In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, a half-blood wizard named Severus Snape was born on January 9, 1960. The wizard would grow up to be a man who was more than what he seemed. He was a Death Eater, a potions professor, an apparent villain, a bully, and, perhaps surprisingly, a hero. It was only after he died during the Battle of Hogwarts that readers learned about his true motivations, and why he did everything he did over the course of the series.
January isn’t just the month featuring Snape’s birthday, though. Sadly, it also marks the two-year anniversary of the death of the talented actor who brought him to life on the big screen, Alan Rickman. There was no better choice to play the complex character in the films, and it's through his performance that fans became even more invested and enamored with the character. In fact, in our opinion, Rickman as Snape is one of the 25 greatest movie performances we’ve seen in the last 25 years.
It’s only fitting, then, that in honor of Snape’s birthday and the actor who played him, we look back at some of Rickman’s most memorable moments as the professor in the Harry Potter films. Here are our top choices.
The first potions class (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
This potions class is really the first time we get a true sense of who Severus Snape is in the movies. From banging open the door, to his speech about the subject of the class, Rickman sets the tone for Snape moving forward here. He easily transitions from serious professor addressing the class to singling out Harry for a personal attack. It’s a performance that instantly makes the character both intriguing and unlikable to the audience.
Confronting Quirrell in the hallway (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
As Harry walks through the halls in his invisibility cloak, he encounters a curious sight: Professors Snape and Quirrell having a rather heated discussion, or rather the potions professor intimidating the seemingly nice and shy Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher! Snape’s intimidation is interrupted though when he seems to sense Harry in the hallway. Rickman has to portray the professor’s suspicion at someone his character cannot see potentially being there, when someone is indeed right in front of the actor. And when Snape doesn’t find anything, he has to quickly go right back to where he was with Quirrell. He conveys a frightening persona when he threatens that they’ll have another chat soon. The scene is seen in a rather different light later, though, when it's revealed to be Snape realizing Quirrell is up to something, and actually trying to protect the Sorcerer’s Stone, just like Dumbledore and the other professors.
Yelling at Harry and Ron (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
After stealing Mr. Weasley’s flying car and crashing it into Hogwarts’ Whomping Willow, Ron and Harry find themselves facing the wrath of Snape. He angrily lists everything the two students did wrong and the list is quite serious, even if they didn’t mean to do everything! Rickman does an amazing job of just radiating anger during this scene, as well as loathing when he practically slinks and stalks the two, rounding the desk brilliantly. It’s only when Dumbledore interrupts that Snape straightens, his predator stance dissipates, and he stops being so threatening to the students.
The duel with Gilderoy Lockhart (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
At the dueling club, Gilderoy Lockhart introduces Snape as his assistant for a demonstration. The two formally salute each other, then Snape expertly casts Expelliarmus, disarming the other man, and making him fly backwards. In the face of Lockhart’s boasting, Snape suggests they actually teach the students to block spells. Rickman’s slight smile and his demeanor show exactly what Snape thinks of Lockhart. His mannerisms when he recommends Draco Malfoy face Harry are spot on. From the raised hands, to his swift turn and gesture to Malfoy to come up on the stage, to his expression as Harry talks to the snake, Rickman conveys a lot of emotions in the subtlest of movements.
Neville’s worst fear (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
In the third film, Rickman not only had to play Snape, but also a boggart as Snape who then gets put in Neville Longbottom’s grandmother’s clothing! The boggart shows people their greatest fear, and for Neville, that’s the potions professor. Lupin explains that Neville just has to think of Snape in his grandmother’s clothes when he casts the spell to defeat the boggart. When the boggart is revealed, it is Rickman as the intimidating professor, but then he is suddenly put in the hilarious outfit, and we see Rickman looking confused as the boggart Snape. It’s a great scene where Rickman gets to have a little fun as Snape for a change!
