The Harry Potter films have been deemed by most fans to be appropriate adaptations of the wildly popular book series, bringing the story of Hogwarts to life while bringing them to a much wider audience.
While the films were, for the most part, faithful to the books (aside from a few key changes that drew ire from loyal fans), there were some differences in the appearance of the actors versus the way their characters were described in the books. Here’s what the Harry Potter cast would have looked like if their appearances really reflected Rowling’s writing.
Everyone’s favorite hero is described often throughout the books, with his primary introduction in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone giving the most information.
"Harry had always been small and skinny for his age," Rowling wrote. "Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair and bright green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape… The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning."
Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry has the dark hair described in the books, and, for the most part, he wears it in the same style; however, in Deathly Hallows, Rowling notes that his hair had grown to shoulder length due to his preoccupation for searching for the Horcruxes, something that didn’t happen in the films. The other notable difference between book Harry and film Harry is Radcliffe’s blue eyes, which don’t match his literary counterpart’s green ones.
Fans would have rioted if Rupert Grint didn’t have Ron Weasley’s signature red hair, and the films delivered on that front. Outside of his hair, Ron is also described after his introduction in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as being "tall, thin and gangling, with freckles, big hands and feet, and a long nose."
Rupert Grint is practically freckle-free, and none were added via makeup or special effects. He also isn’t that tall; the actor is only 5’8", which is below average. Rowling also notes that Ron has blue eyes, compared to Grint’s hazel ones. However, with his spot-on portrayal of Ron’s goofy but loveable personality, most fans weren’t complaining about the physical differences.
Rowling writes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that Voldemort is "tall and skeletally thin," with a face "whiter than a skull, with wide, livid scarlet eyes and a nose that was as flat as a snake’s with slits for nostrils"—more or less in line with Ralph Fiennes’ creepy portrayal of the character. However, for some reason, the film decided not to go with scarlet eyes for Voldemort, instead going with Fiennes’ natural blue.
Young Tom Riddle in the movies is also similar to Riddle in the books. The character is described in Chamber of Secrets as a "handsome" teen with "jet black hair" and dark eyes, which works with Frank Dillane’s eerie version of the character in the films.
Rowling describes Voldemort’s loyal follower Bellatrix as having "long, black hair" with "dark, heavy-lidded eyes" and an "air of arrogance." Rowling notes that Bellatrix was very beautiful before her imprisonment at Azkaban, and that she developed a more gaunt appearance afterwards.
Helena Bonham-Carter’s signature wild hair as Bellatrix was not a feature in the books; however, it helped sell the craziness of the character and wasn’t out of place with her personality. Bonham-Carter also wasn’t as gaunt as Bellatrix was described, although she did sell the air of arrogance perfectly.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling describes Dumbledore as "tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt… His blue eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice."
Two actors took on the role of Dumbledore, and both looked pretty close to the headmaster’s description in the book. Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets before his 2002 death, had hair that was more white than silver, and his eyes were a darker blue. Other than that, however, his portrayal was pretty spot on.
Michael Gambon, who took over the role in Prisoner of Azkaban, had a beard that was probably a few inches too short to be tucked into his belt, and his eyes were brown instead of blue. Still, both he and Harris did the character justice.
In the book, Snape is described as having "greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin," which is pretty close to Alan Rickman’s look in the films, although his nose was a bit on the straight side.
One key difference is his age. As revealed in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Snape’s birthday is Jan. 9, 1960, which would make him 31 when Harry first started at Hogwarts. Rickman was 55 when the first Harry Potter film was released. Very particular fans might also note that Snape’s height may not be right. In Order of the Phoenix, Rowling notes that Snape is shorter than Sirius, which doesn’t fit, as Rickman is 6’1" and Gary Oldman, who played Sirius, is 5’9".
In Harry Potter and the Sorcercer’s Stone, Rowling describes Hogwarts groundskeeper Hagrid as "almost twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide. He looked simply too big to be allowed, and so wild–long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face, he had hands the size of trash can lids, and his feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins."
