Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (released in the United States, India and the Philippines as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) is a 2001 fantasy film directed by Chris Columbus and produced by David Heyman, from a screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the 1997 novel of the same name by J. K. Rowling. It is the first instalment in the Harry Potter film series. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, with Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. Its story follows Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as he discovers that he is a famous wizard and begins his formal wizarding education.
Warner Bros. Pictures bought the film rights to the book in 1999 for a reported £1 million ($1.65 million). Production began in the United Kingdom in 2000, with Chris Columbus being chosen to create the film from a short list of directors that included Steven Spielberg and Rob Reiner. Rowling insisted that the entire cast be British and Irish, with the three leads chosen in August 2000 following open casting calls. The film was shot at Leavesden Film Studios and historic buildings around the United Kingdom, from September 2000 to March 2001.
The film was released to cinemas in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 10 and 11 November 2001 for two days of previews. It opened on 16 November in the United States, Canada, and Taiwan as well as officially in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It became a critical and commercial success, grossing $974 million at the box office worldwide during its initial run, and over $1 billion with subsequent re-releases. It became the highest-grossing film of 2001 and the second-highest-grossing film at the time. The film was nominated for many awards, including Academy Awards for Best Original Score, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. It was followed by seven sequels, beginning with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2002 and ending with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in 2011.
In 1997, producer David Heyman searched for a children’s book that could be adapted into a well-received film. He had planned to produce Diana Wynne Jones’ novel The Ogre Downstairs, but his plans fell through. His staff at Heyday Films then suggested Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which his assistant believed was “a cool idea.” Heyman pitched the idea to Warner Bros. and in 1999, Rowling sold the company the rights to the first four Harry Potter books for a reported £1 million. A demand Rowling made was for Heyman to keep the cast strictly British and Irish; the latter’s case has Richard Harris as Dumbledore and Fiona Shaw as Petunia Dursley, and not to cast foreign actors unless absolutely necessary, like casting of French and Eastern European actors in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) where characters from the book are specified as such. Rowling was hesitant to sell the rights because she “didn’t want to give them control over the rest of the story” by selling the rights to the characters, which would have enabled Warner Bros. to make non-author-written sequels.
Although Steven Spielberg initially negotiated to direct the film, he declined the offer. Spielberg reportedly wanted the adaptation to be an animated film, with American actor Haley Joel Osment to provide Harry Potter’s voice, or a film that incorporated elements from subsequent books as well. Spielberg contended that, in his opinion, it was like “shooting ducks in a barrel. It’s just a slam dunk. It’s just like withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it into your personal bank accounts. There’s no challenge.” Rowling maintains that she had no role in choosing directors for the films and that “[a]nyone who thinks I could (or would) have ‘veto-ed’ [sic] him [Spielberg] needs their Quick-Quotes Quill serviced.” Heyman recalled that Spielberg decided to direct A.I. Artificial Intelligence instead.
After Spielberg left, talks began with other directors, including Chris Columbus, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, Mike Newell (who would later direct the fourth film), Alan Parker, Wolfgang Petersen, Rob Reiner, Ivan Reitman, Tim Robbins, Brad Silberling, M. Night Shyamalan and Peter Weir. Petersen and Reiner both pulled out of the running in March 2000, and the choice was narrowed down to Silberling, Columbus, Parker and Gilliam. Rowling’s first choice director was Terry Gilliam, but Warner Bros. chose Columbus, citing his work on other family films such as Home Alone (1990) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) as influences for their decision. Columbus had become a fan of the book series after his daughter persuaded him to read the first three books, leading him to call his agent to arrange a meeting at Warner Bros. to direct the film. When his agent told him that at least 25 other directors were eager to helm the project, Columbus requested his agent to secure his meeting to be the last one so he could give a “lasting impression” and be the studio’s “freshest person in their memory”. During two weeks of waiting, Columbus wrote a 130-page director’s version of the screenplay to explain his vision for the film’s tone. The day of his meeting with Warner executives including Alan F. Horn, Columbus delivered an “impassioned 45-minute talk” and showed them his annotated script. Weeks later, the studio notified Columbus that he had gotten the job and sent him to Scotland to meet with Rowling and Heyman. Columbus pitched his vision of the film for two hours, stating that he wanted the Muggle scenes “to be bleak and dreary” but those set in the wizarding world “to be steeped in color, mood, and detail.” He took inspiration from David Lean’s adaptations of Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), wishing to use “that sort of darkness, that sort of edge, that quality to the cinematography,” while being further inspired by the colour designs from Oliver! (1968) and The Godfather (1972).
Steve Kloves was selected to write the screenplay. He described adapting the book as “tough”, as it did not “lend itself to adaptation as well as the next two books.” Kloves often received synopses of books proposed as film adaptations from Warner Bros., which he “almost never read”, but Harry Potter jumped out at him. He went out and bought the book, and became an instant fan of the series. When speaking to Warner Bros., he stated that the film had to be British, and had to be true to the characters. Kloves was nervous when he first met Rowling as he did not want her to think he was going to “[destroy] her baby.” Rowling admitted that she “was really ready to hate this Steve Kloves,” but recalled her initial meeting with him: “The first time I met him, he said to me, ‘You know who my favourite character is?’ And I thought, You’re gonna say Ron. I know you’re gonna say Ron. But he said ‘Hermione.’ And I just kind of melted.” Rowling received a large amount of creative control, an arrangement that Columbus did not mind.
