This week in history: 16 November 2001, the first Harry Potter film is released

Following the success of the Harry Potter books – the most recent having been Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire released in July 2000 – the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released on the 16th November 2001 much to the anticipation of fans, after J. K. Rowling sold the rights of the first four books to Warner Brothers for £1million.

Careful not to make the film clash with any of later instalments, Rowling herself played a big part in the modelling of the script and was even invited to play Harry’s mother in the Mirror of Erised.

Rowling, in fact, wrote the scene in which Harry’s parents are killed by Voldemort, and at least one line was reportedly removed from the script to prevent clashing with the next book.

Indeed, producers were eager to make the film as true to form as possible, fitting Daniel Radcliffe with green contact lenses, and Emma Watson with fake buck teeth. However, Radcliffe reacted badly to the lenses and Watson couldn’t talk properly, so these details were quietly dismissed.

The casting of the child actors did, however, turn out to be a success, with many reporting that Radcliffe, Watson and Grint were perfectly matched to their parts. Hermione’s infamous ‘Holy cricket!’ was a spontaneous exclamation, perfectly in keeping with her character’s personality.

Likewise, James and Oliver Phelps, the actors who played Fred and George Weasley, were just as cheeky as their characters. It has been rumoured that they swapped places regularly during filming until they were found out by the film crew meaning that many scenes had to be reshot.
Not all casting was so successful out of luck, however. Alan Rickman was hand-picked for his part as Snape, a deal secured by Rowling after she revealed confidential information about Snape’s backstory to Rickman.

Richard Harris was also chosen specifically for his role as Dumbledore, who eventually acquiesced after having already rejected the role three times. It later turned out that he only accepted the role because his granddaughter claimed that she would never speak to him again if he didn’t.

In the end, all this effort paid off. The film was nominated for 65 awards in total – including three Oscars – and won 17. At the Box Office, the film broke the record previously held by Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace for the best single-day sales in the USA, making $32.3million.

Meanwhile, in the UK the film went on to make £66.1million, making it the country’s second highest-grossing film of all time, after Titanic. Despite only receiving an average rating of 7.1/10 and an approval rating of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, it received huge praise from reviews in The Telegraph and Empire.

Sixteen years later, the franchise boasts 8 hugely successful films, and with the beginning of a new series of prequels, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, the legacy continues to shine brighter than ever.

 

image: Nguyễn Trường via flickr

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