Almost a decade after The Lost Boys made vampires cool and teen-friendly, much the same thing was done for witches in The Craft. This thrilling, spine-chilling 1996 movie sees a quartet of teen outcasts develop incredible supernatural powers. However, as Spider-Man keeps reminding us, with great power comes great responsibility…
Here are some facts about The Craft which you might not have known.
25. Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and Alicia Silverstone all unsuccessfully auditioned for roles
The Craft stars Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and Rachel True as its four young practitioners of the dark arts. However, if events had played out a little differently, the film could have starred some even more famous actresses. Among those who auditioned for the movie was a certain Alicia Silverstone, who had just shot the soon-to-be-released Clueless.
By the time The Craft was released, Clueless was already a huge hit which had catapulted Silverstone to stardom. Another actress who auditioned for the movie without success was Angelina Jolie, who at the time was best known for her role in Hackers. Reportedly Scarlett Johansson also read for a role, but this seems odd considering she was only 12 years old at the time.
24. Fairuza Balk bought an occult bookstore after making the movie
As a special FX-heavy horror movie, The Craft is of course a heavily fictionalised, fantasy-driven take on witchcraft. Even so, the film is heavily inspired by the real beliefs and practices of modern day pagans. The filmmakers hired Pat Devin, a real-life practitioner of Wicca, to serve as their on-set technical advisor. Of course, the cast also did research of their own, and Nancy actress Fairuza Balk was said to be the most knowledgable among them.
The actress (who had previously appeared as Dorothy in 1985’s Return to Oz, as well as playing another witch role in 1986 TV movie The Worst Wicth) bought a lot of books from an old occult bookstore in Los Angeles. On hearing that the store was going out of business, Balk wound up buying the store herself to keep it open.
23. Balk has denied rumours that she’s a witch in real life
Because of her real-life interest in witchcraft, it was once widely speculated that Fairuza Balk was a genuine Wiccan. This was so commonly believed that it was even stated by Balk’s The Craft co-stars in interviews. However, Balk herself insists this isn’t true. Discussing her ownership of the occult bookstore, the actress explained in 2017, “it was going to be turned into a Chinese restaurant. I thought for the oldest occult shop in the country, that’s a tragedy.
“So I bought it and put some work into it and helped it survive. But people of course were like, ‘She bought an occult shop and she’s fully into this and it’s all real’… You can tell the truth and talk to people but they want to believe what they want to believe. What can you do?” Balk has since sold the shop and says she no longer has anything to do with it, insisting “it was a long time ago.”
22. None of the main actors were actually high school age
The Craft is a high school movie, so all the central characters are aged 18 or under. Still, anyone who’s ever seen Grease knows that it’s not unusual for high school-based movies to cast actors who are a bit older than their characters. The Craft is no exception to this rule, as all the actors were well into their 20s at the time.
Fairuza Balk was the youngest of the core quartet at 21. Neve Campbell, meanwhile, was 22 and Robin Tunney was 23. The eldest among them was Rachel True; at 29, her agent had hesitated to put her up for the movie for fear she was too old. The same goes for the supporting actors: Skeet Ulrich (Chris) was 25, Christine Taylor (Laura) was 24, and Breckin Meyer (Mitt) was 21.
21. The witches’ deity Manon was made up by the filmmakers to avoid offending pagans
The Craft makes a point of dismissing the old notion that witches worship the devil. The film instead tells us they worship an ancient deity pre-dating the Bible, who they call Manon. Naturally, seeing the movie left a lot of viewers curious to learn more about this obscure pagan god – so fans must have been confused when they attempted to research this figure and found nothing, as Manon is an entirely fictional creation.
The filmmakers invented Manon at the advice of Wiccan advisor Pat Devin, who argued that using any existing deity would run the risk of offending real-life pagan communities. On a more supernatural note, Devin also suggested that there could be a genuine danger from performing invocation ceremonies to a genuine deity on film.
20. The cast and crew experienced strange phenomena when shooting the ritual on the beach
As part of her duties as The Craft’s on-set Wiccan advisor, Pat Devin also wrote the rituals performed by the cast. The most memorable of these scenes shows the young witches perform a ceremony on the beach as a storm comes in. Reportedly this took longer than expected to film, as strange things kept happening whilst they performed the scene.
