The film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, alongside Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry's best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. It also features well-known actors in supporting roles, including Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon (in his debut in the role of Albus Dumbledore), Emma Thompson and Timothy Spall. It is the sequel to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and is followed by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The film was released on 31 May 2004 in the United Kingdom and on 4 June 2004 in North America, as the first Harry Potter film released into IMAX theatres and to be using IMAX Technology. It is also the last Harry Potter film to be released on VHS. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Original Music Score and Best Visual Effects at the 77th Academy Awards in 2005.
Harry Potter has been spending another dissatisfying summer with The Dursleys. When Uncle Vernon's sister, Marge, insults Harry's parents, Harry loses his temper and accidentally causes her to inflate and float away. Harry flees with his luggage, fed up with his life with the Dursleys. The Knight Bus delivers Harry to the Leaky Cauldron, where he is forgiven by Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge for using magic outside of Hogwarts. After reuniting with his best friends Ron and Hermione, Harry learns that Sirius Black, a convicted supporter of the dark wizard Voldemort, who murdered Harry's parents, has escaped Azkaban prison, intending to kill Harry.
The trio are returning to Hogwarts for the school year on the Hogwarts Express, when dementors suddenly board the train, searching for Sirius. One enters the trio's compartment, causing Harry to pass out. New Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher Professor Lupin repels the dementor with a Patronus Charm. At Hogwarts, headmaster Albus Dumbledore announces that dementors will be guarding the school while Sirius is at large. Hogwarts groundskeeper Hagrid is announced as the new Care of Magical Creatures teacher; his first class goes awry when Draco Malfoy deliberately provokes a hippogriff, Buckbeak, who attacks him. Draco exaggerates his injury, and Draco's father Lucius Malfoy later has Buckbeak sentenced to death.
The Fat Lady's portrait, which guards the Gryffindor quarters, is found ruined and empty. Terrified and hiding in another painting, the Fat Lady tells Dumbledore that Sirius Black has entered the castle. During a stormy Quidditch match against Hufflepuff, dementors attack Harry, causing him to fall off his broomstick. At Hogsmeade, Harry is shocked to learn that not only had Sirius Black been his father's best friend and apparently betrayed them to Voldemort, but that Sirius is also his godfather. Lupin privately teaches Harry to defend himself against dementors, using the Patronus Charm.
After Harry, Ron and Hermione witness Buckbeak's execution, Ron's pet rat Scabbers bites him and escapes. When Ron gives chase, a large dog appears and drags both Ron and Scabbers into a hole at the Whomping Willow's base, which leads to an underground passage to the Shrieking Shack. The trio discover that the dog is actually Sirius, who is an Animagus. Lupin arrives and embraces Sirius as an old friend. He admits to being a werewolf, and explains that Sirius is innocent. Sirius was falsely accused of betraying the Potters to Voldemort, and murdering twelve Muggles and their mutual friend, Peter Pettigrew. It is revealed that Scabbers is actually Pettigrew, an Animagus who committed the crime for which Sirius was seemingly convicted for, and had betrayed the Potters. After forcing him back into a human, Lupin and Sirius prepare to kill him, but Harry convinces them to turn Pettigrew over to the dementors.
As the group departs, the full moon rises; Lupin transforms into a werewolf, and Sirius transforms into his dog form to fight him off. In the chaos, Pettigrew escapes in his rat form. Sirius and Harry are attacked by dementors and Harry sees a figure in the distance save them by casting a powerful Patronus spell. He believes the mysterious figure is his deceased father, and passes out. He awakens to discover that Sirius has been captured and sentenced to the Dementor's Kiss. Acting on Dumbledore's advice, Harry and Hermione travel back in time with Hermione's Time Turner, and watch themselves and Ron repeat the night's events. They save Buckbeak from execution and witness the Dementors overpower Sirius and Harry. The present Harry realises that it was actually he who conjured the Patronus, and does so again. Harry and Hermione rescue Sirius, who escapes with Buckbeak. Lupin resigns to prevent an uproar from parents over a werewolf teaching their children. Sirius sends Harry a Firebolt broom, and Harry happily takes it for a ride.Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, a 13-year-old British wizard famous for surviving his parents' murder at the hands of the evil dark wizard Lord Voldemort as an infant, who now enters his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, Harry's best friend at Hogwarts.
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, Harry's Muggle-born best friend and the trio's brains.
Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid, the gamekeeper and new Care of Magical Creatures teacher at Hogwarts.
Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts and one of the greatest wizards of the age. Gambon assumed the role after Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the previous two films, died on 25 October 2002. Despite his illness, Harris was determined to film his part, telling a visiting David Heyman not to recast the role. Four months after Harris's death, Cuarón chose Gambon as his replacement. Gambon was unconcerned with bettering or copying Harris, instead giving his own interpretation, putting on a slight Irish accent for the role, as well as completing his scenes in three weeks. Rumours of Ian McKellen being offered the role started to spread, but when asked he rejected the rumours and stated he had played a similar character in Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He also stated it would have been inappropriate to take Harris' role, as the late actor had called McKellen a "dreadful" actor. Harris's family had expressed an interest in seeing Harris's close friend Peter O'Toole being chosen as his replacement.
Richard Griffiths as Vernon Dursley, Harry's Muggle uncle.
Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, Harry's infamous godfather, who escapes from the Wizarding prison Azkaban after serving twelve years there for being falsely accused of being the Death Eater who betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort. Oldman accepted the part because he needed the money, as he had not taken on any major work in several years after deciding to spend more time with his children. He drew inspiration from Cuarón, whom he described as having "such enthusiasm and a joy for life," and compared Sirius to John Lennon. He was "surprised by how difficult it was to pull off", comparing the role to Shakespearean dialogue. Oldman suggested Sirius's hairstyle, while Cuarón designed his tattoos. He had read the first book, and his children were fans of the series. The part made Oldman a hero with his children and their schoolmates.
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, the Potions teacher at Hogwarts and head of Slytherin.
Fiona Shaw as Petunia Dursley, Harry's Muggle aunt.
Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, the Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts and head of Gryffindor.
Timothy Spall as Peter Pettigrew, a friend of Harry's parents said to have been killed by Sirius Black, but was later revealed to have been the real Death Eater who betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort.
David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts and a werewolf. Thewlis, who had previously auditioned for the role of Quirinus Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was Cuarón's first choice for the role of Professor Lupin. He accepted the role on advice from Ian Hart, who was cast as Quirrell, and had told him that Professor Lupin was "the best part in the book." Cuarón told Thewlis that he thought Lupin was gay, describing him as a "gay junkie", although his idea turned out to be incorrect. Thewlis had seen the first two films and had only read part of the first book, although after taking the role he read the third. He was excited about the prospect of making a children's film, and enjoyed its filming.
Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney, the Divination teacher at Hogwarts.
Robert Hardy portrays Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic. Julie Christie plays Madam Rosmerta in the film. Lee Ingleby portrays Stan Shunpike, the conductor of the Knight Bus. Also Pam Ferris appears in this film as Marge Dursley, Harry's aunt who is a lush. Jimmy Gardner plays the driver of the Knight Bus, Ernest "Ernie" Prang (also called "Ern"). Lenny Henry provides the voice for the shrunken head that accompanies Ernie Prang on the Knight Bus.
With Prisoner of Azkaban, production of the Harry Potter films switched to an eighteen-month cycle, which producer David Heyman explained was "to give each [film] the time it required." Chris Columbus, the director of the previous two films, decided not to return to helm the third instalment as he "hadn't seen [his] own kids for supper in the week for about two and a half years." Even so, he remained on as a producer alongside Heyman. Guillermo del Toro was approached to direct, but considered the film "so bright and happy and full of light, that [he] wasn't interested." Marc Forster turned down the film because he had made Finding Neverland and did not want to direct child actors again. M. Night Shyamalan was considered to direct but turned it down because he was working on his own film, The Village. Warner Bros. then composed a three-name short list for Columbus's replacement, which comprised Callie Khouri, Kenneth Branagh (who played Gilderoy Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets) and eventual selection Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón was initially nervous about accepting as he had not read any of the books, or seen the films. After reading the series, he changed his mind and signed on to direct, as he had immediately connected to the story. Cuarón's appointment pleased J. K. Rowling who loved his film Y Tu Mamá También and was impressed with his adaptation of A Little Princess. Heyman found that "tonally and stylistically, [Cuarón] was the perfect fit." As his first exercise with the actors who portray the central trio, Cuarón assigned Radcliffe, Grint and Watson to write an autobiographical essay about their character, written in the first person, spanning birth to the discovery of the magical world, and including the character's emotional experience. Of Rupert Grint's essay, Cuarón recalls, "Rupert didn't deliver the essay. When I questioned why he didn't do it, he said, 'I'm Ron; Ron wouldn't do it.' So I said, 'Okay, you do understand your character.' That was the most important piece of acting work that we did on Prisoner of Azkaban, because it was very clear that everything they put in those essays was going to be the pillars they were going to hold on to for the rest of the process."
Principal photography began on 24 February 2003, at Leavesden Film Studios, and concluded in October 2003.
