Although the popularity of witches in no way rivals that of zombies, ghosts, or demons, witch mythology has been around for hundreds of years. For the most part, they either resembled a decrepit old hag, which was normally their true form, or disguised themselves as a beautiful young woman. Nevertheless, witches always had abilities of differing strengths, able to cast spells, brew potions, and manipulate circumstances to meet their ends.
Ultimately, witches came to represent the mystery and suppression of female sexuality in many cultures, which is why so many witches employ the power of seduction on their victims. They are often the woman scorned, seeking revenge or questing for power so that they may be never be suppressed again.
While the majority of big-screen portrayals of witches show the dark side of witchcraft, occasionally there will be a good witch among them. As Halloween approaches, it’s time to celebrate the good and the bad, the dark and the light, and embrace that dichotomy in ourselves. We’ve compiled a list of the best movie witches, both good and bad, who all exhibit power and strength in their own right. Read on to see if your favorite made the cut!
15. Ursula the Sea Witch (The Little Mermaid)
Probably the only Disney character to ever be inspired by a drag queen, Ursula the Sea Witch (voiced by Pat Carroll) is the main antagonist in The Little Mermaid. Driven by her lust for power, Ursula will do whatever it takes for a chance at replacing King Triton as the ruler of Atlantica. Using sorcery, deception, and a whole lot of sass, she tricks Ariel into trading her voice (and essentially her soul) for legs. Ensuring she never has to give Ariel’s voice back, Ursula thwarts Ariel’s attempt at procuring a kiss from Prince Eric and eventually does secure her place as ruler, turning King Triton into a tiny polyp.
Aside from transfiguring people and objects, Ursula can also increase her size dramatically and even control the weather once she gains control of the triton. Like so many other witches on this list, especially Disney witches, she also has her own minions — a pair of moray eels named Flotsam and Jetsam.
14. Queen Ravenna (Snow White and the Huntsman)
Charlize Theron is both beautiful and terrible as the evil Queen Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman. With her powers of dark magic, she commands a Dark Army and can turn into other humans as well as birds in order to disguise herself and escape from harm. Possessing a magic mirror, like in the original Snow White story, the evil queen keeps track of who the fairest in the land is.
Queen Ravenna’s obsession with her appearance is the result of a spell cast on her as a child requiring her to drain youth and beauty from others in order to retain her own. She will do anything in her power to remain as she is, powerful and beautiful, even if it means poisoning Snow White or eating her heart. Charlize delivers an incredibly convincing performance, embodying a deep-seated evil that’s both terrifying and mesmerizing.
13. Princess Asa Vajda (Black Sunday)
Betrayed by her own brother and burned at the stake for witchcraft, Princess Asa Vajda, played by Barbara Steele, vows revenge on his descendants. Two hundred years after her death, the blood of a doctor resurrects her in one of the most gothically perfect scenes you could ever hope to see, complete with dense fog, scorpions, and bats. Aside from being a princess, witch, and vampire rolled up into one, Princess Asa is particularly terrifying because of the deep holes in her face from the death mask that was hammered into her when she was entombed. The Princess also possesses telepathy and mind control abilities, resurrecting her servant, Javuto, from his grave to do her bidding.
In typical witchy fashion, Princess Asa will do anything necessary, even kill, to achieve her goal of revenge. Ultimately, however, she’s a narcissistic bride of Satan who seeks to live again in the body of her own descendant, the current princess who looks exactly like her.
12. Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service)
One of the youngest witches on this list, Kiki from Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service is a benevolent trainee witch, who leaves home to learn about herself and what it means to be a sorceress. Although her only power at the time is flight by broomstick, she uses the talent to the best of her ability and starts a delivery service in exchange for room and board. Although Kiki encounters many obstacles along her way, she shows great intelligence, tenacity, and enterprise.
When she loses her abilities to fly (and speak to her black cat, Jiji), it obviously distresses her greatly, but she never gives up. Her artist friend, Ursula, advises her that it’s probably a bit of artist’s block, which in essence is the manifestation of self-doubt. Kiki’s journey as a witch is that of self-discovery and self-acceptance of her purpose in life and who she truly is. Unlike most other witches in film, Kiki’s powers are innate and not a manifestation of her wishes and desires. Instead, she only has to believe in herself in order to restore her abilities and become a full-fledged witch.
11. Minnie Castevet (Rosemary’s Baby)
Imagine if the nosy neighbor next door was actually a witch, hell-bent on impregnating you with the spawn of Satan himself. Enter Minnie Castevet, one such witch from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Sure, Minnie seems harmless enough at first, although certainly irritating, but little does poor Rosemary Woodhouse know that Minnie had plans for her all along.