Substitute teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
“Turn to page 394” became a classic Snape quote thanks to its delivery by Rickman in this scene. Here we see Snape making a classic entrance as he covers Lupin’s Defense Against the Darks class. Without explanation, he demands everyone turn to the previously mentioned page in a very serious, deadpan voice. After acknowledging Harry’s question about Lupin’s absence, he repeats the page. As usual, Snape mixes cruel words with his teaching as he ignores Hermione, says he’s disappointed in the class, and then calls Hermione an insufferable know-it-all when she states the answer. Rickman also incorporates the threatening nature of the professor by getting close to Harry when he mentions Quidditch, before once again moving on with the lesson and mentioning page 394 in a perfect voice.
Finding the Marauder’s Map (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
Of all the people for Harry to run into in the halls, Snape finds him with the Marauder’s Map, and manages to get a good insult in about his father as he asks Harry what he’s up to. Demanding to know what’s in the student’s pockets, Snape finds the map, and in true Snape fashion, asks in all seriousness to reveal its secrets. Instead the parchment insults him, and Rickman easily moves from angry at Harry to insulting Lupin when the other professor appears. He offers the map to Lupin with a great serious delivery of a hilarious line about how it’s a map full of dark magic. The scene contains all the wonderful elements of Snape, from the serious to the funny.
Protecting Harry, Ron, and Hermione from the werewolf (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
Once Lupin transforms into a werewolf, he starts to approach the three Gryffindor students, not remembering who they are. At that moment, Snape appears, and while at first angry at all three, when he realizes the werewolf is there, he throws his arms out to put them all behind him. Rickman captures the quick transition brilliantly, even as they’re all knocked down. Even after that first attack, though, the professor still puts himself between the kids and potential danger, going so far as to hold Hermione back from running after Harry. It’s a time when everything else that happened between them is forgotten, and all that Snape thinks about instinctively is protecting the three kids.
Forcing Ron and Harry to work (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
While a teacher should never be so forceful with a student in real life, when Snape repeatedly has to force Ron to pay attention to his work, it’s hard not to find it funny in the fourth film. Rickman remains the ever stoic and observant Snape as he watches the students, but that just makes his actions all the more hilarious, as he instantly perks up and quickly turns to the Gryffindors when he is alerted to their behavior, or stands nearby suspiciously with a book in front of his face as he eyes the students above it. From shoving Ron’s head forward to hitting both Ron and Harry with a book for talking, then continuing on and flipping through it, it’s a silent yet amazing performance. It’s after quickly accepting Hermione’s book and then seeing the two boys talking again that Rickman pulls off a truly fantastic Snape moment. With a serious yet exasperated expression, Snape pulls up his sleeves in a manner that makes it hard not to laugh, and then forces the two friends’ heads down roughly again.
The Occlumency lessons (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
When it’s obvious there’s a connection between the Dark Lord and Harry, Snape is tasked with teaching the boy how to protect his mind. He does not go easy on Harry, being brutally honest about what Voldemort can do, and is not kind about invading the student’s mind. Rickman shows the range of Snape here as he doesn’t hesitate to bad-mouth Harry’s dad, while at the same time, when the boy responds to him defensively, Snape is blunt and correct in his response that Harry must control himself. It’s only when Snape’s attacks against Harry’s father really get to Harry that the student invades Snape’s mind, and we get a glimpse of how Harry’s dad was indeed not a great person while at Hogwarts. In the end, Rickman’s quiet anger comes through as Snape refuses to teach Harry anything else.
The unbreakable vow (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
Snape's first appearance in Half-Blood Prince is absolutely perfect as classic Snape, from the newspaper reveal, to his dismissal of Wormtail, to his chastising of Bellatrix Lestrange. His attitude never fails. He plays the role of loyal Death Eater perfectly, and it’s brilliant how he faces down Bellatrix’s accusations and is honest about Dumbledore, while not betraying anything about his loyalties. Rickman also manages to show a reaction to Bella’s insistence about the unbreakable vow while not giving much away. It’s a subtle performance where you can only guess at what is going through his mind, even as Snape goes through with it.
