British Acting Royalty on Harry Potter Movies: My Top Ten Favorites

Last week, Roger Ebert tweeted ‘Why haven’t Helen Mirren and Judi Dench ever made a Harry Potter film?’ Hmmm, good question, Mr. Ebert… why haven’t they? I certainly would LOVE to see both of them in at least one or two installments.

Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent and Daniel Radcliffe

Then a few days later, I read a piece of news report about Harry Potter beating Star Wars as the biggest movie franchise of all time. The George Lucas sci-fi saga stands at $1.9 billion in worldwide gross over the course of six films, whilst the last six HP films have earned $1.7 billion. Given HP7’s $300+ worldwide gross just on its first weekend alone, no doubt this franchise will take the top spot way before the 2nd final installment is out next Summer.

Well, one thing for sure, I think the Harry Potter franchise has the best ensemble cast in movie history. I must admit that the supporting cast are a huge factor of what drew me in to check out HP movies in the first place. I excluded HP in my top five notable ensemble cast movies because the supporting actors don’t have equal screen time as the principal cast of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, but as a franchise, I can’t think of any other one that boasts THAT many award-winning British thespians (you can see all of them on Wikipedia). Nearly all of the who’s who of British cinema seem to have done a Harry Potter film. Man, how fortunate are those young actors to be working alongside such massively talented actors!

Fiennes, Bonham Carter, Gambon w/ Radclife on HP set

My top ten list is based on a combination of the actors’ previous work and their stellar performances in the Harry Potter movies. Here they are on alphabetical order:

Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart

What fun it is to see the Shakespearean actor/director hamming it up as a self-observed celeb wizard.

I first saw Branagh in Much Ado About Nothing, but he’s also known for his other Shakespeare-related work such as Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and As You Like It. He’s one of the rare artists who’ve been Oscar-nominated for acting, writing and directing. Talk about a real triple threat!

Jim Broadbent as Horace E. F. Slughorn

As a Potions teacher, Slughorn was a key character in revealing who Voldemort really is and his way of attaining immortality.

Broadbent is one of those character actors whose presence always add something special to any movie. He won an Oscar for his Best Supporting performance in Iris, but he was also adept in comedy, as he displayed in Moulin Rogue! and Hot Fuzz. His most recent movie Another Year has been constantly gaining positive reviews from critics and audiences alike.

Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange

One of the most powerful evil witches in Voldemort’s inner circle, she’s one of the most loyal ally to the dark lord.

Having just seen her all demure and sweet in A Room with a View, it’s fascinating to see her get her freak on as Bellatrix. She’s done more than her fair share of costume dramas, hence her ‘corset queen’ nickname. But I remember her most from her contemporary fare Fight Club and her small cameo in Terminator Salvation.

Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort

Even if you have not seen a single movie, no doubt you’ve seen his nose-less, pale face spewing all kinds of evil towards Harry & his pals.One of my fave British actors, there are too many movies I remember him for. Perhaps the most iconic is his portrayal in the despicable Nazi Amon Göth in Schindler’s List, but he’s proven his versatility in other dramatic fares. The English Patient, Constant Gardener, and The Reader are just some of my faves.

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore

The wise and caring headmaster of Hogwartz Wizarding School is perhaps one of the most sympathetic of all HP characters.To tell you the truth, I didn’t immediately warmed up to Gambon when he replaced Harris, but by the end of the 3rd film, he’s won me over. His immense theater experience is beyond impressive, but did you know he was asked by Bond producer Cubby Broccoli to audition for the 007 role to replace John Lazenby? I had no idea. Some of his memorable roles pre HP were The Insider, Gosford Park and Amazing Grace.

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore

The minute I saw Harris on screen leaving baby Harry upon the doorstep of the Dursley home, I thought he was perfect for the role. I also love him as Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator, Abbé Faria in The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as his earlier role in Camelot. I had no idea he could sing so well but apparently the late Irish actor was a singer-songwriter who have recorded several albums.

Gary Oldman as Sirius Black

The famed escaped prisoner of Azkaban who’s the loyal friend of Harry’s parents. There’s not many actors as freakishly talented and versatile as Mr. Oldman. I can’t remember when I first saw him, but one thing for sure, he’s always wowed me every time he’s on screen. Famous for playing dark roles (in Dracula, Leon, True Romance, Air Force One) as well as real-life characters (Sid Vicious in Sid & Nancy, Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK). I love his portrayal as Commissioner Gordon in Nolan’s Batman flicks, definitely one of my fave cast of that franchise.

