The summer of 2001 was a glorious one. Not only was there were no deaths due to heat-related illness, but also Hollywood seemed to have found its summer voice. The Harry Potter series dominated the box office, as it had done for the previous three summers, and the trend seemed set to continue.

However, even among the fantasy films, Harry Potter wasn’t like the other Harry Potter movies. For the first time, the franchise was experimenting with different tones, introducing darker, more mature themes while simultaneously appealing to a younger audience.

Warner Bros. had released the first in a series of films adapting J.K. Rowling’s immensely popular Harry Potter books in the summer of 1997, and each subsequent film had become more popular than the last. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had become the second highest-grossing film of all time just two years after its release, and is now considered among the greatest of the Harry Potter films. With a total box office gross of over $8 billion, it is safe to say that J.K. Rowling’s creation had become an overnight success.

However, the phenomenal popularity of Harry Potter meant that when Warner Bros. released the follow-up, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it became the third highest-grossing film of all time, only behind Titanic and E.T. The popularity of the series was such that the studio decided to release yet another installment, this time set some years after the events of Book 6,Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The move paid off, as the film became the highest-grossing movie of all time, just as Titanic’s 18-year reign as the biggest movie of all time was drawing to an end.

A New Direction

The third installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was a massive critical and financial success, earning a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing over $743 million at the box office. However, the studio decided to take a different approach with the next two films in the series. While the previous two entries were extremely family-friendly, with the most violent sequence coming at the halfway point of Book 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the fourth installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, would be the first to feature more mature themes, including brutal violence and alcoholism. The move was a bold choice, but one that paid off. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows became the highest-grossing film of all time, raking in over $1.2 billion at the box office.

Different Tones

With each new film, Harry Potter was becoming more of an adult series, and it showed. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the titular character is still a student living with his aunt and uncle, while in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he is a full-fledged adult, with responsibilities including a career, a family, and a love life, completely contradicting the first two films’ adolescent focus. The change of pace is evident in the film adaptations of Rowling’s work, from the dark colors used in the illustrations of the early books to the deep hues of the final installment. However, changing times meant that the films’ young audience was now older – and presumably more mature – than those that attended the previous entries in the franchise.

The decision to explore mature themes in the next two films was in some ways a response to the success of the Jurassic Park films, and the decision to end the series on a downbeat note was a reaction to the enormous popularity of the franchise. Although it suffered from pacing issues at first, the decision to end the series in such a way that it leaves open the question of whether Harry Potter will return has seemingly been embraced by the fanbase, creating what has been referred to as the “Harry Potter Renaissance.”

Ultimately, it is difficult to put into words just how popular and influential Harry Potter has been. The franchise has certainly surpassed the $8 billion mark in total box office revenue, and the fact that J.K. Rowling’s books have remained in print for 20 years, with new readers regularly discovering them for the first time, shows how successful the series has been.