Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) - Rotten Tomatoes

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

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AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Under the assured direction of Alfonso Cuaron, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban triumphantly strikes a delicate balance between technical wizardry and complex storytelling.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

After directing the first two movies in the Harry Potter franchise, Chris Columbus opted to serve as producer for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and passed the baton to Y Tu Mamá También director Alfonso Cuarón. Though "immensely popular" is an understatement when it comes to Harry Potter, Azkaban is somewhat of a departure from its predecessors, and particularly beloved among fans for its surprise ending. Prisoner of Azkaban also marks the introduction of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who has escaped from the title prison after 12 years of incarceration. Believed to have been the right-hand-man of the dark wizard Voldemort, whom Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) mysteriously rendered powerless during his infancy, some of those closest to Harry suspect Black has returned to exact revenge on the boy who defeated his master. Upon his return to school, however, Harry is relatively unconcerned with Black. Run by Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) -- who is widely regarded as the most powerful wizard of the age -- Hogwarts is renowned for its safety. Harry's nonchalance eventually turns to blind rage after accidentally learning the first of Black's many secrets during a field trip to a neighboring village. Of course, a loose serial killer is only one of the problems plaguing the bespectacled wizard's third year back at school -- the soul-sucking guards of Azkaban prison have been employed at Hogwarts to protect the students, but their mere presence sends Harry into crippling fainting spells. With the help of his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), and Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Harry struggles to thwart the Dementors, find Sirius Black, and uncover the mysteries of the night that left him orphaned. ~ Tracie Cooper, Rovimore
Rating: PG (for frightening moments, creature violence and mild language)
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Kids & Family
Directed By:
Written By: Steve Kloves
In Theaters:
On DVD: Nov 22, 2004
Box Office: $249.4M
Runtime:
Warner Bros. Pictures - Official Site

Cast

Daniel Radcliffe
as Harry Potter
Emma Watson
as Hermione Granger
Rupert Grint
as Ron Weasley
David Thewlis
as Prof. Remus Lupin
Gary Oldman
as Sirius Black
Alan Rickman
as Severus Snape
Maggie Smith
as Minerva McGonagall
Michael Gambon
as Albus Dumbledore
Pam Ferris
as Aunt Marge Dursley
Tom Felton
as Draco Malfoy
Emma Thompson
as Professor Sybil Trel...
Julie Walters
as Mrs. Molly Weasley
David Bradley
as Argus Filch
Robbie Coltrane
as Rubeus Hagrid
Timothy Spall
as Peter Pettigrew
Julie Christie
as Madame Rosmerta
Paul Whitehouse
as Sir Cadogan
Richard Griffiths
as Uncle Vernon Dursley
Robert Hardy
as Cornelius Fudge
John Cleese
as Nearly Headless Nick
Fiona Shaw
as Petunia Dursley
Alfie Enoch
as Dean Thomas
Mark Williams
as Mr. Arthur Weasley
Harry Melling
as Dudley Dursley
Adrian Rawlins
as James Potter
Lee Ingleby
as Stan Shunpike
Lenny Henry
as Shrunken Head
Jimmy Gardner
as Ernie the Bus Driver
Kathrin Nicholson
as Pansy Parkinson
Jim Tavare
as Tom the Innkeeper
Abby Ford
as Young Witch Maid
Oliver Phelps
as George Weasley
James Phelps
as Fred Weasley
Chris Rankin
as Percy Weasley
Bonnie Wright
as Ginny Weasley
Devon Murray
as Seamus Finnegan
Warwick Davis
as Filius Flitwick
Matthew Lewis
as Neville Longbottom
Sitara Shah
as Parvati Patel
Jennifer Smith
as Lavender Brown
Joshua Herdman
as Gregory Goyle
Genevieve Gaunt
as Pansy Parkinson
Alfred Enoch
as Dean Thomas
Dawn French
as Fat Lady in Painting
Annalisa Bugliani
as Mother in Portrait
Tess Bu Cuaron
as Baby in Portrait
Ekow Quartey
as Boy No. 1
Kandice Morris
as Girl No. 1
Rick Sahota
as Boy No. 2
Jamie Waylett
as Vincent Crabbe
Bronson Webb
as Slytherin Boy
Sharon Sandhu
as Girl No. 2
Violet Columbus
as Girl With Flowers
Danielle Tabor
as Angelina Johnson
Freddie Davis
as Old Man in Portrait
Peter Best
as The Executioner
Josh Herdman
as Gregory Goyle
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Critic Reviews for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

All Critics (252) | Top Critics (50)

Cuarón brought to the Potter franchise a quality curiously missing from the two previous films: magic.

