In a series of consistently good movies, it's safe to say that the general consensus that "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is the best film adaptation of the books by J.K. Rowling. Directed by future Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón, the third movie introduced the darker aesthetic that would define the following five films.
Now, on the tenth anniversary of the theatrical release of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," we've set out to decide once and for all whether it deserves its presumed status of the best Harry Potter movie.
Kevin P. Sullivan: I think before we get underway, it should be said: There isn't a bad Harry Potter film. We can at least agree on that, right?
Kase Wickman: I mean, the first two are a little hard to watch, but you're right: No such thing as a bad Harry Potter movie. But there's no denying that not all Harry Potter movies were created equal. And, Kevin, I don't think we're betting on the same horse in this case.
KS: Like you said, the films aren't all equal, and that means there's a best one. And that movie is "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," directed by His Majesty Alfonso Cuarón.
KW: That's where you're wrong, sir! That honor belongs to "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1," but instead of me waving my hands around about the emotional experience of that film for half an hour (again), let's talk about why "Prisoner of Azkaban" isn't the bees knees. In short: It doesn't make any sense. It looks great, admittedly! It's so pretty. But pretty doesn't mean much if you're like, "now, wait, who's that mustache guy and why is he having emotional chats with him on abandoned bridges? Stranger danger, Harry." Guy is Remus Lupin, Harry's dad's BFF, but you wouldn't know that if you hadn't read the book. Fatal flaw! The silver bullet to the heart of the werewolf (the movie is the werewolf).
KS: Thanks for mentioning how pretty it is! I thought I was going to spend the whole day talking about that. I won't argue with you that Lupin gets shortchanged in the movie compared to the book, but that's kind of irrelevant. (And I love Lupin.) He's not exactly the Moony we love, but he's the one the movie needs. "Prisoner of Azkaban" is the best because it tells (IMO) the series' best story, without worrying about including EVERYTHING from the book. And no other movie is as self-contained. Also, PRETTY!
KW: The prettiest! Perhaps it's because I'm really attached to the backstory of the Marauders and would die twice with happiness if we ever got a prequel book or movie about them (are you listening, J.K. Rowling? It's your friend Kase!), but don't you think they could have set aside one line to mention that Lupin had, oh, helped create the Marauder's Map? It seems to me as if crucial details like that were overlooked in favor of making sure we had cool-looking Dementors and ghosties. I agree that "Prisoner of Azkaban" marks a turning point for the series stylistically (we couldn't have gotten the amazing "O Children" sequence in my beloved "Deathly Hallows - Part 1" if it hadn't been for the legitimacy that Cuaron and other directors lent the franchise), but certain story elements suffered in service of turning the series "gritty."
KS: I think what you're identifying as edits for style's sake are actually edits for clarity sake. The Marauders are my homeboys, but their connection to the map was only ever a nice detail. Take a look at the movie again, and it stands completely on its own, without a bit of fat on it. The same can't be said for the split-in-half "Deathly Hallows." Cuaron made a film rather than an adaptation, and he did it better than anyone else.
KW: Kevin, let's not fat-shame Harry Potter. Real women have curves, and so do real good wizard stories: Not to zero in on the Map, but just to use it as an example again, how would Lupin have known how to use it? How? He wouldn't have. "Deathly Hallows" was massive, yes, but you know what they cut? All that awesome backstory stuff about Dumbledore. I'll just polish my glasses here for a second while you absorb how much I love personal character histories, but I agree that that wasn't essential to the story. The Marauders stuff was, and helps explain exactly why Snape hates Harry so much, why that crazy battle in the Whomping Willow happened at the end of "Prisoner of Azkaban," why Sirius has so many feelings about Harry -- so much. "Azkaban" is so pretty and so watchable, but I watch it with the knowledge that comes from an embarrassing amount of rereads filling in all the plot gaps and stitching it together. It's a great companion to the book, and Cuaron did a great service to the franchise (even if he didn't make the change to make Harry's eyes green, grumble grumble), but the best Harry Potter movie it is not.
KS: Kase, quick question: How much time travel does "Deathly Hallows - Part 1" have?
KW: No time travel at all!
KS: I think I just won the debate.
KW: That doesn't even make any sense. Time Turner back to when you made sense last. So, like, before you said "Prisoner of Azkaban" was the best Harry Potter movie.
KS: Time travel movies are automatically better than all others. Just like movies with Sirius Black.
KW: I'll be seeing you when they reboot this series in five years, and we'll talk again.
KS: Until then... mischief managed.