The first wave of LEGO Harry Potter sets hit the shops in 2001 coinciding with the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone, as it was released as in USA). This is the second and last post discussing the early days of LEGO Harry Potter to mark the 20th anniversary of the theme. Let’s grab our time turners and travel back in time together…
In the first of the anniversary posts, I focused on the 2001 sets and discussed some of the innovations seen in the early LEGO Harry Potter sets.
But three of the 2001 sets didn’t get the mention they deserved. So let’s start our time travel there…
Harry Potter – for girls…
Unlike the Star Wars movie franchise, Harry Potter is just as popular among girls as boys, if not more. So it is not surprising LEGO tried to cater especially for girls too. While today, this is done by making sets that appeal to all, in 2001 LEGO decided to make three sets with bright colours, and with paper backdrops turning them almost into mini dolls houses. These sets were:
- 4721 – Hogwarts Classrooms
- 4722 – Gryffindor House
- 4723 – Diagon Alley Shops
Each comes with a minifigure (Harry, Ron or Hermione) and a the previously mentioned paper backdrop.
As they are so different, they have intrigued me, and I’ve now finally sourced all three for my collection. Photos of them can be seen below.
LEGO Harry Potter in the following years
Beyond 2001, LEGO continued releasing new Harry Potter sets as new movies premiered. An overview of the sets (along with photos) was given in the following post, but the list below provides a summary:
- Chamber of Secrets – 11 sets released in 2002 and another 2 sets in 2003.
- The Prisoner of Azkaban – 9 sets released in 2004 (plus a mini Knight Bus in a polybag and a motorised version of the normal retail version of Hogwarts Express)
- The Goblet of Fire – 4 sets released in 2005
- The Order of the Phoenix – 1 set released in 2007
- The Half-blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows – 6 sets released in 2010 and another 4 sets in 2011.
Then there was a break till the theme was revived in 2018.
In the following, I’ll discuss a few of the sets in more detail.
2002 – Chamber of Secrets
With 591 pieces, The Chamber of Secrets (set 4730) was the largest set released in 2002 to coincide with the release of the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets movie.
The set includes Moaning Myrtle’s Bathroom and its entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. The chamber itself featured the statue of Salazar Slytherin, where the basilisk can enter the flooded room through its mouth. The set included Tom Riddle, which was the only version you could get till he appeared as an exclusive figure in the Magical Treasury – A visual guide to the Wizarding World book.
Most interestingly, the modular style of the sets, allowed the chamber to be positioned under the Great Hall from the 2001 series of sets as shown below. This style of stacked sets has been picked up by the 20th Anniversary series of sets released in mid 2021.
Diagon Alley sets of 2002-03
When Harry entered Diagon Alley in the first movie, that was really where he stepped into the magical world. It is a scene that have captivated many kids when they have first been introduced to the Harry Potter movies. Excluding the small 2001 Diagon Alley shops set (4723) discussed above, it wasn’t till the year after we saw the first Diagon Alley set (Gringott’s bank) followed in 2003 by Quality Quidditch Supplies and Knockturn Alley (those two were the only Harry Potter sets to be released in that year as no new movie came out).
While the Gringott’s bank set didn’t have a real facade (unfortunately), with some or all of these three sets, you could now have Harry visiting Diagon Alley in your play.
2004 – Motorised Hogwarts Express
The bright red Hogwarts Express has been released many versions. The first one (from 2001) was briefly discussed in the previous post. In 2004, an almost identical train was released, this time with Hogsmeade as station rather than Kings Cross. And subsequently, we have seen the train released in 2010 (set 4841) and most recently in 2018 (set 75955).
But the 2004 version was special, as a small number of sets was sold in a motorised version (including 9v track and transformer), a tender (which housed the motor), and a larger station building. This is to date the only official motorised Hogwarts Express set (if you want to motorise the 2018 version, check here for details).
2007 – Hogwarts Castle
This set was the only LEGO Harry Potter set to be released in 2007 to coincide with the screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that year.
It was the third version of Hogwarts to be released. Apart from the 2001 version (discussed in the first anniversary post), there was a Hogwarts Castle released in 2004, reflecting scenes from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A fourth version followed in 2010.
The 2007 version of the Hogwarts castle brought us the first version of Professor Umbridge. Until she later appeared in the 2018 Bricktober minifigure pack, she was extremely hard to get (i.e. expensive). It was also the first set to feature Thestals. The castle itself included both a greenhouse for herbology and the Room of Requirement, to allow the Order of the Phoenix to train. Again, these were things we hadn’t seen previously.
2011 – Diagon Alley
I have included set 10217 Diagon Alley, firstly because I love Diagon Alley and it was one of the first Harry Potter sets I got, but also because it was the first exclusive/direct-to-consumers Harry Potter set (similar to the modular buildings, it had a five digit set number back with normal sets had four digit numbers).
In this set, we got Ollivanders wand shop for the first time. Of the other two buildings included, Burgin and Burkes also featured in the 2003 Knockturn Alley set while Gringotts bank came in as previously shown was released in 2002. But the buildings are so much better, and the set came with a generous selection of minifigures, including Fred and George Weasley (first time we saw those), lamp posts, small stalls and accessories. It remain one of my favourite LEGO Harry Potter sets.
The importance of movie licences in LEGO’s turnaround
Many stories written about LEGO’s crisis years in the early 2000s, such as those one. LEGO had invested heavily in innovation, spreading their focus far from the core LEGO bricks, and with little focus on managing costs and inventory. They were also facing challenges from digital media, resulting in kids “growing out” of LEGO earlier.
They started loosing money, quite a lot of money as shown in the figure below.
To survive LEGO sold off a majority stake in its LEGOLAND parts and cut costs significantly. The process took years. A few things helped keeping sufficient revenue for the turnaround to be successful. One was the success of the Bionicle theme, bringing in many new LEGO fans (and bringing former LEGO fans back). Another contributor was the good performance of some of the licensed themes, with in particularly the Star Wars and Harry Potter-themed products selling well, but only in the years when new movies or books in those series were released.
Let’s look at when some of these movies came out:
- Harry Potter movies were released in in 2001, 2002 and 2004, 2005
- Star wars episode 1 was released in 1999, episode 2 in 2002 and episode 3 in 2005.
It correlates well with the years when LEGO were able to avoid deficits (apart from 2004). As seen, LEGO had become totally dependent on the release of Hollywood blockbusters. But importantly, they helped bringing in much needed revenue that allowed LEGO enough breathing space to turn around the business!
The licences as such didn’t contribute directly to the change in revenue, in fact – even these themes were scaled back from 11 sets coinciding with the first Harry Potter movie to just four sets in 2005 (for the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire premiere), which simplified the supply chain significantly.
With this, I’ve finished the the coverage of the early LEGO Harry Potter sets, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the theme. But it is not quite over yet – look out for the post announcing the winner of the 20th anniversary MOC competition we had earlier this month. I hope this will come out this weekend.
Till then, Build the Magic!
(I should also note that this is post number 200 since I started the blog in 2018. So it is an anniversary for me too)