Harry Potter and the magical world of wizards and witches captivate the hearts of book lovers and movie fans alike. The first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, came out in 1997 and then just a short four years later fans got to see the world they had become so immersed in for the first time on the big screen. Not only were the films a hit with fans, they also gained prestigious recognition from The Academy. Over 8 movies, the Harry Potter films were nominated 12 times for Oscars. Not surprisingly, they were nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction multiple time!
For ten years, the Harry Potter franchise came to life thanks to not only the perfect cast but also, and maybe most importantly, the hundreds of men and women who worked to make every detail in the book a reality. The art department alone had nearly sixty people working full time for a decade and, in total, the team constructed over 580 sets! Not to mention thousands of props. It’s strange to think that there was a whole world operating behind the scenes to give us the magic we saw in the theaters, especially when it means that, that Hogwarts acceptance letter you were wishing for was probably made by a graphic designer in an office rather than some crafty elves. Ugh...well, we can still dream, right?
Even years after the final film’s release, fans still can’t get enough of the magical world J.K. Rowling created. If you think you know everything about Harry Potter, well think again! Just check out our compiled list of the top 25 behind-the-scenes facts from the Harry Potter films (#12 will SHOCK you!).
25 One of the most famous lines was improved
At the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) confronts Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs). During shooting, Jason Isaacs felt like he should say something before he exited the scene and asked the director, Chris Columbus, who told him to say whatever he wanted.
So, as Jason Isaacs turned to leave he spontaneously said “Let us hope Mr. Potter will always be around to save the day.” to which a 12-year-old Daniel Radcliffe quickly responded “Don’t worry. I will be.” Little did they know that this unprompted dialogue would end up being one of the most famous, and memorable, lines in the film.
24 The actors had to do homework
Born in Mexico, Alfonso Cuarón directed the third film of the Harry Potter series, Prisoner of Azkaban. Not only was this the first film where we see the actors out of their traditional wizarding robes, it was also the first film where Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe had to do actual homework for their characters.
At the time, the latest book that was published was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, so the actors didn’t necessarily know where their characters were evolving too or becoming. Regardless, Cuarón asked them to write an essay about their characters. As a result, Emma wrote a whopping 16 pages, Daniel a measly one, and Rupert—you might guess—zero. Turns out they were more intuned with their roles than even they may have realized.
23 Hogwarts actually exists (in a mini form)
Most think that for the aerial shots of Hogwarts were done by CGI, but that’s actually not entirely the case. The art department built a 1:24 scale model with exquisite details inspired from real buildings such as the Alnwick Castle and Durham Cathedral. It took a total of 86 crew members and artists to build the first model which they then altered and rebuilt multiple times throughout the series. It also features real plants in the landscaping and mini birds in the Owlery.
The model stands at 50 feet and even has optic lights inside to simulate torches. If you counted all the man-hours it took to build and rework the mini Hogwarts throughout the films it would total more than 74 years!!!
22 They built robots for the films
It’s no surprise that the making of the Harry Potter films was exorbitant, with each film totaling anywhere from $100-250 million. While many special effects were used throughout the films to create the magic we saw on screen, there were also many robots at work as well.
Dumbledore's pet phoenix, for example, was a full working robot which was so life-like in appearance that Richard Harris (Dumbledore) came into set believing it was real! Other robots also include the book of monsters, the self-washing dishes in Mrs. Weasley house, Mad-Eye Moody’s eye, the giant spider Aragog, the Basilisk, and so so many more!
21 Harry almost had green eyes, like in the book but...
Throughout the Harry Potter series, it was mentioned that Harry had green eyes and it was even shown on the cover as well. Yet, when it came to casting, things didn’t turn out as planned (but we're not complaining).
Daniel Radcliffe did, however, have blue eyes and J.K. Rowling thought it was more important that the actor looked like the character rather than have a specific eye color. They did try to have Daniel put on green contact lenses but he ended up but having a pretty bad allergic reaction, so they just decided his normally blue eyes were close enough!
20 Rupert Grint can't stand spiders
Easily one of the best scenes in The Chamber of Secrets, many fans will remember when Harry and Ron are told by Hagrid to “follow the spiders” that are leading straight into the Dark Forest, to which Ron replies “Why spiders? Why couldn’t it be follow the butterflies?”
As it turns out, Rupert Grint didn’t need to do much acting for the scene since the British actor actually suffers from Arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Considering they also made a HUGE spider model for the rare, and the giant spider, Aragog—acting like he was scared out of his wits probably came quite easily.
19 The great hall had real food!
Throughout the films, wizards and witches were often seen gathering down their respective houses and seating down the long wooden tables that filled the Great Hall, and feasting on splendid arrays of delicious meals and treats. In the first film, The Sorcerer’s Stone, the director Chris Columbus wanted to make sure that the elaborate feasts described in the book were as realistic as possible, and he meant it literally.
All the food that you see in the movie is 100% REAL. However, because of the production lights, the food quickly spoiled, stinking up the entire set. They seemed to learn from this mistake and for all the other films the food was either frozen or made from molds.
