On this day in 2001, the British author J.K. Rowling’s star creation–bespectacled boy wizard Harry Potter–makes his big-screen debut in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which opens in movie theaters across the United States. Based on the mega-best-selling fantasy novel of the same name, the film, which starred Daniel Radcliffe in the title role, went on to become one of the highest-grossing movies in history.
The first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, debuted in Great Britain in 1997 and was released in the United States the following year under the name Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Children and adults alike were captivated by the story of Harry, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, their adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Harry’s struggles against his main enemy, the evil Lord Voldemort.
Rowling, who was born in England in 1965, first got the idea for Harry Potter while she was riding a train from Manchester to London in 1990. She began writing the first book that night and finished it while living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she struggled financially as a single mother and battled depression. Her completed manuscript was turned down by a number of publishers before she got a book deal with Bloomsbury Publishing in August 1996. Rowling went on to pen a total of seven Harry Potter novels, all of which became international blockbusters, selling more than 400 million copies and being translated into some 60 languages in all. The books also spawned a series of movies, video games and other merchandise that made Rowling one of the wealthiest people in the entertainment industry.
The first Harry Potter film was directed by the American filmmaker Chris Columbus, whose previous credits included Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. Prior to being selected to play Harry, Daniel Radcliffe, who was born July 23, 1989, in London, had appeared in a BBC production of David Copperfield as well as the 2001 film The Tailor of Panama, which starred Pierce Brosnan. British actors Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were chosen for the roles of Harry’s friends Ron and Hermione. A roster of celebrated actors took supporting roles in the film and its various sequels, including Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Richard Harris and Gary Oldman.
Columbus also directed the second Potter film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was released in 2002. The Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron helmed the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which arrived in theaters in 2004. The fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was directed by Mike Newell and debuted in 2005, while 2007 saw the release of the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, helmed by David Yates. The sixth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, also directed by Yates, is scheduled to open in 2009. The seventh and final (according to Rowling’s predetermined plan) novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, debuted in U.S. bookstores on July 21, 2007. Like all the previous Potter books, it is slated to become a movie, to be released in two parts in 2010 and 2011. To date, the Harry Potter films are the most financially successful series in history, having surpassed both the Star Wars and James Bond franchises.