|Directed by||Kenny Ortega|
|Edited by||Peter E. Berger|
|Music by||John Debney|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$45.4 million|
Hocus Pocus is a 1993 American fantasy comedy film directed by Kenny Ortega and written by Neil Cuthbert and Mick Garris. The film follows a villainous comedic trio of witches (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) who are inadvertently resurrected by a teenage boy (Omri Katz) in Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween night.
The film was released in the United States on July 16, 1993, by Walt Disney Pictures. Upon its release, it received mixed reviews from film critics and was a box office failure, possibly losing Disney around $16.5 million during its theatrical run. However, largely through many annual airings on Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family) all throughout the month of October annually, Hocus Pocus has been rediscovered by audiences, resulting in a yearly spike in home video sales of the film every Halloween season. The annual celebration of Halloween has helped make the film a cult classic.
A sequel is in production, written by Jen D'Angelo, directed by Anne Fletcher and set for a 2022 release as a Disney+ original film.
On October 31, 1693, in Salem, Massachusetts, Thackery Binx witnesses his little sister, Emily, being whisked away to the woods by the Sanderson sisters, three witches named Winifred, Sarah, and Mary. At their cottage, the witches feed Emily a potion which allows them to absorb her youth and regain their own, killing her in the process. Thackery confronts the witches, but is transformed into a black cat, cursed to live forever with his guilt for not saving Emily. Suddenly, the townsfolk, led by Thackery's friend, Elijah, and Binx's father, arrest the sisters and sentence them to be hanged for the murder of Thackery and Emily. Before their execution, Winifred casts a curse that will resurrect the sisters during a full moon on All Hallows' Eve if a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle. Thackery decides to guard the cottage to ensure no one summons the witches.
Three centuries later, on October 31, 1993, Max Dennison is feeling unsettled from his family's sudden move from Los Angeles, California, to Salem. On Halloween, Max takes his younger sister Dani out trick-or-treating, where they meet Max's new crush Allison. In an effort to impress Allison, Max invites her to show him the Sanderson house to convince him the witches were real.
Inside the Sanderson cottage, now a former museum, Max lights the Black Flame Candle and inadvertently resurrects the witches due to his virginity. The witches attempt to suck the soul of Dani, but Max comes to her rescue. Escaping, Max steals Winifred's spellbook (grimoire) on advice from Thackery, who now goes by his last name of Binx. He takes the group to an old cemetery (as witches can't set foot on hallowed ground) where he shows them the graves of his sister and Billy Butcherson. Billy was once Winifred's lover, but when she found him kissing her sister Sarah, Winifred poisoned him and sewed his mouth shut so that he couldn't tell her secrets even in death. The witches eventually catch up with them and Winifred raises Billy as a zombie to chase them on foot.
The witches try to acclimate to the 20th century, but are horrified when they discover Halloween has become a festival of disguises. They pursue the children across town using Mary's enhanced sense of smell. Winifred also reveals that the spell that brought them back only works on Halloween and unless they can suck the life out of one child, they'll turn to dust when the sun rises. Max, Dani, and Allison find their parents at the City Hall Halloween party, where Winifred enchants the partygoers to dance until they die. At Jacob Bailey High School, the children trap the witches in a kiln to burn them alive. While the children are celebrating, the witches' curse revives them again.
Not realizing the witches have survived, Max and Allison open the spellbook intending to reverse the spell on Binx. The open spellbook reveals the location of the group, and the witches track them down, kidnap Dani and Binx, and recover the spellbook. Sarah uses her siren-like song to entice Salem's children, luring them to the Sanderson cottage. Max and Allison free Dani and Binx by tricking the witches into believing that sunrise was an hour early. Thinking that they are done for, the witches panic and pass out, allowing Max, Dani, Allison, and Binx to escape.
Back at the cemetery, the group is ambushed by Billy who then takes Max's knife, cuts open his stitched up mouth, and insults Winifred, therefore joining Max, Allison, Dani and Binx against the witches. The witches attack, and Winifred attempts to use the last vial of potion to suck the soul from Dani. Binx leaps on Winifred and knocks the potion out of her hand. Max drinks the potion, forcing the witches to take him instead of Dani. The sun starts to rise just as Winifred is about to finish draining Max's life force; in the ensuing struggle, Allison, Dani, and Billy fend off Mary and Sarah, and Max and Winifred fall onto the hallowed ground in the cemetery, causing Winifred to turn into stone. As the sun finishes rising above the horizon, Mary and Sarah are disintegrated into dust along with Winifred's stone body.
