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Release Year: 2001
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (novel)
Before 1997, if we threw out the phrase "He Who Must Not Be Named," you'd have been stumped. Who is it? Someone bad, right? Hitler? Stalin? Pol Pot? Your ex?
And if we had clarified by saying "You Know Who," you'd have been even more baffled: who is this guy? Is he standing right behind me? Is he listening? Why can't we say his name? Do I know?
Now, of course, we know exactly who this guy is: Voldemort. Everyone's favorite no-nose snake whisperer.
And that, folks, is how crazily famous the Harry Potter books are. They're so famous that we immediately know the identity of a guy whose identity is purposefully withheld. That's massive.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the movie, was inevitable the moment Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the book, became a phenomenal hit. The story of a lonely orphan boy who discovers a world of magic and wizardry was an instant classic, even before it destroyed every bestseller list known to man…mostly because it found a fresh new way to interpret the timeless story of The Hero's Journey.
And Hollywood, ever eager for the next reliable cash cow (or is that cash blask-ended skrewt?) was happy to produce a high-end film version of Rowling's novels. This, the first in what became an eight-movie mega-saga, was an appreciably ginormous hit, delivering a respectful adaptation of Harry's first big adventure at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Critics loved it, and audiences drank it down like a nice mug of butterbeer.
That's all to be expected…considering the source novel and the fact that everyone with a pulse has either read it or heard about it. What wasn't entirely expected is what a terrific film it turned out to be. Movies based on popular books can end up belly-flopping. Think of The Golden Compass. Think of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Think of—oh, dear—The Da Vinci Code.
But Rowling took a special interest in how her books were treated. Not only did she stand up and fight to make sure it came together the way she wanted it to, but she also had the wisdom to know when to trust other people to do right by it all. In Chris Columbus, she found the proper director to start her epic series off the right way. He super-successfully transferred the story to the silver screen, where Potter lovers and newbies alike could see what all the fuss was about.
The results? A modern fantasy classic that raked in almost $1 billion worldwide and launched one of the most successful franchises—both creatively and commercially—in movie history.
Like Harry itself, this film's fate was probably destiny…though we shudder to think what might have happened if the Heyday Films Sorting Hat had paired Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with a director like Quentin Tarantino (who's a Slytherin if ever we saw one), Terrence Malick (who's totally Ravenclaw), or Michael Bay (did someone say Hufflepuff?).
But this flick got paired with a 100% Gryffindor team. Grab your chocolate frogs and watch—or, more likely re-watch—the first movie in the Potter series.
We hear what you're saying. You're saying:
"Um, because Harry Potter. Next question?"
It's hard not to get more sardonic than Minerva McGonagall, more patiently exasperated than Albus Dumbledore, and more eye-roll-y than Severus Snape when you're presented with a text that presumes to tell you why you should care about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
After all, there's the whole "cultural icon beloved by millions across the globe and based on the most influential children's novel since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" thing.
But we're talking about the film version of this beloved novel. We know that there are more reasons to care about the Potterverse than there are flavors in a bag of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans (stay away from those earwax-flavored guys).
When it comes to the cinematic event that is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, though, there's a clear Reason #1. This film broke new ground when it first hit theaters in 2001.
As a series, the Harry Potter films helped cement the notion of franchise filmmaking—multiple movies bound around a common universe, and which have the propensity to become sub-genres all on their own.
Movies had sequels well before Sorcerer's Stone, of course…and some of them were even worth watching (what's up, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West?). But the general rule was the sequels grew increasingly shoddy the further along you went. Smart movie series knew when to call it quits, while others just kept going until their increasingly stinktacular nature kept audiences away…at which time the studio folded up the whole circus tent and went on to something new.
There was only one exception: the James Bond films. (And everyone assumed that they were a one-of-a-kind fluke.)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone changed all that. It had a self-contained story covering another six movies (which the producers expanded to seven by breaking the last chapter in two) corresponding to Rowling's novels (many of which were still in the planning stages at that point). That meant the sequels wouldn't just have to regurgitate the material: they could conceivably get better as time went on, and encompass all manner of new characters and situations.