Full Review… | November 16, 2014
The Atlantic
Top Critic

The right word for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is wondersful -- as in full of wonders, great and small.

Full Review… | August 3, 2013
Wall Street Journal
Top Critic

For the first time, the non-converted may actually see what all the fuss is about.

Full Review… | August 3, 2013
AV Club
Top Critic

Just like the books that the films are based on, this franchise gets better with each installment.

Full Review… | August 3, 2013
New Yorker
Top Critic

Like the first two movies, this is loaded with computer-generated imagery, but for the first time there's a sense of dramatic proportion balancing the spectacle and the story line.

Full Review… | September 8, 2010
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

demonstrates how wishy-washy Columbus was in many of his decisions

Full Review… | January 17, 2016
Fat Guys at the Movies

Audience Reviews for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

It's inconsistent with the rest of the franchise in terms of directorial choices, but as a stand-alone film it is possibly one of the best fantasy films ever made.

Matthew Samuel Mirliani
Matthew Samuel Mirliani

Super Reviewer

Cuarón is definitely a better director for this adaptation than Columbus, since this is a darker, more character-centered story compared to the previous two, and the result is more condensed and not so faithful, which works for the best as it leaves out some of the book's few problems.

blacksheepboy
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

One of the most perplexing and irritating aspects of Hollywood is the way it continues to churn out samey, mediocre fare based purely on the financial success of previous instalments. Having endured the first two Harry Potter films, and seen them gross more than $800m each, we might have expected the series to plod on ad nauseum, with every year or so bringing us another disappointing and inconsequential adventure for the little wizard.

Fortunately for all concerned, this didn't happen. With Chris Columbus leaving the director's chair to spend more time with his family, the time was ripe for a fresh pair of eyes to come in and give the franchise the kick up the arse that it needed. With The Lord of the Rings trilogy now completed, garnering rave reviews and 11 Oscars, this would be the film that would need to justify going on. While Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban never quite comes close to Peter Jackson's brilliance, it is far superior to anything that came before in the series and set the bar very high for all that came after.

Alfonso Cuarón may now be a name toasted among film fans, following his gripping work on Children of Men and the groundbreaking visuals in Gravity. But he was by no means a shoe-in to direct. Guillermo del Toro said that he wasn't interested because it was too "bright and happy and full of light", while Marc Forster turned it down because of his work with child actors on Finding Neverland. In the end it came down to a three-way choice between Cuarón, Thelma and Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri, and Kenneth Branagh, who had appeared as Gilderoy Lockhart in the previous instalment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

The box office failure of Love's Labour's Lost probably deprived us of the heady excitement that would have been a Branagh-helmed Potter film. But there can be no doubt that Cuarón was a great choice, for one simple reason: he understands how fantasy storytelling works, particularly how any fantasy film must be underpinned by a sense of wonderment. Columbus' pathological desire to faithfully replicate the books on screen had robbed J. K. Rowling's souce material of all its sense of wonder and amazement. Cuarón restores the balance, giving us a darker plot with more developed characters and never losing sight of the magic in amongst the spells.

Put simply, all the details of the world of Harry Potter, and the story in which he finds himself, are more fully and strikingly realised in Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuarón gets a lot of the big stuff right early on, whether it's the light-hearted comedy of the Knight Bus or the chilling design of the Dementors. But he also puts in a lot of effort to make all the little details fit, particularly during the scenes at The Leaky Cauldron. Whether it's the self-stirring coffee, the angular corridors, the carnivorous books or the silently screaming wanted posters, you always feel that what you seeing is magic, rather than constantly being told that something is magic.

This magical feeling is reinforced by the film's colour palette. In my review of The Philosopher's Stone, I likened its visual style to sanitised adaptations of Charles Dickens which are common in America; as a general rule, I argued, British adaptations of Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and the like are more content to leave all the edges on. This film is shot by Michael Seresin, Alan Parker's cinematographer-of-choice who would later team up with Cuarón again on Gravity. Cuarón clearly understands the darker, more distinctly British routes of the series and the genres upon which it draws, and allows Seresin to work his murky magic with piercing blues and encircling blacks, making it look like a horor film for children.

From a narrative point of view, Prisoner of Azkaban benefits greatly from the direct absence of Voldemort. On the one hand, the fact that he doesn't appear physically or personally in the story spares the film from becoming too repetitive or formulaic: it isn't simply retreading old ground and prolonging the inevitable. This is the trap into which the later Potter films often fell: we always knew that things would end with a showdown between Harry and Voldemort, and the more the films went on without it happening, the more irritating the tease became.

