Hocus Pocus might not have cast a spell over the box office back in 1993 but, in the years since its release (now almost three decades ago), the film has become a cult classic. Today we’re looking back on our spooky seasonal favourite, with 20 facts you might not have known about this movie!
20. Max was almost played by Leonardo DiCaprio
While it’s hard to imagine anyone but Omri Katz playing the beleaguered but ultimately kind, cool guy Max, the part very nearly went to somebody else. Specifically, an early-career Leonardo DiCaprio was offered the role, and Disney tried very hard to convince him to take it. DiCaprio was reportedly offered “more money than [he] ever dreamed of” to take on the role, and did seriously consider it for a while.
With that said, he eventually decided to turn the movie down, specifically to star in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Given that What’s Eating Gilbert Grape earned DiCaprio an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, he probably made the right call. Omri Katz retired from acting not long after growing up, and instead decided to pursue hairdressing, which makes sense when you see his luscious locks in Hocus Pocus.
19. Bette Midler was fed a constant supply of old-fashioned curse words by two assistants
Bette Midler plays Winifred Sanderson, the leader of the trio of Sanderson witches, who is a fairly volatile person as far as her temper goes. If you’ve ever seen Hocus Pocus, you’ll know that Winifred struggles to go two minutes without insulting somehow, swearing revenge, or mourning her own fate. Winifred uses a lot of expletives to vent her frustration with everyone from Max and Dani to her own sisters, and most of them were improvised by Midler.
Despite this, you’ll notice that all of her foul language is completely period-accurate, even if sometimes it sounds too ridiculous to be real. That’s because it was the job of two people on set to follow Bette Midler around with dictionaries of archaic curse words. That allowed Midler to swear to her heart’s content whenever she believed that’s what Winifred would do, and she could improvise while still making sure her insults were not anachronistic.
18. Rosie O’Donnell turned down the chance to play Mary Sanderson because she thought the role was too dark
They say that in every group of characters, there’s one that no-one would want to dress up as for Halloween. Breakfast Club costumes are popular, but you’ll have a hard time getting anyone to dress up as Brian, and no Ghostbusters group costume is complete without an argument about who has to be Winston. Since the release of Hocus Pocus in 1993, all three Sanderson sisters have become iconic characters in their own right.
However, Mary Sanderson was the hardest witch to cast, simply because many actresses did not want to play her. Initially, Rosie O’Donnell was approached to play Mary, but she turned it down due to not feeling comfortable playing a character that canonically killed children. The role eventually went to Kathy Najimy, but she was hesitant to accept at first too, because she didn’t want to offend any real-life witches with her portrayal.
17. The choreographer made the ‘witches’ take him on a drive to show him what they’d look like riding a broomstick
When it comes to creating unique movement and body language for a supernatural character, the rehearsal process can be quite unusual. With that said, all three actresses playing the Sanderson sisters were surprised when they were each asked to take their movement coach for a drive. While Doug Jones was training to be able to shamble around like a zombie, and Omri Katz was learning to strut around like a self-assured teenager, the three actresses playing witches were instead getting in their cars.
After choreographer Peggy Holmes had observed how Midler, Parker and Najimy drove, she spent hours helping them to rehearse their broomstick riding. Essentially, the choreographer responsible for creating the Sandersons’ movement wanted to see what they were each like behind the wheel, so he could better imagine what they looked like when riding a broomstick. This research paid off, with each of the actresses getting a completely different flying style in the finished movie.
16. The actor playing human Binx had all his lines dubbed
Thackery Binx starts out in Hocus Pocus as a human teenager, who is trying to protect his younger sister Emily. His punishment for meddling in the plans of the Sanderson witches is that he is turned into a black cat, who also cannot die. Though you might expect that the actor portraying the human version of Thackery Binx would voice his cat counterpart for the whole movie, it’s actually the other way around.
