The Harry Potter universe is one of the biggest, most popular fantasy worlds ever created, up to par with Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or any other fantasy world you can think of. Many people worked on the eight movies, including four different directors. The first one, Chris Columbus, directed the first two movies before he decided to leave. So, why did he leave Harry Potter?
Chris Columbus revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that the schedule was too physically and mentally draining for him, as each of the movies he directed took about 160 days of filming. He wanted to be with his family, so he decided to part ways with Harry Potter after producing the third film.
It was challenging managing a cast full of children without ever having them feel as if they were working. Columbus said that he later regretted leaving everything behind, but perhaps it was the best thing that could happen for him and the franchise. Here’s how and why.
Why Did Chris Columbus Leave Harry Potter?
Chris Columbus said that his young daughter was a huge fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, so she made him read the first three books: Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban.
Columbus loved the would the Scottish author created, so he traveled to Great Britain to pitch his idea for the movies to Rowling. Luckily, the author accepted, and it marked the start of a franchise that would take over the world.
However, Columbus directed only the first two movies before leaving the directing to Alfonso Cuaron for the third film. Columbus remained only as an executive producer before leaving for good. Only the cast members knew the real reason why Chris left until he opened up to The Hollywood Reporter in 2021.
Columbus stated that the filming schedule was extremely draining and challenging for him physically and mentally. He revealed that the filming of the Sorcerer’s Stone took around 160 days on set, and the Chamber of Secrets another 160 days, not counting the meetings, the editing supervision, the second-unit filming, etc.
After the filming was done, Columbus said he could “barely speak,” and it took a toll on his personal life because his own children were young, growing up at the same time. He said: “I was missing dinners with them. I thought, ‘I can’t do another six, seven, eight years of this. My kids will grow up, and I’ll never get to know them.”
Columbus went into more detail in the Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts reunion special. He said that he always regretted leaving Harry Potter behind, but it was a decision he had to make.
When Did Chris Columbus Leave The Harry Potter Franchise?
Columbus didn’t leave right after he gave up directing the third movie. Alfonso Cuaron directed the Prisoner of Azkaban, but Chris was still an executive producer. It allowed him to be on the set less.
Instead of being there all day, every day, he could attend the set only a few hours a day, visit board meetings, etc., while “still being home for dinner” with his kids. After the Prisoner of Azkaban, Columbus left the franchise for good.
In the reunion documentary, he revealed that it was heartbreaking to say goodby to his cast, as he watched them grow up throughout the few years they’ve been together, and they’ve spent so much time together. They loved him too, and, as we learned in the documentary, the cast appreciated his approach to working with children as the main cast members.
What Did The Harry Potter Cast Say About Chris Columbus?
When Chris Columbus was the director of the Harry Potter movies, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, and others were quite young children. Therefore, he made an emphasis on making them feel comfortable on set, to “feel like they’re home” instead of being at work.
The cast members surely appreciated the approach. Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) said Columbus was “such a dad” to them on set, and he made them feel like a “part of his family.”
Radcliffe added: “Looking back, I am sort of amazed at the fact that I wasn’t ever like completely overwhelmed by it. But I also think that was again part of Chris, and the whole crew, just like they kept us having fun the whole time… We were very much just like kids being kids on a set.”
Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) also praised the director, saying, “Columbus basically just let us be kids. I never recall feeling like we were working.” Imagine a bunch of kids running around the set, just being kids, and you had to let them be kids while also getting them to do the job. No wonder Columbus felt drained.
How Did Columbus’ Leave Affect The Harry Potter Franchise?
After Columbus left, the cast members stated they felt a change in how the other directors treated them. They approached them as adults instead of kids, which is only logical, considering they were already experienced and growing up fast, and the story took a bit of a darker turn with each film coming out.
Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas) said he “started to feel nervous” in only a couple of films later in the franchise. So, how did that new approach affect the franchise? Well, it worked perfectly.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the first two Harry Potter movies the most – it’s the most magical part of the franchise. But, as the series progressed, the characters grew up, and the plot took a darker turn. Therefore, the directing and the approach towards the cast had to change.
You can feel the gradual change that started with Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban and the introduction of the Dementors. It continued with Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire, while the series took a dramatic dark turn in David Yates’ final four films, starting with the Order of the Phoenix and finishing with the two parts of the Deathly Hallows.
It all made sense – the Dark Lord returned, making the world a much darker place. The characters grew up, realizing the magic world isn’t all fun and bright, as they saw it through their child-eyes.
Therefore, even though I was sad to see Chris Columbus leave, the directors after him did a spectacular job at gradually making the story darker, grittier, and more serious, just like the books set it out to be.