It’s time to brace ourselves for Halloween everything. Between sewing costumes and planning parties and decorating the crap out our homes, who doesn’t love to watch a classic Halloween-themed movie to get into the spirit? Hocus Pocus is that movie for a lot of Halloween fanatics.
This 1993 classic from director Kenny Ortega was the perfect combination of hilarious, campy, and spooky. What else can you expect when you put Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy together? The film has become a cult classic film and airs on Halloween on The Disney Channel every year.
There are a ton of facts about this movie that even the most hardcore Hocus Pocus fans don’t know, from original casting and live insects to box office blues. We put together fifteen of the most interesting and surprising ones for Hocus Pocus.
Check out these 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Hocus Pocus.
15. Leonardo DiCaprio and Rosie O’Donnell turned down roles for the film
Leonardo DiCaprio was originally offered the part of Max Dennison, the goofy teen lead who inadvertently awakens the Sanderson sisters. DiCaprio, who was at the tender age of nineteen (but babyfaced, as we all remember) at the time, ended up turning it down to star in the famous iconic drama What’s Eating Gilbert Grape with Johnny Depp. It worked out for him– he got his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Rosie O’Donnell was another could-have-been Hocus Pocus star. She was offered the role of Mary Sanderson, the goofball Sanderson sister. O’Donnell turned the role down because she was worried that playing a scary witch who murders children would harm her image and pigeonhole her into similar roles. The role ended up going to the talented Kathy Najimy instead, and Rosie O’Donnell didn’t miss out on much– she went on to play Becky in Sleepless in Seattle that same year, on top of several other film roles.
14. Hocus Pocus is Bette Midler’s favorite film
In 2008, Bette Midler was interviewed by the BBC. She claimed that Hocus Pocus, out of all her famous roles, including the television show about her life called Bette, was handsdown her favorite movie and Winifred Sanderson was her favorite role. For a movie to be in one’s portfolio for over twenty years, it’s pretty cool that Bette still loves Hocus Pocus above all her other work.
In an interview with E! News, Bette Midler talked about why she considers the Halloween movie to be her favorite. “I love it,” said Midler, “We made it before the tidal wave of Halloween happened. Now it’s like huge. It’s huge—kids, grown-ups, everyone takes part in it. This movie was kind of like the beginning of the wave. We laughed the whole time, and we flew! We flew! And we got to wear like crazy noses and fake teeth and all those sorts of things.“
13. It was supposed to be a Disney Channel Original Movie
Our glorious Hocus Pocus nearly got shoved into the Disney Channel Original Movie vault.
Because it was so cool (and Disney had the funding to back it up) the film ended up becoming an actual feature film. A few bigger studio heads at Disney read the screenplay and decided that Hocus Pocus had a chance to become something really big. And they were right, at least after the initial box office burn.
The change from TV movie to feature film might have also had something to do with the fact that the makeup used in the film was deemed too frightening by Disney, especially for a Disney Channel flick. Regardless, makeup artist Tony Gardner claimed that they ended up toning the makeup down anyway for the final product.
12. Billy coughed real moths
The things great artists and actors do for artistic integrity. There aren’t a lot of famous actors out there that are willing to do their own stunts, let alone keep live moths sealed in their mouths for a scene.
Actor Doug Jones, the not-so-dead face behind reanimated corpse Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus, spoke at a panel for the 20th anniversary of Hocus Pocus at Walt Disney Studios in Los Angeles a few years back. During the panel, Jones claimed that the moths you see flying out of his mouth in the scene where he comes back to life and cuts his mouth stitches open were 100% real, powdery, gross moths. Special effects makeup artists used a dental dam (yes, that’s an oral condom) to keep the fluttery bugs from going down Jones’ throat and becoming too moist to fly out.
“They had a trainer on set with little tweezers to put them on my tongue,” said Jones at the panel. Gross.
11. It wasn’t released on Halloween or even in October
Since Hocus Pocus is an iconic Halloween film, you’d think it would have burst into theaters in October. However, Hocus Pocus was released on July 16th, 1993. The weird release date was one of several reasons why the film did poorly commercially at the time. Really, a Halloween movie in the summer? Not a lot of people were interested or in the Halloween spirit right after Independence Day.