From the first time Rosemary and her husband Guy sit down for dinner with Minnie and Roman Castevet, Minnie takes advantage of Guy’s lust for fame and fortune as an actor and a deal is struck. Unbeknownst to Rosemary, her husband allows her to get raped by Satan so he can start getting work. All the while, Minnie, Roman, and the other inhabitants of Bramford patiently wait until she births her demon baby. Although not much is revealed about Minnie’s specific powers, she is a herbalist, making Rosemary a special drink during her pregnancy and giving her “tannis root” to wear as a good luck charm. Ultimately, she’s part of a larger coven, stronger in a group than individually, although she certainly seems to have her own powers of manipulation as well.
10. Alexandra, Jane, & Sukie (The Witches of Eastwick)
Okay, it was impossible to choose between Alexandra Medford (Cher), Jane Spofford (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie Ridgemont (Michelle Pfeiffer) from The Witches of Eastwick, so we’re cheating a bit here. Most of the magic in the film is performed when the three are together, and after all, they represent the Triple Goddess in Wicca and Neopagan religions.
Daryl, played by Jack Nicholson, is drawn to Eastwick by their desire for the perfect man, representing the Horned God, the masculine side of witchcraft, which all three women are missing from their lives. Each woman blossoms as they give in to Daryl’s seduction, embracing their own duality and emerging magical abilities, which include controlling the weather and levitating objects. Once they realize what’s happening, they vow to use their powers responsibly, only seeking to hurt Daryl for manipulating them into harming Felicia Alden (Veronica Cartwright). Poor, poor narrow-minded Felicia. Even though she was a pain in the ass, that cherry pit scene was difficult to watch.
9. Lady Van Tassel (Sleepy Hollow)
Sleepy Hollow‘s Lady Van Tassel, played by Miranda Richardson, is one of the most highly underrated movie witches you’ll ever come across. Aside from her magical abilities, which mainly consist of casting spells and curses, she’s also an incredibly adept serial killer. Not only does she control the Hessian (Headless Horseman) by possessing his skull and making him murder for her, she herself murders three people.
Everything she does is out of hatred and revenge towards the Van Tassels and Van Garretts, who were responsible for the destruction of her family. She uses her powers of seduction, manipulation, and cunning to worm her way into the Van Tassel family, while quietly picking off everyone who stood in the way of her inheriting their fortune. She fakes her death, kills her sister, and even orders the Hessian to kill an entire family, including a child, proving her soul does indeed belong to the devil.
8. The White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobes)
Played by the bewitching Tilda Swinton, The White Witch is the powerful queen of Narnia when the Pevensie children arrive through the wardrobe. She’s a classic witch of the fantasy variety, complete with an army of spies and animal minions set to do her bidding. The White Witch has many powers, the greatest of which is her ability to keep Narnia in a 100-year long winter without any Christmas. She also has a magic wand that can turn people to stone, and she uses magical drops to conjure up food, drink, or whatever is desired.
More than anything else, the White Witch wishes to remain queen, and she seeks to destroy any other humans that enter the realm of Narnia. A prophecy warns that her reign is at an end, and that two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve will take her place as rulers. She initially tries to capture the Pevensie children, only managing Edmund at first, whom she chains up in her castle. Eventually, however, they all meet on the battlefield where she kills Edmund, who is not her first victim in the film.
7. The Witch (Into the Woods)
The Witch in Into the Woods, played by Meryl Streep, is the catalyst for all the events that occur during the span of the film. Once upon a time, she had placed a curse on the Baker’s family for stealing her magic beans and turning her into an ugly old hag as a result. In order to break the curse, she sends the Baker and his wife on a journey to retrieve four ingredients for a magic potion: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold. Once they retrieve all the ingredients, they’ll be able to have children — and she’ll be restored to her former beauty.
Along with casting curses and growing vegetables with magical properties, The Witch also stole the Baker’s sister, Rapunzel, when she was a child, raising her in secret. Unlike the majority of witches on this list, she actually has a bit of goodness left in her, as she genuinely loves Rapunzel as she would her own daughter. However, after she is restored to her former self, she loses both Rapunzel and her powers; a fair price to pay for causing all kinds of chaos and death.
6. Lamia (Stardust)
Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), or the Witch Queen as she’s sometimes known, is the main antagonist in Stardust. Like a few of the other witches mentioned here, she’s part of a trio of witches who are also her sisters. The most powerful of the three, Lamia seeks out the heart of the star, Yvaine, which will restore her youth and beauty for hundreds of years if she consumes it.