Robbie Coltrane’s hair and beard fit well with this description, but, although the actor is towering, he doesn’t reach Hagrid’s supernatural size. The half-giant is described as being 11’6", while Coltrane is only 6’1"; although he became much taller with the help of some movie magic, he still didn’t ever quite seem as overwhelmingly large as Hagrid was intended to be.
Sirius gets his first description in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where Rowling says he has "a mass of filthy, matted hair hung to his elbows. If eyes hadn’t been shining out of the deep, dark sockets, he might have been a corpse. The waxy skin was stretched so tightly over the bones of his face, it looked like a skull. His yellow teeth were bared in a grin." However, she also notes that Sirius is "very good-looking; his dark hair fell into his eyes with a sort of casual elegance"—something that seems to come naturally to actor Gary Oldman.
Oldman was never as matted as the immediately post-Azkaban Sirius is described as being in the books, and he definitely didn’t have hair down to his elbows. Although the actor did a good job with his portrayal of Sirius’ fragile mental state following his imprisonment, his appearance never quite lived up to its grossness in the books. If anything, he had more in common with this chapter illustration showing Sirius as a young boy at Hogwarts.
The Dursleys, for the most part, fit with their book descriptions, with one key difference—Petunia and Dudley are both blonde.
Mr. Dursley is described in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as "a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache," which fits with Richard Griffiths’ portrayal. Petunia is "thin and blonde and had twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent most of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors," which works well with Fiona Shaw, aside from her dark brown hair.
Dudley was described as having "a large pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes, and thick blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat head. Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel— Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig." All of this fits with Harry Melling, again aside from his brown hair. His eyes are also more blue-green than straight blue.
Hair color notwithstanding, all three actors did a great job playing Harry’s oppressive adoptive family.
Emma Watson started out as a pretty accurate portrayal of the novelized version of Hermione. The character was described in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as having "a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth," which, for the most part, fits with Watson (although her front teeth only briefly bordered on "rather large").
However, in the later films, the two started to diverge more as Watson grew up to be model-level gorgeous and Hermione remained, for the most part, a more confident version of her bushy-haired, large-toothed self. Although the books did include some of this transformation—Rowling noted in Goblet of Fire that Hermione "had done something with her hair; it was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny… the reduction in the size of her front teeth was more noticeable than ever"—Watson is probably more gorgeous that Hermione was ever intended to be.
Neville doesn’t get much of a description in the Harry Potter books, aside from being "a round-faced boy," as Rowling writes in Sorcerer’s Stone. However, Rowling did elaborate a bit more on how she pictured Neville in an interview with NPR, saying that "to me, Neville’s short and plump and blond."
Matthew Lewis, back in the early Neville Longbottom days, fit well with the character aside from his brown locks. However, as we all know, Lewis coined the term Neville Longbottoming by becoming very, very attractive in the later films, which was ill-fitting with Neville’s continued awkward appearance. We got over it pretty quickly, though.
Luna is described in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as a dirty blonde with "straggly, waist-length" hair and "very pale eyebrows, and protuberant eyes that gave her a permanently surprised look." Her eyes are later said to be grey.
Evanna Lynch has light blue eyes, not grey, and her hair in the films was closer to platinum blonde than dirty blonde. However, the actress’ brilliantly loopy portrayal of the character more than made up for any small differences in appearance.
Rowling described Ginny as having "bright brown eyes" with "vivid, flaming red" hair "worn as a long mane," which is mostly fitting with actress Bonnie Wright, barring the actress’ green/blue eyes.
Another difference lies in the similarities between the Weasley siblings. While Wright bore no more than a passing resemblance to her movie siblings past their shocking red hair, the books say Ginny is supposed to look a lot more like her brothers. "Her resemblance to Fred and George was suddenly striking," Rowling wrote about the determined Ginny in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
The Malfoys’ pale blonde hair is well outlined in the books, and fits well with the way the evil family is portrayed in the films. Draco specifically is described as having "a pale, pointed face" during his introduction in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Rowling also notes that Draco has grey eyes.
Tom Felton, like most of the Harry Potter actors, has an eye color that doesn’t match his character’s, as his eyes are blue compared to Draco’s grey. However, he sported the Malfoy platinum hair and the character’s signature sneer perfectly throughout the films.