Warner Bros. had initially planned to release the film over 4 July 2001 weekend, making for such a short production window that several proposed directors pulled themselves out of the running. Due to time constraints, the date was put back to 16 November 2001.
- Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter:
An 11-year-old orphan living with his unwelcoming aunt, uncle, and cousin, who learns of his own fame as a wizard known to have survived his parents’ murder at the hands of the dark wizard Lord Voldemort as an infant when he is accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Columbus had wanted Radcliffe for the role since he saw him in the BBC’s production of David Copperfield, before the open casting sessions had taken place, but had been told by casting director Susan Figgis that Radcliffe’s protective parents would not allow their son to take the part. Columbus explained that his persistence in giving Radcliffe the role was responsible for Figgis’ resignation. Radcliffe was asked to audition in 2000, when Heyman and Kloves met him and his parents at a production of Stones in His Pockets in London. Heyman and Columbus successfully managed to convince Radcliffe’s parents that their son would be protected from media intrusion, and they agreed to let him play Harry. Rowling approved of Radcliffe’s casting, stating that “having seen [his] screen test I don’t think Chris Columbus could have found a better Harry.” Radcliffe was reportedly paid £1 million for the film, although he felt the fee was “not that important” to him. William Moseley, who was later cast as Peter Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia series, also auditioned for the role. The Saunders triplets appear as Harry as a baby.
- Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley:
Harry’s best friend at Hogwarts and a younger member of the Weasley wizarding family. A fan of the series, Grint decided he would be perfect for the part “because [he has] ginger hair”. Having seen a Newsround report about the open casting he sent in a video of himself rapping about how he wished to receive the part. His attempt was successful as the casting team asked for a meeting with him. Thomas Brodie-Sangster auditioned for the role but was rejected.
- Emma Watson as Hermione Granger:
Harry’s other best friend and the trio’s brains. Watson’s Oxford theatre teacher passed her name on to the casting agents and she had to do over five interviews before she got the part. Watson took her audition seriously, but “never really thought [she] had any chance of getting the role.” The producers were impressed by Watson’s self-confidence and she outperformed the thousands of other girls who had applied.
- John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick: The ghost of Gryffindor House.
- Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid:
A half-giant and Hogwarts’ gamekeeper. Coltrane was one of the two actors Rowling wanted most, along with Smith as McGonagall. Coltrane, who was already a fan of the books, prepared for the role by discussing Hagrid’s past and future with Rowling. According to Figgis, Robin Williams was interested in participating in the film, but was turned down for the Hagrid role because of the “strictly British and Irish only” rule which Columbus was determined to maintain.
- Warwick Davis as Filius Flitwick: The Charms Master and head of Ravenclaw House. Davis also plays two other roles in the film: the Goblin Head Teller at Gringotts, and dubs the voice of Griphook, who is embodied by Verne Troyer.
- Richard Griffiths as Vernon Dursley: Harry’s Muggle uncle.
- Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore: Hogwarts’ Headmaster and one of the most famous and powerful wizards of all time. Harris initially rejected the role, only to reverse his decision after his granddaughter stated she would never speak to him again if he did not take it. Patrick McGoohan was initially offered the role, and showed interest, but declined due to health issues. Sean Connery was also offered the role but turned it down because he was not interested in the film’s subject matter.
- Ian Hart as Quirinus Quirrell:
The stuttering Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts. David Thewlis auditioned for the part; he would later be cast as Remus Lupin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Hart also voiced Lord Voldemort, while Richard Bremmer provided his physical appearance and portrayed him as a hooded figure during a flashback.
- John Hurt as Mr. Ollivander: a highly regarded wandmaker and the owner of Ollivanders.
- Alan Rickman as Severus Snape: The Potions Master and head of Slytherin House. Tim Roth was the original choice for the role, but he turned it down for Planet of the Apes.
- Fiona Shaw as Petunia Dursley: Harry’s Muggle aunt.
- Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall: The Deputy Headmistress, head of Gryffindor and transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts. Smith was one of the two actors Rowling wanted most, along with Coltrane as Hagrid.
- Julie Walters as Molly Weasley: Ron’s mother. She shows Harry how to get to Platform 9+3⁄4.
Additionally, Zoë Wanamaker appears as Madame Hooch, Hogwarts’ flying instructor; Tom Felton portrays Draco Malfoy, a student in Slytherin and Harry’s rival; before being cast as Draco, Felton auditioned for the roles of Harry and Ron. Harry Melling plays Dudley Dursley, Harry’s cousin; and David Bradley appears as Argus Filch, Hogwarts’ caretaker. Matthew Lewis, Devon Murray and Alfred Enoch portray Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas respectively, three first year students in Gryffindor; James and Oliver Phelps play twins Fred and George Weasley, Ron’s brothers, while Chris Rankin appears as his other brother Percy, a Gryffindor prefect, and Bonnie Wright appears as Ron’s sister Ginny. Sean Biggerstaff portrays Oliver Wood, the Keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch team; Jamie Waylett and Joshua Herdman play Crabbe and Goyle, Malfoy’s minions; and Leslie Phillips voices the Sorting Hat. Derek Deadman plays Tom, innkeeper of The Leaky Cauldron; and Elizabeth Spriggs appears as the Fat Lady, a painting at Hogwarts.
November 14, 2001
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