At the Slug Club party (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
Surrounded by students at the Slug Club holiday party, Snape discovers Cormac McLaggen and Harry, only to have Cormac throw up on him. Rickman has no trouble showing Snape as the annoyed teacher while giving Cormac detention, and doesn’t miss a beat as he sees Harry try to sneak away. He then confronts Harry with a message from Dumbledore. It seems to pain him to give the student the heartfelt message and inform him about the headmaster’s absence. Snape then, ignoring Harry’s question, walks away in his classic abrupt fashion. It’s so flawlessly Snape, yet in a more lighthearted setting, and just really brings home the fact that Rickman could play the professor in any circumstance!
The half-blood prince reveal (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
After killing Dumbledore, Snape’s face is a mask. As Snape walks through the Hogwarts’ halls, he leaves the viewer truly wondering if what happened really happened? Had Snape been lying this whole time? Rickman keeps all of Snape’s movements and responses mysterious, even as he faces Harry and reveals that he’s the half-blood prince before walking away. Rickman’s voice may be calm, but you also get the sense that there is so much emotion behind it, even if viewers aren’t sure exactly what emotions they are yet.
Dueling Professor McGonagall (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2)
When Snape addresses the Hogwarts student body about Harry’s presence in Hogsmeade, his tone and his expression convey just how serious the punishment might be if the students and staff don’t listen to him. Rickman is extremely intimidating here, and when Harry and the Order arrive, the surprise barely registers on his face, though it’s there. It’s only when McGonagall steps forward to face him that Rickman shows the character as somewhat shaken when Snape hesitates, and then helpfully manages to deflect her spells to knock out the Carrows before escaping.
Death and giving Harry his memories (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2)
Until the end, Snape appears loyal to Voldemort, but as the Dark Lord circles him, you get a sense of Snape’s unease in Rickman’s performance -- from his facial expression, tone of voice, and the wringing of his hands behind his back. At realizing Voldemort thinks he has to kill him, Snape tries to say something, but is stopped by Voldemort and his snake as he is violently murdered. It’s only when Voldemort leaves that Harry enters and tries to help him. Snape pleads as he dies that Harry take his tears, and with them his memories. Rickman portrays the painful, desperate moment wonderfully. It’s terribly sad to watch this man die, even as many think he’s still a traitor. Snape instructs Harry on what to do with his memories before -- in probably the softest and kindest voice he’s ever used towards the boy -- he asks Harry to look at him. He then states, as so many of those loyal to Harry have, that he has his mother’s eyes, and with one last breath, he dies.
Memories and the truth (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2)
In the pensieve, it’s finally revealed to Harry who Snape truly is, and what he’s done. It’s a wide range of emotions Rickman plays here. There’s the desperation of Snape trying to save Lily as he talks to Dumbledore, and his utter despair when Lily is killed. There’s the realization, thanks to Dumbledore, that her son needs to be protected, and his insistence that if he helps, no one can know what he’s done and what’s he’s going to do. We see how through the years he helps Harry as well as Dumbledore, and is there to aid the headmaster as he goes after the Horcruxes.
Then there’s Snape’s anger at what Dumbledore says about how Harry has to die. Rickman’s range is never better than when we see Snape calling his patronus in front of Dumbledore, and in the scenes of Snape discovering Lily has died. When Snape completely falls apart, hugs her, and calls the patronus, it’s just a completely heartbreaking series of scenes. Rickman captures the anger, sadness, and Snape's feelings for Harry and Lily throughout it all, in what can only be one of his most amazing performances. He even manages to deliver all those emotions in just one word, “always.”
Rickman brought to life one of the most complicated and controversial characters in one of the most popular fantasy series of our time. Imagining anyone else in the role is impossible. In honor of the character some have come to love and some still hate, we remember all these Rickman moments on Snape’s birthday!
Which Harry Potter scene with Alan Rickman is your favorite? Share your top Professor Snape moments with us in the comments below!