Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney), a troubled teenager, has just moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles with her father and stepmother. At her new school, she forms a friendship with a group of girls rumored to be witches, Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and Rochelle (Rachel True). At the same time, Sarah becomes attracted to the popular Chris (Skeet Ulrich). Bonnie, Nancy and Rochelle worship a powerful deity named "Manon".
Sarah exhibits supernatural powers from the onset of the film, and her new friends believe that she will complete their coven, making them all powerful. When Sarah is harassed by a vagrant with a snake (whom she had encountered before in her new house), he is immediately hit by a car and the girls believe that together they willed it to happen. It is also revealed that Sarah has attempted suicide in the past, presumably, because of difficulty in controlling her magic.
After a date with Chris, Sarah is upset to find that he has spread a false rumor that they have had sex. When Sarah confronts him, he treats her disrespectfully in front of his friends. In response, Sarah casts a love spell upon him, while Rochelle casts a revenge spell on a hateful racist bully, Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), Bonnie casts a spell for beauty, and Nancy for power. It very soon becomes clear that the spells have been successful: Chris becomes infatuated with Sarah, scars that Bonnie has on her back miraculously heal, and Rochelle's bully, Laura, begins to lose her hair. Nancy goes further by causing her abusive stepfather to have a heart attack and die. This enables Nancy and her mother to cash in on his life insurance policy and move out of the trailer park they had been living in and into a better home.
Nancy becomes greedy for power and encourages the others to join her in a rite called "Invocation of the Spirit". On completion of the spell, she is struck by lightning. Afterward she lacks empathy and begins taking risks with her life and those of others.
The spells that the girls have cast soon begin to show negative consequences: Bonnie becomes aggressively narcissistic; Rochelle finds Laura Lizzie traumatized by her baldness and sobbing hysterically; Chris attempts to rape Sarah when she rejects his continual advances. In retaliation, Nancy uses a glamour spell to make herself look like Sarah, attempting to fool Chris into having sex with her. She is interrupted by the real Sarah who tells Nancy to leave with her. Chris, upset at being fooled, tells Nancy that she is jealous. Nancy then uses her power to kill Chris by throwing him out of a window.
Sarah performs a binding spell to prevent Nancy from doing more harm, but this does not work and the coven turns on Sarah. They invade her dreams, threaten her and use their powers of illusion to make Sarah believe that her father and stepmother have been killed in a plane accident. They torment her with visions of swarms of snakes, insects and rats as well as making her believe she is responsible for Chris's and mother's death when giving birth to her, trying to persuade her to commit suicide, before Nancy cuts Sarah's wrists herself. Though terrified at first, Sarah successfully "invokes the spirit" and is able to heal herself and fight back. She scares off Bonnie and Rochelle by bringing their worst fears to life and defeats Nancy, binding her power to prevent her from doing harm.
Nancy is committed to a psychiatric hospital and Sarah is the only coven member who does not lose her powers.
The concept for 'The Craft' came from a collaboration between producer Douglas Wick, who wanted to create a film about the high school experience blended with witchcraft, and screenwriter Peter Filardi, who extensively researched the topic and wrote the initial draft. Andrew Fleming was hired to direct and produce the final version of the screenplay.
85 different actresses screen-tested for the four main roles, including Angelina Jolie and Alicia Silverstone, who had just completed Clueless. Rachel True and real-life Wiccan Fairuza Balk were the first to be cast in their respective roles. The character of Rochelle was re-written when True was cast to be African-American, incorporating a racism subplot as the character's major conflict. Robin Tunney was initially cast in the role of Bonnie, but the producers decided she would be better in the starring role of Sarah, which she was persuaded to accept despite preferring the former. Neve Campbell, the most well-known of the four actresses for her role on Party of Five, was then cast as Bonnie. Tunney had shaved her head for her role in Empire Records and had to wear a wig throughout filming.