The cast and crew have claimed that the waves began to crash violently when they recited invocations, only to stop when the director said cut. They also experienced sudden power outages, and at one point a flock of bats hovered directly overhead. Of course, this all could be considered par for the course when filming on location, but such stories have fuelled rumours that not all the magic we see in The Craft was faked.
19. The subplot about Rochelle’s racist bullying was added after Rachel True was cast
In the earliest stages of The Craft’s development, all four of the central girls were going to be white. This plan changed when Rachel True came in to audition for a role and wowed the filmmakers. In the original screenplay, Rochelle was going to suffer from an eating disorder that she would use magic to help overcome, but when True was cast the script was rewritten to instead show Rochelle enduring racist bullying from Christine Taylor’s Laura, then using magic to take revenge.
True was not informed of this script change straight away, and has admitted she was initially wary of the idea. However, the actress has said since that she feels the racist abuse was important, remarking that it “added a really great layer that just wasn’t there in most teen movies.”
18. True has been excluded from The Craft promo events and reunions ever since
Sadly, even though The Craft confronts the ugly reality of racism, actress Rachel True still experienced racism for real after the movie came out. The actress has since revealed that in the wake of the film’s success, she often found herself excluded from privileges afforded to her white co-stars. Her name was often left off press releases connected to the film, and the studio did not invite her to participate in promotional interviews until reminded by True’s co-stars.
Also, True was the only one of the central four actresses not invited to that year’s MTV Movie Awards. In more recent years, she has also been left out of cast reunions at fan conventions and festivals. True remarked on Twitter in 2019, “being left out of these events didn’t just hurt [my] ego, it had a direct effect on POC actors pocket books & public profiles & level of celebrity.”
17. Director Andrew Fleming has accused TV’s Charmed of ripping the film off
As it centres on young, stylish witches, The Craft clearly shares a lot of common ground with TV series Charmed. This has not gone unnoticed by The Craft director Andrew Fleming, who has accused the show of being a blatant rip-off. Fleming is adamant about this as in 1998 he pitched a TV series of The Craft to TV network the WB, who turned him down – but started work on Charmed later that same year.
As well as having a very similar central conceit, Charmed even uses a song featured in The Craft (Love Spit Love’s cover of How Soon is Now? by the Smiths) as its opening theme music. Robin Tunney remarked in 2017, “Charmed is a rip-off of The Craft. It was completely obvious to the point that people would think I was on Charmed for years after.”
16. Robin Tunney was originally cast as Bonnie, and had to be persuaded to play Sarah instead
Once the filmmakers had found their core four actresses, a spot of reshuffling occurred. Robin Tunney had originally auditioned for the part of Bonnie, the most insecure of the four at first. However, when Neve Campbell came on board it was decided she would be a better fit for that role.
It was then decided that Tunney should play Sarah – but even though this character was the lead, the actress wasn’t sure at first. Director Andrew Fleming recalls, “We had to talk her into playing the lead, which was weird… It was like a reverse-Hollywood story where she wanted the smaller part.” After the success of The Craft, Tunney went on to take prominent roles in End of Days and Vertical Limit.
15. The film got an R-rating because of the ratings board’s distaste for ‘black magic’
The Craft is very much geared towards a young teenage audience. With this in mind, the filmmakers shot the film with the clear aim of getting a PG-13 certificate, hence the film features no gore, no nudity and only moderate use of profanity. However, the Motion Picture Association of America informed the filmmakers late in the day that they would get an R-rating regardless.
Director Andrew Fleming recalls, “[the MPAA] said it was black magic and teenagers. And I said, ‘Hold on. Paganism and Wicca and witchcraft are not black magic’… We had made that distinction very clear and early, that it’s not about devil worship.” Producer Douglas Wick has also suggested that the film’s tackling of sensitive subjects, including attempted suicide, might have been a factor in the R-rating.
14. The girls’ skirts get shorter as their powers increase
In its earliest stages, The Craft had been conceived as an allegory for young women becoming empowered sexually. Producer Douglas Wick sees the film as being about “teenage girls and [how] suddenly they come into this enormous power of their sexuality.” Wick wanted to explore witchcraft as an “age-old metaphor for talking about female empowerment, and the sort of mysteries of women and their connection to nature in terms of reproductivity.”
This explains why, as the girls get more powerful as witches, they also become more outgoing in terms of hair, make-up and dress sense. Rachel True has joked about this, noting that as their powers grow, their skirts shrink. The Craft has been widely noted as a key film for popularising Goth fashions among adolescent audiences.
