Happy Birthday, Chris Columbus!

Sep 10, 2017

Posted by: Dawn Johnson

Birthdays, Columbus, Directors, Filmmaker Birthdays, Films, News

Over the course of eight films, the Harry Potter series changed and matured along with its actors–and in many ways, that was a good thing! The young actors grew up and honed their skills, new composers developed intricate and moving scores to fit the increasingly dramatic themes, costumes changed to fit the story, and even the cinematography was adapted to the darkening tone. But there were some things–pivotal things–that remained the same, and those decisions rest primarily on the shoulders of producer and director Chris Columbus.

So, in honor of his birthday, let’s celebrate the incredible gift he gave to fans in setting the Harry Potter series on a magical path, one which enchanted us from the first notes of Hedwig’s theme and beyond.

1) The Characters

Where would we be had Columbus gone a different way with the casting? He undoubtedly had the final say in the selection of Dan Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson to play Harry, Ron, and Hermione. And while we’ve seen other actors carry the mantle in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, there was always something incredibly special about their onscreen chemistry, perfectly coming together to unfold J.K. Rowling’s wizarding epic.


And while Dan, Rupert, and Emma were the heart of the story, so many other casting decisions directed the overall tone for the series, setting a very high bar for acting quality which has been unparalleled by most other blockbuster franchises. Leaky already reported on the depth of that talent pool with a review of acting alums taking films to festivals this year alone, but fans have boasted for years that the Harry Potter series managed to draw the best of Britain from both film and stage.


For Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chris Columbus had to fill the iconic roles of Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Severus Snape, Arthur and Molly Weasley, Rubeus Hagrid, the Dursleys, and a host of Hogwarts class mates. These actors would take the journey with us throughout the remainder of the films, with only Dumbledore recast due to the sad passing of Richard Harris.

Whatever controversy may have existed at the time, few fans would argue now with how those choices played out. They became our favorites, and so, even more than the legacy left in two wonderfully-magical films, we have our beloved characters brought to life by Chris Columbus’ vision.

2) The Setting

Though our view of the wizarding world expanded over time, the places established for us in the first film remained virtually unchanged throughout. In Sorcerer’s Stone, we caught our first glimpse of the Cupboard Under the Stairs and the Dursley’s magically-protected home. We cringed at the idiosyncratic assortment of wallpapers and décor along with Harry and cheered–if momentarily–when he finally moved into Dudley’s second bedroom in Chamber of Secrets.


We discovered Diagon Alley along with Harry and marveled at the magical delights therein. Columbus had a hand in approving every cobblestone, every shoppe, every sign–making sure that as we visually explored Olivander’s and Madam Malkin’s and Flourish and Blott’s, it should feel real. And they did! Those places literally jumped off the page.


Columbus gave us Gringotts. He gave us Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express! He gave us the Hogwarts castle, the Quidditch pitch, and Hagrid’s hut! Every detail later embellished started as conceptual art approved under the direction of Chris Columbus.


And not only the unforgettable grounds, mind you, but Chris Columbus also brought to reality the intricate castle interior–from the Great Hall to the moving stairways to the resident ghosts and ghouls to the House common rooms. Avid Potter fans now stand in awe when walking through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando or Hollywood precisely because those were the streets and halls we walked along with Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the films.


3) The Magic

Last, but certainly not least, Columbus made us believe in magic. Throughout the first two films of the series, no expense was spared in showing us that young wizards could fly on broomsticks, that spells could enchant, that the stakes were high, and that other-worldly creatures existed.

We saw Harry get sorted and held our breath as he held his, experiencing the anticipation of the Sorting Hat’s weighty decision. We cheered when Gryffindor welcomed him to their ranks–and we wanted to join, too!


We were transfixed when Harry and Ron played wizarding chess, knowing it foreshadowed the deadly game to come–and we secretly wished for our own set. (How could we ever go back to playing the Muggle version after that?!)


We cringed at screaming Mandrakes and trolls and SPIDERS, making ourselves at home in Professor Sprout’s greenhouse, only to sink deeper into couch cushions upon entering the Forbidden Forest not long after.


And we were carried away by beauty of it all. Even as light from Tom Riddle’s diary wrapped Harry in gold and we knew the true darkness those pages held–even then we were entranced by the spectacle.


Columbus set the stage for what Harry Potter could be as a film. He said–this can be done. Rowling’s story can be told and told well. And we have loved every single minute!

So on this day of celebration, we wish Chris Columbus the happiest of birthdays and raise our mugs of butter beer to the man who did what might have been thought impossible–approximating Rowling’s storytelling genius in film–and we, the fans, are ever so grateful!


The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.