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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

tomatometer

80

Average Rating: 7.1/10
Reviews Counted: 191
Fresh: 153 | Rotten: 38

Being so faithful to the book is both the movie's strength and weakness. The movie unfolds exactly as written in the book, so there is little room for surprises or discoveries. For Potter fans, what more can you ask for?

74

Average Rating: 6.7/10
Critic Reviews: 43
Fresh: 32 | Rotten: 11

Being so faithful to the book is both the movie's strength and weakness. The movie unfolds exactly as written in the book, so there is little room for surprises or discoveries. For Potter fans, what more can you ask for?

audience

82

liked it
Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 1,147,492

My Rating

Movie Info

The best-selling novel by J.K. Rowling (titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in England, as was this film adaptation) becomes this hotly anticipated fantasy adventure from Chris Columbus, the winner of a high-stakes search for a director to bring the first in a hoped-for franchise of Potter films to the screen by Warner Bros. Upon his 11th birthday, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), who lives in misery with an aunt and uncle that don't want him, learns from a giant named Hagrid (Robbie

May 28, 2002

$317.6M

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All Critics (191) | Top Critics (43) | Fresh (153) | Rotten (38) | DVD (46)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is, despite its trickery, that plainest and least surprising of artifacts: the work of art that is exactly the sum of its parts, neither more nor less.

November 27, 2013 Full Review Source: New Yorker
New Yorker
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A near-perfect commercial and cultural commodity.

March 5, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

I hear the J.K. Rowling books are great, and on the basis of this 2001 movie I'm ready to believe it.

March 5, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comment (1)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

What a feast for children! Long, and engrossing. Kids will love it! Wizard!

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It offers more delights than disappointments -- and that qualifies as one of the year's great reliefs.

August 9, 2002
Denver Rocky Mountain News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The filmmakers want to show us a magical world that is, at the same time, wholly believable. They want to create matter-of-fact miracles, but what they end up with is mostly just plain matter-of-fact.

January 22, 2002 Full Review Source: New York Magazine/Vulture | Comments (4)
New York Magazine/Vulture
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Harry Potter's adventures in wizard-land are cozy and comfortable in Chris Columbus' faithful adaptation.

November 27, 2013 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

This faithful rendition of the inaugural Potter book demonstrates that the franchise is in safe, sensible hands.

November 27, 2013 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

A surprisingly excellent exciting fantasy flick...

June 15, 2013 Full Review Source: Cinema Crazed
Cinema Crazed

Slow, but it establishes the myth, the cast and the look. And it's holding up surprisingly well.

January 27, 2013 Full Review Source: Movie Nation
Movie Nation

Although it suffers nominally from being over-stuffed and under-paced, it's grand and involving, with magnificent production design and special effects, and some fabulous thesps present and correct.

June 27, 2011 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

First Potter movie is a magical ride but also intense.

December 24, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

a fantastic beginning

July 5, 2008

Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Zoe Wanamaker and Maggie Smith, to name but a few, all put in an appearance and it is these old hands who are the best aspect of the film.

October 25, 2007 Full Review Source: Eye for Film
Eye for Film

Suffering from too much fantasy over too little reality, Sorcerer's Stone sets Harry Potter up for a longer and fruitful career as a screen legend.

July 24, 2007
Cinema Sight

Because the film is so glossy, so flippant in its presentation of the world that author J.K. Rowling has spent her sizable novels dissecting, that I still don't have a good idea what all the fuss is about.

July 14, 2007 Full Review Source: Big Picture Big Sound | Comments (4)
Big Picture Big Sound

The quickest, zappiest two and a half hours of entertainment you'll ever see.

July 8, 2007 Full Review Source: Guardian
Guardian

Even though a few of the book's scenes have been cut, fans probably couldn't hope for a better adaptation. It bodes well for the rest of the series, when strong stories start taking precedence over set-up.

December 30, 2006 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine | Comment (1)
Empire Magazine

A spectacular franchise takes flight.

November 17, 2005 Full Review Source: Bangor Daily News (Maine) | Comment (1)
Bangor Daily News (Maine)

I couldn't find one mis-step, one wrong move, or one disappointment in the transition from print to celluloid.

September 30, 2005 Full Review Source: Three Movie Buffs
Three Movie Buffs

Columbus' rendition of the first Harry Potter is a slavish adapation of the book, lacking imagination or vision, though not as bad as to be insufferable to watch

September 4, 2005 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

The special effects aren't overwhelming and the ideas aren't too far-fetched, but the story will reel in just about anybody.

July 5, 2005 Full Review Source: Bullz-Eye.com
Bullz-Eye.com

Audience Reviews for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

When a film series has achieved international recognition and enjoyed enormous commercial success, it becomes very easy to believe that its eventual standard was replicated throughout its history. The appeal of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and James Bond is so widely spread throughout our culture that the individual films begin to blend into a single entity; the notion of Star Wars as a very good thing makes us forget the shortcomings of the individual films.

