The word “witch” conjures an abundance of images: pointy hats and velvet capes, vials of love potions, and even a pointy-toed, striped-stockinged pair of legs under a fallen house.
The fear-invoking stereotype dates back to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, when a witch hunt unraveled and 25 people (mostly women) were killed over false accusations of witchcraft. Today, the witch has evolved into a mystified icon of pop culture that represents women’s empowerment.
In the spirit of Halloween, whether kooky, creepy, good or evil, here’s a roundup of movies that feature iconic witches.
1. Hocus Pocus
The release of Hocus Pocus 2 provides the perfect excuse to revisit this classic, because let’s face it — there’s no beating the original. The movie takes place over the course of one Halloween night, when a teenager accidentally resurrects the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches whose sole ambition is to suck the lives out of children so they themselves can stay young forever. Now, he must work with his little sister, his love interest and a talking cat to steal the witches’ spell book and save the children of Salem. This lighthearted classic easily makes the list of Halloween movies to return to each year.
2. Practical Magic
Growing up with two eccentric aunts on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, orphaned sisters Sally and Gillian are the latest in a long line of witches. Rumors of their magical abilities have isolated them from many in their close-minded town, especially the (true) rumor of a curse that causes any man they fall in love with to die. After Gillian ends up with a dangerous man, Sally comes to her rescue — but they have to use magic to cover their tracks. And as they dig themselves into a deeper and deeper hole, they learn that every spell comes with consequences.
3. The Craft
When troubled teenager Sarah moves to L.A. and enrolls in a Catholic school, she meets a trio of socially outcast girls who dabble in occult practices. Upon learning that Sarah has the powers of a natural witch, the girls welcome her into their coven. Their powers grow stronger as a foursome and they enjoy using magic to deliver justice in their lives, striking back against racism and domestic abuse. But what begins as seemingly harmless revenge becomes darker, and Sarah watches as her power-hungry friends spiral out of control. Knowing that magic comes with a price, she tries to save herself from the evil developing in their coven before it’s too late. The enthralling plot and appealing aesthetic of The Craft caused it to gain a cult following of young girls in the 1990s.
4. The Crucible
Based on the play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible is about a village that becomes entangled in a witch hunt. After a married man decides to break off his affair with his young lover, she leads other local girls in an occult rite to wish death upon his wife. When the ritual is discovered, the girls are brought to trial. Eventually, the villagers spiral in fear as more and more people are blindy accused of witchcraft. Miller published the play in 1953 at the height of the McCarthy investigations in which Senator Joseph McCarthy set out to expose members of the Communist party in the United States. Fear of being ousted as a Communist, or even working with a Communist, led to the Hollywood film industry’s blacklist. There are several parallels between the McCarthy investigations and the Salem Witch Trials.
Twitches is a 2005 Disney Channel original movie, based on a book series published by Scholastic Press. In the magical realm of Coventry, a royal witch gives birth to twin daughters on Halloween night. When an evil entity referred to as “the darkness” invades the palace, the twins’ designated protectors bring them to another dimension, the human world, to save them. The girls are adopted by separate families and go on to live normal lives, but are coincidentally reunited on their 21st birthday. Shaken by their identical appearances, the girls spend more time together and learn that they are witches. They also learn that they are being haunted by “the darkness.” Finally together and aware of their powers, they return to Coventry to save their biological mother and their kingdom from the evil entity.
6. The Witches of Eastwick
A trio of single best friends (sculptor Alex, cellist Jane and writer Sukie) often discuss their disappointment in the lack of suitable men in their New England coastal town. Seemingly out of nowhere, a mysterious man named Daryl Van Horne and his butler Fidel arrive in town. He manages to be able to tap into the innermost emotions of the three friends, despite embodying the very vulgar, rude qualities that they are typically repelled by. Eventually, Daryl tells them that they are witches. But as they spend more time at his mansion, enjoying themselves and learning about their powers, they begin to worry about Daryl’s ultimate intentions. When they begin to realize his manipulative, dark nature, the three decide to experiment with some powers so they can hopefully regain control of their own lives.
7. In Search of History: Salem Witch Trials Documentary
Want to educate yourself about the Salem Witch Trials? This documentary provides a comprehensive account of the actual events and examines the possible causes behind this highly notorious and puzzlingly complex period in early American history. For the incoming Puritan settlers, 17th-century New England was a place filled with fear and uncertainty. The environment — coupled with a backdrop of religious extremism — bred an anxiety so intense it ultimately turned deadly. When the hysteria from the Salem Witch Trials finally subsided and new leaders came into power, apologies were made and in 1711, legislation was passed that offered some financial restitution to the families of the victims. (And a footnote, not included in the film: In 2022, the last Salem “witch” was finally pardoned, 329 years after she was wrongly convicted.)