The Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time

How does Harry Potter stack up?

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Warner Brothers

Last May, the Harry Potter films were declared by Box Office Mojo to be the most successful film franchise of all time. It's true that the first seven films in the series—the eight installment, The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 hits theaters Friday—grossed a mammoth $2 billion in the U.S. Critics have been particularly kind to the series as well, with some even arguing that the most recent film was better than the book.

But taking both box office and reviews into account, is Harry Potter the Greatest Movie Franchise of All Time? Here's how it ranks by The Atlantic's calculations:

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To begin with, when you adjust for inflation and average the gross across the entire series, Harry Potter isn't actually the most financially successful franchise. That honor belongs to Star War, with Spider-Man, Shrek, and even Pirates of the Caribbean besting the boy wizard as well. The Harry Potter films have maintained a consistent quality across the series, with A.O. Scott at The New York Times praising that the most recent installment, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, "finds notes of anxious suspense and grave emotion to send its characters, and its fans, into the last round." And in his review of The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Phillip Womack at The Telegraph calls it the best film of the entire franchise: "This is monumental cinema, awash with gorgeous tones, and carrying an ultimate message that will resonate with every viewer, young or old." Considering that our methodology in ranking the 50 Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time weighs box office success and critical reception equally, how will Harry Potter's glowing reviews and projected record-breaking gross affect its ranking on the list?

Back in September, for the seventh Harry Potter film's release, we used a formula that took both box office and critics score into account to rank the 50 Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time. Here's an abbreviated explanation of the process we used to come up with those rankings:

To determine the film's financial success, we adjusted the grosses for each film in every series for inflation using a ratio of today's average movie ticket price to the average cost the year the movie was released. We then averaged those results.

To determine a film's critical success, we used Rotten Tomatoes' critics' scores. We then found the average for each franchise's films.

The Harry Potter films have been a magical success at the box office, which makes it easy to see why Warner Brothers and the film's creative team made the decision to split J.K. Rowling's final 784-page book into two movies—at least from a financial standpoint.

But as we've already learned this year, releasing another sequel in a franchise is still a risk, one that can dramatically affect its ranking on the list of Greatest Movie Franchises list.

A fourth installment of the Scream franchise, released this spring, was the worst-performing film in that series, bringing its ranking down from 30 to 37. When Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides kicked off the summer movie season in May, Pirates was one of the most successful franchises, ranking No. 13. Now, thanks to poor reviews, it's No. 17. The X-Men series had the opposite problem when it gambled on another sequel, First Class. The movie was well-reviewed, but a disappointing box office caused it to slip one spot, to No. 16.

So how will the release of The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 affect the ranking of Harry Potter? The series already looks like it will buck the recent trend of just-released sequels hurting the franchise's ranking. The eighth installment of the franchise is reaching the status of movie event. It's poised to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time, as a generation of pop-culture enthusiasts say goodbye to the global phenomenon. Not only that, but the film's reviews aren't just stellar by Harry Potter standards, but by cinema standards in general—among the best critical notices of any movie this year. Expect Harry Potter to make a play at improving its already impressive ranking on the list.

Read a fuller analysis, posted when the seventh Harry Potter film hit theaters: "The Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time." The gallery in the post has been updated to reflect current rankings.

Presented by

Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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