphere and the feel of the Hogwarts universe and would’ve made a great scene in the movie. A Deathday Party is held to mark the anniversary of someone’s death, and normally, you actually have to be dead to attend one. But, Harry, Ron Weasley, and Hermione end up invited to the 500th Deathday Party for Nearly Headless Nick or Sir Nicholas de Mimsy Porpington. It’s not a really happening party and is more gloomy than upbeat, but apparently, it meant a lot to old Nick. In the books, the practice shows up in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and is mentioned in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Deathday Parties are also mentioned in the video games. It’s left out of the movies entirely. The scene was actually filmed for the movie version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets but cut from the final edit.
15. Better in the Books – Voldemort’s Last Stand
One of the most significant ways the Harry Potter books and the movies differ occurs during the Battle of Hogwarts – Voldemort’s death. In the book, it’s a battle royale in the Great Hall, with Wizards and Death Eaters duking it out (metaphorically speaking) across the tables and down the halls. Voldemort enters the room and faces Harry, firing a Killing Curse at him. But, Harry’s too quick with the Expelliarmus and deflects the curse right back at him. Voldemort hits the ground, dead. It’s a satisfying and dramatic conclusion to their story together. The movie does manage to make Voldemort’s death a focal point, but they’ve changed the meaning of the scene. The battle takes places outside the school. Harry and the Dark Lord take a plunge from the ruins, struggling all the way. They fall to the ground and both crawl for their wands and continue to battle it out with magic until Harry is finally able to seize his final Horcrux. The Dark Lord disintegrates into thin air. The point is, J.K. Rowling wanted the scene to show Voldemort dying as a human and stripped of his magic in front of the whole school. In the movie, he’s still a supernatural being.
14. Better in the Books – Ginny Weasley
The character of Ginny Weasley is portrayed very differently in the books and in the movies. In the books, she’s a cool chick who can hold her own in the magical world of Hogwarts. In the novels, she’s interested in Harry early on, but when he doesn’t respond, she gets close to Dean. Then, in Order of the Phoenix, she shows up to help fight at the Department of Mysteries, among other things, even while Harry’s openly interested in Cho. Later, Ginny and Neville hold down the fort at Hogwarts, leading Dumbledore’s Army, while Harry, Ron, and Hermione are off in the forest. There are plenty more examples of Ginny in action in the books. She’s a feisty heroine, and when she gets together with Harry as an adult, it’s perfection. In the movie, she’s been reduced to the dreaded “girlfriend role” where all she does is kiss him a couple of times and then basically just stares at Harry while he runs around saving Hogwarts, the world, and all that. The movie Ginny isn’t worthy of Harry!
13. Better in the Books – The Marauders Back Story
If you’ve only watched the movies without reading the books, you’d probably be confused as to who and what the Marauders are. They come up in Prisoner of Azkaban as the creators of The Marauder’s Map, which helps Harry and the gang sneak around Hogwarts. The Marauder’s Map can locate and track anyone in the school – handy when you’re trying to avoid certain people. The name of the map’s creators, “Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs,” are written at the bottom of the map. What the movies fail to do, though, is clearly explain that those names refer to Harry’s dad, along with his BFFs Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and Remus Lupin. They created the map for the same reason Harry gets use out of it, along with slipping outside to go roaming with Lupin, the shape-shifting werewolf.
12. Better in the Books – Professor Albus Dumbledore
Albus Dumbledore gets a different treatment in the movies than in the books. In the movies, his backstory is never really fleshed out. One of the most interesting parts of The Deathly Hallows novel was the revelation of his darker past and an anti-muggle prejudice brought about by the influence of his friendship with Gellert Grindelwald, a Dark Wizard. The two were planning a revolution against the International Statute of Secrecy until the fateful three-way duel between the two and Aberforth Dumbledore, resulting in Ariana’s death. It’s significant because it shows a lot more depth to Dumbledore than we get from the movies. The movies also portray him somewhat differently. He shouts at Harry where the book clearly describes him as calm, and his general good humor is essentially written out of the movies, where he’s always deadly serious.
