One of cinema's best-executed franchises comes to a close after ten years in theaters this Friday and our countdown nears completion with number 2 on our list: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Widely touted as one of (if not the) best entry in the series, "Prisoner of Azkaban" sees Harry enter his third year at Hogwarts, and the escape and threat of Sirius Black –a wizard linked to Voldemort and the death of Harry's parents –looming over his every move. Regardless of opinion, nobody can deny that Alfonso Cuarón's direction would be a game changer of tone and atmosphere for the franchise.
KIERAN: In my opinion, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best Harry Potter film and there are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, the series was firmly held by Chris Columbus and he made the right decision to step back. Alfonso Cuarón was an inspired choice to take over the directional duties, bringing in a darker tone and was much more stylish than Columbus. The action was strong and the film had an excellent mix of magic, serious drama and humor. The Dementors were truly a creepy creature – just like in the book. The source material was better: “Prisoner of Azkaban” was a better book than the first two, being darker, a better story and starting to expand on the upcoming events. The child actors were becoming better performers by this point and showing that they were not just cast because of their looks. Rating: 10/10
STEVEN: Cuarón brought something to "Harry Potter" that the other directors should be thankful for. Columbus’ vision was cookie-cutter. Here you see kids undoing their ties and my goodness – street clothes! We’re used to them now, but if the kids weren’t dressed in robes every time, they looked like they were dressed by their mothers. That maturity alone gave the series a huge boost. The visual storytelling was also the best of the series then and arguably now. The friendship between the three heroes was tested and Cuarón focuses on it. Not my favorite book, but Cuarón gave me a reason to think otherwise. Rating: 9/10
SIMON: Like your thoughts, Kieran, Alfonso Cuarón's addition to the franchise is widely considered to be the best of the bunch. I will admit to only some bias as “The Prisoner of Azkaban” is my favorite novel but I had no high hopes, so to speak, going in. I only ever saw this third film in the series on DVD as a diehard (opening night Potter-head I am not, nor will I ever be). For me Cuarón’s take seemed hollow and muted, and the bolder departure from the source material did not seem to help things along. “Azkaban” is in no way a bad film, and in contrast to Columbus, the darker take was something to savor, but it is simply not worthy of the praise it receives. Rating: 7/10
MAX: For better or worse, “Prisoner of Azkaban” might not be the greatest of the Potter films, but it is certainly the most crucial of them. Not to mention it’s one of the rare third entries in a franchise that helps the series pick up steam, rather than run it off the rails.Cuarón’s dark vision (thank God) combined with the already magical world set up in the first two films helped to elevate the series in a way that found broader appeal to non-Potter fans, like me at that time. It only helps that the film has the always awesome Gary Oldman in the mix; it was a welcomed change of pace to have the threat focus less on Voldemort (awesome as he is) and more on Sirius Black, expanding on Harry’s family backstory and giving Radcliffe the chance to really work with the emotions of his character for the first time in the series. I can agree with Simon that the film is far more muted than its predecessors (and successors for that matter) but I cannot say that is a negative. “Azkaban” was the first in the series to showcase how the world of “Harry Potter” could feature not only spectacular effects at work, but sincere and believable characterization. In a movie about a boy waving a magic wand around, that’s an impressive feat to pull off. Rating: 9/10