Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


US theatrical poster
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Produced by Chris Columbus
David Heyman
Mark Radcliffe
Screenplay by Steve Kloves
Based on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by
J. K. Rowling
Starring Daniel Radcliffe
Rupert Grint
Emma Watson
Michael Gambon
Gary Oldman
David Thewlis
Timothy Spall
Emma Thompson
Music by John Williams
Conrad Pope
Cinematography Michael Seresin
Editing by Steven Weisberg
Studio Heyday Films
1492 Pictures
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) 31 May 2004 (2004-05-31) (United Kingdom)
4 June 2004 (2004-06-04) (United States)
Running time 142 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $130 million
Gross revenue $795,634,070[1]

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a 2004 fantasy-adventure film directed by Alfonso Cuarón and based on the novel of the same name by J. K. Rowling. It is the third instalment in the Harry Potter film series, and is written by Steve Kloves and produced by Chris Columbus, David Heyman and Mark Radcliffe. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, alongside Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry’s best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. The supporting cast features Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall and Emma Thompson.

The film was released on 31 May 2004 in the United Kingdom and on 4 June 2004 in North America, as the first Harry Potter film released into IMAX theatres and to be using IMAX Technology. It is also the last Harry Potter film to be released on VHS. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards — Original Music Score and Visual Effects at the 77th Academy Awards held in 2005, which it lost to Finding Neverland and Spider-Man 2, respectively.

While Prisoner of Azkaban garnered the highest critical acclaim of the series, its performance at the box office (a total of $795.6 million worldwide[1]) ranks as the lowest amongst the seven films. Nonetheless, it currently stands as the 29th highest-grossing film of all-time.



Harry Potter is at the Dursleys’ for the summer, spending his time studying new spells undercover. When Uncle Vernon’s sister, Marge, comes for a visit and infuriates Harry by insulting his parents, he accidently causes her to inflate and fly away. Harry loses his temper and threatens to curse Vernon but flees, fed up with his life at Privet Drive. The Knight Bus appears and delivers Harry to the Leaky Cauldron, where Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge tells him he will not be arrested. Harry also learns that Sirius Black, a convicted supporter of Lord Voldemort, has escaped Azkaban prison and is likely intending to kill Harry.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione head back to school on the Hogwarts Express. They share a compartment with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Remus Lupin. When the train abruptly stops, Dementors (the guards of Azkaban) board, searching for Black. Harry faints when one Dementor enters their compartment, but Lupin repels it with a charm.

At Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore informs students that the Dementors will be guarding the school while Black is at large. Professor Lupin is introduced, and Hagrid is announced as the new Care of Magical Creatures teacher. Lupin’s lessons prove enjoyable; he focuses on practice, not just theory, and encourages less confident students like Neville. However, Hagrid’s first class goes awry when Draco Malfoy deliberately provokes the Hippogriff, Buckbeak, who then attacks him. Draco’s father Lucius Malfoy has Buckbeak sentenced to death.

During a Quidditch match, several Dementors approach Harry, causing him to fall off his broomstick. Lupin teaches Harry to defend himself against Dementors with a Patronus charm. Because Harry lacks parental permission to visit Hogsmeade, Fred and George give him their Marauder’s Map, a magical document showing every person’s location within Hogwarts, as well as secret passageways in and out of the castle. At Hogsmeade, Harry overhears that Black is his godfather and was his parents’ best friend. Black was accused of divulging the Potters’ secret whereabouts to Voldemort and murdering their mutual friend Peter Pettigrew. Harry vows to kill Black.

As Harry is leaving his Divination final exam, Professor Trelawney enters a trance and predicts that the Dark Lord’s servant will return that night. Later, Harry, Ron, and Hermione visit Hagrid to console him over Buckbeak’s impending execution. While there, they discover Scabbers, Ron’s missing rat. Fudge, Dumbledore, and an executioner arrive at Hagrid’s to carry out Buckbeak’s execution, and the three students hurry away to avoid being discovered. Scabbers suddenly bites Ron and escapes, the trio chase him. A large dog appears and drags both Ron and Scabbers into a hole at the Whomping Willow’s base. Harry and Hermione follow them through an underground passage to the Shrieking Shack.

There they discover that the dog is actually Sirius Black, who is an Animagus. Harry attacks Black, but Lupin arrives and disarms Harry. After exchanging a few cryptic words with Black, Lupin then embraces him as an old friend. When confronted by Hermione, Lupin admits to being a werewolf, and he and Black begin to explain that Black is innocent. Professor Snape bursts in, intending to hand over Black to the Dementors, but Harry, having begun to believe Lupin and Black, knocks him out with a spell. Lupin and Black explain that Scabbers is actually Peter Pettigrew, an Animagus who committed the crime for which Black was convicted.