11. Better in the Books – Peeves The Poltergeist
We’re betting most fans of the Harry Potter books were disappointed that Peeves the Poltergeist never made an appearance in the movies. There are a lot of ghosts at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but Peeves the Poltergeist and his pranks on students, professor, and other ghosts were legendary. You can’t really say he’s not part of the plot either. He mostly pranks his way through The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Prisoner of Azkaban but helps send headmistress Dolores Umbridge around the bend in The Order of the Phoenix and helps fight for the school. Actor Rik Mayall actually filmed a scene for the movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as Peeves, but they were cut from the movies for reasons unknown. Sure, Peeves could be annoying, but he was there to remind us that even if you’re a wizard in training, life can still be frustrating.
10. Better in the Books – Missing Weasley Brothers
Three of the Weasley brothers – Percy, Bill, and Charlie – were fan faves from the books. They weren’t just important as Harry’s friends, but they also had adventures and romances of their own. They play a big role in the books but are cut to a mere few scenes in the movies. We see Percy a few times in the first two movies. We see Bill Weasley’s wedding the Fleur Delacour, but we don’t get any of the backstory to it. There’s a whole Weasley family drama when Percy sides with the Ministry of Magic over them when Voldemort returns. It’s not immediately relevant to Harry’s storyline, and we get that’s why it was removed from the movie version. But it starkly illustrates the vicious divides in the world of wizardry. Charlie barely appears at all. We get that movie makers have to pare down the enormous number of characters from the books just to make a film that makes sense within a format of two hours or so, but the treatment of these three was disappointing.
9. Better in the Books – The House Elves And S.P.E.W.
The House Elves and their role in the story are dialed back quite a bit from the books to the movies. There’s Dobby, of course, but so much is left out. In the books, there’s Winky, the House Elf dismissed by the Crouch family. She ends up at Hogwarts with a Butterbeer problem. It’s not just the House Elves but also Hermione who gets short shrift by leaving out her whole mission to protect Elf rights, or S.P.E.W. — Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare. She starts it up after she sees their horrible treatment at the 1994 Quidditch World Cup. The liberation movement itself does get some mention in the movie through Dobby, but Hermione’s role and the organization are completely absent. Kreacher is pretty hostile and vocal about his disdain for Mud-bloods, as he calls them in the movies. For anyone who hasn’t read the books, it may be a little confusing then, when Harry ends up as his pal. That’s because the movies leave out important backstories, such as Kreacher leading the House Elves into the final battle and his role in Regulus Black’s plan to defeat Voldemort.
8. Better in the Movies – Harry Confronts Snape
Harry’s relationship with Snape has its ups and downs in both the movies and the novels. Professor Severus Snape is a complicated character, with a hard, sarcastic exterior and a lot of angsty emotion inside. It’s only through the ups and downs of their relationship that we really get to know Snape in all his complexity. As he dies in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the book version, he tells Harry to take his memories one last time, and Harry finds the Pensieve in the Headmaster’s office and learns about the childhood friendship between Snape and his mother, Lily, and how devastated Snape felt at her death. It changes his view – and ours – of Snape. That much also appears in the movie Deathly Hallows – Part 2. The film adds a moment of venting that feels particularly satisfying when Harry confronts Snape about his presumed treachery in killing Dumbledore and taking his place as Harry’s mentor. We get that it was part of Dumbledore’s plan, but the yelling does seem like a good payback all the same.
7. Better in the Movies – Apparition Smoke
It can be hard for filmmakers to translate magic to the screen. The end result is easy enough to show; the problem is in depicting the process itself so that it seems… magical. J.K. Rowling’s books do a great job of describing Apparition – the ability of wizards to flit from place to place instantly – as an experience. But how do you put that into visual terms that a movie audience can appreciate? For the movies, they came up with a great idea: smoke. For Wizards, it’s white smoke, and for Death Eaters, black. It turns up now and then in the later movies and becomes a dramatic accent to the action in the battle between Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix in the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and one that really seems to bring the magic in the scene to life.
