Rate my (Dark Arts) professors: A look at the best and worst of Hogwarts’ strangest staff

Rate my (Dark Arts) professors: A look at the best and worst of Hogwarts’ strangest staff

A survey of Harry Potter’s Defense Against The Dark Arts instructors and the talented character actors who portrayed them

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Background: Screenshots, clockwise from left: Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, Severus Snape in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Mad-eye Moody in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, Quirinus Quirrell in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone
Background: Screenshots, clockwise from left: Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, Severus Snape in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Mad-eye Moody in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, Quirinus Quirrell in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone

Teachers never get enough credit, and that’s especially true of those who work at Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. Hormonal teens are already a handful, but imagine dealing with hormonal teens who also have access to magic wands.

Among the staff’s most thankless positions is the Defense Against The Dark Arts instructor, who is tasked with preparing students to protect themselves from violent spells, dangerous creatures, and all sorts of assorted evils. By design, it’s a volatile role, and it’s had such a high turnover rate that many believe it’s jinxed, since no instructor manages to last more than a single school year (Dumbledore once asserted that Voldemort put a curse on it after his application was rejected). So it’s not entirely surprising that the professors it does attract tend to be quite peculiar, to say the least, with teaching methods that range from questionable to outright diabolical.

Throughout Harry Potter’s seven years at Hogwarts, there were seven different teachers for Defense Against The Dark Arts—many of whom got themselves into trouble after dabbling a little too heavily in the Dark Arts. For fans of the books and films, the revolving door of instructors became one of its signatures, ushering in some of Potter’s most eccentric allies and most fearsome enemies. With the Harry Potter film series reaching its 20th anniversary milestone this month, we’re looking back at the professors who dared to lead Hogwarts’ most hazardous classroom, ranking them from worst to best in terms of job performance—and overall legacy.

For extra credit, we’ll also be paying tribute to the distinguished character actors who have played the Defense Against The Dark Arts professors since Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone, shouting out recommended performances from TV and film where you can see more from each of them.

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7. Amycus Carrow, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 & 2

7. Amycus Carrow, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 & 2

Ralph Ineson as Amycus Carrow in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Ralph Ineson as Amycus Carrow in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Screenshot: HBO Max

7. Amycus Carrow, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, 
Part 1 & 2

For his seventh and final year at Hogwarts, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) was (quite understandably) too preoccupied with other matters—like the return of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) to take over the entire wizarding world—to focus on his coursework, which means we don’t see much of Amycus Carrow in professorial mode. Of course, Carrow was a Death Eater—one of many instated to teach at the school after Dumbledore’s death and Voldemort’s reign over the Ministry Of Magic—so we don’t imagine he was the most fair and balanced instructor regardless. Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) even remarks that the class might as well be “The Dark Arts” under his guidance, straying from the usual curriculum to serve the Dark Lord instead of his students’ best interests.

Extra Credit: Ralph Ineson’s Carrow may not haven any spoken lines across three Potter films, but he’s proven himself a reliable character actor with an unmistakable voice, showing up in everything from the original The Office to Game Of Thrones. But one of his most substantial roles is in Robert Eggers’ The Witch, where he plays ostracized father William, facing down Dark Arts of a different kind.

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Iam Hart as Quirinus Quirrell in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone
Iam Hart as Quirinus Quirrell in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone
Screenshot: HBO Max

6. Quirinus Quirrell, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry’s year-one Defense Against The Dark Arts professor lived up to his name: He was one squirrelly wizard, a walking ball of anxiety who, frankly, seemed out of his depth at the head of a classroom, not to mention one of Hogwarts’ most intensive courses. One might be inclined to cut Quirrell some slack—he did have the Dark Lord living on the back of his head, after all (Malignant’s inspiration?)—but the teacher was easily swayed by Voldemort, and his whole jittery act was at least partially concealing the diabolical scheming and a thirst for power. And don’t get us started on the purple turban, an appropriative fashion faux pas.

Extra Credit: Ian Hart may be one of the least recognizable thespians to step into the role, but he’s portrayed a number of historical figures over the years, from John Lennon to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. More recently, the actor received a fine showcase in AMC’s chilling The Terror, playing the sailing master of the ill-fated HMS Terror crew.

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5. Dolores Umbridge, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

5. Dolores Umbridge, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Screenshot: HBO Max

5. Dolores Umbridge, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Despite her syrupy voice, Dolores Umbridge was a straight-up sadist in a pink suit with matching pillbox hat. An arm of the corrupted Ministry Of Magic, she made an even worse teacher, by basically taking the Defense out of the Defense Against the Dark Arts, instead offering her students a chance to learn “about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way.” Harry was so concerned about this lack of instruction that he formed “Dumbledore’s Army,” so that he and his fellow students would have some way to combat the evil forces that were rapidly accumulating against them. Add a really annoying giggle, a propensity for plates with kittens on them… oh, and a tendency to torture her students and throw her colleagues out on the street; you can see why Umbridge was hated by nearly everyone.

Extra Credit: In Mike Leigh’s 2004 film Vera Drake, veteran character actor Imelda Staunton plays a role that’s about as far as you can get from Dolores Umbridge. In 1950s Britain, the always helpful, hard-working Vera is constantly smiling—until she gets arrested for helping pregnant women who don’t want to be pregnant. Watching this after Phoenix, just the sheer range of Staunton’s talent is shockingly impressive; she doesn’t even seem like the same person (and earned a Best Actress Oscar nom for it, to boot).