Lupin and Black force Pettigrew back into his human form preparatory to killing him, but Harry intervenes saying that his father, James Potter, would not have wanted his two best friends to become killers. Pettigrew was then to be turned over to the Dementors. As the group heads to the castle, the full moon rises; Lupin transforms into a werewolf, and Pettigrew manages to escape. Lupin and Black fight in their animal forms, until Lupin is distracted by another animal’s howls. Dementors attack Black and Harry. As their souls are about to be removed, Harry sees a distant figure cast a powerful stag-shaped Patronus that scatters the Dementors. Harry believes the mysterious figure is his dead father.

Harry passes out from the trauma, and awakens to find he is in Hogwarts and Sirius was captured. Acting on advice from Dumbledore, Hermione reveals that she possesses a time-turner that she has used all year to take multiple classes simultaneously. She and Harry travel back in time three hours, watching themselves repeat that night’s events. They free Buckbeak, and return to the Whomping Willow. As the Dementors descend to attack Black and his “other” self, Harry realises that he himself was the one to cast the Patronus, and rushes to do so. Harry and Hermione rescue Black, who escapes on Buckbeak. Lupin resigns the next day, knowing that parents will object to a werewolf teaching their children. Shortly after, Black sends Harry a Firebolt, the fastest racing broom ever made.


New additions to the cast include:

  • Michael Gambon assumes the role of Albus Dumbledore, the Hogwarts Headmaster, after Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the previous two films, died on 25 October 2002.[3] Despite his illness, Harris was determined to film his part, telling a visiting David Heyman not to recast the role.[4] Four months after Harris’s death, Cuarón chose Gambon as his replacement.[4][5] Gambon was unconcerned with bettering or copying Harris, instead giving his own interpretation, putting on a slight Irish accent for the role,[6] as well as completing his scenes in three weeks.[7] Rumours of Ian McKellen being offered the role started to spread, but when confronted, he turned the rumours down, stating that he has played a similar character named Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He also stated it would have been inappropriate to take Harris’ role, as the late actor had called McKellen a “dreadful” actor.[8][9] Harris’s family had expressed an interest in seeing Harris’s close friend Peter O’Toole being chosen as his replacement.[10]
  • Gary Oldman plays Sirius Black, an escapee from the Wizarding prison Azkaban and Harry’s godfather. Oldman accepted the part because he needed the money, as he had not taken on any major work in several years as he had decided to spend more time with his children.[11] He drew inspiration from Cuarón, who he described as having “such enthusiasm and a joy for life,”[12] and compared Sirius to John Lennon.[11] He was “surprised by how difficult it was to pull off”, comparing the role to Shakespearean dialogue.[12] Oldman suggested Sirius’s hairstyle, while Cuarón designed his tattoos.[12] He had read the first book, and his children were fans of the series. The part made Oldman a hero with his children and their schoolmates.[6]
  • David Thewlis plays Remus Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts. He was friends with Harry’s parents when they were at school, and teaches Harry to conjure a Patronus Charm to fight the Dementors. Thewlis, who had previously auditioned for the role of Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was Cuarón’s first choice for the role of Lupin. He accepted the role on advice from Ian Hart, the man who was cast as Quirrell, who told him that Lupin was “the best part in the book.”[13] Cuarón told Thewlis that he thought Lupin was gay, pitching him as a “gay junkie”, although his idea turned out to be incorrect.[14] Thewlis had seen the first two films and had only read part of the first book, although after taking the role he read the third. He was excited about the prospect of making a children’s film, and thoroughly enjoyed filming.[6]
  • Timothy Spall as Peter Pettigrew, a friend of Harry’s parents said to have been killed by Sirius Black.
  • Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney, the inept Hogwarts Divination teacher at Hogwarts.



With Prisoner of Azkaban production of the Harry Potter films switched to an 18-month cycle, which producer David Heyman explained was “to give each [film] the time it required.”[4] Chris Columbus, the director of the previous two films, decided not to return and helm the third instalment as he “hadn’t seen [his] own kids for supper in the week for about two and a half years.”[15] Even so, he remained on as a producer alongside Heyman.[16] Guillermo del Toro was approached to direct, but considered the film “so bright and happy and full of light, that [he] wasn’t interested.”[17] Marc Forster turned down the film because he had made Finding Neverland and did not want to direct child actors again.[18] Warner Bros. then composed a three-name short list for Columbus’s replacement, which comprised Callie Khouri, Kenneth Branagh (who played Gilderoy Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets) and eventual selection Alfonso Cuarón.[19] Cuarón was initially nervous about accepting as he had not read any of the books, or seen the films. After reading the series, he changed his mind and signed on to direct,[20] as he had immediately connected to the story.[16] Cuarón’s appointment pleased J. K. Rowling who loved his film Y tu mamá también and was impressed with his adaptation of A Little Princess.[21] Heyman found that “tonally and stylistically, [Cuarón] was the perfect fit.”[4]


