When Warner Bros. got the rights to the Harry Potter books, they did what any studio would have done with a potentially big franchise... they approached Steven Spielberg and offered him the opportunity to direct the first few Harry Potter movies. Why didn't he end up directing them? Because he told the studio that he wanted to animate the films, and combine the first couple of books into one movie. That didn't set well with producer Alan Horn, and they obviously took the series in a completely different direction.
After seeing what's been done with these Potter movies, I can't imagine what that would have ended up being like. It would obviously would have been a completely different Harry Potter experience. I'm so glad that they decided to take the franchise into a different direction, and film them in live-action.
Here's the story from the LA Times who wrote a great article that looks back at the entire Harry Potter franchise.
Warner Bros. secured the rights for four 'Harry Potter' novels for about $2 million. At that point, only the first book was on shelves in England and none had reached America. Warner Bros. tried to get a financial partner on the project, reaching out to studios including Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks, which passed.
Once the books became a sensation, greenlighting the first 'Potter' film became a major priority at Warner Bros., where Alan Horn had recently taken over as president and Barry Meyer as chairman (replacing longtime studio chiefs Terry Semel and Bob Daly). DreamWorks circled back and proposed a partnership, but Horn wisely declined. There was one aspect of the DreamWorks talks that did intrigue him, however.
'I did think it would be worthwhile for Steven Spielberg to direct,' Horn said. 'We offered it to him. But one of the notions of Dreamworks' and Steven's was, "Let's combine a couple of the books, let's make it animated," and that was because [visual effects and] Pixar had demonstrated that animated movies could be extremely successful. Because of the wizardry involved, they were very effects-laden. So I don't blame them. But I did not want to combine the movies, and I wanted it to be live action.'
Spielberg went on to direct Artificial Intelligence, and the studio hired Home Alone director Chris Columbus to take on the film adaptation. I'm not sure that was the best way to go either. In my opinion, the first two films directed by Columbus were the weakest films in the franchise. The Potter movies didn't really grab me until the third one. I do think Spielberg would have done a great job directing the live-action films though.
What do you all think about what Spielberg wanted to do with the franchise?