Nowadays, that's par for the course. The Marvel Universe and re-invigorated Star Wars franchises are leading the way, but you can hardly sneeze without knocking over some new set of novels being turned into four- or five-movie arcs, or superheroes galore showing up in blockbuster after money-making blockbuster.
But that just wasn't the case before Harry Potter. The first X-Men movie preceded it, and it was followed into theaters by the first Lord of the Rings a few scant weeks later, but this film showed what was possible in ways that no other movie could.
That made Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone groundbreaking in ways that have nothing to do with its given status as an instant hit…but everything to do with it being a massively influential film. It set the stage for our current movie environment—and, more importantly—it showed that nothing beats a quality film if you want to set up a franchise of your very own.
The book originally had two titles: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was its name in the States and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was the name in Great Britain and the rest of the world. This meant that every time someone used the term in the movie, they had to shoot the scene twice: once where the person said "Sorcerer's Stone" and once where he or she said "Philosopher's Stone." (Source)
Did you know that the entire Harry Potter series, including this one, failed to win even one single Academy Award? Not even one for visual effects. Yeah, that's one the Academy can hang on their Wall of Shame. (Source)
The books say that Harry has green eyes. Daniel Radcliffe has blue eyes. On the first day of shooting he wore green contacts, but they hurt his eyes and the idea was abandoned. You can still see a few shots—in the last scene as they board the Hogwarts Express to go home—where Radcliffe sports green eyes. (Source)
The IMDB Site
The Internet Movie Database has all the details you need about cast, crew and production…and loads of photos to boot.
The Rotten Tomatoes Site
Here's the assembled collection of critics' wisdom on the film, which sits at a very respectable 80%.
Platform 9 ¾
The real King's Cross Station actually has a Platform 9 ¾ set up, complete with a sign, a half-buried train, and a gift shop where you can pick up all things Harry.
Roger Ebert's Review
The late Roger Ebert wasn't a huge fan of Chris Columbus's work, but he loved this one…a fact that Columbus himself seems very proud of in his commentary on the film's Blu-ray.
Box Office Mojo
If you want the skinny on how much money the movie made, it's over at Box Office Mojo.
J.K. Rowling's Official Site
Where better to hear more about Harry than from his creator?
A very, very, very popular Harry Potter website.
Another very popular Harry Potter website.
Here's Scholastic's official website on the book.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Hey, did you know that this was a book before it was a movie? Okay, you probably did.
As we sincerely hope you're aware of, the Harry Potter saga encompassed eight films in total, starting with this one and finishing with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 in 2011. Another trilogy set in the Potterverse—Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—began in 2016. The Harry Potter wiki has the skinny.
Cast and Crew Speak Up
The folks who put this film together ruminate on participating in the franchise.
Leaky Caldron Interviews
All the interviews you need, courtesy of the Leaky Cauldron fansite.
Better Than the Books? Sacrilege!
Yeah, we're not going there. But The Atlantic did. Take a read.
An Interview with Rowling
J.K. Rowling speaks to Scholastic about the books.
The teaser, or Trailer #1, can be found here
Here's the official trailer for the film, courtesy of Movieclips.
Clips from the Film
Movieclips provides official clips from the film itself, and picked out a snazzy quintet of them in case you need to whet your appetite a bit.
Daniel Radcliffe Interview
Harry himself sits down for the camera way back in the early days.
Radcliffe on Letterman
Daniel Radcliffe speaks to David Letterman on the eve of the film's release.
The Screen Test
Here's a shot of the first screen test featuring our three heroes.
Daniel and JK
Rowling and Radcliffe—the two mighty R's of Harry's world—sit down for a talk after the dust has settled.
The Mysterious Ticking Noise
Harry Potter fan films are thick on the ground here in Internet-land, but we gotta admit: this one is far and away our favorite.
Here's the original poster for the film, with artwork by legendary artist Drew Struzen.
The Blu-ray Cover
A snazzy cover to one of the many, many, many DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film.
The cover to the game (of the film of the novel).
J.K. Rowling poses with the three young stars at the movie's premiere.
The Three Magical Musketeers
A publicity shot of our three heroes ready for action.