JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series has yielded dozens of memorable characters, including humans of good and evil varieties as well as a menagerie of magical creatures. Across seven books and eight movies, those characters have burrowed their way into the hearts and minds of many who grew up with the magical series.
Condensing all of these characters down to a list of just 10 is an incredibly formidable task and one which inevitably means some great creatures, witches, and wizards, have to be left on the cutting room floor (sorry Dumbledore fans, he didn’t make the cut). It’s also worth noting that this list specifically focuses on the movie characters, though inevitably, some biases from the books come into it to a degree.
Here are the best Harry Potter characters, from the obvious to the not so obvious. Expect at least one snarling villain, two humans capable of magically transforming themselves into dogs in certain circumstances, and, of course, several devoted sons and daughters of Gryffindor House. Accio best characters!
Who are the top ten Harry Potter characters?
- Hermione Granger
- Severus Snape
- Lord Voldemort
- Sirius Black
- Remus Lupin
- Dolores Umbridge
- Molly Weasley
- Draco Malfoy
- Luna Lovegood
- Neville Longbottom
The only one of the central trio of protagonists to make this list is Hermione – the best character in the entire series, regardless of whose name is on the front of the books and DVD covers. Hermione is, let’s face it, the glue holding the franchise together. While Harry stumbles his way through things and somehow gets all of the credit and Ron similarly blunders but without achievement – poor Ron – Hermione just gets the job done.
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It helps that Emma Watson’s performances matured brilliantly as the series went on. While the early films showcase her as a sort of generic, precocious youngster, she ultimately introduced real nuance. The scene in the Deathly Hallows movies in which she has to quietly erase her parents’ memories of her in order to protect them is one of the most powerful in the entire franchise. That’s down to Watson and down to the genius of the series’ greatest character.
There’s no doubt that Snape is the most complex character in the Potter universe and, with the help of Alan Rickman’s virtuoso acting performance, that nuance carries over on to the big screen. The character is compelling as a slithering villain but also works as a sympathetic and ultimately tragic figure responsible for ensuring every Potter fan bursts into tears any time they hear the word “always”.
Plenty of traditional Potter villains will appear further down this list, but Snape is a prime example of Rowling’s storytelling at its best. As the ultimate example of a murky man used to moving in the shadows and walking the line of loyalties, he’s about as fascinating as a character can be. And we’ll love the late Mr Rickman forever. Or, as he might have said, “always”.
Occasionally, nuance is overrated. Sometimes what you want from a movie villain is a skeleton-cum-man with a ludicrous pantomime voice and a long, black cloak. From the moment Ralph Fiennes first arrives in the franchise as Voldemort, emerging from a cauldron as part of the dark ritual in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the star gives it both thespian barrels.
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Everything about Fiennes’ performance is peak villainy, with several of his more ridiculous moments – including that macabre chuckle – achieving viral infamy. He leans into the inhuman aspects of the character and, although the depiction of his death is one of the movies’ biggest adaptation missteps – a TED Talk for another time – that does nothing to minimise the power of Fiennes’ take on He Who Must Not Be Named.
Several of the most joyful moments of the Potter franchise involve Sirius Black, as played in the movies by Gary Oldman. There’s the brief moment in which Harry and Sirius leave the Shrieking Shack at the conclusion of Prisoner of Azkaban, ready to finally clear his name and start a life together.
Secondly, there’s his reunion with Harry at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix when his godson arrives at the titular group’s Grimmauld Place headquarters. Sirius was the closest thing Harry had to a father in his teenage years and, for the youngster, provided one of few concrete links to his dad.
Oldman gets the chance to deliver performances of real variety as Sirius, providing unhinged, cackling madness in Azkaban and then channelling a sort of avuncular cool uncle in his Order of the Phoenix appearance. His death in the latter movie feels like one of the most unjust and brutal moments in the series – a sucker punch of loss that powers Harry onwards for the rest of the series.
Sirius Black might be the closest thing to a father Harry knew, but Remus Lupin would certainly be a close second. The best of the Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers depicted in the series – though the films don’t really have room for his pedagogical brilliance – Lupin is quite simply a top bloke across the board. He’s the sensible ego to the rampaging id represented by Sirius.
