In 1693 on October 31st, near Salem, Massachusetts, Thackery Binx sees his little sister, Emily, spirited away to the cottage of three witches. There, the Sanderson sisters, Winifred, Sarah and Mary, cast a spell on Emily to absorb her youth and regain their own, killing her in the process. Thackery confronts the witches who transform him into an immortal black cat to live with his guilt at not saving Emily. The townsfolk, led by Binx's father, capture and hang the witches, but Winifred's spellbook casts a curse that will resurrect the witches during a full moon on All Hallows Eve when any virgin lights the Black Flame Candle. Thackery guards the cottage to ensure no one summons the witches.
300 years later on October 31st, 1993, Max Dennison moves from Los Angeles to Salem with his family, including his sister Dani. Max is feeling unsettled for the sudden move. While exploring the town, he and Dani meet Allison, whose family owns the Sanderson cottage as a museum. Max suggests that they go there and impress Allison, but promised Dani to go trick-or-treating.
Investigating inside the cottage, Max lights the Black Flame Candle and inadvertently resurrects the witches, who plot to continue their plan to suck out the souls of all of Salem's children, beginning with Dani. Escaping, Max steals Winifred's spellbook on advice from Thackery. The witches pursue them to a cemetery, where Winifred raises her unfaithful lover Billy Butcherson 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 holiday, and their broomsticks are stolen. The witches plan to achieve their goals or else they will be disintegrated on sunrise. They pursue the children across town using Mary's enhanced sense of smell. Max, Allison and Dani find their parents at a Halloween party at the town hall, where Winifred enchants the partygoers to dance and sing until they die. At Jacob Bailey High School, the children trap the witches in a kiln to burn them alive. While celebrating, the witches' curse revives them again, and they kidnap Dani and Thackery after Max and Allison open the spellbook exposing their location. Sarah then uses her siren-like voice to mesmerize Salem's children and lure them to the Sandersons' cottage. Max and Allison rescue Dani and Thackery by tricking the witches into believing sunrise came an hour early.
Back at the cemetery, Max runs into Billy, who cuts open his stitched up mouth and insults Winifred, joining Max to protect Dani. The witches attack and Winifred attempts to suck out the soul from Dani with the single vial of potion she retrieved from her cauldron. Thackery leaps on Winifred and knocks the potion out of her hand into Max's, but Thackery is thrown to the ground and mortally wounded. Rather than smashing the vial, Max drinks it and apparently makes himself a sacrifice. As the sun rises, Winifred is unable to drain Max's life force from him after falling into the hallowed ground, and soon turns to stone and is disintegrated to dust along with her sisters.
As the satisfied Billy returns to his grave, Thackery dies, freeing his soul. He thanks Max, Dani and Allison for their help, and bids farewell to them, before he and Emily walk into the afterlife. During the end credits, the exhausted partygoers are freed from the spell and return home. Back at the cottage, Jay and Ernie, two male bullies who earlier tormented Max and Dani, remain imprisoned in their cages while passing the time singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". Unbeknownst to them, Winifred's spellbook opens its eye to seek its master, possibly hinting that the Sanderson sisters might return again one day.The Sanderson SistersBette Midler as Winifred "Winnie" Sanderson, the leader of the Sanderson sisters and the oldest.Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, the middle sister.Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, the youngest sister.Main castOmri Katz as Max Dennison, a teenager originally from Los Angeles, California who moves to Salem, Massachusetts with his family.Thora Birch as Dani Dennison, Max's 8-year-old younger sister and an enthusiastic trick-or-treaterVinessa Shaw as Allison, Max's love interest and native Salem residentSean Murray as Thackery Binx; originally a teenager from 1693 (born September 11th), he follows Emily into the woods, where he fails to prevent her death at the hands of the Sanderson sisters. The witches transform him into an immortal cat, voiced by Jason Marsden.Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson; Winifred's lover and a zombieCharles Rocket as Dave Dennison, Max and Dani's fatherStephanie Faracy as Jenny Dennison, Max and Dani's motherOther castAmanda Shepherd as Emily Binx, Thackery's younger sister in 1693 who's the same age as Dani.Larry Bagby as Ernie / "Ice", the leader of a group of high school delinquentsTobias Jelinek as Jay, another delinquent and Ernie's friendSteve Voboril as Elijah, a boy from a farm in 1693Norbert Weisser as Mr. Binx, Emily and Thackery's fatherKathleen Freeman as Miss Olin, Max's and Allison's teacher at Jacob Bailey High SchoolGarry Marshall (uncredited) as "The Devil", a man wearing a devil costume whom the Sanderson sisters assume to be their "Master."Penny Marshall (uncredited) as the "Devil's" wife. The sisters assume that she is Medusa due to her curlers, which resemble snakes.
In the 1994 TV documentary Hocus Pocus: Begin the Magic, and on the film's Blu-ray release, producer David Kirschner said 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 for a special original film for the Disney Channel, to be produced by one of the smaller studios owned by The Walt Disney Company. The script, however, caught the eye of Walt Disney Studios, who decided that the film was strong enough to carry well-known names and to attract a cinema audience. Leonardo DiCaprio was originally offered the lead role of Max for a large salary, but declined it in order to pursue What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The idea to cast Bette Midler was partly inspired by Midler's Golden Globe-nominated performance in a milestone motion picture for The Walt Disney Company on its Touchstone Pictures line, Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Midler, who plays the central antagonist of the film, is quoted as saying that Hocus Pocus "was the most fun I'd had in my career up to that point".
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.
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.Songs"Sarah's Theme" - music by James Horner; lyrics by Brock Walsh; performed by Sarah Jessica Parker"I Put a Spell on You" - written by Jay Hawkins and produced and arranged by Marc Shaiman; performed by Bette Midler"Witchcraft" - written by Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh; performed by Joe Malone"I Put a Spell on You" - written by Jay Hawkins; performed by Joe Malone"Sabre Dance" - written by George WilsonChants and Incantations - conceived and written by Brock Walsh
The film received mixed-to-negative reviews from film critics, though reception has grown to be more warm towards the film. Today, it is seen as a cult classic. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Hocus Pocus has a "Rotten" score of 30%, based on 43 reviews; however, the audience score is a "fresh" 70%, with an average rating of 3.1 stars out of 5. 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." The New York Times' Janet Maslin 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 [...] the sight of the Divine Miss M. mugging her way through a cheesy supernatural kiddie comedy is, to say the least, dispiriting."
The film was released to VHS in North America on September 9, 1994, and later to DVD on June 4, 2002. Following the film's release on the latter format, 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. However, it did not contain any special features.
Over the years, through various outlets such as strong DVD sales and annual record-breaking showings on ABC Family's 13 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 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, 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 movie. 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 movie'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 movie's legacy and includes "the largest collection of Hocus Pocus fun facts and trivia ever assembled," complete with extensive endnote citations.
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.
Bette Midler said she is ready and willing to return. She also says her co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are interested in reprising the roles of the Sanderson sisters as well. Disney has 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.