Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: 20 Years Later

20 years on from the breakthrough of the 'Wizarding World' onto our screens, the magic still continues to enchant millions of fans. What did this very first instalment do so well?

Adam Tibke
16th November 2021
Image Credit: Youtube
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since audiences first ventured through the majestic halls of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. On November 16th 2001, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone premiered, introducing a wider audience to ‘the boy who lived’ and marking the beginning of a multi-billion dollar franchise.

Published in 1997, J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was met with commercial success and acclaim from both adults and children alike. Following two equally successful sequels, Rowling sold the film rights to Warner Bros for a million pounds - a mere fraction of what the film series would go on to gross. The Philosopher’s Stone’s road to the big screen was relatively straightforward; producer David Heyman assembled an impressive concoction of talent that not even Severus Snape could sneer at.

This is the film where we meet the now infamous Golden Trio.
Image Credit: Youtube

In the director’s chair sat Chris Columbus, whose experience helming Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire put him in good stead for delivering an entertaining romp the whole family could enjoy. Steve Kloves’ script, informed by J.K. Rowling, translated the book’s core characters and themes while effectively streamlining the narrative. 

The exclusively British and Irish cast (as dictated by Rowling) is superb, with the three young leads of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson more than holding their own against their more seasoned castmates. The film features iconic performances a plenty, such as Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid, a man of amiable sincerity and a caring nature, or the late Alan Rickman’s aforementioned Severus Snape, full of acerbic wit and mysterious aloofness. 

"producer David Heyman assembled an impressive concoction of talent that not even Severus Snape could sneer at"

Bringing Rowling’s world to life was never going to be an easy feat, but the exemplary work from the production team transports the viewer into the wizarding world. The iconic sets and locations first featured in the Philosopher’s Stone have since become some of the most recognisable in cinema. And if all of that wasn’t enough, the film is tied together by a mellifluous John Williams score.

When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone finally premiered, its success was monumental. Not only did it become the then second highest grossing film of all time, but it was lauded by critics too, with Roger Ebert calling it “a classic.” As well as introducing the world to many esteemed British character actors, it catapulted its three young stars to incredible fame. 

The Hogwarts castle is now a cultural symbol. Image Credit: PsyCat Games

The film’s success guaranteed a sequel: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets started principal photography a mere three days after the release of the Philosopher’s Stone. The follow-up was met with similar critical and commercial success, solidifying Harry Potter as the next great cinematic franchise.

Between 2001 and 2011, eight Harry Potter movies were made. Collectively, the series has grossed $7,776,602,036, making it the third highest grossing film series behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars. Since the final film was released, a new film series has emerged from the Wizarding World: two Fantastic Beasts movies have come out with three more set to follow. 

However, the success that began with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone extends beyond the big screen. Plays, video games and even theme parks have all stemmed from the story of the boy wizard.

Despite the controversy that has marred the franchise in recent years, the series that began with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone still holds a special place in the hearts of audiences around the world. So much so that Warner Bros. are set to release a special celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the franchise, reuniting the original cast, on New Year’s Day, 2022.

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