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Harry Potter 300

What explains the fascination with the Harry Potter saga? A U of M film studies professor shares his thoughts.

U of M expert comments on the Harry Potter films' success formula

July 13, 2011

Minnesota movie theaters are anticipating long lines tomorrow for the opening night of the final Harry Potter movie, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” What explains the widespread fascination with "The Boy Who Lived"? A University of Minnesota expert who can comment on the Harry Potter movies’ success and impact is:

Robert Silberman, associate professor, Department of Art History, College of Liberal Arts

Silberman says it was the books that delivered a huge audience to the films. “Of course there is a long tradition of film adaptations of bestselling novels such as ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘The Godfather,’ and of children’s classics such as the Oz books, ‘The Secret Garden’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ The Potter films had a readymade audience in the immense number of children hooked on the books. They could identify with, and age with the characters, even as younger children ‘filled in’ behind them. And of course there were also legions of parents and grandparents who also read the books and attended the movies.”

Successful film serials require an appealing formula, usually beginning with the protagonist, Silberman says. “Think James Bond: the lead character and the supporting roles – M, Q and Moneypenny – did not change; the villain, the female lead, and the situation and locales provide the key variables.”

Silberman says with Harry Potter the three central characters and distinct supporting cast exist in a longer narrative plotted out by J.K. Rowling in episodes that simultaneously incorporate the complex backstory and carry forward the overarching conflict between Harry and Voldemort. “There’s no need for the filmmakers to stop after each movie and try to figure out what’s next,” Silberman says.

Silberman primarily teaches courses in film history.

To interview Silberman, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or; or Kelly O'Brien at (612) 624-4109 or

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Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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