Production enlisted a real-life Wiccan named Pat Devin to act as on-set adviser for the film. She wrote the incantations used and ensured that the treatment of the Wiccan subject-matter was as accurate and respectful as possible.
Shooting took place throughout Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles International Airport, Sunset Boulevard, and Broadway. Verdugo Hills High School was the setting for the fictional Catholic school, St. Benedict's Academy; production designer Marek Dobrowolski added various religious statues throughout the building and the grounds. Sarah's home in the film was a two-story Spanish mansion, and the interiors were built on a sound stage at Culver City Studios. The occult bookstore was shot at the El Adobe Marketplace in Hollywood Boulevard. The room was repainted and enhanced, and occult icons such as candles, stigmas, religious statues, masks and tribal dolls were added for effect. Jensen's Recreation Center in Echo Park was chosen to avoid overuse of frequently seen Los Angeles locations. During filming, an unrelated accident occurred in which a child was injured; the production's medic saw this and called paramedics. The makeshift altar was set in Wood Ranch, a location that Dobrowolski called the hardest to find. Dobrowolski wanted to avoid manicured parks like Griffith Park. The beach summoning took place at Leo Carrillo State Park, which was chosen because its crest made it seem less visually boring.
The makeup effects were designed and created by Tony Gardner and his special effects company Alterian, Inc., which also created the beached sharks for the film.
The Craft received mixed reviews upon its' release, and currently holds a 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 reviews. Emanuel Levy of Variety described it as "a neatly crafted film that begins most promisingly as a black comedy a la Heathers, but gradually succumbs to its tricky machinery of special effects". Roger Ebert also felt the film was mired in excessive special effects, but praised the performances of the four leads, as did Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The film was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and Fairuza Balk for Best Supporting Actress. Balk and Tunney also won the MTV Movie Award for Best Fight.
The film opened at number 1 at the North American box office, making US$6,710,995. The movie was a sleeper hit, which Columbia attributed to teenagers and young women, who responded to its themes. According to Box Office Mojo, The Craft is the 10th highest-grossing film since 1980 dealing with the genre of witches.
A straight-to-DVD sequel was in the works, but was terminated.
The film is often labelled as a "Cult Classic" and has acquired a loyal fan base and social media presence. The Huffington Post, writing in 2016, praised 'The Craft' for departing from clichés of the teen movie genre and incorporating darker themes, saying it became "part of the 90's teen canon and a cult classic of its' own merit." Complex magazine praised the relevance of the film 20 years later, saying it "feels much more progressive than many of the movies that come out today" and calling the viewing of the film "a rite of passage" for young women.
In 2013 three of the main actresses, with the exception of Fairuza Balk, reunited for a special Halloween screening of the film at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
In May 2016, Sony Pictures announced that a sequel of The Craft was currently in development and would be written and directed by Leigh Janiak. The announcement of the sequel spawned negative reactions from fans of the original and from Fairuza Balk, who stated that remakes "in general" are a bad idea.
The Craft: Music from the Motion Picture was released in 1996 on CD and cassette, one month before the film's official theatrical release in the United States. The soundtrack contains a collection of songs, to suit the theme of the movie, from various artists including Heather Nova, Letters to Cleo, and Spacehog. Nova's version of "I Have the Touch", originally performed by Peter Gabriel, which featured during the end credits of the film, was exclusively included on the soundtrack, and is not available as a single, or on any of Nova's albums, nor does she perform the song in concert. The tracks in film, titled "Sick Child", "Fallin'" and "Scorn" performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Connie Francis and Portishead respectively, were omitted from the soundtrack due to copyright issues from their record labels. However, they were only included in the film as part of an arrangement with PolyGram Film & Television Licensing. An uncredited bonus track, "Bells, Books and Candles", composed by Graeme Revell for the film's score, was included on the soundtrack. A follow-up soundtrack, The Original Motion Picture Score, was released on June 18, 1996 from Varèse Sarabande, and contained the film's score which was entirely composed and produced by Graeme Revell.
Music from the Motion Picture