As with each of these examples, it simply isn't the case that the Harry Potter series has always been of the highest quality. For all the praise it has garnered, especially for its impact on the British film industry, the series had a very shaky start. Watching The Philosopher's Stone now, there are times when it is hard to believe that we ever got as far as the seventh book being split into two lucrative parts. While it comes with the very best intentions, it is decidedly ill-disciplined and unengaging compared to later instalments.

The roots of this problem lie in the choice of director. J. K. Rowling's original choice had been Terry Gilliam, who was then coming off the back of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Gilliam's vision for the film was ambitious and every bit as fantastical as his work on Brazil, but the studio opted for Chris Columbus following the director's two-hour pitch to executives. Columbus' track record with family-friendly hits like Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire went down much easier than Gilliam's history of quarelling with studios and his multiple (but undeserved) box office failures.

This decision, taken before any of the film had been shot, shapes the entirety of both The Philosopher's Stone and its sequel. It's the classic example of a studio playing it safe, putting a potentially lucrative property in a safe pair of hands, who will in turn deliver something which will offend the least amount of people and thereby create the widest possible market. Columbus' directorial style is an accountants' dream, and the worst nightmare of anyone who cares about proper fantasy filmmaking.

In my review of Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief, I spoke about Columbus' conservative approach to the source material and how this hurt the finished project. In both cases, he opted to stay extremely faithful to the original novels, personally going through the script with Rowling to ensure that all the minor details were intact. While attention to detail is always welcome, with Columbus it manifests itself in literally putting the page on screen, in a manner which makes the whole experience much less cinematic than it could have been.

There is evidence of this throughout The Philosopher's Stone, particularly in the many long scenes with our three main characters in the corridors of Hogwarts. These scenes feel for all the world like the actors were reading their lines directly from the book, without the adjustments being made for the visual language of cinema. Not only are these scenes a lot longer and more expository than they need to be, but they give the sense of a film crew fighting against the material; the camera chases after the story, rather than grabbing it by the scruff of the neck like a proper adaptation would.

Because the talky scenes feel so much like readings from the novel, the film doesn't flow especially well. All the more action-based scenes, like the quidditch match, the broomstick lessons or the wizard's chess scene near the end, feel like set-pieces which have wandered into what otherwise resembles a recital rather than a film. And because the dialogue is often flat, these scenes don't carry the weight they they need to carry; rather than building up to, say, the chess game, it comes out of nowhere and feels like a distraction.

By attempting to cram in every last detail of the book, Columbus has committed the ironic sin of gradually alienating a mainstream audience. While fans of the book may be impressed by how faithfully certain scenes are replicated, this approach results in a film which is altogether too long and too leisurely paced. With The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson sought to be as faithful as possible to J. R. R. Tolkien's work while acknowledging the need to keep the plot moving and make changes to keep casual fans interested. Columbus has neither the skill nor seemingly the desire to pull this off, appearing to settle for dramatic longeurs to avoid upsetting fans of the book.

One could argue that this film has to be slower than those that followed it, because it has to introduce and explain so many different aspects of the world of wizards. But at the time of its release, there was never a guarantee that the series would run its course: not all the books had been written, and the studio took a big chance on the three young actors - probably the biggest chance they took on the whole production. The Fellowship of the Ring may be the gentlest instalment in Jackson's trilogy, and it does have to set up a lot of things, but it's still a rivetting thrill ride whose dynamism pulls all its interesting ideas and themes to the fore.

Columbus' conservatism is also present in the visual sensibility. When pitching the film, he claimed that he wanted to make the scenes in the muggle world "bleak and dreary" while those in the wizard world would be "steeped in colour, mood and detail." He referenced David Lean's work on Great Expectations and Oliver Twist in his chosen cinematography, while comparing the colour palettes to those in Oliver! and The Godfather.

The thing is, you would never garner any of this from actually watching The Philosopher's Stone. The scenes in the muggle world look like a dodgy American take on what a typical British household might look like: for all the charm of the late Richard Griffiths, it still feels too chocolate-box to cut the mustard. While the film does have a loosely Dickensian feel, it is not the Dickens of Lean, with its bleak shadows, striking expressionist angles and emphasis on social inequality. It is instead the Dickens of many American versions of A Christmas Carol, in which all the edges have been taken off and even the least fortunate people look like they've been well-fed for years.

This overly cosy sensibility means that many of the darker or more gruesome qualities in the story aren't allowed to have that great an impact. Some of the CG effects are pretty good, such as the sorting hat or putting the face of Voldemort on the back of Professor Quirrell's head. But when they're being presented in the context of scenes filled with warm candles and goofy jokes, they either feel like bizarre intrusions or come across as silly and unthreatening. The film plays up the sentimental aspects of the book far too much, especially in the mirror scene with Voldemort and the bedside chat between Harry and Dumbledore.

In the midst of all this disappointing mediocrity, there are a number of aspects to The Philosopher's Stone which are enjoyable, either on their own terms or within the context of the overall story. The series' biggest asset from the beginning has been its cast, with each of the three main child actors finding their feet reasonably quickly. There are some obstacles in their way, with Hermione being far more irritating than she is in the later films, but the actors feel settled in their parts and at home in front of the camera.

