|Scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone|
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is one of the most miraculous pieces of cinema. Sure, it's far from the best in the series; it's tonally more innocent and lacking the charismatic acting, but think of everything that came after. It helped to launch the young adult (YA) movie phenomenon while also giving us the careers of Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson. In fact, the biggest miracle of the series is how it fared in comparison to every other youth-oriented franchise. Where most tanked out quickly (in the case of Divergent, even being demoted to TV movie), Harry Potter continually topped the box office while maintaining almost all of the central cast who have only gotten better. Time may make the debut adaptation of J.K. Rowling's wizard series seem quaint, but it is the building block for modern YA cinema and it only remains true after 15 years.
Much like the internet, a certain portion of the population cannot imagine a world before the Harry Potter movies. By 2001, Rowling had released four entries into the highly successful franchise that focused on Harry Potter, or as the first novel puts it "The boy who lived." He was a prodigy of hope that embodied a whimsical and accessible look into fantasy not quite experienced since J.R.R. Tolkien took audiences to Middle Earth. Even then, Rowling's work was so influential (and split the consensus on whether it was an immoral text for glorifying the occult) that it did something unprecedented. The books, not the movies, inspired parodies. The Simpsons most notably spoofed it in "Wiz Kids" (an episode whose imagery looks jarring when placed into the cinematic interpretation).
To say the least, there was a lot of pressure on director Christopher Columbus to adapt the book right. Along with its sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the argument could be made that he did them too faithfully at the expense of entertainment and brevity. However, there was a magic that played as John Williams unleashed another iconic score. As the streets went dim on the Dursley's block, the world was introduced to Rowling's cinematic vision of what her world would be for the next decade. Before audiences ever saw wizarding school of Hogwarts, they met 12-year-old Radcliffe: a boy with jet-black hair and a scar on his head. What was it all for? As time would show, it would be a lot.
To Columbus' credit, his formula set a blueprint for the majority of the franchise's films to come. The most incredible achievement was managing to cast adolescent actors who were unproven that would manage to stay mostly intact for the next 10 years. Then again, it is in part because Harry Potter's franchise had something that its competitive franchises like Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass didn't have: popular source material. It was one of the first times that family audiences got a film adaptation that wasn't just beloved, but woven into the popular culture by 2001. Still, it's more of a miracle to note that dozens of actors beat the odds and not only managed to appear in all eight films, but had reputable careers surrounding each project. The mythical tragedy of the child star could've easily plagues Radcliffe, Watson, or Rupert Grint's career at any point. Instead they improved with each passing film, even forming a chemistry that deepens the overall success of the franchise.
There were also pedigree actors like Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall and Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. From the beginning, the Harry Potter franchise knew how to effectively serve as a series that hired prestigious British actors in noteworthy roles. The series has an assurance that most films in the past 15 years have tried to imitate. Some have been successful, but never as financially so. While aspects of Sorcerer's Stone may seem dated and outright silly compared to the darker chapters to follow, it was a starting point that brought fantasy to life. Much like Star Wars before, part of its success was in creating a universe with endless merchandise, iconography, and a theme park as of 2016. Harry Potter was marketing brilliance even when the films were arguably inferior to their source material.
Which is to say that it would be hard to predict most of this from the outskirts of 2001. While it gave millennials their first beloved film franchise, there was no guarantee that anything would stick. Maybe Radcliffe would become a walking disaster. Maybe the series would never get to make the entire series due to declining interest. Speaking as the book series was incomplete and left open-ended, nobody really knew where Rowling would take the series. Maybe the final three novels would be inferior to the first four. None of this ended up being a factor, as the 2011 finale Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ended up earning $1.3 billion internationally.
Still, there is nothing quite like living the Harry Potter mania as it happened and the guarantees were not there. Along with uncertainty of how the books would end, there was a fever pitch over each film as the actors seemed to age almost simultaneously with its core audience. The franchise was like a Richard Linklater movie in that sense, finding a deeper sentimentality in both the present and past of the franchise within a single moment. While it's all accepted as commonplace today, the countless book release parties and speculation as to what happened next felt perfectly bred for the internet age. Most of all, it connected audiences through literature in ways that haven't been nearly as successful since, if just because of Rowling's ability to appeal to almost every age group.
It may seem reductive to do a retrospective of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and encompass the franchise's legacy, but it is more to point out how much of a miracle it all was. It may have started as a film, but it built into a piece of cultural DNA, creating cinematic royalty that still resonates in Tumblr memes and "What Hogwarts house are you in?" quizzes. With the first spin-off film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them coming out this Friday; the play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" releasing its manuscript this year; and Universal Studios opening a Harry Potter-themed park, it's easy to say that this series will be around for awhile. Like the internet, life will likely not let anyone forget its existence. It's a phenomenon that cannot be achieved nowadays. Twilight, The Hunger Games, and more have tried, but there's something miraculous about Harry Potter that keeps bringing it back. It's hard to believe based on the first film, but then again it's part of the allure of this unique franchise.