When adapting a beloved book series for the big screen, it can be difficult to decide what to include, what to leave out, and when to make changes to characters and scenes. Fans are often critical of the results, and nowhere is that more true than with the movie adaptations of the Harry Potter novels.
The earlier books in the series were short enough that most plot points and characters were transferred fairly accurately to the movies, but later in the series, it became harder for screenwriters to adapt the increasingly lengthy books faithfully to the big screen. While screenwriters have to leave out some details to condense a 700- or 900-page book into a two-hour movie, fans have a number of complaints about the way the source material was adapted for film.
Complaints include leaving out beloved characters or reducing the importance of their role in the action, changing major plot points, and having characters behave in ways that aren’t consistent with their personalities in the books.
While you can’t please all the fans of the novels all the time, some changes were worse than others. Read on for 15 examples of times the Harry Potter movies butchered the source material.
15. Percy’s estrangement from the Weasley family
In the novels, Percy Weasley joins the Ministry of Magic, and after Lord Voldemort returns, he sides with the ministry over his family, causing a rift that lasts for several books. You’d never know this from watching the movies, though. It’s a shame that this is left out of the movies, because it illustrates how painfully divided the wizarding community is.
Percy isn’t the only one who gets short shrift in the movies, of course. The Weasley family is very important in the books, and their role, overall, is cut back severely in the films. Older brother and dragon handler Charlie is left out almost completely, and older brother Bill’s engagement to Fleur Delacour comes out of left field in The Deathly Hallows because he wasn’t given any previous screen time in the movies.
14. Who is Tom Riddle?
A casual fan of the Harry Potter movies who hasn’t read all the books might be very confused about Tom Riddle/Voldemort’s history. In the movies, Dumbledore shows Harry a few memories in the pensieve, but our hero sees many more of these memories in the books, and the novels provide a rather detailed backstory for the Dark Lord.
Since The Half-Blood Prince novel is chock full of Tom Riddle’s background info, this movie, at the very least, should show more of Riddle’s origin story, his horrible family lineage (leading back directly to Salazar Slythrin), and showing that Riddle was cruel to other children before he even reached puberty. It’s possible that the directors and writers felt a storyline that included incestuous inbreeding in Riddle’s family line would be too much for a family movie, but omitting so much of the backstory from the movies does make a muddle of future Voldemort’s motivations.
13. Ginny Weasley’s personality and relationship with Harry
Ginny Weasley is a kickass character, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from watching the movies. In Deathly Hallows, while Harry, Hermione, and Ron are out looking for Horcruxes, it’s Ginny and Neville left behind at Hogwarts leading Dumbledore’s Army in the resistance. She also helps win a Quidditch match and, in the The Half-Blood Prince, is the one who hides Tom Riddle’s diary in the Room of Requirement, while it’s Harry who hides it in the movie.
Additionally, the relationship between Harry and Ginny doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as it should. In the books, Harry and Ginny crush on each other but explore other relationships while gradually figuring out that they are right for one another. Harry and Ginny’s kiss in the Room of Requirement seems to come out of nowhere and falls flat, largely because there isn’t the build-up in the movies that you see in the source material.
12. The mystery of Neville Longbottom’s parents
In the movies, viewers might pick up that Neville Longbottom lives with his grandmother, but they might not necessarily know why. The reason for this is that Alice and Frank Longbottom live in the psychiatric wing of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Neville’s parents went insane after being tortured by Voldemort’s Death Eaters with the Cruciatus Curse.
There’s a scene in The Order of the Phoenix where Harry and friends go to visit Arthur Weasley in St. Mungo’s hospital. In the books, Neville sees his parents in the psychiatric wing, but they don’t recognize him as their son. This is a heart-rending moment that helps flesh out Neville’s character, and it’s too bad that the movies decided to leave this scene out entirely.
11. No Peeves the Poltergeist
While leaving Peeves out of the movies doesn’t leave as many holes in the plot of the Harry Potter films as leaving out members of the Weasley family, many fans of the book were displeased that scenes with Peeves, played by comic actor Rik Mayall, were cut from the movies. He’s mostly in the books for color, playing pranks on the students in The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Prisoner of Azkaban. However, he plays a minor but key role in driving headmistress Dolores Umbridge nutty in The Order of the Phoenix and, later, fighting for the school in the final battle.
10. Kreacher’s heroism is lost
The role of House Elves in the Harry Potter universe is downplayed across the board in the movies. Dobby gets some screen time, but a female House Elf named Winky and Hermione’s crusade to protect the rights of the species as written in the books are totally omitted on the big screen. However, one of the worst ways the movies butchered the source material was leaving out Black family House Elf Kreacher’s redemption and heroism.
In Deathly Hallows, we find that Regulus Black grew remorseful about becoming a Death Eater and devised a plan to thwart Voldemort, a scheme that Kreacher was involved in. Most of this backstory is cut in the movie adaption of Deathly Hallows.
Kreacher also leads the House Elves into the final battle at Hogwarts, a scene that was actually filmed, but later cut. A casual viewer of the movies could be forgiven for being confused as to why Harry ends up befriending Kreacher, who is grouchy and prejudiced against “Mud-bloods” in the movie adaptions — his more heroic moments were never shown.
9. Dudley Dursley’s redeeming moment
In the books, the Dursley family treats the Boy Who Lived pretty horribly throughout, and Dudley is perhaps Harry’s worst persecutor. However, in the end, he’s the only one from the Dursley family who ends up being somewhat decent to Harry. In Phoenix he leaves a tray of food by Harry’s door, which makes a mess once the door is opened, but Harry realizes in Deathly Hallows that it was meant in a kindly way.