18 JK demanded all actors be British
Before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was finally picked up by a publisher, J.K. Rowling had her book rejected twelve times and was even told at one point “not to quit her day job.” But thankfully she persevered and the world became a little more magical. It’s no wonder then that when the books finally because a tremendous hit and then a movie, she wanted nearly complete control of how it was to be portrayed.
One of her requests was that she wanted all the cast to be British actors. In fact, the late Robin Williams had desperately wanted to play the part of Hagrid and even called asking to be involved in the project. But alas, Rowling's rule was in full force and the part ultimately went to fellow Brit Robbie Coltrane.
17 The library in the first film is super famous
However, they did make an exception for Harry Potter. You may recall in The Sorcerer's Stone when Harry sneaks into the “restricted section” of the Hogwarts library with his invisibility cloak and brings with him, you guessed it: a candlelit lamp. Luckily nothing went array during filming.
16 J.K. Rowling almost was Harry’s mom
Many directors will often make cameos in their own films such as Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, and even Marvel creator Stan Lee. J.K. Rowling also had the opportunity to make her film-debut in the series as Harry Potter’s mother: Lily Potter.
The casting directors offer Rowling the part and with her stunning blue eyes that match Daniel Radcliffe perfectly, the two could easily have passed as mother and son. However, the writer turned the offer down and, after countless of auditions, the part eventually to the British television actress Geraldine Somerville.
15 They went through a bunch of cars in the Chamber of Secrets
In the second film of the franchise Harry and Ron, steal Ron’s flying family car in order to get to Hogwarts on time after missing the train at Platform 9 ¾. After a turbulent journey to get to Hogwarts, the two finally land, but in the infamous Whomping Willow tree. It wasn’t easy to nail the scene seeing as they went through a total of fourteen Ford Anglias to get the perfect shot!
Apparently, people were quite a fan of the little blue vehicle and it was even stolen from the South West Film Studios lot in Cornwall at one point. The car ended up being found parked outside Carn Brea Castle not too far from the studio after police received an anonymous tip of its whereabouts.
14 there were two dumbledores
Thanks to the fantastic team of costume designers and makeup artists most fans didn’t even notice that Dumbledore was played by two different actors. For Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Richard Harris brought the beloved character to life for the first time to viewers; unfortunately, the actor passed away shortly after the second film, leaving the famous character to be filled by someone of both equal acting merit and looks.
Thankfully, Michael Gambon came to the rescue and took on the role of Dumbledore for the remaining films of the series. Funny enough, many often confuse Ian McKellen for Dumbledore because, at the time, he ALSO played an equally notorious wizard called “Galdalf,” in a little trilogy called Lord of The Rings.
13 The Black family tapestry history
J.K. Rowling was still in the process of writing the rest of the books while the movies were being produced, so she mostly let the creative team and filmmakers bring her world to life. Miraphora Mina, the co-founder of the graphic design firm that worked on the Harry Potter series told INSIDER that Rowling “was really happy to let everyone interpret them [the books] in their own way, and for each department.’
However, Rowling did also put her own little touches in along the way such as Sirius Black’s family tree. Since neither the book nor the script had detailed what was exactly on the massive tapestry designers sought out Rowling's help, to which she responded with an intensely detailed diagram of the Black’s family history and relationships. As seen in the film, the end result was a work of art in itself.
12 Evanna Lynch was promised the role in the hospital
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role of Luna Lovegood than Evanna Lynch. However, the actresses life hadn’t always been so magical. From the tender age of 11 years old, she had suffered from a disease and had been hospitalized.
During her stay at the hospital, she wrote to J.K. Rowling and, to her surprise, her idol actually wrote back. The two became penpals and during their correspondents, Evanna expressed how she longed to be in one of the movies. Rowling told her that she needed to focus on getting better first, and if she could do that, then she could play the part of her favorite character: Luna Lovegood.
11 The young tom riddle and Voldemort are related in real life
The resurrected Voldemort was solely played by Ralph Fiennes, the flashbacks of younger Voldemort's were played by many others. In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Dumbledore goes to meet the orphaned Tom Riddle (a.k.a Voldemort) to tell him of his magical capabilities and his acceptance to Hogwarts; however, he is greeted by an obviously disturbed individual.
The actor who played the young Tom Riddle is Hero Beauregard Fiennes Tiffin, who was only eleven at the time of filming, and just so happens to be the nephew of Ralph Fiennes! It seems he’s picked up the acting bug from his famous uncle as he’s been in many movies and television series since his big break in the Harry Potter series.
10 The “seven” Harry Potters took forever to film
At the beginning of part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, members from the Order of the Phoenix morph themselves with a Polyjuice potion to turn into Harry so death eaters are confused as to who the real Harry is.
Unfortunately, there was no such brew available for filming so Daniel Radcliffe had to play ALL seven characters. The scene was incredibly complicated due to the many outfit changes and different camera positions. In fact, it was so complex that they reportedly filmed for hours and did roughly 90 takes just for the one scene alone!
