J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter epic is a thematic trojan horse: What starts as an innocent tale of magic and empowerment sheds its exterior to comment on the abrasive social plagues of racism and totalitarian politics. It’s a series that grew up with its readers, and the same can certainly be said for its film translations, whose releases span a decade. As with many modern fictions of good vs. evil, the Boy That Lived has assumed a renewed degree of relevance in the wake of a new political regime proud of its unsubtle ties to racism and white supremacy. That heady mix of real-world volatility and adolescent power fantasy resulted in nearly $8 billion dollars in worldwide receipts.
Prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, released last week, also knows how to summon a bushel of cash. The film is written by Rowling and directed by David Yates, who helmed the final four Potter films. Though it was the lowest debuting installment out of the bunch—by approximately $3 million—it still beat stiff competition from Marvel and didn’t benefit from the de-Potter-fied title.
Paste took a weekend (or much more than a weekend) to dive into Rowling’s cinematic oeuvre, putting on our own critical sorting hat to see which films hold up and where the most recent contribution fits into the legacy.