Additionally, in Deathly Hallows, Dudley thanks Harry for saving his life. The scene in the book shows character development — Dudley has grown as a person, and he isn’t just a horrible bully forever and ever. It’s too bad we didn’t get to see that redeeming moment on the silver screen.
8. Leaving the Sphinx and other encounters out of the maze in Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the first movie in the series where screenwriters took great liberties with the plot, and many fans remain outraged by how badly the movies butchered the source material. Many Harry Potter fans are upset about how plainly the maze is portrayed, seemingly just populated with weird plants and covered in mist. It is one of the most boring challenges in the competition, and it shouldn’t be.
An encounter with a boggart, a sphinx, and dangerous blast-ended skrewts are left out of the maze entirely. Out of all those omissions, leaving out the sphinx is possibly the worst call, because it shows that Harry isn’t just brave, but also whip smart. After all, Hermione isn’t the only one of the trio of friends who can use her brain along with her wand.
7. Harry breaking the Elder Wand
In the movie adaption of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry gets rid of the Elder Wand by breaking it in two and throwing it away. While it does show that Harry knows the wand is too dangerous for anyone to possess, the scene makes no sense. What is the young wizard going to do with his own wand broken and the Elder Wand in pieces and thrown away?
In the books, Harry does something much more logical: he uses it to fix his own wand, and then tells Dumbeldore’s portrait that he intends to put the Elder Wand in Dumbledore’s tomb. When Harry dies, all connection to the Elder Wand will be broken, and no one will be able to wield its power again, and Dumbledore’s portrait approves of this action.
6. Harry’s secret search for the Horcruxes
As you likely know, Lord Voldemort breaks his soul up into pieces and stores it in objects called Horcruxes. In order to defeat the Dark Lord, Dumbledore tasks Harry with finding and destroying those objects, but tells him to keep his crusade a secret. Dumbledore’s advice is spot on — if it becomes known that Harry is searching for them, it’s likely that Voldemort would try to hide them more carefully, making our hero’s task that much harder.
In the book, Harry does keep the secret, refusing to spill the beans when asked by more than half a dozen characters. But in the movie adaptations of both Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he blabs about horcruxes to several people. We realize the screen writers were probably using these conversations as exposition to explain what horcruxes are, but the Harry Potter of the books wouldn’t have blabbed so casually about his quest.
5. Dumbledore’s personality
There are a number of ways that Dumbledore’s personality on the big screen flies in the face of the source material, but one that fans of the books cringe at every time is the way he charges at Harry, grabs him by the arm and shouts “Harry, did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire?!” In the book, the narrative clearly states that Dumbledore says this calmly.
But like we said, it’s far from the only time that Hogwarts’ headmaster acts out of character in the films. Overall, die hards were not crazy about Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore. In the books, he always has a twinkle in his eye, but Gambon portrays him as overly serious, dry, and even dour. It will come as no surprise that Gambon famously refused to read the Harry Potter novels. That explains a lot.
4. The attack on The Burrow
The attack on the Weasley’s home, called The Burrow, was made up completely for the movie of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The scene flat-out doesn’t occur in the book, and the source material even states that The Burrow is supposed to be spelled with protections against Death Eaters and their mischief.
However, in the movie adaptation, the Death Eaters attack and manage to burn The Burrow with very little difficulty. We don’t even understand why the filmmakers bothered to include this made-up scene, since The Burrow is back to normal for the next film, with no reference to it being burned or any explanation about it being rebuilt.
3. Lack of Marauder backstory
In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and his friends get some help sneaking around Hogwarts when he receives The Marauder’s Map, which shows the location of anybody at the school and tracks them as they move. The movies, however, never really explain who the Marauders are.
In the books, it’s clear that The Marauders are Harry’s father and his childhood friends Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and Remus Lupin. They create the map so that they can sneak around the school after lights out as well as go venturing with the shapeshifting werewolf Lupin.
The map is printed with the names of its creators, “Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs,” and the fact that these are nicknames for the friends isn’t explained clearly in the movies, either. If you never read the novels, you’d probably be pretty confused about just who the Marauders are.
2. The time-turner
Hermione receives a time-travel device called a time-turner from Professor McGonagall in The Prisoner of Azkaban, allowing her to attend two classes that are scheduled to conflict with one another. The device also makes an appearance in several of the follow-up novels. In the books, it is made crystal clear how the time-turner works, including specifying that, when going back in time, Hermione and anyone she takes with her should not be able to interact with themselves in the past.
In the movie adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban, the screenwriters make a dramatic departure from the source material by allowing Hermione to interfere in the past. Hermione throws a pebble to attract the attention of past Harry and Hermione as they try to save Sirius Black and the magical creature Buckbeak. Whoops?
1. Voldemort’s death
Topping our list of times the Harry Potter movies butchered the source material is Voldemort’s death. Author J.K. Rowling made it clear in the novels and in interviews that she didn’t want to give Voldemort a particularly special demise, but that she wanted him to go out like any other human being.
In the movie, of course, he disintegrates into ashes and blows away like a supernatural being, and he does so in an isolated duel with no witnesses. In the book, the final showdown between Voldemort and Harry takes place in the Great Hall, witnessed by all the students present. When Harry kills him, the Dark Lord simply drops to the floor pathetically – just a bald guy with a stick in his hand. Filming it that way might have felt anticlimactic, but that’s exactly the way the author wanted it to be.
What other major missteps were made when adapting the Harry Potter novels to the big screen? Let us know in the comments.
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