The Harry Potter franchise is one of the biggest pop cultural phenomena of modern times. Based on J. K. Rowling’s book series, the film series also gained a huge fan following and is highly influential to this day. The magical Wizarding World and its endlessly exciting centre at Hogwarts were brought to life brilliantly in the film series. The grand realm with its magical spells, imagined creatures, peculiar objects, and eccentric characters created a landmark in the fantasy genre. Besides, what struck a chord with the audience were the relatable characters and their coming-of-age stories. Even though the setting was far removed from reality, the characters acted as a connecting bridge to it and became massive fan favourites. The story of the hero’s journey from hardship to triumph and the archetypal battle of good-versus-evil made this series a beloved classic. Here are 12 movies like Harry Potter that are both thrilling and emotionally satisfying:
1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–03)
Peter Jackson’s iconic trilogy, adapted from J. R. R. Tolkien’s genre-defining novel, is one of the most influential epic fantasy series ever made. It has a lot in common with Harry Potter, both in concept and plot trajectories. Set in the fantastical world of Middle-earth, it has its own history, legends, myths, and rules. It is a powerfully immersive landscape with intricate detailing, which makes the trilogy a triumph in world-building.
In this backdrop are a great variety of characters with interesting development arcs. We have lovable and heroic characters, downright evil characters, grotesque characters, and everything in-between. Instead of Horcruxes, here we have the powerful and corruptible One Ring which must be destroyed. The battle between good and evil plays out through magical adventures, larger-than-life challenges, and epic battles. The sheer scale of the films and the amazing visuals make them unforgettable. This series is a must-watch for any Potterhead.
2. The Hobbit trilogy (2012–14)
This epic fantasy trilogy from Peter Jackson is the prequel to his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although the eponymous novel from Tolkien was written before, the film series was made after the sequel’s success. This trilogy takes us back to the magical world of Middle-earth and all its colourful inhabitants. It takes place 60 years before its sequel. It centres on the unlikely hero’s peril-ridden journey and a grand quest against a dangerous enemy.
The film is a series of action-packed adventures and epic battles. However, the CGI is a tad overused, which keeps the visuals from being as stunning as in Lord of the Rings. This trilogy expands several sequences which were compact in the book and is somewhat long-winding. While not nearly as good as its sequel, it is still an exciting and fun watch. It provides a fantastical and immersive world with interesting characters and magical elements like Harry Potter.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–10)
This series is based on C. S. Lewis’s epic fantasy children’s book series of the same name. It comes quite close to capturing the feel and trajectory of Harry Potter. Like Harry, the Pevensie siblings lead a tough life as the world is ravaged by war. But then they find a portal to the magical realm of Narnia, where most of the series is set. Narnia is a fantastical land with its own legends, philosophies, and mythologies, and also its own war.
The children must rise to the occasion and become little heroes to save the land from the forces of evil. During their dangerous quest they also have to learn to trust each other and be a true family. Their bonding is quite reminiscent of the relationships between Harry and his friends. The world-building is impressive and Narnia is visually stunning. The first movie is widely considered the best, but the other two are as enjoyable.
4. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy film is a hard-hitting and unpredictable masterpiece. It is grounded in the ugly reality of war and fascism with which the magical elements blend seamlessly. It showcases amazing world-building, grotesque characters, and a heroine’s dangerous journey to fulfil a great quest. The young protagonist, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), leaves a bad home and enters a fantastical world. She must complete three deadly tasks to prove that she is meant to be the princess of the underworld.
The amazing production design makes the world of the labyrinths a grand and somewhat creepy spectacle. Some may find a trace of Goblet of Fire in Ofelia’s adventures in the labyrinth. But Pan’s Labyrinth is much darker and more sinister. It takes inspiration from the horror and tragedy that lurk beneath the surface of fairy tales. The Francoist Spain background is no coincidence either. Pan’s Labyrinth excels as a fantasy film as well as a war film.
5. Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
Although literal magic is not used in Bridge to Terabithia, a great amount of imagination is used to provide the fantasy elements. Thus fantasy and reality exist together here. But what makes this film reminiscent of Harry Potter is actually the children’s life stories and friendship. Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) bond over the challenges they face in daily life and escape to their imagined fantasy world, Terabithia. The life lessons they learn together in this realm help them face difficulties in real life too.
The film brings out the importance of encouraging the natural talents and imaginative powers of children. It also focuses on the impact a positive or negative force in their lives — including parents, friends, teachers, and bullies — can have on them. There are some tragic elements to the movie which make it somewhat heavy. But it is primarily heart-warming to see how the children transfigure their imagined exploits into practical usage.
6. Matilda (1996)
Adapted from Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, Matilda has much in common with Harry Potter. It is a fantasy film centring on a child genius. Little Matilda (Mara Wilson) has a rather awful life at home and finds escape in her books. Her life changes when she realises that she has telekinetic powers. She begins to use her abilities to combat the injustices she sees happening around her.
The film brings Dahl’s vision to life quite well. It deals with the serious and the macabre, but in a darkly comic way. Subjects like child neglect and cruelty are brought to the fore, but the comedy keeps the film from becoming overly heavy or sentimental. Even the Umbridge-like villain Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) is made so ridiculous that her meanness is tinged with farce. It is a whimsical, entertaining, and funny movie with innovative directing and colourful characters.