Alan Rickman as Severus Snape

One of the revered professors at Hogwarts, Snape is easily the most layered and complex character in the whole franchise. You never really know whether he’s good or bad and where his true loyalties lie.I’ve mentioned Mr. Rickman numerous times on my blog for good reason. Not only is he an excellent actor, he’s got that perfect, iconic voice. I practically turn giddy watching him deliver his signature inflection, especially when he’s portraying bad guys. Love him as villainous Hans Gruber (Die Hard) and hopelessly romantic Col. Brandon (Sense & Sensibility). Not to mention his hilarious turn in the sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest.

Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall

The warmhearted Deputy headmistress who’s loyal to Dumbledore and his mission to protect Harry. Dame Maggie Smith is practically royalty in the acting territory. She’s won practically every major acting awards, including BAFTA, Oscar, and Golden Globes. I’m not familiar with her earlier work, but her most memorable roles to me are in A Room with a View, Gosford Park, Keeping Mum and Becoming Jane. 

Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney

I could hardly recognize her with her frizzy hair, nerdy glasses and gypsy getup as professor of Divination. Her character is sort of a comic relief and pretty fun to watch.As Sense & Sensibility stands as my favorite film ever, I’m always grateful for Thompson’s excellent script. I also love her sensitive portrayal of Elinor Dashwood as well as her roles in Stranger than Fiction and Last Chance Harvey.

Just to go a step further, here are eight other actors (besides Dench and Mirren) I’d love to have seen in Harry Potter films: Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Day-Lewis, Colin Firth, Alfred Molina, Rufus Sewell, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Kate Winslet.

Well, now that’s my list, now your turn. Which British cast are your faves from Harry Potter and whom would you like to have been cast?

47 thoughts on “British Acting Royalty on Harry Potter Movies: My Top Ten Favorites

    1. Yeah, Bill Nighy is always fun to watch. Man they REALLY put him on closeup for quite a long time, he’s got such an interesting face. Rhys looks sooo different, I’ll always remember him as Hugh Grant’s quirky flatmate in Notting Hill 🙂

    1. Now, now, you really are becoming more of a die hard Roof fan than I ever was with GB 😀 See, I didn’t even list him as one I’d like to see on HP… I just think that Roof would be equally good as Lucius Malfoy (played by Jason Isaacs), one of the dark lord’s henchmen… he’s got that sinister sensibilities about him.

  1. Ted S.

    I love Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, he’s one of my favorite characters from the book. I just wish that they’d expand his role in the movie, in the book his role was much bigger.

    Alan Rickman is perfect as Snape, he’s the only actor I pictured in that role while I was reading the books.

    1. I generally like Branagh but his portrayal is just awesome! I don’t mind seeing his character expanded either, plus he’s got such great costumes 😀

      WOW, you picture Rickman as you’re reading the books? That’s incredible! Did Rowling describe Snape as having a silky voice? 🙂

      1. Ted S.

        Don’t remember if she said Snape has silky voice or not but she described him as this menacing looking man with long black hair. Somehow I pictured Rickman in that role before they even cast the first film, I guess his Hans Gruber character was in the back of my mind.

        1. Interesting that he’s always going to be known as Hans Gruber… but it was such an iconic performance. I do like him in comedic roles, too though.

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  3. I simply adore the first two people in your list, Flixy. Not in HARRY PLOPPER of course, but generally 🙂
    There must be something something in the fact that my three thespian ladies Dench, Mirren and Blanchett have never appeared in PLOPPER 🙂

    1. Oh Dez… come on, do you have to dislike it THAT much? 🙂 I think Dench, Mirren and Blanchett haven’t appeared in this because perhaps they haven’t been asked. I doubt they think badly of this franchise or of their fellow actors who do appear in HP.

        1. Yep she’s Australian. I don’t know if they necessarily impose a strictly English rule. A few of the actors above are Irish (Branagh, Harris).

    2. Oh, forgot to mention… I’m sure if Patrick Wilson, Matthew Goode and Karl Urban all appear in HP, I have a feeling you’d watch it 😀 😀

      1. Indeed I wouldn’t, but I would check out their pics from the sets 😛

        PS I love Helena Bonham Carter and Emma Thompson in HARRY PLOPPER.

        Did you know that there’s a Serbian actor in the saga? Predrag Bjelac played Igor Karkaroff in THE GOBLET OF FIRE.

        1. Oh yeah I did know that, I read about it after I saw that one. He plays Hermione’s date and I thought he was quite good looking 🙂 Goblet of Fire is one of my fave from the series.

          1. no, no, I think you confused him with a young Bulgarian actor who also plays in the film. But I’m not sure since I haven’t watched the film. Bjelac is a mature actor and he played Headmaster of Durmstrang Institute

  4. It’s kind of a stretch to call him acting royalty, but I love David Thewlis in those movies. And it dawned on me about a month ago that he’s the same guy who was Maude Lebowski’s creepy giggling assistant guy in “The Big Lebowski”. That completely blew my mind when I found that out.