13. A platform was used for the levitation scene, which was removed with CGI afterwards
One of the most iconic moments in The Craft is the slumber party scene where the girls play ‘Light as a feather, stiff as a board.’ By all accounts, the popularity of this sequence has seen scores of teenagers try it out at sleepovers of their own. The shots of Rachel True floating in mid air were achieved using the comparatively new technique of digitally erasing on-camera elements with CGI.
True recalls, “I was basically on a hydraulic lift. I had some sort of metal thing that I laid in and they put my clothes around that, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, this thing is making my hips look three times wider than they are.’ But in the end, I think the scene came off really well.” Adding a hint of humour, True ad-libbed her line at the end of the scene when she tells her friends, “you’ve got to try this.”
12. Robin Tunney wears a wig throughout the film because she’d recently shaved her head for Empire Records
While The Craft is an ensemble piece, if anyone’s the real lead in the film it’s Robin Tunney. Tunney’s Sarah is the new girl in town, who falls in with the three outcasts and is initiated into witchcraft. Tunney came to the role of Sarah straight from completing work on cult comedy Empire Records. However, as viewers of that film will recall, Tunney’s character sports a clean-shaven head in Records.
This had grown back to a pixie cut length by the time cameras rolled on The Craft, but studio executives weren’t happy with the look. At the insistence of Columbia Pictures executives, Tunney wears a wig of shoulder-length hair at all times in The Craft.
11. The writer and director drew on their negative high school experiences
The Craft may be a film centred on young women, but we can hardly fail to note that it was written, produced and directed by men. The film was conceived by producer Douglas Wick and screenwriter Peter Filardi (who had previously written Flatliners). As well as being interested in occultism, screenwriter Filardi was also keen to explore the high school outsider experience, insisting “our characters could not be popular, beautiful overlords of their school.”
The writer explains, “for me, this was not a ‘hocus pocus’ film. It was about the power of adolescent pain.” When director Andrew Fleming came on board, his rewrites on the script added to the key themes of adolescent alienation and anxiety. Fleming reflects, “my experience from high school was not Pretty in Pink. It was a very serious, gothic, heavy-duty experience.”
10. Shooting the final scene involved 10,000 live snakes
In the final act when the other three witches turn on Sarah, she finds herself bombarded by snakes. Today, we would probably expect such a scene to be achieved through the use of extensive CGI. While there is a certain amount of CGI in The Craft, it was not used for the snakes scene. Director Andrew Fleming recalls, “The snakes were all real, except for the one shot where Fairuza’s hair turns into snakes.”
“At one point, the animal wrangler said we had 10,000 snakes. A lot of them were small, but we had giant buckets everywhere.” Fortunately, actress Robin Tunney did not suffer from any fear of snakes, so shooting the sequence didn’t bother her too much.
9. The director pitched the movie as “witchcraft girls in high school dressed like The Cure”
Before the mid-90s, Goth music and fashion was still a comparatively underground culture. However, by the time cameras rolled on The Craft, the Goth aesthetic had already helped films like 1994’s The Crow achieve cult status. Subsequently the Goth angle became a key angle for selling The Craft to a wider audience. Andrew Fleming says he approached the film’s look by asking, “What if those witchcraft girls in high school dressed like they were in The Cure?”
The director recalls that after filming some early scenes with the core cast in their iconic outfits, “the studio said, ‘Oh, we get it.’ It was the music and the clothes and the candles and the whole thing.” Later, when the film had its first preview screenings, “there were all these very serious gothic proto-punk girls [in attendance], and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I guess there’s an audience out there.’”
8. They shot in the same real Los Angeles high school where Heathers was filmed
A great deal of the action in The Craft takes place at the high school the four teenage witches attend. The fictitious school the girls attend in the movie is a Catholic school called St. Benedict’s Academy. These scenes were shot at a bona fide place of learning, Verdugo Hills High School. As Verdugo Hills is not in reality a Catholic school, the production design team had to add all the Catholic artwork and paraphernalia.
On top of The Craft, Verdugo Hills High School has been used as a location for many other notable movies, most famously another of the great female-centred cult teen movies of the era: Heathers, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater Other movies shot there include Christine, Better Off Dead and Not Another Teen Movie.