With the witches gone, Max, Dani, and Allison say goodbye to Billy, as he returns to his grave. The witches' deaths break Binx's curse, allowing him to finally die and freeing his soul. Appearing as a spirit, Binx thanks the group for their help and bids farewell to them as he is reunited with the spirit of Emily.
The exhausted partygoers, including Max and Dani's parents, oblivious to their enchantment, are freed when the spell is broken. Meanwhile, at the Sanderson's cottage, Ice and Jay, who previously tormented Max and Dani, remain imprisoned in cages and sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to pass the time. Winifred's spell book is seen opening its eye, revealing it is still alive and the witches could possibly return again.
In the 1994 TV documentary Hocus Pocus: Begin the Magic, and on the film's Blu-ray release, producer David Kirschner explains how he came up with the idea for the film one night. He and his young daughter were sitting outside and his neighbor's black cat strayed by. Kirschner invented a tale of how the cat was once a boy who was changed into a feline three hundred years ago by three witches.
Hocus Pocus started life as a script by Mick Garris, that was bought by Walt Disney Pictures in 1984. The film's working title was Disney's Halloween House, it was much darker and scarier, and its protagonists were all 12-year-olds. Garris and Kirschner pitched it to Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment; Spielberg saw Disney as a competitor to Amblin in the family film market at the time and refused to co-produce a film with his "rival."
Various rewrites were made to the script to make the film more comedic and made two of its young protagonists into teenagers; however, production was stalled several times until 1992, when Bette Midler expressed interest in the script and the project immediately went forward. Midler, who plays the central antagonist of the film (originally written for Cloris Leachman), is quoted as saying that Hocus Pocus "was the most fun I'd had in my career up to that point".
Leonardo DiCaprio was originally offered the lead role of Max but declined it to pursue What's Eating Gilbert Grape.
Principal photography began on October 12, 1992. The film is set in Salem, Massachusetts, but most of it was shot on sound stages in Burbank, California. However, its daytime scenes were filmed in Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts during two weeks of filming with principal cast. Production was completed on February 10, 1993.
Pioneer Village, a recreation of early-colonial Salem, was used for the opening scenes set in 1693. Other locations included Old Burial Hill in Marblehead, where Max is accosted by Ice and Jay, the Old Town Hall in Salem, where the town Halloween party takes place, and Phillips Elementary School, where the witches are trapped in a kiln. The exterior for Max and Dani's house is a private residence on Ocean Avenue in Salem.
The film was released in the United States on July 16, 1993, by Walt Disney Pictures. The film received mixed reviews from film critics at the time of its release. It was not a critical or commercial success upon its release, possibly losing Disney around $16.5 million during its theatrical run. However, largely through many annual airings on Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family) all throughout the month of October annually, Hocus Pocus has been rediscovered by audiences, resulting in a yearly spike in home video sales of the film every Halloween season. The annual celebration of Halloween has helped make this film a cult classic.
The film was released to VHS in North America on January 5, 1994 and later to DVD on June 4, 2002. Following the film's release on DVD, it has continued to show strong annual sales, raking in more than $1 million in DVD sales each October. In the mid-to-late 1990s, the film was rebroadcast annually on ABC and Disney Channel before switching over to ABC Family's 13 Nights of Halloween lineup in the early 2000s. The film has continuously brought record viewing numbers to the lineup, including a 2009 broadcast watched by 2.5 million viewers. In 2011, an October 29 airing became the lineup's most watched program, with 2.8 million viewers. On September 4, 2012, the film was released on Blu-ray. Disney re-released the film on Blu-ray and Digital HD on September 2, 2018, as part of the film's 25th anniversary. The new release contains special features, including deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes retrospective. On 15 September 2020, the film was released on Ultra HD Blu-ray in 4K resolution with HDR.
Main article: Hocus Pocus (soundtrack)
The musical score for Hocus Pocus was composed and conducted by John Debney. James Horner was originally slated to score the film, but became unavailable at the last minute, so Debney had to score the entire film in two weeks. Even though he didn't score the film, Horner came back to write the theme for Sarah (sung by Sarah Jessica Parker, more commonly known as "Come Little Children") which is featured in Intrada's Complete Edition of the score.