7. The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fantasy adventure film featuring children navigating their way in a world full of magical creatures. Three children and their mother come to live in a creepy old Gothic-looking mansion. Here the children discover that a whole host of fantastical folkloric beings inhabit the world and some of them have evil intentions. A great quest begins to thwart these malevolent forces, which leads to a lot of exciting adventures.
There are several entertaining action sequences in the film. It doesn’t shy away from dark and frightening moments either, which should be appealing to older kids and adults as well. Besides these elements, this movie also presents an interesting family story. The bonding between the siblings might remind you of the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. A broken family coming together in times of adversity may be a cliché, but it’s a rather nice cliché. The performances and special effects make this film a good watch.
8. Stardust (2007)
Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, this romantic fantasy adventure is a great light-hearted entertainer. Though it may seem quite different from Harry Potter on the surface, they share some remarkable similarities. Stardust doesn’t have children at the forefront, but the fantasy world it presents has a childlike vibrancy, innocence, and humour. A young man enters a hidden magical realm to collect a fallen star for his beloved. This star turns out to be a woman who is being chased down by several malevolent forces.
A dangerous quest for escape begins and hearts and minds are changed along the way. The movie is full of little episodes of fun adventures. The action sequences and the fantastical visuals look great. It is funny, silly, and at times totally over-the-top. The cast does a great job and Michelle Pfeiffer in particular shines in her wicked witch role. It is a happy-go-lucky, whimsical, charming, and sweet movie with interesting characters.
9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Tim Burton’s adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ novel of the same name wasn’t a hit with many fans of the book, but it is a fun watch in its own right. The titular home is a sort of small-scale Hogwarts, specially made for children with supernatural powers. As they cannot integrate within a normative society, this orphanage is their sanctuary. Each child has unique powers, somewhat like the X-Men. The seemingly normal Jake (Asa Butterfield) enters this peculiar world and soon finds that these children are under threat. He must rise to the occasion and be their saviour.
The movie gives us the style, flair, and cinematic magnificence we have come to expect from Burton. The super-kids, the villains, and the events that take place are humorously eccentric. The downside is that the plot somehow manages to be both convoluted and predictable. But the magical world and the great special effects make it a pretty good option for Potter fans.
10. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Here’s another movie from Tim Burton that gets a lot of things right. But being a true adaptation of Carroll’s iconic, wonderful book ain’t one of them. It is a completely different take, but the originality of this version is laudable. Besides, this movie certainly resembles Harry Potter quite a bit. Burton’s hallucinatory adult interpretation of the story is quite brilliant. It brings out the darkness residing within the original and amplifies it.
An older Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to the fantastical realm she had thought of as “Wonderland.” Only, in keeping with the dark tones of the film, the place is actually called “Underland” and is facing great difficulties. Alice seems to be the one destined to save Underland. The narrative unfortunately isn’t strong enough and makes the film a conventional action adventure. But the visuals are fantastic, and the characters are wonderfully grotesque. And the amazing Helena Bonham Carter goes bonkers in the best way possible in this film too.
11. A Monster Calls (2016)
Brutal reality blends seamlessly with dark fantasy in this heartfelt adaptation of Patrick Ness’ novel of the same name. Lewis MacDougall is brilliant as the young Conor, who is weighed down by great emotional pain. His mother is terminally ill, his grandmother severely strict, and he gets bullied at school. An anthropomorphic giant tree monster comes to help him cope with his troubles. This simple fable deals with a lot of complex subjects and feelings. It uses its magic and monster to convey an allegorical tale of grief and loss.
Some elements, like the dynamics of bullying, could have been handled better. But there’s ultimately precious little that’s wrong with the film. The production design, special effects, and animation are an artistic triumph. Some scenes have been written and directed spectacularly and are piercingly effective. A Monster Calls is no conventional monster movie, but a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that immerses you in its journey of sorrow.
12. Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Based on Alexander H. Key’s novel of the same name, this was the first movie of the Witch Mountain franchise. It’s a fun Disney movie that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. It has Potter-esque elements in the form of the two child protagonists. Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards) are orphaned siblings who don’t quite fit into the ordinary world. They have telekinetic, telepathic, and psychic powers. A greedy millionaire tries to capture them to exploit these powers. So the kids make a run for it with the help of a friendly widower.
Several episodes of chase sequences ensue. The origin of the children’s abilities is also revealed in time. It is a thrilling film with some great action which is mildly violent and just edgy enough for a kids’ movie. It isn’t groundbreaking and the fantasy elements are sparsely used. But Escape to Witch Mountain is still a good-natured entertainer with solid special effects for its time.
There we are! These are some amazing movies like Harry Potter, which is not only a fan favourite, but a landmark in pop culture. Both the book and the film series exerted massive global influence which changed the world of literature and film. After Harry Potter, children’s books and their film adaptations became hot commodities for all age groups. In fact, some of the films listed here were made because of this development.
Harry Potter gained such unshakeable popularity that its world has now been expanded via the Fantastic Beasts series. It is deliberately not listed here, because Potterheads are surely watching it already. If you’re done watching all these movies, you can also check out The Golden Compass (2007), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), and The Maze Runner series (2014–18).