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“I swear I don’t know. One minute the glass was there and then it was gone. It was like magic!”
The magic (sorry, couldn’t resist) of the ‘Harry Potter’ series is that there’s nothing quite like it.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione – even Scabbers – are irreplaceable, but we can’t sit around moping over ‘Deathly Hallows’ Parts 1 and 2 until the spin-off movies show up.
Let’s get out there and find some great ‘Harry Potter’-like movies!
I know that oftentimes ‘Harry Potter’ gets mentioned in the same breath as ‘Lord of the Rings’. You won’t find that trilogy in this article; I assumed you’d probably seen it already or at least know about it. If not, you should definitely check it out. And if you have seen it and liked the films, here’s a great list of similar titles for you to watch.
There’s nowhere quite like Hogwarts but these magical worlds come pretty close. If you like Harry Potter, you’ll love these movies, and they might even help you revise for your ‘OWLs’.
The Potter skill: history of magic
“Keep moving! Keep moving! Don’t lose interest! One foot in front of the other and the next thing you know, you’re running!”
Percy Jackson has actually drawn attention for being too similar to Harry Potter. Harry and Percy could share a tale or two, though author Rick Riordan’s stories take a more literal route.
Like J. K. Rowling, Rick Riordan pulls mythology into a contemporary setting. And if you know anything about Greek mythology, you can imagine the complexities of discovering that you’re a demigod.
The ‘Percy Jackson’ cast is stellar. Sean Bean appears as Zeus, Steve Coogan as Hades, Uma Thurman as Medusa and Pierce Brosnan as Dumbledore’s counterpart, Chiron.
Make sure to also have a look at these other great movies like ‘Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief’.
The Potter skill: defense against the dark arts
“Why aren’t you orphans in the kitchen preparing dinner?”
Violet Baudelaire and her siblings are not wizards.
These three orphans would actually be better off with the Dursleys, though, as their closest guardian is trying to kill them.
Sadly, there was only one movie made from the Lemony Snicket series, but it does its best to pack in three books worth of adventures.
The Potter skill: transfiguration
“Keep it subtle. Civilians mustn’t know magic exists. That would be complicated.”
Transfiguration studies would have come in pretty handy for Jay Baruchel in this extended take on Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (Norman Ferguson et al, 1940) segment of the same name.
Remember Mickey’s onslaught of bewitched broomsticks? That’s the scene we’re waiting for!
Oh, and the rest of the film is all right, too. Just kidding – it’s actually really dynamic, with a fair bit of spell-throwing action going on.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl’ (Gore Verbinski, 2003) fame, you can expect plenty of action and effects – perfect for wizarding gone wrong.
And if you love mythology as much as I do, you’ll be excited to learn that even the modern city setting doesn’t stop Morgana Le Fay from trying to defeat Merlin’s descendant.
The Potter skill: care of magical creatures
“Vengeance or death!… Hopefully vengeance.”
Jared and Simon (played by Freddie Highmore) are two regular kids who find themselves caught up with faeries and magic in their new house.
Spiderwick doesn’t go in for Harry Potter’s world of revolutions and chilling secret societies. There’s no wizard school, no network of evildoers, and that’s actually kind of nice.
It’s more of a personal journey movie, with added goblins.
Not to mention spells, faerie circles and the otherworldly legacy of deceased former resident, Arthur Spiderwick.
“He went mad, you know. Completely bonkers. Lost his marbles. Fell out of his tree. Oak, I think.”
The Psammead reminds me a bit of a house elf, albeit a slightly grumpy one. Luckily for a group of children staying in a strange house by the sea, this magical creature can grant wishes. But on the flip-side, the enchantments often come at a price.
I think you’ll love the railway station beginning – which is very Hogwarts Express – and the balance of magic and reality. As another nice touch, the children are trying to overcome their own worries, so while we don’t get an alternate Voldemort, we can still feel something close to Harry’s situation. For more adventures with E. Nesbit’s sand fairy, read the book.
The Potter skill: ancient studies
“When they come, all we can do is run and hope that we are fast enough.”
Did you like the animated tale of ‘The Deathly Hallows’ as much as I did? If so, you’ll love this Irish tale. Inspired by the ‘Book of Kells’, this beautifully styled animation also takes visual inspiration from the illuminated manuscript.