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4. Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets

4. Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets

Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Screenshot: HBO Max

4. Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets

A member of the order of Merlin, third class; honorary member of the Dark Force Defense League; and five-time winner of Witch Weekly’s most charming smile award, the impossibly vain Professor Lockhart was incompetent as a wizard and horrific as a teacher, removing all the bones from Harry’s broken arm during a Quidditch match (an injured Harry feebly and hilariously protests, “No, not you”) and often leaving the kids to clean up his many messes. But Lockhart eventually proved that his award-winning smile fronted a dastardly and cowardly disposition. He even attempted to wipe the memories of Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint) so that they wouldn’t be able to reveal his true spineless self to the world as they set off to save Ginny (Bonnie Wright) in Chamber Of Secrets. Fortunately, Lockhart was felled by Ron’s defective wand, which wiped out his own memory instead, leaving him not much of a danger to anyone. But let’s face it, he wasn’t much of a danger anyway, strictly due to his own ineptitude.

Extra Credit: Kenneth Branagh has excelled both in front of and behind the camera as actor, writer, and director. Despite his many Shakespearean proclivities, he is currently playing double-duty as both legendary detective Hercule Poirot and director of the upcoming version of Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile, the follow-up to his 2017 release Murder On The Orient Express. But our favorite appearance of Branagh’s is when he triple-threated his way through Much Ado About Nothing in 1993, directing, writing, and co-starring with his then-wife, Emma Thompson (Professor Trelawney!), Denzel Washington, and Keanu Reeves in a fun, flirty, fast-paced version of the Shakespeare romantic comedy classic.

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3. Alastor “Mad-eye” Moody, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

3. Alastor “Mad-eye” Moody, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

Brendan Gleeson as Mad-eye Moody in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Brendan Gleeson as Mad-eye Moody in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Photo: HBO Max

3. Alastor “Mad-eye” Moody, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

It’s difficult to assess “Mad-eye” Moody’s tenure as the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor—the big caveat here being that he was actually Death Eater Barty Crouch Jr. (David Tennant) in disguise, who kidnapped the real Moody before the start of the school year and used Polyjuice Potion to assume his identity. The thing is? Crouch-as-Moody wasn’t awful at his job! Sure, he was a little brusque and his teachings were part of a plot to rig the Triwizard Tournament, but Harry and his classmates unquestionably learned a lot under his tutelage, not to mention the shocking cruelty of the three “unforgivable curses.” It was a harsh lesson, to be sure, but could the real Alastor have prepared Harry to face such unspeakable evil?

Extra Credit: One of Ireland’s finest actors, Brendan Gleeson’s eclectic filmography could make your magical eye spin. While we have a huge soft spot for Paddington 2, Gleeson and Colin Farrell make a fiendishly fun pair of hitmen in In Bruges, which earned him a number of accolades including BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations.

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2. Remus Lupin, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

2. Remus Lupin, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

David Thewlis as Remus Lupin in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
David Thewlis as Remus Lupin in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Screenshot: HBO Max

2. Remus Lupin, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

Lycanthropy aside, Remus Lupin really is the platonic ideal of a teacher: He’s smart, imbues his lessons with a sense of fun (who could forget the boggart!), and doesn’t talk down to his students, treating them like the young adults they are. He’s also willing to dedicate time to those that need special attention—namely Harry, who he mentors in the invaluable art of the Patronus charm. The Wizarding World’s unfortunate prejudice against werewolves may have cost him the job after just one year, but Lupin remained a powerful ally through his work with the Order Of The Phoenix. When it comes to capable Defense Against The Dark Arts professors, there’s no substitute for Remus Lupin (although Snape did step up during Lupin’s full-moon period).

Extra Credit: How good is David Thewlis? When he showed up in Wonder Woman as the seemingly perfunctory Sir Peter Morgan, fans knew there had to be more to his character (he’s eventually revealed to be Ares, the film’s big bad). For our money, he’s a blast as the dastardly antagonist of Fargo’s third season, but you also can’t miss his breakout role in Mike Leigh’s pitch-black comedy Naked, which won him the Best Actor award at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.

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1. Severus Snape, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

1. Severus Snape, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
Photo: HBO Max

1. Severus Snape, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

Severus Snape is one of Harry Potter’s most complicated characters, with as many as admirers as he has detractors. But Harry himself names his second son after Snape, calling him “the bravest man I ever knew.” (After all, it takes considerable guts to play double-agent against The Dark Lord himself, surrounded by a whole army of Death-Eaters.) Yes, Snape had unabashedly conflicted feelings toward Harry, the son of Lily, the only person he ever truly loved, and James, who tormented him. The tortured Hogwarts Potion Master finally gets his coveted Dark Arts position in book/movie six: appropriately enough, the one named after himself, The Half-Blood Prince. Sure, Snape was a less-than-compassionate educator (to put it mildly), but he also slyly taught his students what they needed to know: jumping ahead to the werewolf section in Azkaban, for example, to help explain the absence of Professor Lupin. But we put him at the top of this list for the life lessons he offers Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Emma Watson): that some wounds, and some loves, can last a lifetime; that anyone can be capable of feats of astounding courage; and that sometimes people are rarely what they really seem to be.

Extra Credit: Where to start: Alan Rickman was such a talented utility player that we even did an Inventory after his 2016 death about he elevated even the less-than-stellar movies he appeared in. But after Snape, though, our favorite Rickman role has to be frustrated Shakespearean actor Alexander Dane, forever typecast as the alien Dr. Lazarus in the hit sci-fi series Galaxy Quest. When Alexander and his castmates get sent to outer space to help the peaceful Thermians defend themselves against the tyrant Sarris, he finally embraces his most famous role, even becoming a compassionate parental mentor to his extraterrestrial fans.

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