Steven Spielberg Turned Down Directing Harry Potter For An Honorable Reason

Steven Spielberg turned down directing the first Harry Potter movie so he could spend time with his children.

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

steven spielberg

The Harry Potter franchise of films has had several different directors, with three different directors helming the first four movies before the franchise settled on David Yates to direct the final four movies of the primary series as well as all the entries in the troubled Fantastic Beasts franchise. However, in a recent interview with S.S. Rajamouli, legendary director Steven Spielberg revealed that he had the opportunity to direct the first film in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a film that was eventually directed by Chris Columbus. Spielberg turned down the offer for a very honorable reason: he had decided “to basically spend that next year and a half with my family, my young kids growing up.”

For movie lovers, this is the essential paradox of Steven Spielberg. He’s great at working with children, which helped him get great performances out of child actors in everything from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to Jurassic Park, so we can only imagine he would have been just as good (if not possibly better) as Chris Columbus when it came to coaxing great performances out of a very young Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. But Steven Spielberg is so great with children specifically because he’s a family man, and he’s not afraid to walk away from a major opportunity if he’s decided he wants to hang with his family instead of hanging out behind a camera.

harry potter

In looking back on his decision to turn away from the Harry Potter franchise when he had the chance to shape these films from the very beginning, the veteran director has no regrets. In the interview, he noted how “I’d sacrificed a great franchise, which today looking back I’m very happy to have done, to be with my family.” In an industry that often puts careers ahead of family, this is very uplifting to hear.

Another reason we’re glad that Steven Spielberg turned down the chance to direct Harry Potter is that, for all of his technical skill and craft, his heart might not have fully been in a work where he was functioning as a hired gun to bring someone else’s (in this case, problematic author J.K. Rowling) world to life. Spielberg is arguably at his best when he fully believes in the movies he helms, which is what made The Fabelmans (a movie loosely based on Spielberg’s own early life and career) such a hit. However, given the fact that Spielberg has been behind some of the greatest movies and most iconic scenes in film history, we can’t help but wonder what he would have done with the Wizarding World if he had taken up the offer.

For example, many have noted what a seismic shift it was for the Harry Potter franchise when it went from the light, kid-friendly first two movies from director Chris Columbus to the spooktastic vibes of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Movies like Jurassic Park (for which Steven Spielberg was the director) and The Goonies (for which he was both the story writer and executive producer) show that he is capable of creating a perfect balance of kiddy thrills and adult chills. Then again, dodging the chance to direct Harry Potter means that Steven Spielberg was able to dodge the endless rounds of culture wars that now surround the series, so maybe he was channeling his inner Ravenclaw wisdom all those years ago.