Entertainment: Harry Potter: Filmmakers Who Almost Directed the Movies

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The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most iconic and beloved movie franchises of all time. The films, adaptations of the book series by J.K. Rowling, are well regarded by not just fans of the young adult books but also entertaining standalone films that mature with both the characters and the audiences over the course of the series. Much attention is given to the wonderful cast of actors who brought these roles to life, but an often overlooked important element was the collection of directors behind the camera.

  Harry Potter: Filmmakers Who Almost Directed the Movies © Provided by MovieWeb

Over the course of ten years and eight films, four directors helped bring the Harry Potter franchise to life. Chris Columbus helmed the first two films, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Director Alfonso Cuarón brought a more mature and darker sensibility with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Mike Newell, an accomplished director of smaller character-centric pieces, managed to bring an epic scope to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Finally, in one of the weirdest studio choices in recent movie history, David Yates stepped up to help wrap up the Harry Potter franchise with the last four films, despite only having directed one small film a decade prior and primarily working on small political TV shows.

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All four directors were able to tell one overarching story across the different films using the same set of actors, all while maintaining their distinct visual looks and keeping them clearly the films of their respective directors. Even in today's modern blockbuster franchises, there really isn't anything quite like Harry Potter.

Yet the road to get here was a long one, and many directors were considered to bring The Boy Who Lived's stories to the big screen. As it was one of the biggest Hollywood properties of the 21st century, the studio met with many filmmakers. One wonders how the franchise might have gone had one of these other directors helmed even one film, or if a collection of these directors helmed the films instead of the four chosen. How different everything might have been. Maybe Harry Potter would have suffered the same fate as other young adult adaptations and remained unfinished. Here is a look at some of the biggest directors who almost helmed a Harry Potter film.

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Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg is arguably the biggest and most famous director of all time. Given his history of successful blockbusters like Jaws, E.T., the Indiana Jones films, and Jurassic Park and his history as a producer on many notable Amblin movies, Steven Spielberg seemed like the ideal fit to bring the magical coming-of-age world of Harry Potter to the big screen.

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While every major studio would want Steven Spielberg's name attached to their franchise, Warner Bros. actually almost came close, as Spielberg did meet with the studio about helming the first film. However, the director wanted to produce it as an animated project, cast American-born Haley Joel Osment to voice Harry Potter, and incorporate elements from subsequent books into the film. Spielberg ultimately passed on the project, choosing to instead direct A.I. Artificial Intelligence (which would acutally star Haley Joel Osment), which opened in theaters five months before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. While Spielberg is a great director, it appeared he was the wrong fit for this project.

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Terry Gilliam

Famed member of the Monty Python comedy troupe Terry Gilliam became a brilliant director after his years in comedy. Gilliam had a distinctive dreamlike surreal style and broke out with films like Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Gilliam's visual aesthetic seemed like a fascinating fit for the fantastical Harry Potter series, if perhaps too adult and dark for its audience.

Gilliam was Rowling's top pick to helm the project, but he did not get the part. There have been conflicting reports regarding Gilliam, with some saying he passed on the project and others saying he did indeed want to helm the movie. Gilliam later said he did not like Chris Columbus' version of Harry Potter and called it dull.

Brad Silberling

Brad Silberling was one of the finalists to direct Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Like eventual director Christopher Columbus (who made the Home Alone movies and Mrs. Doubtfire), Silberling had helmed a successful family film: 1995's Casper. That film's extensive CGI work showed he could handle the amount needed for Harry Potter.

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Despite his experience with family films, Silberling did not get the Harry Potter job but would later direct another adaptation of a popular kids' book, 2004's Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. That film was released the same year as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and was meant to launch a similar young adult franchise, and despite being a box office hit, shakeups at Paramount Pictures led the sequel to be delayed so long that the child actors grew out of their roles.

M. Night Shyamalan

Warner Bros. really wanted M. Night Shyamalan to direct a Harry Potter film. The director was approached to direct Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and finally Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This makes a great deal of sense as he was the hot new director in Hollywood following The Sixth Sense, which also featured a prominent child actor in a lead role.

Shyamalan passed every time and instead focused on his original material. In 2002, he released Signs the same year that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets came out. In 2004, he directed The Village which opened a couple of months after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Seeing how Shyamalan handled The Last Airbender adaptation in 2010, might be for the best he did not helm Harry Potter.

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Kenneth Branagh

After Chris Columbus departed the Harry Potter series, the search was on for a director to helm Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and one name that made the list was Kenneth Branagh. Branagh made a certain amount of sense, as he was already familiar with the Harry Potter franchise following his appearance as Gildroy Lockheart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He was both an accomplished actor and director, known for his Shakespeare adaptions like Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet.

Branagh did not get the director job, but he would eventually find himself helming big-budget fantasy films. In 2011, the same year Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 was released Branagh directed the Marvel superhero Thor. In 2015, he directed the remake of Cinderella and in 2020 Branagh did get to helm a YA novel adaptation in the form of Artemis Fowl, though that movie received negative reactions as opposed to the positive reactions that the Harry Potter films got.

Guillermo Del Toro

Warner Bros. approached Guillermo Del Toro about directing Harry Potter twice, first with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and then Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Given Del Toro's famous visuals and love of crowd-pleasing fantasy and horror, he seems like the perfect fit for the franchise. However, he revealed that he passed on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as he envisioned a more Charles Dickens-esque take on the material and could not make the bright colorful visuals of the first two films fit with his vision. When it came to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the director was working on Pan's Labyrinth, which turned out to be a great decision.

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However, Del Toro was instrumental in his friend Alfonso Cuarón accepting the directing job for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuarón revealed that when he was originally supposed to meet about directing Harry Potter, he dismissed the idea until Del Toro told him to go read the books and even called Cuarón arrogant for dismissing them. The same year that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban came out, Del Toro helmed his great adaptation of Hellboy, which led to a sequel in 2008. Del Toro would also spend years with another adaptation, developing the Hobbit films but departed due to creative differences. While Del Toro may not have directed Harry Potter, he certainly did have a helping hand in it.

Mira Nair

By the time Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix entered development and the search was on for a new director, Mira Nair had already made quite a name for herself. She had helmed the 1998 film Salaam Bombay! which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. She followed that up with films like Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding, and Vanity Fair, with her latest film, The Namesake set for release. There's no word on why Nair turned the job down, but had she accepted it she would have been the first woman to helm a Harry Potter film, something that has still yet to happen.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Acclaimed French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet was approached to helm Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which would have been a real trip. While known for dark fantasy films like Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, at the time of the Potter films he had a breakout success with the much lighter film Amélie. However, he had also directed the critically reviled box office bomb Alien: Resurrection, so the director likely did not want to work in another acclaimed franchise (or with American studios) again, so he passed on Potter, eventually making way for director David Yates to not just that film but every subsequent Harry Potter film.

Matthew Vaughn

One of the most interesting what-ifs, Matthew Vaughn was considered for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. While primarily known as Guy Ritchie's producer, Vaughn made his directorial debut with the 2004 film Layer Cake. He was set to direct X-Men: The Last Stand but had a very public falling out with 20th Century Fox, departing the picture just before the film was about to begin filming. It is likely around this time he was approached for Harry Potter.

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The same year Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released, Vaughn released his own fantasy film, the 2007 film Stardust, based on the Neil Gaiman book. Vaughn in many ways would do his own version of a Harry Potter film with Kingsman: The Secret Service which also involved a young British boy going to a special school to be trained in a special world-saving talent.

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