Debney released a promotional score through the internet containing 19 tracks from the film. Bootlegs were subsequently released across the internet, primarily because the promotional release missed the entire opening sequence music.
Hocus Pocus was released July 16, 1993, and came in fourth place on its opening weekend, grossing $8.1 million. It dropped from the top ten ranking after two weeks of release. The film was released the same day as Free Willy. According to Kirschner, Disney chose to release Hocus Pocus in July to take advantage of children being off from school for the summer.
In October 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hocus Pocus was re-released in 2,570 theaters. It made $1.9 million over the weekend, finishing second behind Tenet. The following two weekends it made $1.2 million and $756,000, respectively.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 38% based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 4.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Harmlessly hokey yet never much more than mediocre, Hocus Pocus is a muddled family-friendly effort that fails to live up to the talents of its impressive cast." Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 47 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Gene Siskel, reviewing for The Chicago Tribune, remarked that the film was a "dreadful witches' comedy with the only tolerable moment coming when Bette Midler presents a single song." Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film one star out of a possible four, writing that it was "a confusing cauldron in which there is great activity but little progress, and a lot of hysterical shrieking". The Miami Herald called it "a pretty lackluster affair", adding this comment: "Despite the triple-threat actress combo, Hocus Pocus won't be the Sister Act of 1993. There are a lot of gotta-sees this summer, and this isn't one of them."
Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that the film "has flashes of visual stylishness but virtually no grip on its story". Ty Burr of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C-, calling it "acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they're Bette Midler fans. In which case it's depressing as hell"; and stating that while Najimy and Parker "have their moments of ramshackle comic inspiration, and the passable special effects should keep younger campers transfixed [...] [T]he sight of the Divine Miss M. mugging her way through a cheesy supernatural kiddie comedy is, to say the least, dispiriting."
Over the years, through various outlets such as strong DVD sales and annual record-breaking showings on Freeform's 31 Nights of Halloween, the film has achieved cult status. Various media outlets such as Celebuzz and Oh No They Didn't have reiterated such claims. In its 25th anniversary year in 2018, the first week of Hocus Pocus viewings on Freeform averaged 8.2 million viewers. A special called the "Hocus Pocus 25th Anniversary Halloween Bash" was filmed at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and features interviews with members of the cast, including Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, as well as a costume contest hosted by Sharon and Kelly Osbourne. It aired on Freeform October 20, 2018.
In October 2011, the Houston Symphony celebrated various horror and Halloween classics, including Hocus Pocus, with "The Hocus Pocus Pops". On October 19, 2013, D23 held a special screening of Hocus Pocus at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, to honor the 20th anniversary of the film. Nine of the cast and crew gathered for the screening, and hundreds of D23 members attended. Returning members included Kathy Najimy, David Kirschner, Thora Birch, Doug Jones, Vinessa Shaw, and Omri Katz.
During her Divine Intervention Tour in 2015, Bette Midler appeared on stage dressed as Winifred Sanderson. Her Harlettes appeared with her dressed as Mary and Sarah, and the three of them performed the film's version of "I Put a Spell on You".
On September 15, 2015, the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular was introduced at the Magic Kingdom as a part of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The show introduces new actresses as the Sanderson Sisters, who try to make a villain party and summon or attract various Disney villains in the process. In September 2016, entertainment critic Aaron Wallace published Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Disney's Halloween Classic, the first full-length book written about the film. The book includes a foreword by Thora Birch and afterword by Mick Garris. Billed as a "lighthearted but scholarly look at the film," the book analyzes the film's major themes, which it identifies as festivity, nostalgia, home, horror, virginity, feminism, Broadway-style musical moments, sibling rivalry, "Spielbergian" filmmaking style, Disney villain traditions, and more. Wallace also analyzes Walt Disney World's Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular as part of the film's legacy and includes "the largest collection of Hocus Pocus fun facts and trivia ever assembled," complete with extensive endnote citations.