    1. Oh, I didn’t even realize he’s on Lebowski. Thewlis is an underrated actor, I first saw him in a little movie called The Eclipse as Leo DiCaprio’s lover believe it or not. But then I see him here and there in various films, he’s always believable in them.

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  6. When I read the book, the perfect Gilderoy for me is Hugh Grant. I don’t think kenneth is perfect for the role, he will make a better lupin than the other guy.

    as for Snape, Sirius and Voldermort…they all perfect casts

    1. Oh no, no, no. I wouldn’t want to trade Branagh for Grant… I think he embodies the character really well and I generally think he’s the far better actor anyway.

      But yeah, the casting is great for this movie… I can’t think of anybody else better to play most of the roles.

  7. haha, you would add Tim Dalton to the list! haha I laughed at that.

    Wow! “the best ensemble cast in movie history.” Quite the declaration. Not just the best British ensemble. I have to think about that one. Throughout the franchise there appear to be many great actors! (love Branagh and Oldman for example).

    When watching HP7, Bonham-Carter made me think of her character in Fight Club too! But also Sweeney Todd.

    *I’m actually surprised you didn’t include Sir Patrick Stewart or Sir Michael Caine on you wishlist.

    1. He..he.. well I think he’d be so awesome considering there are so many Brits with theater background. He just doesn’t do barely enough movies for my liking 😦

      I actually was trying to think if there was another franchise that have as many great thespians (I count there was about 2 dozens in HP, many of whom have gotten critical acclaim) but couldn’t find any. So yeah, I think that declaration is quite fitting 🙂

      Oh, Patrick Stewart and Michael Caine would’ve been a great addition to the list… thanks for pointing that out.

  8. You know what’s funny? You could do a similar list- not quite as good, of course, but similar- for the Edgar Wright movies. Nighy, Broadbent, Blanchett (ok, she’s Australian), Steve Coogan, Martin Freeman, and then a whole boatload of British comic actors.

    1. I love Edgar Wright and you’re right, his movies always have great British cast. I thought that the upcoming sci-fi movie PAUL was by Wright also, but turns out it was Greg Mottola. I’d love to see him collaborate with Pegg/Frost again.

      1. I found out recently that I like Edgar Wright SOOOOO much that I even liked Scott Pilgrim v. The World.

        And that’s an accomplishment because I loathe Michael Cera, and he’s at his “Golly gee, aw shucks, I’m just an awkward young kid” worst in that movie (which is the same role he always plays). And I still liked it quite a bit.

        1. Y’know, I’m willing to give Scott Pilgrim a shot BECAUSE of Wright, too. Is it out on rental now? I better add that to my Netflix queue. I feel the same way about Cera… not loathing so much, just indifferent. I just don’t see his appeal at all.

          1. Yep- that’s the same thing that made me watch it. I thought “It’s Edgar Wright, he can’t lead me THAT far astray, can he?”

            I think it hit DVD a few weeks ago-ish.

            I heard Wright describe the movie as “What would happen if a 13 year old boy’s brain exploded” and it’s pretty apt. Video games, rock and roll, fighting/Kung-Fu, awkward dating…

            1. Oh good, I might try to watch it this weekend. I like to watch contrasting genre in a row as I’ve also got The Last of the Mohicans at home 🙂

              Besides Wright, the supporting cast look pretty decent, too.

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  10. Gambon’s Dumbledore was infintely more interesting to me than Harris played him. He would be #1 on my list.

    As for Rickman I’m really hoping he manages more screentime in the next film. I’ve felt cheated that such a complex character cannot get more focus in any of the films.

    1. Can’t agree more about Rickman… I bet he’s soooo much more interesting in the books. Snape is definitely one of the characters I’m looking forward to the most when I watch the films.

  11. FYC Fiona Shaw, although I’ve only seen her through somehwere else.

    I’ve only read the first and the sixth book and saw parts of the first three movies. For some reason, when I was reading the books, I saw Emma Thompson as Professor McGonagall and Kristin Scott Thomas as Bellatrix Lestrange.

      1. Hi Paolo! I haven’t read the books but isn’t McGonagall supposed to be much older though, there’s probably about 10 yrs difference between Emma & Maggie Smith I’d think. I can see KST as Bellatrix but after HBC’s got those crazy eyes that’s so perfect for the role.

        I think Winslet might be underused as Clemence but Dench as Umbridge would be brilliant!

        1. I guess McGonagall’s age wouldn’t be of discussing until the second book, so I wouldn’t know. Maybe I should watch the films and read everything one of these days. 🙂

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