The adult cast are equally appealing, for a variety of different reasons. Alan Rickman was simply born to play Severus Snape: resisting the urge to turn in another Hollywood villain performance, he instead uses his unusual delivery to keep surprising you about the character. Richard Harris is very capable as Dumbledore, as is John Hurt as Mr. Ollivander: while both parts are essentially exposition with extra dollops of whimsy, both actors manage to bring some kind of weight to their dialogue. The only weak link in the adult cast is Ian Hart: while his Quirrell is convincing (if annoying), he simply isn't intimidating enough as Voldemort.

The film is also pretty funny, perhaps because we have such a strong bond with the cast in the the first place. The running gags about Hagrid breaking things and telling people things he shouldn't have done are funny throughout, as are all the bad things that befall Neville Longbottom over the course of the story. The humour is played very broadly, with much of it being set up a little too obviously, but for the most part it still feels genuine in its delivery.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a mediocre first offering in the then-fledgling franchise. Despite having a strong cast and quite a lot of entertaining humour, it's ultimately far too cautious and literal an adaptation to pass muster as a properly cinematic outing. Its flaws become all the more painfully obvious as the series grows and develops, making all its decisions to play safe seem utterly ridiculous in hindsight. While not the worst instalment in the series, it's hardly the start that we wanted or deserved.
June 2, 2014
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Though it may be a little overtly child-oriented for adult audiences, this is still a beautifully designed world full of wonder and a great start to a series. Full review later.
March 3, 2013
TomBowler
Thomas Bowler

Super Reviewer

Ah, the first film adaptation of the beloved Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter is an 11-year-old boy who comes to find out that he is a wizard. He lives with his uncaring Muggle (non magic) aunt, uncle, and cousin since his parents died when he was a baby. They were murdered by a dark and powerful evil wizard named Lord Voldemort. Harry would be dead too, but was miraculously saved, making him something of a legend.

Upon learning of his guarded magic roots, Harry gets enrolled in Hogwarts- a British school for witches and wizards. While there he learns to come into his own, meet people that are actually good to him, and learn more of his dark past.

Looking back, I don't know if it was a good idea to have Chris Columbus direct this, as he does have a reputation for being something of a hack, albeit a decent one. I think his direction is okay here. Yeah, retrospectively it could have been better, but it could also have been much worse. At least with him at the helm we get a good amount of whimsy to go along with a bit of menace, and that's a good thing, as the book was likewise not too heavy on the darker stuff (though that sure changed as time went on).

Many liberties are taken, which is weird since the book is quite short, and the film is two and a half hours. It does get the point across decently enough though, and also works as a piece for those unfamiliar with the source material.

John Williams provides great music, there's wonderful art direction and set design, and there's some nifty set pieces too. Featuring an all-British cast, this film is impeccably cast, and the performances are good too. Finding decent child actors is hard, but they really scored here.

My enjoyment of this movie has waned over time, but it's still not a terrible piece of work by any means, so check it out.
January 18, 2013
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

I'm taking a look back at the Harry Potter series with as unbiased of eyes as I possibly can being a massive fan of the books and films. Sorcerer's Stone starts the series off well with a great cast of newcomers and veterans stepping into roles that would shape some of their lives for the next decade. Christopher Columbus' direction leaves a little to be desired, but the atmosphere, set design, costumes, special effects, and music supplant themselves at almost instant classic status and would be excellent for years to come. The film itself is a little too slavish of all the details in the book and therefore the pacing gets hurt at times and it is a little long, but the magic is there and in full force and the tone is just right: not too dark and not too childish. We all know how dark the series gets by the end, so it is a little nice to get back and see how everything started. Overall, it's probably one of the least interesting in the series in terms of film making, but it is one of the most well liked entries in the series and sold the most tickets of them all, making it a pretty darn successful kick-off of the franchise.
December 19, 2012
jlewis07

Super Reviewer

    1. Hagrid: You're a wizard harry.
    – Submitted by Matthew B (42 days ago)
    1. Dudley Dursley: I'm not Harry.
    2. Harry Potter: [appearing from behind a wall] I am.
    3. Hagrid: Well of course you are.
    – Submitted by Baurushan J (19 months ago)
    1. Neville Longbottom: You're sneaking out aren't you? You'll get Gryffindor into trouble again.
    – Submitted by Baurushan J (19 months ago)
    1. Hermione Granger: What is it?
    2. Harry Potter: He's going to sacrifice himself!
    3. Hermione Granger: No you can't, there must be another way!
    4. Ron Weasley: Do you want to stop Snape from stealing the stone or not?
    – Submitted by Baurushan J (19 months ago)
    1. Severus Snape: Clearly Potter, fame isn't everything is it?
    – Submitted by Baurushan J (19 months ago)
    1. Draco Malfoy: You think my name's funny do you? No need to tell me who you are. Red hair and a hand-me-down robe? You must be a Weasley.
    – Submitted by Baurushan J (19 months ago)
View all quotes (48)

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