By Eashan Reddy Kotha
2016 marks the 15th anniversary of the release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” movie, a reminder of the fact that it is undeniably embedded in pop culture even after all this time. One would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of the cultural phenomenon that is “Harry Potter.” Since the first book’s publication in 1997, over 450 million copies were sold worldwide, eight movies were produced and the franchise is worth an estimated $25 billion.
One of the important components to “Harry Potter’s” ascent to the pinnacle of franchise excellence is its world-building. J.K. Rowling’s books effectively immerse readers in the wizarding world with astounding detail. Readers can walk through Hogwarts’ gothic architecture that makes it more castle than school and imagine tasting deliciously warm butterbeer in picturesque Hogsmeade. Rowling’s attention to detail not only creates a believable fantasy world but also enables Universal Studios to market and merchandise a wealth of products to draw from.
World-building is a major appeal, but it is characters that readers really relate to. Harry, Ron and Hermione are iconic to our generation because we grew up with them; they evolved as the plot grew darker and more complex as we matured too. Let’s not kid ourselves by claiming that Harry was an infallible protagonist from the start. When he first got to Hogwarts, Harry was a naive and impulsive boy, but he grew up to face much bigger challenges. The plot progressively got darker as more characters were placed in harm’s way. Harry’s interactions with all of the characters are engaging and when they cooperate we find the spark that makes them compelling.
The first film captured the book’s 300 pages of magic in disappointingly broad strokes but proved that “Harry Potter” could be adapted to film. Better yet for the franchise, the release of future films could be timed with the release of the books Rowling had yet to write. Using both literature and film, “Harry Potter” reached wider audiences. Viewers who saw the first movie were driven to read the books and those who read the books faithfully saw the movies to see how the source material was translated. After hearing so much about it, bandwagoners and those drawn by the fear of missing out gave Rowling’s world a chance to impress them.
Although there are several instances in later films where readers were frustrated by changes (like Harry snapping the Elder Wand in half before repairing his wand or Dumbledore yelling at Harry for allegedly putting his own name in the Goblet of Fire), the success of the franchise wouldn’t have been possible without the release of the first film. That is, it was the first attempt of many to cram as much of Rowling’s universe into a 150 minute film.The first film’s worldwide total stands at a mammoth 974.8 million, according Box Office Mojo. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is the bedrock for the marketing and commercial juggernaut. It brought the already blooming series into the mainstream and director Chris Columbus’ foray into the world was received well critically. The seed was planted for future films’ ascension to greater box office heights and audiences. The movies alone generated $7.7 billion in the global box office and that figure jumps to an eye-popping $10 billion when home video formats get taken into account.
For Universal Studios, the “Harry Potter” franchise is the gift that keeps on giving. During a live Q&A, Rowling confirmed that the “Fantastic Beasts” spin-off prequel will span five movies. Some are skeptical of the idea, probably remembering the disappointment of “The Lord of The Rings” fans when “The Hobbit” trilogy underperformed. Despite this, Rowling has insisted that it will take five movies to tell the story she envisioned.
Even today, people will still follow the series because the story resonates with all ages. Recurring themes — overcoming adversity, facing fears, loss — serve as narrative beats. They convey universal emotion that Rowling effectively uses to capture her audience.
Through wonder and excitement, “Harry Potter” has given our generation an epic reminiscent of that of “The Lord of the Rings” and also transcended the age barrier with its accessibility. It provides readers a fantasy to escape into and nurtures fans who have grown up with the series and those who read them in a week. As the stakes increased dramatically from installment to installment, so did the audience for the series. Rowling has provided a story fit to pass onto our children and the films do their best to complement it.