The City of Salem has celebrated its connection to Hocus Pocus, while local filming sites have become an attraction for fans as the film's legacy has grown over the years. In 2018, the Haunted Happenings Grand Parade, an annual Salem festival held every October, was Hocus Pocus-themed in honor of the film's 25th anniversary. A representative for Destination Salem also reported a huge uptick in tourism for the 25th anniversary year, stating: "There's always been a ‘Hocus Pocus’ component to the visitors to Salem, especially in October. But it's like the film's following grows every year.”
The cast reunited for In Search of the Sanderson Sisters: A Hocus Pocus Hulaween Takeover which aired on October 30, 2020. The one-hour broadcast was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the proceeds will go to the New York Restoration Project. Members of the cast who participated were Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Thora Birch, Omri Katz, Vinessa Shaw, and Doug Jones. Other notable participants of the benefit included Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey, Cassandra Peterson, Glenn Close, Billy Crystal, Jamie Lee Curtis, Todrick Hall, Jennifer Hudson, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Michael Kors, Adam Lambert, George Lopez, Alex Moffat, Martin Short, Sarah Silverman, John Stamos, Kenan Thompson, Sophie von Haselberg, and Bella Hadid.
Main article: Hocus Pocus 2
In July 2014, it was announced that Disney was developing a supernatural-themed film about witches, and that Tina Fey was on board as a producer and star. However, Deadline debunked rumors that the film was a sequel to Hocus Pocus. In November 2014, Bette Midler said in an interview that she was ready and willing to return for a sequel. She also said her co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy were interested in reprising the roles of the Sanderson sisters as well, but stressed that Disney had yet to greenlight any sequel. In November 2015, Midler stated in a Facebook Q&A that "after all these years and all the fan demand, I do believe I can stand and firmly say an unequivocal no" in response to a question about a sequel.
In June 2016, actor Doug Jones mentioned that Disney had been considering a sequel, and behind the scenes discussions were in place to possibly continue the series. In October 2016, Sarah Jessica Parker was asked by Andy Cohen about a sequel. Her response was, "I would love that. I think we've been very vocal that we're very keen." In Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Disney's Halloween Classic, author Aaron Wallace identifies several potential approaches for a sequel, but notes that the project's biggest challenge is the Walt Disney Studios' interest in tentpole projects that promise very high box office returns.
In September 2017, screenwriter Mick Garris admitted that he was working on a script for Hocus Pocus 2 and that it would potentially be developed as a television film for Disney Channel, Freeform or ABC. It was later confirmed that it will instead be a remake to air on Freeform, with The Royals writer Scarlett Lacey attached to write, and the original film producer David Kirschner executive producing. The following month, Midler said she was not fond of the idea of a remake and she would not be taking part in it.
In July 2018, a book titled Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel was released, containing a novelization of the film and a sequel story. The sequel focuses on Max and Allison's daughter, Poppy, who grew up hearing the family story of the first film and parents who avoid Halloween as much as possible. Poppy is skeptical of the tale and ends up in the Sanderson house on Halloween, twenty-five years to the day after the film, in an attempt to prove there is nothing to the story.
In October 2019, a sequel was announced to be in development as a Disney+ exclusive film, with a screenplay written by Jen D'Angelo. Shortly after the report, Midler, Parker, and Najimy all confirmed their interest in reprising their roles. In March 2020, Adam Shankman signed on to direct. In December 2020, it was officially announced that the film would be premiering on Disney+. In April 2021, Anne Fletcher replaced Shankman as the director. Production was scheduled to begin in the summer of 2021, in Salem, Massachusetts. In May 2021, Adam Shankman teased some big news about film and that he would still be involved with it despite no longer being the director. He later confirmed that Fletcher would serve as director and that he would instead remain attached to the film as an executive producer, due to his duties as director of Disenchanted.
In May 2021, it was confirmed that Midler, Parker, and Najimy will reprise their roles as the Sanderson Sisters and the film would be released in 2022. In September 2021, sets for Hocus Pocus 2 were confirmed being built in Lincoln, Rhode Island. In October 2021, it was announced John Debney, the composer of the original film, is set to return to score the sequel. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that Taylor Henderson had been cast as one of the three leads.
Filming began on October 18, 2021, in Providence, Rhode Island.
I am still grateful and proud to help shepherd this ingenious project as executive producer alongside producer Lynn Harris, whom I have loved and admired as a colleague and friend since she helped get me the job choreographing 'Boogie Nights'.