Principal photography began on 24 February 2003,[5] at Leavesden Film Studios, and concluded in October 2003.[22]

Some sets for the film were built in Glen Coe, Scotland, near the Clachaig Inn. The indoor sets, including ones built for the previous two films, are mainly in Leavesden Film Studios. The Hogwarts Lake was filmed from Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt and Loch Morar in the Highlands of Scotland. Incidentally, the train bridge, which was also featured in the Chamber of Secrets movie, is opposite Loch Shiel and was used to film the sequences when the Dementor boarded the train. A small section of the triple-decker bus scene, where it weaves in between traffic, was filmed in Palmers Green in North London. Some parts were also filmed in and around Borough Market and Lambeth Bridge in London.

The Honeydukes set in this film is a redress of the set of Flourish & Blotts that was seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which, in turn, was a redress of the Ollivanders set from the first film.

Rowling allowed Cuarón to make minor changes to the book, on the condition that he stuck to the book’s spirit.[20] She allowed him to place a sundial on the Hogwarts’ grounds, but rejected a graveyard, as that would play an important part in the then unreleased sixth book.[20] Rowling said she “got goosebumps” when she saw several moments in the film, as they inadvertently referred to events in the final two books, she stated “people are going to look back on the film and think that those were put in deliberately as clues.”[21] When filming concluded, Cuarón found that it had “been the two sweetest years of my life,” and expressed his interest in directing one of the sequels.[20]


Cuarón originally wanted to move away from CGI toward puppetry. He hired master underwater puppeteer Basil Twist to help, using puppets to study the potential movement of the Dementors.[4] Once it became apparent that puppetry would be too expensive and unable to portray the specific elements of the Dementors, Cuarón turned to CGI; however, he and his team did use footage of Dementor puppets underwater as a basis for the flowing movements of the computer-generated Dementors.

The Knight Bus segment when Harry is being taken to The Leaky Cauldron uses the film technique known as bullet time, popularised in The Matrix series of films. This segment takes humorous advantage of the magic quality of the Harry Potter world by having the Muggle world go into bullet time while inside the Knight Bus, Harry, Stan Shunpike and Ernie Prang (and the talking shrunken head) keep moving in real time.


The Academy Award nominated score was the third and final Potter score to be composed and conducted by John Williams and released on CD on 25 May 2004. In general, his music for this third film is not as bright as that of the previous films, with distinct medieval influences in the instrumentation. One of the new themes, “Double Trouble,” was written during production so that a children’s choir could perform it in Hogwarts’s Great Hall in one of the film’s earlier scenes. There are brief quotes of themes from the earlier films, but the majority of the material in this score is new, including statements of “Double Trouble” and several other entirely new themes.

Brand X Music scored the trailers, using the tracks “Anticipation” and “Progeny”.

Differences from the book

Prisoner of Azkaban was, at the time of publication, the longest book in the series. The increasing plot complexity necessitated a looser adaptation of the book’s finer plot lines and back-story. The film opens with Harry using magic to light his wand in short bursts, in the same scene in the book he uses a flashlight as performing magic is illegal for minors. The connection between Harry’s parents and the Marauder’s map is only briefly mentioned,[23] as is Remus Lupin’s association to both the map and James Potter.[24] Additionally, it was never mentioned as to who the Marauders were or who the nicknames (Padfoot, Prongs, Moony, or Wormtail) belonged to. Some exposition was removed for dramatic effect: both the Shrieking Shack and Scabbers the rat are mentioned only very briefly in the film adaptation, while they receive a more thorough coverage in the novel.[23] Most of the back story of Sirius Black is also cut, with no mention of the manner of his escape from Azkaban.[24]

On account of pace and time considerations, the film glosses over detailed descriptions of magical education. Only one Hippogriff, Buckbeak, is seen, and only Malfoy and Harry are seen interacting with the Hippogriff during Care of Magical Creatures lessons, and most other lessons, including all of Snape’s potions classes, were cut from the film.[23] The complicated description of the Fidelius Charm is removed entirely from the film adaptation, with no explanation given of exactly how Black betrayed the Potters to Lord Voldemort. Many of the lines in this scene are redistributed amongst Cornelius Fudge and Minerva McGonagall; in compensation, McGonagall’s exposition of the Animagus transformation is instead given by Snape.[23]

