For those who grew up in the 2000s, waiting for the next Harry Potter film installment was a thrilling and unifying experience. As kids all around the world flocked to their local theaters with wands in hand, Harry and his fantastical friends reminded us of the magical powers of friendship, bravery, and love. While the movies got progressively darker as the characters grew up and had to battle ever-looming forces of evil, the first films remain pillars of delightful, whimsical escapism — save for the near-deaths of multiple twelve-year-olds — and this is largely thanks to director Chris Columbus. What many people don’t know, however, is that Columbus passed on another once-in-a-lifetime directorial opportunity for Potter, turning down the Spider-Man franchise in favor of the wizarding world.
Chris Columbus Chose To Direct ‘Harry Potter’ Over ‘Spider-Man’
Known for writing and/or directing hit movies like The Goonies, Home Alone, and Mrs. Doubtfire, by the time the early aughts rolled around, Columbus was no stranger to working with kids and yielding great results. Having been persuaded by his daughter to read the Harry Potter books (at which time only the first three had been released), Columbus immediately had a vision for the films and wanted a shot at directing the now-iconic series. According to The Hollywood Reporter, after hearing that there were many others eager to helm the franchise, Columbus requested that his agent secure him the final meeting with the film’s executives. He presented a “130-page document-slash-screenplay” outlining his vision for the movie, and long story short, the powers that be were very impressed with the eager director. Columbus secured the gig and went on to direct both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
However, Columbus revealed in an interview with Screen Rant that right after he landed Harry Potter, he got the offer to direct Spider-Man. Having grown up a huge Marvel fan and citing Spider-Man as one of his childhood heroes, getting the chance to re-introduce the web-slinger to the silver screen seems like it would be a no-brainer for Columbus. Nevertheless, while he acknowledged that directing Spider-Man would probably be the realization of a lifelong dream, he went with Harry Potter and never looked back. Sam Raimi was hired to captain the Spidey ship, and the rest is history. Even though it was undoubtedly a tough call, Columbus has no regrets, and said in the special Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts that working on Harry Potter was “the greatest experience of [his] life.”
Columbus Expertly Captured the Joy and Whimsy of ‘Harry Potter’
While it couldn’t have been easy missing out on Spider-Man, there’s no denying that Chris Columbus was the right man to direct the first two Harry Potter films. In Return to Hogwarts, Columbus got to reunite with Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe), and the two discussed their work on Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Although you’d never know it when watching the behind-the-scenes footage, Columbus confessed to Radcliffe that while working on the first Harry Potter, he was incredibly nervous and felt like he was “dying.” This is definitely understandable given that he was responsible for setting the tone in a massive franchise, but Columbus ensured that his anxieties wouldn’t bleed over and impact the kids on set. Many of the stars of Harry Potter, including Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, and of course, the golden trio of Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Radcliffe, complimented Columbus’s knack for working with the young performers on set, saying that he made them feel safe and let the kids be kids. While “letting the kids be kids” resulted in a lot of long days and re-shoots given that the kids in question were exploding with excitement at all times, Columbus’s good nature evidently contributed to the youthful, nostalgic feeling that is so well-executed in the first films.
Beyond just his personable directing style, Columbus’s creative eye greatly influenced the look of the Harry Potter movies. From real stone floors to real, lit candles dangling from the ceiling on fishing lines, the director’s commitment to making Hogwarts feel grounded in reality despite the magical elements made the stories feel all the more real to both the actors involved, and the devoted viewers. Despite the success of the first two Harry Potter films, however, Columbus seemed to recognize that all good things must come to an end, and he bequeathed his directorial duties to Alfonso Cuarón for the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Columbus revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that filming the first two Harry Potter films took upwards of 320 days, and that he felt that he was missing out on watching his kids grow up. He went on to serve as a producer on the third film to help maintain a better work-life balance, but afterward, the director hung up his pointy black wizard’s hat and walked away from the franchise for good.
Related: Harry Potter Wasn’t in One of the Movies’ Bravest Moments
The Director Isn’t a Fan of the ‘Harry Potter’ Reboot at Max
Harry Potter is soon to be getting a polarizing facelift in the form of a reboot TV series, the likes of which we know very little about. What we do know, however, is that Chris Columbus isn’t a huge fan of the idea, not seeing the point in remaking a franchise that has already been done well (which, as we know, has never stopped the studios before). Furthermore, given author J.K. Rowling’s disappointing tailspin into transphobia, continuing to expand the Harry Potter franchise has brought up difficult but important conversations about just how far we’re willing to go to separate the art from the artist.
While it sucks that a franchise that brought comfort and hope to so many has been marred by its creator’s hateful statements, Columbus’s Harry Potter movies continue to exist as joyful celebrations of friendship and resilience. For many fans, Harry Potter still offers an unparalleled escape from the hardships of the everyday muggle existence, and we’ll always be grateful that Columbus decided to leave the Spider-Man movies to Sam Raimi, who got to forge another iconic film franchise in his own right. While the Harry Potter frenzy shows no signs of stopping, Columbus left his own indelible mark on the franchise, and all we can say is, mischief managed.
The Big Picture
Director Chris Columbus turned down the opportunity to direct the Spider-Man franchise in favor of Harry Potter, a decision he has no regrets about. Columbus expertly captured the joy and whimsy of Harry Potter, creating a nostalgic and magical atmosphere on set. Columbus isn’t a fan of the upcoming Harry Potter reboot TV series and questions the need for remaking a franchise that has already been successful.