Twenty years on, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is still the best fantasy film ever 9 months ago

Twenty years on, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is still the best fantasy film ever

Harry Potter proved you needn't travel far to find magic

A King's Cross wall leading to a secret platform, and then a train ride through the British countryside - only the passengers have replaced everyday hand baggage with wands, toads and rats.

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This was the recognisable, yet totally surreal landscape of Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Holding its cinematic premiere 20 years ago today, the film brought the book of the same name to life on the big screen, released four years earlier amid a media storm and immense popularity in 1997.

Making just shy of one billion dollars from cinemas internationally, I'd argue Harry Potter offered something new to the fantasy genre which has still yet to be beaten. It was a magical, fantastical universe that was also rooted in reality.

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It suggested that we didn't need to venture to unrecognisable worlds, like we do in films like Lord of the Rings, to feel like we have left our lives behind. It told us there's also magic to be found right here at home.

Sure, some of the Marvel comics are based on a similar idea. But Harry Potter's arc isn't so immediately concerned with trying to save the world. Sure, he gets caught up in some world-saving duties along the way, but in Philosopher's Stone, Harry and his friends are mostly concerned with just having a bloody good time.

They learn how to fly, and we're introduced to the wonders of an invisibility cloak. In this early movie to the franchise, Harry and co. roar down the corridors of Hogwarts eating chocolate frogs and enjoying the simple life together.

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Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Photo: Warner Bros)

It turned out to be a potent mix. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was a box office success, but a critical success also, showing how J.K. Rowling's novels had found a way to translate this more subtle and nuanced style of fantasy to the big screen.

It wasn't all genteel. The film also contains some of the most suspenseful scenes ever in a kid's film, without ever needing to rely on gratuitous violence. The fight for the Philosopher's Stone - we won't relive it here in case you decide to re-watch - involving the giant chess kit and some of the best child acting from across the franchise, particularly by Emma Watson, is an unusual and intelligent way to reimagine what the climax of a fantasy film looks like.

Being about three kids and set in the modern day, in a world which looked partially recognisable, many millennials like me grew up intensely relating to Harry, Ron and Hermione. They were alternative versions of ourselves, who had slightly more fun. These days, the film has become a comfort watch. As well as the magic on screen, it makes us remember how innocent our lives where when we were kids back in 2001.

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Twenty years on, there's still no treat better than kicking back in pyjamas and readying my wand, ready to board the Hogwarts Express for another journey to Potter's wonderful world.

Related links: 

A Harry Potter TV show is in development

Philosopher's Stone first edition sells for £68,000

How many of these characters from Harry Potter can you name?

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