The embryonic romantic connection between Ron and Hermione is more prominent in the film adaptation than the original book; in response to criticism of the first two films for sacrificing character development for mystery and adventure, the emotional development of all three lead characters is given more attention in the third film.[23] However, some critics and fans thought that the result was a murky plotline. That said, any mention of the beginnings of Harry’s crush on Cho Chang is removed.[25] Cedric Diggory also did not appear in the films until the following film, and thus, his father Amos is a much nicer person in the next film than in the book of that film as Cedric did not beat Harry. In the film, the Hufflepuff Seeker, who is not named in the film even though it was Cedric in the book, is struck down by lightning. Malfoy serves as comic relief in the film, acting significantly less antagonistic and more cowardly.[citation needed] The darker side of Harry is first glimpsed in this film, when Harry proclaims, “I hope he [Black] finds me. Cause when he does, I’m gonna be ready. When he does, I’m gonna kill him!”.[23] Also, Harry receives the Firebolt at the end of the film, while in the book he receives it anonymously at Christmas and it is confiscated for a few weeks to be checked for possible jinxes by Sirius.


Box office

The film opened in the United Kingdom on 31 May 2004 and on 4 June 2004 in the United States. It broke the record for biggest single day in UK box office history making £5.3 million on a Monday.[26] It went on to break records both with and without previews making a stunning £23.9 million including previews[27] and £9.3 million excluding them.[28] The film made $93.7 million during its opening weekend in the United States at 3,855 theatres, achieving, at the time, the third biggest opening weekend of all time.[29] It went on to make £46.1 million in the UK.[30] The Prisoner of Azkaban is currently the highest weekend box office of the United Kingdom.

The Prisoner of Azkaban made a total of $795.6 million worldwide,[1] which made it the second highest-grossing film of 2004 behind Shrek 2.[31] In the United States, it was only the sixth highest-grossing film of the year making $249.5 million.[32] Everywhere else in the world, however, it was the number one film of the year, making $546 million compared to Shrek 2’s $478.6 million.[33] Despite its successful box office run, Azkaban is currently the lowest-grossing Harry Potter film (all the other Harry Potter films have grossed more than US $875 million worldwide). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is currently the 29th highest-grossing film in history.

Critical reception

Prisoner of Azkaban achieved notable critical acclaim, garnering a 90% “Certified Fresh” approval rating and another 90% “Top Critics” ranking at Rotten Tomatoes.[34] The film also received a score of 82 out of 100 at Metacritic, signifying “universal acclaim.”[35]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle lauded the film’s more mature tone and said it was “darker, more complex, rooted in character.”[36] The Hollywood Reporter called the film “a deeper, darker, visually arresting and more emotionally satisfying adaptation of the J.K. Rowling literary phenomenon,” especially compared to the first two instalments.[37] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars: “Not only is this dazzler by far the best and most thrilling of the three Harry Potter movies to date, it’s a film that can stand on its own even if you never heard of author J.K. Rowling and her young wizard hero.”[38] Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com asserts it to be “one of the greatest fantasy films of all time.”[39] The Washington Posts Nicole Arthur praised the film as “complex, frightening, [and] nuanced.”[40] Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, saying that the film “is not quite as good as the first two,” but still called it “a delightful, amusing and sophisticated installment.”[41] Claudia Puig from USA Today found the film to be “a visual delight,” and added that “Cuaron is not afraid to make a darker film and tackle painful emotions.”[42] while Richard Roeper called the film “a creative triumph.”[43] Sean Smith from Newsweek said: “The Prisoner of Azkaban boasts a brand-new director and a bold new vision,” he also called the film “moving,” praising the performances by Radcliffe and Watson,[44] while Entertainment Weekly praised the film for being more mature than its predecessors.[45]

Some of the criticism came from The Washington Post: “Put delicately, this is one long sit, made all the more so by a turgid story, a dour visual palette and uninspiring action.”[46] Rex Reed, of The New York Observer, also pointed out some unnecessary stylistic changes, calling it “the silliest, as well as the most contrived – and confusing – of them all.”


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was nominated in the 77th Academy Awards held in 2005 for two Oscars.

The film also ranks at number 471 in Empire magazine’s 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[47] Additionally, Moviefone designated the film as the 10th best of the decade.[48] In 2011, the film was submitted to a public vote in which children aged 5-15 named it Film of the Decade at the First Light Awards.[49]


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External links

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