The third film was the first to extensively utilise real-life locations, as much of the first two films had been shot in the studio. Some sets for the film were built in Glen Coe, Scotland, near the Clachaig Inn. The indoor sets, including ones built for the previous two films, are mainly in Leavesden Film Studios. The Hogwarts Lake was filmed from Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt and Loch Morar in the Scottish Highlands. Incidentally, the train bridge, which was also featured in the Chamber of Secrets, is opposite Loch Shiel and was used to film the sequences when the Dementor boarded the train. A small section of the triple-decker bus scene, where it weaves in between traffic, was filmed in North London's Palmers Green. Some parts were also filmed in and around Borough Market and Lambeth Bridge in London.
Hogwarts grew and expanded significantly with the third film. For the first time, the Hogwarts courtyard and bridge were seen. At the end of the bridge, rock monoliths were placed onto the hillside to evoke a Celtic feeling. The use of live-action also significantly changed the look of Hagrid's hut. In the first two films, it appeared at the end of a flat stretch, right in front of the Forbidden Forest. The third film utilised the more rugged Scottish locations to place Hagrid's hut at the bottom of a steep hillside. A large pumpkin patch was added behind the hut.
The Honeydukes set in this film is a redress of the set of Flourish & Blotts that was seen in Chamber of Secrets, which, in turn, was a redress of the Ollivanders set from the first film.
Rowling allowed Cuarón to make minor changes to the book, on the condition that he stuck to the book's spirit. She allowed him to place a sundial on Hogwarts' grounds, but rejected a graveyard, as that would play an important part in the then unreleased sixth book. Rowling said she "got goosebumps" when she saw several moments in the film, as they inadvertently referred to events in the final two books, she stated "people are going to look back on the film and think that those were put in deliberately as clues." When filming concluded, Cuarón found that it had "been the two sweetest years of my life," and expressed his interest in directing one of the sequels.
Cuarón originally wanted to move away from CGI toward puppetry. He hired master underwater puppeteer Basil Twist to help, using puppets to study the potential movement of the Dementors. Once it became apparent that puppetry would be too expensive and unable to portray the specific elements of the Dementors, Cuarón turned to CGI; however, he and his team did use footage of Dementor puppets underwater as a basis for the flowing movements of the computer-generated Dementors.
The Knight Bus segment when Harry is being taken to The Leaky Cauldron uses the technique known as bullet time, popularised in The Matrix series of films. This segment takes humorous advantage of the magic quality of the Harry Potter world by having the Muggle world go into bullet time while inside the Knight Bus, Harry, Stan Shunpike and Ernie Prang (and the talking shrunken head) keep moving in real time.
The Academy Award-nominated score was the third and final score in the series to be composed and conducted by John Williams. It was released on CD on 25 May 2004. In general, this film's music is not as bright as that of the previous films, with distinct medieval influences in the instrumentation. One of the new themes, "Double Trouble," was written during production so that a children's choir could perform it in Hogwarts's Great Hall in one of the film's earlier scenes. The lyrics of "Double Trouble" are from a ritual performed by the Weïrd Sisters in Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Macbeth. The film's trailer prominently features the cues "Anticipation" and "Progeny" by Brand X Music, a trailer music band.
Prisoner of Azkaban was, at the time of publication, the series' longest book. The increasing plot complexity necessitated a looser adaptation of the book's finer plot lines and back-story. The film opens with Harry using magic to light his wand in short bursts, whereas in the same scene in the book, he uses a torch/flashlight, as performing magic outside the wizard world is illegal for wizards under the age of seventeen. The connection between Harry's parents and the Marauder's Map is only briefly mentioned, as is Remus Lupin's association to both the map and James Potter. Additionally, it was never mentioned who the Marauders were or who the nicknames Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs referred to. Some exposition was removed for dramatic effect: both the Shrieking Shack and Scabbers the rat are mentioned only very briefly in the film, while they receive a more thorough coverage in the novel. Most of Sirius Black's back story is also cut, with no mention of the manner of his escape from Azkaban. Only the first Quidditch game was kept in the film, due to its importance to the storyline; the second (Gryffindor/Ravenclaw) and third (Gryffindor/Slytherin) were cut. Thus, Harry receives the Firebolt at the film's end, while in the book he receives it anonymously at Christmas and it is confiscated for a few weeks to be checked for possible jinxes by Professor Flitwick and Madam Hooch.
On account of pace and time considerations, the film glosses over detailed descriptions of magical education. Only one Hippogriff, Buckbeak, is seen, and only Malfoy and Harry are seen interacting with the Hippogriff during Care of Magical Creatures lessons, and most other lessons, including all of Snape's potions classes, were cut from the film. The Fidelius Charm's complicated description is removed entirely from the film, with no explanation given of exactly how Black "betrayed" the Potters to Lord Voldemort. Many of this scene's lines are redistributed amongst Cornelius Fudge and Minerva McGonagall; in compensation, McGonagall's exposition of the Animagus transformation is instead given by Snape.
