Welcome to Hogwarts (“Sorcerer’s Stone)”
The look of wonder that blossoms over Harry’s face when he initially sees Hogwarts was echoed on the face of every other “Potter” fan sitting in the theater when they saw “Sorcerer’s Stone” for the first time, and that pivotal scene remains iconic even a decade after its release. Hogwarts is as much a character in the “Harry Potter” series as Harry, Voldemort and Snape, but it is more than that as well. As author J.K. Rowling says, it will always be there to welcome fans home.
The Sorting Hat (“Sorcerer’s Stone”)
One of my favorite scenes in both the books and the films. Sweet, innocent little Harry is put up in front of his peers for the first of many times, forced to deal with a) realizing that he is indeed crazy famous and b) facing one of the most important dilemmas of his young life: Gryffindor or Slytherin? As a huge fan of Slytherin, I love to think about what might have been… He could’ve been great there, you know.
Dobby Is Free! (“Chamber of Secrets”)
This scene is super great for so many reasons! First and foremost, the way Jason Isaacs plays Lucius’ barely controlled rage is simply sublime. I could go on all day about Isaacs’ scene-stealing, but, I won’t. Harry’s brilliant double-crossing/hidden ball trick maneuver for the win! Actually it’s a hidden sock in a book maneuver, but you baseball fans appreciate it right? And Dobby, sweet, simple, loyal Dobby. How could anyone but a Malfoy resist his many charms?
The Marauders’ Revenge (“Prisoner of Azkaban”)
Alfonso Cuaron managed to pack a lot of action and revelation into a relatively small space during the Shrieking Shack scene in “Prisoner of Azkaban.” In the middle of all the flying wands and scurrying vermin we learn that Sirius Black is friend not foe, the Weasleys’ beloved Scabbers the rat is really Peter Pettigrew, and Harry has the quaffles to attack Snape. Bonus points for Gary Oldman’s make-up and costuming; he definitely looks like someone who’s been in prison for the past 12 years.
The Quidditch World Cup (“Goblet of Fire”)
How could we talk about the best “Potter” scenes of all time without touching upon Quidditch? The made-up wizarding sport provided us with so many great moments, but if we’re narrowing the pool down to one stand-out, head-and-shoulders best, it’s the Quidditch World Cup scene in “Goblet of Fire.” The match between Ireland and Bulgaria was epic enough on its own, but it also set the stage for the Death Eaters’ grand arrival — a twisted scene that foreshadows the decimation of innocence that’s yet to come in the “Potter” story, especially in this specific film.
Voldemort Reborn (“Goblet of Fire”)
The resurrection of Lord Voldemort in “Goblet of Fire” marks a turning point for the “Harry Potter” movies, and things got dark and went downhill quickly for Harry after that. But the whole climactic scene at the end of the fourth “Potter” movie — from Cedric being killed to Harry’s close escape — are some of the most engaging minutes of cinema the “Harry Potter” franchise has produced. Plus, it marked the introduction of Ralph Fiennes to the series, and I think we can all unanimously agree that he is brilliant and terrifying as Lord Voldemort.
Expecto Patronum (“Order of the Phoenix”)
One of my personal favorite aspects of the later “Potter” movies is the special dynamic created by the creation of Dumbledore’s Army. There’s a wonderful montage sequence in “Order of the Phoenix” when Harry transitions from student to teacher, instructing his peers on how they should defend themselves from dark magic now that Voldemort has returned to the world. It’s nice to see all the young stars of the series together in the same place, but the sequence when Harry teaches his fellow Hogwarts mates how to cast a Patronus is particularly touching.
Dumbledore Vs. Voldemort (“Order of the Phoenix”)
If only we’d seen this duel in the Harry Potter World Cup! Still, we got an eyeful when two of the all-time greatest wizards went wand-to-wand in the Ministry of Magic. It’s a masterful display of power both within the confines of the “Potter” story and for the fans watching at home, and just goes to show why Tom Riddle was so scared of the Hogwarts headmaster that he had to send an assassin to do his dirty work in “Half-Blood Prince.” I’d argue that this is the greatest action sequence in all of “Potter,” excepting the Battle of Hogwarts at the climax of “Deathly Hallows Part 2.”
Bellatrix Lestrange’s Sing-Song Crazy (“Half-Blood Prince”)
There is simply NO other actress who could have played Bellatrix so perfectly as the inimitable Helena Bonham Carter. Each and every scene she’s in is gripping and/or terrifying, oftentimes both. I didn’t even want to pick one Bellatrix-themed scene because they’re too good. However, her fiery and unexpected arrival at the Weasley’s burrow, followed by that chilling, deranged taunting of Harry with the sing-song words: “Iiiii killed Sirius Black! Iiii killed Sirius Black!” is up there.
Tale of the Three Brothers (“Deathly Hallows Part 1”)
The Tale of the Three Brothers is a very significant moment in “Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” and I think most fans were taken back by the approach director David Yates took to showing it on the big screen. The animated shadow-play sequence that is used to tell the story of the Peverell brothers was surprisingly beautiful, and arguably told the story visually better than how J.K. Rowling wrote it in the book.