Unfortunately for her, every time she uses her magical abilities, it ages her a little more. Throughout the film, Lamia uses many magical tools to achieve her goal, including runes, a magic ring, a magic mirror, and even a voodoo doll. Interestingly enough, Michelle Pfeiffer was also in The Witches of Eastwick, where she and her co-stars used a voodoo doll to torture Daryl. Pfeiffer as Lamia is a much more powerful witch, however; at one point, she manages to drown Prince Septimus and then re-animate his corpse to fight for her. Lamia also has the ability to turn people into animals and bend them to her every whim.
5. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series)
Often described as the “brightest witch of her age,” Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) continuously proves herself to be on par with witches twice her age and experience level. Because of her bookish nature, Hermione spent the majority of her time studying when she wasn’t having adventures with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. More than a few times, she ended up saving her friends as a result of something she learned in a book or by paying attention in class.
Hermione’s mastery of magic was so great that she received high marks in ten different magical subjects while in school and still managed an active social life. Hermione also enchants a bag with an extendable charm, which allows her to keep a number of impossibly large items inside, including several changes of clothes, books, and even a full-size tent. She is the epitome of a good witch, one who will stand by her friends and family through thick and thin, make sacrifices if necessary, and protect them at all costs.
4. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)
The definition of a classic Hollywood-style witch, The Wicked Witch of the West, played by Margaret Hamilton, inspired fear in children everywhere with her electric green skin and cackling laughter. Sporting a pointed black hat and broomstick, hers was the costume and look that inspired most depictions of witches from the 1940s onward.
Aside from flying on a broomstick, she’s also able to throw fire and cast spells; she even commands an army of flying monkeys who do her bidding (and are decidedly creepy). Throughout the film, she tries to obtain Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, which originally belonged to her sister, The Wicked Witch of the East. Her obsession with the ruby red slippers causes her to try and kill Dorothy so she can conquer Oz for herself. However, it’s The Wicked Witch’s quest for power that proves to be her undoing. Her death scene is one of the most iconic in cinematic history, melting into a steaming pile of nothing.
3. Nancy Downs (The Craft)
The pinnacle of ’90s goth girl angst, Nancy Downs, played by Fairuza Balk, was a troubled teenager attending a Catholic school in Los Angeles. She, along with two fellow students, dabble in witchcraft, but it’s not until their fourth arrives that they truly gain their power.
Brash, conniving, and desperate for the attention of Manon (the made up Wiccan nature deity), Nancy becomes increasingly unstable. After she calls upon all the power of Manon, her magical abilities become incredibly strong and her spells start working. She finds herself able to walk on water, control the weather, change her appearance, levitate, and induce hallucinations in the target of her spells. Some of the best scenes in The Craft are of Nancy absolutely losing her mind on someone, like when she makes Chris fly out the window to his death, or when she causes her stepfather to have a heart attack after he tries to attack her mother. Nancy kills whoever stands in her way with no apparent remorse, making her one of the baddest witches around.
2. Winifred Sanderson (Hocus Pocus)
Hocus Pocus is pretty much the most popular Halloween movie of all time at this point, which makes Winifred Sanderson, played by Bette Midler, a witchy favorite. She, along with her sisters, Mary and Sarah, lured children away from their families to suck out their souls and keep them young and firm, using a spellbook given to Winifred by the Devil. If she was one of the Three Stooges, she’d be Moe — bossy, intimidating, and intelligent for the most part.
But Winifred is not to be underestimated. She’s certainly the strongest of the Sanderson sisters, and a force to be reckoned with. In addition to flying on her broomstick, making potions, and casting spells from her beloved spellbook, Winifred also has electrokinesis abilities. Bette Midler really shines in this role, and it’s no secret Winifred was one of her favorites. When she and her sisters find the children at a Halloween party, they perform one of the most memorable scenes from the film, singing and dancing to “I Put a Spell on You.”
1. Eva Ernst/The Grand High Witch (The Witches)
Anjelica Huston as Eva Ernst is the ultimate villainess in The Witches. In the film, Eva poses as an elegant woman of status and the head of the (fictional) Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She is, in fact, the Grand High Witch, head of the world’s witches, and hell bent on destroying all children. During the witches’ annual meeting, Eva reveals her latest scheme in ridding the world of the stench of children: a potion that will turn them into mice.
Probably one of the most disturbing human to witch transformations in cinematic history is that of Eva into The Grand High Witch. Eva allows all the witches to remove their disguises and reveal their true selves, which is a truly terrifying scene to behold. In addition to her grotesque appearance, The Grand High Witch can disintegrate a person by shooting laser-like beams out of her eyes. She continuously inspires fear in the hearts of her fellow witches, as well as audiences everywhere.
Did we forget any of your personal favorite cinematic witches? Let us know in the comments.