Sean Murray was cast as the human version of Binx that we see at the end of the film, but producers decided that although his look was perfect, his voice was far too contemporary. The issue was that Murray had a southern accent, which didn’t work for the film’s setting of Salem, or for the time period that Binx was from. So Jason Marsden was chosen to voice Binx instead, which didn’t cause a problem for the cat scenes, but did mean that Marsden had to dub over Murray’s lines.
15. Sarah Jessica Parker’s ancestor really was accused of witchcraft
There’s no doubting that Sarah Jessica Parker really got into the character of Sarah Sanderson, and ultimately played the ditzy, flirtatious sister very well. What you might not have known is that, almost 20 years after the movie was released, Parker found out she had a real-life witch connection. While appearing on the family history show Who Do You Think You Are? Parker discovered that her ten-time great-grandmother, a woman named Esther Elwell, was arrested and accused of witchcraft.
Thankfully, Elwell’s case never made it to trial, but Parker said of the revelation: “it has changed everything about who I thought I was.” Throughout her career, Parker has never played a witch other than Sarah, but has maintained that she had a fabulous time on the Hocus Pocus set. Not only that, but Parker confirmed that she would be willing to star in a sequel, and that she had discussed the possibility with both Midler and Najimy.
14. Nine different cats play Binx
Hocus Pocus wouldn’t be a Halloween classic if it wasn’t for the inclusion of the adorable black cat Binx, who later turns out to be a human man named Thackery Binx trapped in the body of a cat. With that said, as beloved as the character of Binx is, he turned out to be the hardest part of the film to bring to life. Not only was a puppet used, but it took nine cats to otherwise portray Binx, with each having a different skill or speciality that they used while filming.
One cat was good at jumping, one at pawing and batting at things, and there was even one cat whose speciality was napping. As complex as that made things, the true problem was that the cast had to win over each individual cat in order for the characters to have the same chemistry throughout the film. That meant that each cat had to be spoiled with treats and cuddles so that they would seem to be best friends with Dani and Max.
13. Doug Jones had to keep real moths in his mouth
If you have a favourite film featuring whimsical fantasy characters, supernatural creatures or monsters, then there’s a good chance Doug Jones was involved. The actor has played everything from the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth to the amphibian creature in The Shape of Water, so he knows a few things about uncomfortable make-up and costume requirements. Jones can still be taken by surprise, however, and he was shocked to realise that he would have to hold real moths in his mouth while playing the zombie in Hocus Pocus.
The live moths were stopped from going down Jones’ throat by a dental dam, until he could comedically burp them up on camera. As scary as it might sound, Jones was apparently completely unbothered by the sensation, with Billy Butcherson not even ranking amongst the most uncomfortable costumes he had ever worn. As for what claimed the title for most uncomfortable costume: Doug Jones also played Mother Bug in a campy monster movie called Bug Buster, which he has said was deeply uncomfortable.
12. The screenwriter created the film as a bedtime story for his kids
If you’ve ever wondered if screenwriters make the best bedtime storytellers, then David Kirschner makes for a definitive yes. Kirschner is apparently super dedicated when it comes to telling his children stories, coming up with all original concepts, stories and characters for them. In fact, the story of Hocus Pocus actually began as a bedtime story that Kirschner was telling his children around Halloween.
Kirschner’s aim was to tell a story that wouldn’t be too scary for them, but that would also keep them excited and entertained. Kirschner worked on the story in that form for a long time, and it was only once it was fully developed that he considered turning it into a screenplay. Clearly the time spent testing the story on real kids and adjusting it as needed paid off, as Hocus Pocus has become a favourite of Halloween-lovers of all ages.
11. Kathy Najimy was a complete Bette Midler fangirl on-set
The general public getting flustered around famous actors is nothing new, but actors feeling nervous and excited to meet each other is a little less common. With that said, Bette Midler is one of the most highly regarded musical theatre actors around today, so if anyone was going to make the rest of the cast nervous, it was her. In particular, Kathy Najimy found it difficult to work with Midler, since Najimy was already such an ardent fan of Midler’s work.