On the other hand, the Dark Lord's influence remains a background threat, allowing Cuarón to build a more intimidating atmosphere. In the first two films, Harry was constantly on the lookout for the man himself: we always knew who the bad guy was, even if we didn't know what form he would take. With Voldemort having to prey on Harry indirectly, he is forced to choose his friends more carefully, and learns over the course of the film just how deceptive appearances can be.

By putting Harry on more insecure footing, the film manages to epitomise his adolescent confusion about the world, and the conflict he faces in fulfilling a role which he didn't choose. The first two films often painted Harry as a goody-two-shoes who had perfect parents, but here we get the first hints of things being a little more nuanced than that. When Harry watches the Dementors kill him and Sirius, expecting his dad to come in and cast the patronus charm, he begins to realise that he cannot rest on their reputation if he is to grow as a wizard. While the next film in the series goes into this in more detail, threatening to tear apart the three central friendships, Prisoner of Azkaban does a good job of setting this up.

This brings us on naturally to the time travel element of the story. Anyone familiar with Back to the Future Part II, Twelve Monkeys or Timecrimes will instantly recognise the territory we are in, with the characters constantly trying to avoid running into themselves, and events being repeated from different perspectives. Coming as it does towards the end of the film, our natural instinct is to conclude that it's surplus to requirement, one twist too many. But if we allow it to play out and watch as all the pieces fit together, we discover that it ties into the central themes of trust, and reputation quite nicely. Besides, if we can accept the existence of horcruxes, sorting hats and hippogriffs, time travel isn't much of a stretch.

Despite all its darkness and intimidation, Prisoner of Azkaban also manages to be pretty funny. The scene where Potter beats up Malfoy and his thugs near the Shrieking Shack is a classic piece of British slapstick, with Tom Felton showing excellent timing through his many pratfalls. The interplay between Snape and Sirius is like a double-act in itself, with Sirius' manic energy coming up against Snape's stonewalling seriousness. Throw in the first scene with the boggart and most of the opening section, and you have a film which achieves a fine balance of light and shade.

With the young cast continuing to improve and grow into their roles, Prisoner of Azkaban also has a couple of aces up its sleeve in the adult cast. David Thewlis was an ideal choice for Lupin: he revels in his lanky physicality and whistful delivery, in stark contrast to his more tight-laced performance in Gangster No. 1. Gary Oldman's performance is equally remarkable, being much more operatic in scale but still retaining a gentle humanity. Oldman resists the urge to simply ham it up and play mad, imbuing Sirius with a tormented quality which makes him compelling.

In spite of all its successes, there are still a couple of problems with Prisoner of Azkaban. Despite the best efforts of Cuarón and screenwriter Steve Kloves, elements of the plot are still repetitive or predictable. After three films, it's fair to presume that whoever holds the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts is going to be a villain in some form, and it is equally certain that Dumbledore will pop up at key moments to misdirect, drop hints or mischievously intervene. These tropes aren't enough to derail the action at any given point, but they are pinches of salt to be taken whenever anyone describes this film as ground-breaking.

Additionally, the film still feels longer than it should. This was the shortest of the three films at the time, at 142 minutes, and it remained the shortest until Order of the Phoenix three years later. But while the pacing is better than Columbus' offerings, it still feels like there is an awful lot of plot being squeezed in when the sensible thing would be to cut more stuff out. Cuarón keeps the fans at arms' length, deciding what he wants to shoot and leave in, but another couple of swift edits to get it down to two hours wouldn't have hurt.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a massive improvement on the first two films, justifying the continuation of the series and helping to explain its appeal to those out of the loop. While it's still too long and well-worn in places, it largely makes up for this with strong performances, interesting themes, much better pacing and a visual style that combines horror and fantasy to leave us really impressed. Whether it's the best Harry Potter film remains a matter of debate, but there is no debate that the later films owe their existence to its success.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Quotes

Albus Dumbledore: Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
– Submitted by Jenna R (17 months ago)
Remus Lupin: Everybody, Riddkulus! [class] Riddikulus!
Draco Malfoy: This class is ridiculous!
– Submitted by Baurushan J (3 years ago)
Harry Potter: Excuse me sir, where's Professor Lupin?
– Submitted by Baurushan J (3 years ago)
Draco Malfoy: Is it true that you fainted?
Ron Weasley: Shut up Malfoy.
– Submitted by Baurushan J (3 years ago)

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