Bolting into pop culture over ten years ago in 2001, the Harry Potter series kicked off with The Philosopher’s Stone, a light family film about witches and wizards that would bear almost no resemblance to where the dark drama would end up. Its sequel, Chamber of Secrets, was much the same, telling a charming tale of adventure in and around the Hogwarts grounds, albeit with a little more danger tossed in for good measure.
It wasn’t until the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004 that the success of the series on a critical and commercial level would be truly established, with the filmmaker behind Y tu mamá también, Children of Men and Gravity taking the reins from the previous director Chris Columbus. This small change set the Harry Potter franchise on a correction course to success.
Seeing this change first-hand was the stars of the franchise themselves, namely Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, three child actors who would later reach international acclaim.
In a conversation with Empire in April 2022, Radcliffe, who plays the title character of Harry Potter in the movie explained how his time working with Columbus on Chamber of Secrets came to an end. “I remember the moment on the second film where Chris came in and said that he wouldn’t be doing any more films,” Radcliffe stated, adding, “He came in to talk to us about that. I remember being pretty like, ‘Whoa, what happens now?’”.
Radcliffe and his co-stars didn’t know it at the time, but the third film in the trilogy was to be helmed by the Mexican arthouse filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, whose greatest contemporary success had been an Oscar nomination for the 2001 movie Y tu mamá también.
Commenting on the significant change, Radcliffe stated, “Now, by the standards of modern cinema, that decision just looks very smart and good. At the time, I think we can forget how absolutely left-field that choice seemed, as the guy who’d just done Y Tu Mamá También”. Elaborating on the situation and how it transformed the show, he added, “But again, it’s one of the decisions that our producer David Heyman made that really shaped the next few years of the series and allowed us to go to a darker place”.
The Harry Potter series went on to rake in a total of $7.73 billion from 2001-2011, becoming one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, rubbing shoulders with such big industry names as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Fast and Furious franchise.
Alfonso Cuarón also went on to prove that Y Tu Mamá También was no fluke, having since won four Academy Awards for his 2014 sci-fi Gravity starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, as well as the 2019 Netflix release, Roma which was critically praised at the time. What’s more, Cuarón’s 2004 Harry Potter movie is considered by many to be the best film of the entire series, crafting an intricate tale that includes fantasy beasts and even time travel.