Najimy had even met Midler twice before just as a fan, so getting the chance to work with her hero was probably pretty surreal. Both times Najimy met Midler, it involved Najimy sneaking backstage after one of Midler’s concerts, in order to say hello. One time, Najimy was even dressed as a singing bunny telegram, though she has never revealed the reason behind that bizarre costume.
10. Jodie-Amy Rivera grew up to be a famous YouTuber
Jodie-Amy Rivera plays Emily Binx in Hocus Pocus, the younger sister of the ghost/cat Thackery Binx, and the first victim of the Sanderson sisters. It is the death of Emily that causes the Sanderson witches to be killed by the angry townspeople and causes Thackery Binx to stick around in cat form to avenge her. The role of Emily is a fairly small one, since she only appears at the beginning and the end of the movie, but it was clearly enough to cement Jodie-Amy Rivera’s love of performing.
That’s because Rivera went on to develop a huge YouTube following, making videos under the username VenetianPrincess. Rivera became hugely famous for her spoof videos of popular music videos, which changed the lyrics to make the songs about hilarious and weird subjects. Some of her spoof videos have racked up around 60 million views, but Rivera has also diversified into making weight loss and beauty content, as well as vlogs.
9. The whole cast took a trip to Salem to bond
Lots of movie casts do a bonding activity before they start shooting, with the casts of Pitch Perfect and Truth or Dare taking actual holidays together as part of the movie-making process. So the Hocus Pocus cast taking a trip together isn’t all that unsurprising, even if where they decided to go is more unusual. In order to create the spooky but festive atmosphere the cast would need for the film, they all journeyed together to Salem.
Salem, Massachusetts, famous for being the location of the Salem witch trials, provided the perfect Halloween-ey vibes for the cast to enjoy. Not much information is available about what the cast got up to, but it probably involved a lot of seasonal activities. It’s sweet to imagine Bette Midler and co all sitting around, drinking apple cider and carving pumpkins together, before getting ready to shoot the film.
8. ‘Satan’ is played by the creator of Happy Days
Some would argue that seeing Bette Midler play a witch is an unusual casting decision, but it’s definitely not the strangest one in the film. The more surprising casting choice in the movie is the man dressed as Satan, who is played by Garry Marshall. It’s already pretty odd to see the creator of Happy Days dressed up as Satan, complete with horns and a red leotard.
However, things get even weirder when the three Sanderson sisters mistake him for the real devil and begin to worship him. This extended cameo scene is obviously meant to play up how recognisable Garry Marshall is, and it definitely adds a level of surreal comedy to the movie. Things get even weirder when you realise that Satan’s wife is played by Penny Marshall, who is actually Garry Marshall’s sister.
7. Sarah Jessica Parker loved ‘flying’ so much that she stayed on her broom between takes
Whenever anyone has to fly in a movie, there’s a good chance that it involves the actor being strapped into a harness against a green screen. What’s more, these harnesses are very often uncomfortable and tight, making shooting flying scenes a fun but potentially painful affair. Surprisingly though, Sarah Jessica Parker has gone on record to say that she found her broomstick scenes completely exhilarating, thanks in part to her harness being exceptionally comfortable.
In fact, Parker found the harness so easy to be in that she often would ask to stay in it between takes, rather than be lowered down. As boring as that might sound, Parker found a way to entertain herself while she was up there, often sneaking a copy of the New York Times up with her by hiding it in her costume. So while the rest of the cast would be milling around below, Sarah Jessica Parker would be many feet in the air, drinking coffee and reading the paper.
6. The Sanderson sisters were named after real women accused of witchcraft
Hocus Pocus is a fantastical movie, filled with talking cats, living zombies and cursed candles that could never exist in the real world. With that said, as unbelievable as it might sound, there are some elements of Hocus Pocus that are based in truth. For example, two of the main three Sanderson sisters are named after real women, who really were accused of witchcraft.
Specifically, Winifred and Mary Sanderson were both named after Winifred Benham and Mary Hale, the two last women to be accused of being witches. Rather than being sisters, Winifred Benham was the daughter of Mary Hale, and the two were convicted of witchcraft in 1697. Their sentencing represented the last witch trial to ever take place in New England, making it fitting that their names were chosen for the characters in Hocus Pocus.
