Deathly Hallows pt.1 a four, maybe five year old boy was actually crying and telling his mom he was scared and wanted to leave. She kept telling him to be quiet and watch the movie. I wished I'd had the nerve to stand up and yell at her for being a rotten mother. Deathly Hallows pt.2 is about 89% violent imagery and 100% complicated plot. Not exactly the type of thing I think my kids will enjoy.
It's true, the books start out as great fun for kids, and the first ones were definitely marketed to kids specifically, but really after the third book/movie, I don't feel they are appropriate for younger kids anymore. I don't ever feel they're right for preschool kids.
I know I'm prejudiced because I love the books so much I want everyone to read them before they see the movies, which I view as dim shadows of the books. My opinion is that if a child is too young to sit through a reading of the book they are too young to see the movies. They are missing the beautifully rich details anyway and the content is just to mature for them. Not everyone agrees with me. Friends whom I truly respect are comfortable letting their kids of all ages watch all the movies. Their families, their rules. For my family though, I prefer to keep them away from not only violence, but from realistic evil intent. There is a pretty big difference between the bad guys in, say, Hotel for Dogs, who chase kids with bad intentions and Lord Voldemort. The former is violent in a Looney Tunes way. The latter is very dark and very real. I'd rather my kids didn't see that side of the world at their ages.
As I said above, I'm crazy about the world of Harry Potter. In no way do I think HP is bad for kids in general. I just think they need to be more mature before they jump in. The summer Miss E was six and a half I decided she was ready to not only enjoy The Sorcerer's Stone, but generally understand all of it. I was practically giddy as we read it together because I was so happy to finally open that world up for her. But, we stopped with book one that year. The books grow with the characters, and I knew Miss E wasn't ready for the next one yet. We read The Chamber of Secrets the following summer, when she was seven. This summer, at age eight, and we read The Prisoner of Azkaban. She's a fully developed reader now. She can read the books without help and is completely in love with Harry's world. She begged and begged to read The Goblet of Fire. I considered it. I reread the book myself and decided to wait another year. There are not only elements I just don't want her reading yet, but I'm not sure she'd fully grasp the nuances of the story, which are elemental to fully enjoying it. So, we'll read that one next year. It's a tradition to watch the movies together when we finish the books. It's a great way to spend time together and share something I love.
When it comes to Harry Potter, I'm very familiar with their content and it's pretty easy to make a judgement about letting my kids read/see them or not. There are many other things I'm not so sure about. If I'm considering a movie, book or video game, but don't know much about it, I usually visit Common Sense Media. It's a really great review site for families. It doesn't necessarily review for entertainment value, but evaluates based on violence, sexual content, and other things a concerned parent might want to know about. It gives age recommendations and allows user reviews so you can hear from other parents, too. It's only let me down once (I thought the movie Coraline was quite a bit scarier than they had rated it). If you're like me and want to know what you're getting in to before you take your kids to a movie - or the bookstore or turn on the game console - visit Common Sense Media. A good parent still has to judge for themselves if something is appropriate for their family, but it's good to have a resource to help make an informed decision.