Spielberg Explains Why He Didn't Direct Harry Potter

Steven Spielberg in Austin Powers in Goldmember
(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

I like to think I’m not alone in having mixed feelings about the Harry Potter films as a fan of J.K. Rowling series. On one hand, heading to the theater time and again to see how each of the novels was adapted to the big screen was part of what being a Harry Potter fan was over the course of the last decade or so. On the other hand, the movies weren’t perfect adaptations.

In retrospect, with all of the films done and the franchise complete, it isn’t difficult to explore what might have been. How would the movies have turned out if they’d waited until all of the books were published before adapting them? Could they have combined some of the books for fewer movies? What would the films have been like, had Steven Spielberg directed?

That last question isn’t exactly an unexplored topic, however, an article Digital Spy ran today does revisit it, as it includes quotes from the War Horse director on his early involvement in the Harry Potter films. Spielberg spoke about spending five or six months developing Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone before dropping out of the project.

"I just felt that I wasn't ready to make an all-kids movie and my kids thought I was crazy. And the books were by that time popular, so when I dropped out, I knew it was going to be a phenomenon."But, you know I don't make movies because they're gonna to be phenomenons. I make movies because they have to touch me in a way that really commits me to a year, two years, three years of work."

So, is he saying Harry Potter didn’t have that effect on him? The comment may be a bit too vague to jump to that conclusion, however, it might have been the lack of challenge that put him off the project. A 2001 post at Hollywood.com quotes Spielberg as saying:

"I purposely didn't do the Harry Potter movie because for me, that was shooting ducks in a barrel. It's just a slam dunk. It's just like withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it into your personal bank accounts. There's no challenge."

The Harry Potter films were destined to deliver at the box office, given the growing popularity of the books at the time. But there may have been more to it than that as creative differences could have played a factor. From what was posted in an article by the LA Times back in 2010, Spielberg’s DreamWorks passed on the project but then “circled back and proposed a partnership, but Horn wisely declined. There was one aspect of the DreamWorks talks that did intrigue him, however.”

Warner Bros. Alan Horn is quoted as saying that DreamWork’s and Spielberg’s idea was to combine some of the books for the movie and make it animated, which wasn’t the direction Warner Bros. wanted to take. Spielberg went on to do A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Chris Columbus ended up directing Sorcerers Stone.

So, the “what might have been” for a Spielberg-directed Harry Potter film could have been an animated film that combined some of the books. Given some of the excellent character portrayals throughout the series, including participation by actors such as Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Robbie Coltrane, not to mention some fantastic visual effects in the live-action series, it’s hard to picture such a drastically different concept for the films. With that said, while it might not be coming anytime soon, a remake is likely to be inevitable at some point in the not-so-distant future. Perhaps Spielberg will be up for the challenge then, especially if the choice is to go with an animated adaptation for the second-go-round.

Kelly West
Assistant Managing Editor

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site.