9 There were over 100 Harry Potter glasses
In its entirety, the Harry Potter series spanned over 10 years and with 8 movies. Given the sheer scale and time of the films, it’s no surprise that the costume department went through hundreds of the iconic circle-framed spectacles.
Just in the last film alone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Daniel Radcliffe wore a total of 160 pairs of glasses!!! Although it’s unknown exactly how many glasses were used throughout all the movies, it easily could be in the thousands. That’s not the only thing Daniel Radcliffe needed multiples of, he also went through about 70 wands as well!
8 One of the most expensive props was a telescope
You wouldn't guess it since the prop was never really used in the film, but Dumbledores telescope was one of the most expensive props purchased in the whole series. The large telescope that sits in the center of Dumbledores office had been engraved with various astrology signs.
The telescope is also fully functional, yet you would never because not one character throughout all the Harry Potter films can be seen operating it. Dumbledores telescope currently resides at Warner Bros. Studio and it doesn't seem like they'll be selling it anytime soon, but if they did the gigantic prop would easily go for five figures!
7 Ralph Fiennes really shaved his head to play Voldemort
The British actor has played in a variety of famous films such as Schindler's List, The Hurt Locker, Skyfall, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, just to name a few. While Ralph Fiennes has over 71 acting credits to his name, his role as Voldemort is easily one of his most physically transformative.
In order to portray Lord Voldemort Fiennes actually had to shave his head for the film, while his nose was created using visual effects to give it is snake-like appearance. Yet, everything else such as his skin color, eyes, and fake teeth was created by the makeup department. In total, it took Fiennes two hours every day on set to transform into his character.
6 They built a real dragon head!
Although the films did feature CGI, many specialized electronic served as the basis for special effects. Over the ten years, there were easily hundreds of robots that were used in the films. In order to be efficient with their expensive materials, they often reused many elements to create entirely different uses and in some cases even creatures.
For example, the giant Basilisk that Harry defeats in the second film was redesigned a couple of years later to be the Hungarian Horntail dragon that Harry, surprise-surprise, ALSO has to fight in The Goblet of Fire.
5 The sets were huge!
It took hundreds of people to build the elaborate sets that created the world of Harry Potter. The Great Hall was one of the first sets to be constructed back in 2000 and was featured in six other films. Other areas you saw in the film, such as the renowned Diagon Alley went through a series of changes and elements of it were also used to create other scenes such Hogsmeade in the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Warner Brothers studio preserved essentially all of the original set, costumes, props, and even animatronics which take up two massive soundstages AND a full backlot. Harry Potter fans will be happy to know that you can actually visit all of these iconic sets seen in the films at Warner Brothers studio tour: the making of Harry Potter.
4 They used a bunch of animals
Every single Harry Potter film had an entire animal production team working on set. The team not only cared for the animals but also had to train and coach them to do various actions for hundreds of scenes. Since they shot the series over time, and because animals aren’t the most predictable, they had multiple “animal actors” for each one seen in the films.
For example, Hagrid’s dog Fang was played by nine different Neapolitan Mastiffs, Ron’s pet rat Scabbers was played by more than a dozen of rats and Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, was played by four different cats! Meanwhile, they used four different owls to play Hedwig and trained each one to perform specific tasks.
3 Daniel Radcliffe can’t dance to save his life
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, students from all three wizarding schools come together for a celebratory night at the Yule Ball. For the scene, the actors had three weeks to prepare their big dancing debut; well, all of them except Daniel Radcliffe.
Since Radcliffe was in basically every scene of the movie he wasn’t able to do the full three weeks of training and instead only had four days to practice! Apparently, those four days weren’t enough which is why all of Radcliffe's scenes are shot from the waist up to avoid seeing his two left feet.
2 the moving cats are not cgi
The evil professor Dolores Umbridge who takes over in The Order of the Phoenix as headmaster not only had an obsession for pink but also cats. In the film, her head-to-toe pink office is filled with plates of moving cats behind her desk. Although they look like the result of CGI they aren’t.
The art production team actually filmed more than 40 kittens for Umbridge office which were then edited onto the plates in post-production. After filming all the kittens went on to become domestic pets; however, their new owners were never told of their previous film career! So, who knows? That cat you adopted back in 2006 it might just be one of them!
1 You can walk down the halls of Hogwarts in real life!
Although you can’t visit Hogwarts in real life (apart from the 50 foot model on display at the Warner Brothers Studio in England) you CAN, however, walk through the exact halls that were featured in almost every one of the films at Gloucester Cathedral. With its arched hallways and decorative glass windows, the 11th-century cathedral was the perfect location to film the corridors of Hogwarts.
It also was used for a variety of other scenes throughout the years of filming the Harry Potter movies. Gloucester Cathedral isn’t the only movie location you can go see in person, check out our awesome list of the top 25 real-life film locations you can visit! (P.S. You’ll be surprised just how cheap it is to get there!)
References: wbstudiotour.co.uk, ranker.com, theguardian.com