J. K. Rowling's Star-Making Power

The Harry Potter franchise doesn’t just make money - it also makes stars

By , Contributor
Sure, you know that the Harry Potter franchise is the most profitable movie franchise in history. You know that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II set a four-day record by taking in an astonishing $187.2 M.

Do you know that the Harry Potter franchise doesn’t just make money—it also makes stars? As evidence, I give you the following list compiled by STARmeter, the standard measure of popularity in the movie industry. Note that Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, and Reese Witherspoon do not appear here.

1. Emma Watson

2. Daniel Radcliffe

3. George Clooney

4. Rosie Huntington Whiteley

5. Ralph Fiennes

6. Mila Kunis

7. Rupert Grint

8. Alan Rickman

9. Tom Felton

10. Evanna Lynch

In case you don’t recognize those last three names, Alan Rickman plays Severus Snape; Tom Felton plays Draco Malfoy; and Evanna Lynch plays Luna Lovegood.

What this means is something staggering; no less than SEVEN of the ten most popular movie stars in the world have made the list because of the Harry Potter franchise, and thus because of J. K. Rowling.

The two comparable movie franchises, the James Bond franchise, and the Star Wars franchise, did not create stars to this extent. The James Bond franchise featured a series of great male stars, but surrounded them with journeyman actors and one-time Bond girls. The Star Wars franchise created one great star, Harrison Ford. While a few other performers, like Carrie Fisher, had significant careers, they were not great stars.

The ability of the Harry Potter franchise to put performers into the rarified realm of STARmeter’s top ten cries out for explanation. This is especially true of the two actors who play bad guys; Alan Rickman as Severus kills Dumbledore, and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, torments Harry endlessly.

These terrific British performers play their hearts out in roles that come from novels written by a brilliant writer (a future Nobel Laureate, I hope) who has an intense sense of British literary history, especially Dickens and Shakespeare. It is significant that the filmmakers chose Dickens’ London as the model for Diagon Alley, the alternative London for wizarding folk. After all, Dickens’ amazing ability to create a plethora of vividly realized characters—not just a comic book hero and his pals—provided a useful precedent for what Rowling had done.

And then there’s Shakespeare. It’s a truism to say that no writer has ever created so many memorable characters - even walk-ons with just a few lines. And Rowling surely learned something from Shakespeare about giving as much attention to bad guys as to good guys. Iago is one of the few literary precedents for Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort.

Whereas novelists can develop rich characters and create exciting ensemble scenes, screenwriters usually have only about 20-22,000 words for a feature script - and not all of them are used for dialogue. So Steve Kloves, the Harry Potter screenwriter who worked closely with Rowling, had an extraordinary advantage in his source material. The STARmeter ratings show how well he used it.

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