5. Doug Jones asked if he could tone down the cursing
Billy Butcherson doesn’t say much for the majority of the movie, which is unsurprising since his mouth is literally sewn shut. With that said, you might have noticed that when Butcherson finally gets the chance to talk, it takes a while for him to finally shut up. Butcherson’s long rant at the Sanderson’s after freeing his mouth wasn’t written in the script, and was instead the idea of Doug Jones, the actor who portrayed him.
Jones was convinced that “after not speaking for a long time… he’d obviously have a lot to say”, so he wrote his own monologue to deliver. That wasn’t the only change made by Jones either, since originally Butcherson was set to call Winifred Sanderson a “b**ch.” Jones thought the phrase would be both too crass and potentially anachronistic, so he changed the insult to the more period-appropriate wench.
4. Several scenes were cut from the theatrical version of the movie
Hocus Pocus is a fun adventure from beginning to end, and it doesn’t ever feel as though crucial scenes are missing. Despite that, the truth is that many scenes were shaved off the finished film before the theatrical cut reached theatres, resulting in a fairly different story. For example, the film originally featured a much longer chase through the school, which culminated in Winifred being thrown into the school swimming pool.
The three sisters also originally got held up when they were surrounded by trick or treaters, who delayed the three witches by begging them for sweets. Most hilariously of all though, Mary was supposed to interrupt her own hanging, in order to ask if she had “left the cauldron burning”. Some of these scenes were later released on the 25th Anniversary blu-ray, which was released in 2018.
3. The movie references Charles Rocket’s (Max’s dad) most embarrassing moment
Charles Rocket plays Max and Dani’s dad in Hocus Pocus, who doesn’t get a ton of screen time and mostly just dresses like a vampire. However, one of the lines he does get references his time in a much more prominent role, as one of the comedians on Saturday Night Live. Rocket achieved notoriety in an episode of the show in 1981, when he accidentally cursed while they were still on air.
Rocket dropped an F-bomb during the final moments of the show, and the screw-up was jokingly referenced throughout his career. Hocus Pocus included a joking reference to the moment, with Rocket asking Max how school was. Max replies “it sucked,” and Rocket immediately yells “watch your language!”
2. Bette Midler snuck in a reference to her most famous role
There’s no denying that Bette Midler has a formidable filmography, having scored the lead in many star vehicles such as Jinxed! and Divine Madness. However, by far her most famous role is Mama Rose, the crazed stage-mother of burlesque pioneer Gypsy Rose Lee. The climax of Mama Rose’s character arc comes in the song Rose’s Turn, wherein Rose laments her own failure and reflects on the sacrifices she has made for her children.
Rose’s Turn features the iconic line “Hello everybody! My name’s Rose! What’s yours?”, which used to be Rose’s daughter’s line. Hocus Pocus features a homage to this classic line, when Winifred invades the stage at the Halloween party and declares to the confused crowd: “Hello Salem! My name’s Winifred! What’s yours?” The line comes just before her performance of I Put a Spell on You, in which Winifred channels some serious Mama Rose energy.
1. The film was shot in the same neighbourhood as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Bewitched
If you’ve ever watched Hocus Pocus and found yourself thinking that the neighbourhood Max and Dani move into is just a little too idyllic, there’s a reason for that. The movie used a neighbourhood that has been used in numerous different film and television shoots, so watching the characters walk around essentially becomes a who’s who of famous houses. That is why you can find Max celebrating in front of the house from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which is just down the street from the house featured in Bewitched.
As if that wasn’t enough, the house that Jane from American Beauty lives in also makes an appearance in the movie, as does the fountain from the opening credits of Friends. (Coincidentally, Thora Birch, who plays Dani, would go on to acclaim for her role in American Beauty.) With so many celebrities milling around, it’s no wonder no one bats an eye at Bette Midler, since they’re probably more focussed on getting pictures by the Friends fountain in their group costume.