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David Thewlis is perfectly cast as a slightly mousey, shy figure who always knows the right thing to do. He’s a moral focal point for the Order and a mediating voice for Harry when he’s at his most vengeful or rage-fuelled. Significantly, it’s Lupin who tries to hold Harry back from running after Bellatrix Lestrange following Sirius’s murder. In a franchise full of chaos and grief, sometimes you need a nice fella who knows when to hand out a bar of chocolate.
Voldemort might be the undisputed Big Bad of the Potter universe, but there’s something genuinely chilling about the more mundane evil of Dolores Umbridge. She’s a compelling villain on the page but, in the hands of Imelda Staunton, the movie incarnation of the loathsome politician is even more terrifying.
Rowling’s distrust in political figures runs through the Potter stories, and Umbridge feels like the endgame of that idea – the embodiment of a government over-stretching and interfering where it isn’t wanted.
The contrast between Staunton’s comedically sweet appearance – and the frankly exceptional amount of pink in her office – and her psychopathic tendencies are drawn with incredible flair by the actor, along with director David Yates. This is a woman who loves torture more than she loves just about anything else – a sadistic monster who doesn’t even seem to have as many career and life goals as the Dark Lord. She’s just evil for the hell of it.
The head of the Weasley clan, Molly, is driven entirely by her desire to protect her family – and Harry, whom she considers to be just as much her son as any of her biological kids. Played by Julie Walters at her most delightfully maternal, she serves a predominantly comic role in the early part of the franchise, only to dial up the emotionally impactful moments as battle lines are drawn in the final instalments. She also gets the absolute line of the series in the finale. You know the one.
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Walters gives everything to her performance, capable of enlivening scenes with a withering glance or an ice-cold line reading. I don’t think there’s a child alive who could stand up to the intensity of the furious Howler she sends to Ron at the beginning of Chamber of Secrets, given the icing on the cake by how quickly she swerves into sweetly congratulating Ginny on becoming a Gryffindor. A genius performance, translating one of the novels’ great characters into a memorable screen creation in her own right.
From the snivelling introduction of the unbearable posh boy Draco Malfoy in Philosopher’s Stone, warning Harry against making friends with “the wrong sort”, he’s a perfect nemesis for Harry throughout the series. But what’s most fascinating is the way subsequent entries deepen him, conveying his fear and inadequacy as a teenage boy trying to move out of the shadow of both his father and his father’s homicidal boss.
All of this is conveyed brilliantly by Tom Felton. He has perhaps had one of the least impressive post-Potter careers of the central young cast members, but his acting talents in the series show that he absolutely deserves better. His involvement in the later films is curtailed for time reasons, but he delivers so many memorable moments early on. His clash with Harry in the Chamber of Secrets duelling club remains legitimately thrilling.
Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood gets one of the best entrance scenes in the entire franchise when she appears in Order of the Phoenix. Harry spots that a Thestral is pulling the Hogwarts coaches and remarks on this to Ron and Hermione, who are baffled as they can’t see the creatures. At this point, a sing-song voice kicks in as Luna looks up from her upside-down copy of The Quibbler and tells Harry: “You’re not going mad. I can see them too. You’re just as sane as I am.”
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Luna is one of Rowling’s best creations – a human who embodies the idea that you should never judge a book by its cover, or a person by their upside-down reading preferences. Despite her “Loony” nickname, she’s as fiercely clever as any other Ravenclaw and a vital part of Hogwarts’ fightback against the Death Eaters.
If the essence of a good character is the idea of an arc or a journey across a series, they don’t come much bigger than Neville Longbottom. In the early movies, he’s blundering around searching for his pet frog and being bullied by six-inch-tall pixies.
By the time Deathly Hallows comes around, though, he has become a fearless and formidable warrior capable of striking one of the final blows to ensure that Voldemort is human and beatable by the time he squares off against Harry.
Obviously, actor Matthew Lewis’s decade-long glow-up has become something of a meme – and spawned the term “Longbottoming” – but the character goes on at least as much of a journey as the actor’s jawline. Neville, perhaps more than any other character, embodies the heart and courage that defines the house of Gryffindor. Long live Longbottom and his magnificent cheekbones.
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