6. Better in the Movies – Final Battle Extras
The end of the Harry Potter saga in Deathly Hallows – Part 2 had to be glorious. It took a decade, after all, for the movies to unpack the story from its beginnings in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001. Leaving aside Voldemort’s end as a separate issue, the movie actually adds some extra touches to the action that are pretty cool. The scenic views from above of the battle as it erupts all over the school are pure cinematic magic. Other movie-only extras include Aberforth Dumbledore casting a Patronus, a very powerful sort of charm and the scene where Neville and Seamus blow up the bridge. It’s a nice way to give some of the minor characters from the book a bit of a chance to shine in the spotlight and add to the impact of the whole climactic battle scene.
5. Better in the Movies – Hermione’s Torture Scene
A change in point of view can make a big change to how the audience or reader looks at a scene. In Deathly Hallows, Dobby’s death is the main focus of the segment in Malfoy Manor overall, but Bellatrix’s torture of Hermione definitely adds to the dark mood. In the book, we only get Ron and Harry’s version of the event. Through them, we hear Bellatrix’s torture spell, and Ron panics as he hears Hermione’s screams while he and Harry are locked a floor below them in the cellar. The movie version ups the ante by actually showing us the scene from Hermione’s point of view. We see her suffering as Bellatrix carves “Mudblood” in her arm, and we get a real feel for the kind of vicious persecution the muggle-born will be subject to under Voldemort’s rule.
4. Better in the Movies – Hedwig’s Sacrifice
Hedwig the owl is Harry’s first companion when he enters the world of wizardry at Hogwarts, an eleventh birthday present from Hagrid. The snowy owl wasn’t just a pet, companion, and mail delivery service. She came in handy many times, including delivering Hermione’s thirteenth birthday present to France, and she needed only a name to find the recipient of a message. In the books, she’s killed during the Battle of the Seven Potters when she’s hit with a Killing Curse. She simply falls to the bottom of her cage. The movies give her a more dramatic death– one that’s significant to the plot. In the movie version of Deathly Hallows – Part 1, Harry is ambushed by death Eaters. Hedwig flies to the rescue and ends up sacrificing herself to save him. It’s a fitting way to say goodbye to her.
3. Better in the Movies – The Hungarian Horntail
Harry has to face a Hungarian Horntail, a kind of dragon, in Goblet of Fire. It’s the first of the tasks he has to complete as part of the Triwizard Tournament. The scene is minimized, in a way, in the novel version of Goblet of Fire. The dragon is a female and nesting, so she pretty much stays close to the nest during their contest. As it plays out in the movie version, the scene is much more dramatic and makes for some of the movie’s most exciting moments. The short scene is drawn out in the movie into a chase that begins through the tournament’s huge arena in front of the huge crowd of students and faculty. The fierce dragon chases Harry out of the arena and strands him on the precarious rooftops of Hogwarts as its looms above. The dragon creature is hugely impressive visually, and the scene is a thrill ride. Kudos to movie makers for recognizing the potential in the script and expanding on an aspect of the book that really does add to the movie experience.
2. Better in the Movies – The Felix Felicis Scene
One of the more creative touches the movie makers made when adapting The Half-Blood Prince to the screen was to add a comedic scene in what is often a darker and weighty storyline. The basics of the scene are the same. Harry’s trying to get to the secret of what happened between Slughorn and Tom Riddle, connected to the death of Harry’s mother. To boost his results, he takes a swig of the Felix Felicis or Liquid Luck potion from the vial he won for brewing the best potion in Slughorn’s class. The scene ends up with Harry, Horace, and Hagrid together. The other two are getting drunk as Harry watches from the other side of the room. Later, the three end up contemplating the deceased Aragog, an Acromantula or huge spider. Now, it’s Harry who’s drunk on the Liquid Luck potion. Harry gets his secret in both versions, but the movie adds a nice comedic touch.
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