In the film, where Harry and Hermione have travelled back in time and are hiding outside of Hagrid's hut, it is heavily implied that Dumbledore somehow knows that they are there, as he distracts the other characters at key moments or slows down the proceedings (such as by suggesting that he sign Buckbeak's execution order as well, then after Fudge agrees he says it will take some time as he has an extremely long name), which allows Harry and Hermione time to free Buckbeak unseen. In the book, Dumbledore merely comments that the executioner must sign the order, right before he is about to leave the cabin to execute Buckbeak.
The embryonic romantic connection between Ron and Hermione is more prominent in the film than the book; in response to criticism of the first two films for sacrificing character development for mystery and adventure, the emotional development of all three lead characters is given more attention in the third film. That said, any mention of the beginnings of Harry's crush on Cho Chang is removed. Chang herself is not even seen until the next film. Harry's darker side is first glimpsed in this film, when Harry proclaims, "I hope he [Black] finds me. Cause when he does, I'm going to be ready. When he does, I'm going to kill him!"
As with the series' previous instalments, Prisoner of Azkaban was a large merchandising opportunity. The video game version, designed by EA UK, was released 25 May 2004 in North America and 29 May 2004 in Europe. Mattel released film tie-ins that included the Harry Potter Championship Quidditch board game and character action figures. Lego also expanded on its previous merchandising for the first two films with the release of sets ranging from the Knight Bus to the Shrieking Shack.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban held its New York premiere at Radio City Music Hall on 23 May 2004, followed by its London premiere at Leicester Square on 30 May 2004. The film then opened in the United Kingdom on 31 May 2004 and on 4 June 2004 in the United States. It was the first film in the series to be released in both conventional and IMAX theatres.
Upon release, the film broke the record for biggest single day in the United Kingdom's box office history making £5.3 million on a Monday. It went on to break records both with and without previews making a stunning £23.9 million including previews and £9.3 million excluding them. The Prisoner of Azkaban had the highest-opening weekend at the UK's box office, until Spectre beat the record in 2015. It went on to make a total of £45.6 million in the UK. The film made $93.7 million during its opening weekend in the United States and Canada at 3,855 theatres, achieving, at the time, the third biggest-opening weekend of all time. This opening also broke Hulk's record ($62.1 million) for the highest-opening weekend for a film released in June. The Prisoner of Azkaban held this record for five years until Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen topped it in 2009 with $108.9 million. The film was also No. 1 at the North American box office for two consecutive weekends.
The Prisoner of Azkaban made a total of $796.7 million worldwide, which made it 2004's second-highest-grossing film worldwide behind Shrek 2. In the US and Canada, it was only the year's sixth-highest-grossing film, making $249.5 million. Everywhere else in the world, however, it was the year's number one film, making $547 million compared to Shrek 2's $478.6 million. Despite its successful box office run, Azkaban is the lowest-grossing Harry Potter film (all the others have grossed more than US$875 million worldwide) and the lowest-grossing film of J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World Series.
Prisoner of Azkaban earned notable critical acclaim and is often regarded by fans and critics as the best film in the franchise. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 91% based on 250 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Under the assured direction of Alfonso Cuarón, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban triumphantly strikes a delicate balance between technical wizardry and complex storytelling." On Metacritic the film has a score of 82 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle lauded the film's more mature tone and said it was "darker, more complex, rooted in character." The Hollywood Reporter called the film "a deeper, darker, visually arresting and more emotionally satisfying adaptation of the J.K. Rowling literary phenomenon," especially compared to the first two installments. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars: "Not only is this dazzler by far the best and most thrilling of the three Harry Potter movies to date, it's a film that can stand on its own even if you never heard of author J.K. Rowling and her young wizard hero." Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com asserts it to be "one of the greatest fantasy films of all time." Nicole Arthur of The Washington Post praised the film as "complex, frightening, [and] nuanced." Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, saying that the film was not quite as good as the first two, but still called it "delightful, amusing and sophisticated" Claudia Puig from USA Today found the film to be "a visual delight," and added that "Cuarón is not afraid to make a darker film and tackle painful emotions." while Richard Roeper called the film "a creative triumph." Sean Smith from Newsweek said: "The Prisoner of Azkaban boasts a brand-new director and a bold new vision," he also called the film "moving," praising the performances by the three main leads, while Entertainment Weekly praised the film for being more mature than its predecessors.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was nominated for Best Original Music Score (John Williams) and Best Visual Effects at the 77th Academy Awards held in 2005. This was the second film in the series to be nominated for an Oscar.
The film also ranks at No. 471 in Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. IGN designated Prisoner of Azkaban as the fifth best fantasy film. Additionally, Moviefone designated the film as the tenth best of the decade. In 2011, the film was voted Film of the Decade at the First Light Awards by children aged 5–15.American Film Institute recognition
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Fantasy Film