A monastery apprentice is given a series of tasks to complete as the Vikings approach Dublin, with the aim of saving the precious book for the people of Ireland. Along the way, he passes through light and dark and makes unlikely friends.
“How do you know it’s fake? It looks real.”
Echoing Harry Potter’s lochside scenes and traditional feel – not to mention the series’ love of mythical creatures – Dick King-Smith’s fantasy story approaches the Loch Ness Monster from a fresh angle.
A Highland family accidentally find themselves taking care of a newly hatched water horse, which soon grows to dinosaur-like proportions.
These movies are a little older, but they’re still great.
“Donna’s arrived. She’ll be a hundred and thirty six next month and she still acts like a teenager.”
Accident-prone Mildred Hubble enrolls at a school for witches and promptly discovers that she causes havoc at every turn.
With Fairuza Balk as Mildred Hubble, Diana Rigg as the equivalent of Professor McGonagall, and Tim Curry as the Grand Wizard, I think you’ll take to the characters from the start, even if you’re not familiar with Jill Murphy books.
I’m not sure how advisable Tim Curry’s cape and song were, but if you can get past those questionable choices, ‘The Worst Witch’ is a really fun movie.
The Potter skill: apparition
“Tell me, Mr. Evers. Do you believe in ghosts?”
This one-off Eddie Murphy movie brings Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion to the cinema, no Fastpass required. He plays an ambitious real estate agent who drags his family to meet a client when they should be on vacation, and, of course, these living visitors soon realise something’s seriously weird about this manor house.
Despite mixed reviews, I love this fun movie, and not just for the quartet of singing busts (those statues make me laugh every time). It doesn’t build an elaborate world like ‘Harry Potter’, but it has a similar ratio of magic, danger and humour, making it perfect viewing for a stormy night.
The Potter skill: divination
“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.”
Plotted by George Lucas and starring ‘Harry Potter’s’ own Warwick Davis, ‘Willow’ centres on a ‘Harry Potter’-like prophecy.
Believing that a child will bring about her destruction, a wicked queen tries to capture all babies, but one is sent to safety. The baby ends up under the supervision of Willow, who finds himself at the heart of a quest to save the kingdom.
Like a lot of fantasy movies released during the decade’s genre boom, it was far from a massive cinematic hit, but it’s a cult classic that fits well with the mood of ‘Harry Potter’.
The Potter skill: ghoul studies
“When a gentle girl can win a prayer from out the lips of sin/when a child gives up tears and the barren almond bears/when the silent chapel bell sounds the ghostly sinners knell/then shall all the house be still, and peace shall come to Canterville.”
In an adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novella, a young Neve Campbell is sent from her home in America to stay with relatives in an old English mansion. There, she and her siblings meet a ghost who alternates between spooky, poignant and endearing.
It’s charming, fun, and with the combination of tradition and modernity (well, 1990s modernity) is just right for a ‘Harry Potter’ match.
The Potter skill: charms
“Observe the fundamental weakness of the criminal mind. You will believe no one or anything.”
Evacuee siblings are sent to live with a trainee witch (if only the final part of her correspondence course would arrive, she could qualify at last), and join forces with her tutor to beat a suspicious gang to a powerful spell book.
It’s a Disney musical that blends live action and animation in the style of ‘Mary Poppins’ (Robert Stevenson, 1964), but the bed-based transportation would look totally at home in J. K. Rowling’s world. Doesn’t it look like it belongs on the Knight Bus?
The Potter skill: herbology
“You brought us back to life, Mary. You did something I thought no one could do.”
This charming movie, based on the children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, follows an orphaned girl sent to live with distant relatives in their imposing castle. As she explores, she uncovers forgotten rooms and their secrets.
It’s not magical in the Hogwarts sense, but an enchanted feeling is woven right through the movie.
We’ve had wizards, legends and spooky sprites – all battled by regular kids who find themselves on a magical quest. It’s hard to match the Boy who Lived, but these guys give it their best shot.
So now that I’ve shared my recommendations, I want to know what I’m missing.
Have you seen any great movies similar to ‘Harry Potter’?
**For a video playlist of the recommendations, please click here.