7. A scene with Rochelle and her ‘stodgy’ parents was cut
Throughout The Craft, we see the home life of all of the four central characters except Rochelle. We see the parents of Sarah, Nancy and Bonnie at various points in the movie. Originally, we were also meant to meet Rochelle’s parents, but for some unknown reason this scene didn’t make the final cut.
Rachel True recalls, “I had a scene with my upper middle class, stodgy parents. We shot it, but it ended up being cut from the film. The Rochelle actress says she “was a little bummed about [it] because I was like, ‘Wait, all the other girls get parents. I don’t get parents?’… this was 20 years ago, so then I said [to myself], ‘Listen, you’re black and you’re in the movie. That’s pretty good already.’”
6. The film helped establish Neve Campbell as a horror superstar
When cast as the insecure and heavily scarred Bonnie, Neve Campbell was best known for her role on TV’s Party of Five. Appearing in The Craft helped Campbell on her way to becoming a fully-fledged movie star – particularly in the horror genre. The film was released only seven months before the massively influential horror hit Scream (in which The Craft’s Skeet Ulrich also appears).
Campbell’s performance as ‘final girl’ Sidney Prescott firmly cemented the actress as a horror icon. She went on to appear in the three Scream sequels, although outside of these the actress has largely avoided horror. Campbell played Sidney Prescott a fifth time in 2022’s Scream, but she dropped out of the sixth Scream movie over a pay dispute.
5. 2020 reboot The Craft: Legacy was not well-received
After many years and several false starts, The Craft finally got a follow-up in the form of 2020’s The Craft: Legacy. The sequel/reboot was produced by Blumhouse Productions, the influential company behind such horror hits as Get Out and the Purge series. Directed and co-written by Zoe Lister-Jones, The Craft: Legacy followed a new quartet of contemporary teens discovering witchcraft.
Due to Covid-19, the film only had a limited theatrical run simultaneous with its release to video on demand. Fans of the original were sceptical of The Craft: Legacy and the reviews were lukewarm. However, the film received some praise for its handling of LGBT themes, and boasts a brief cameo from one of the original film’s stars.
4. Fairuza Balk and Robin Tunney beat Jackie Chan to the MTV Movie Award for Best Fight Scene
A key aspect of The Craft is the constant underlying tension between Robin Tunney’s Sarah and Fairuza Balk’s Nancy. This reaches a head in the final act, with a supernaturally-charged showdown between the two. The highly physical, FX-fuelled one-on-one struggle earned Tunney and Balk a perhaps unexpected accolade: they were given the Best Fight award at the MTV Movie Awards in June 1997.
The Craft’s lead actresses beat out some stiff competition for the award – including one of the kings of action cinema, Jackie Chan. The legendary martial artist and stunt master had also been nominated for his celebrated ‘ladder’ scene in Jackie Chan’s First Strike.
3. The movie was adapted into a drag stage production
The popularity of The Craft has seen many fans dress up like the four teen witches over the years. The film has even enjoyed the rare accolade of being adapted into a drag show. In 2013, famed drag queen Peaches Christ produced a comedic stage adaptation of The Craft.
Peaches Christ took the role of Sarah, whilst Sharon Needles (winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season four) was Nancy. The cast was filled out by Alaska Thunderf*** as Bonnie, and Honey Mahogany as Rochelle. The show was promoted with the tag line, “Now is the time. This is the hour. Drag is our magic. Drag is our power!”
2. It went straight to number one at the box office
The Craft was a fairly unconventional little movie with no real star names in its cast. For this reason, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that the film would find its audience straight away. However, the concept of four high school girls becoming all-powerful witches proved an unexpectedly big draw.
The Craft opened in US cinemas on the 3rd of May 1996, and it went straight to number one at the box office. By the end of its run, the film had made $55 million – a decent return on its $15 million budget. As with so many movies of the time, The Craft only grew in popularity via home video and TV screenings.
1. A direct-to-DVD sequel was planned, but never made
A decade after The Craft opened in cinemas, word broke that the studio was planning a follow-up. It was reported in 2006 that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment intended to release a sequel to the 1996 film direct to DVD. At first, this follow up was tentatively scheduled to hit shelves in 2007 or 2008, but not long thereafter it was declared dead.
It wasn’t until 2016 that a sequel to The Craft gained traction once again, this time with plans for a theatrical release. Leigh Janiak, writer-director of 2014 horror movie Honeymoon, was initially attached to the sequel. This project also stalled, and eventually became The Craft: Legacy at Blumhouse Productions.