Producers probably did this in order to avoid the hefty 1993 Halloween-time releases that they were competing with, including The Nightmare Before Christmas (another massively famous Halloween and Christmas film) and Addams Family Values. Like Hocus Pocus, both of these movies didn’t do great at their releases but did eventually become cult ’90s classics that are still loved to this day.
10. Sarah Jessica Parker’s witchy ancestor
Sarah Jessica Parker, who is known for her role as columnist Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City and as Sarah Sanderson in Hocus Pocus, is a lot more similar to her witchy character than you’d think.
The TLC show Who Do You Think You Are? helps celebrities explore their ancestral past. Parker was on the show and found out a lot of cool stuff about her predecessors. One of the crazier discoveries was the fact that her tenth great grandmother Esther Elwell was an accused witch during the infamous Salem Witch Trials. During the 17th century sweep of mass hysteria, ordinary women were condemned and killed for being “witches”. A young girl had claimed Esther was accompanied by “three spectres”. Luckily for Parker’s ancestor, the allegations were one of the rare ones that were dismissed and Esther didn’t have to go to trial.
9. It started out as a bedtime story
That’s quite a freaky bedtime story.
David Kirschner is an American film producer behind great cheesy cult classic gems including the Chucky movies and the adventure animated film An American Tail. Kirschner was one of the producers of Hocus Pocus and actually came up with the film’s plot when he wrote a bedtime story for his own kids. He talked about it at the 20th-anniversary screening of the film in Los Angeles a few years ago.
He’d originally submitted the idea to Muppets Magazine. People really liked what they read, and that lead to what is now known as the spooky fun film Hocus Pocus.
Kirschner was clearly passionate about the idea of Hocus Pocus becoming a movie. He and other filmmakers pitched the story to Disney executives by decorating the conference room with broomsticks, a vacuum cleaner, and fifteen pounds of candy. The broomsticks and vacuum were hung from the ceiling. How could an executive say no to that?
8. Hocus Pocus did terribly when it was first released
That’s just unfair. It may not be an Academy Award-winning film, but it was the pinnacle of nineties campy fun.
Due to that lame release date and poor reviews, Hocus Pocus didn’t initially do that well at the box office. Famous critic Roger Ebert notoriously ripped the film apart: “Hocus Pocus is a film desperately in need of self-discipline. It’s one of those projects where you imagine everyone laughing and applauding each other after every scene, because they’re so convinced they’re wild and crazy guys. But watching the movie is like attending a party you weren’t invited to, and where you don’t know anybody, and they’re all in on a joke but won’t explain it to you.” Ouch.
It all worked out in the end, though. Through the last twenty years, Hocus Pocus has pulled in strong DVD sales, record-breaking showings on television around Halloween, and has become an iconic cult film. There have been books written about the film and a live Magic Kingdom performance as well.
7. You’ve probably seen Billy Bones more than you think
American actor (and former contortionist) Doug Jones is the man behind the sorta-zombie Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus. However, this talented guy has been in a lot of other films, specifically in the science fiction and horror genres. You probably wouldn’t recognize him since he is often wearing heavy special effects makeup for a lot of his roles.
Jones played the fish-like Abe Sapien in the supernatural film Hellboy and its sequel. He plays the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, too. Yep, the eyeball-hands guy that scared the crap out of us. He also played the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, one of the Gentlemen from Buffy, and an alien in Falling Skies.
Another little Doug Jones fact: When Billy is reanimated and calls Winifred a “wench”, the line was initially supposed to be “bitch”. Jones thought it was too much and changed the line. It was Disney, after all. Jones also wrote the subsequent monologue in that scene himself.
6. Binx is played by nine different cats
Let’s be honest– cats aren’t the greatest actors.
The talking cat Thackery Binx is one of the most iconic ’90s cats ever, on par with Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. There was no single cat actor behind Binx– in fact, about nine different black cats were used to play the famous boy-turned-cat.
At the 20th-anniversary panel for Hocus Pocus a few years ago, Kenny Ortega revealed that nine cats (it’s even rumored that dozens of cats were actually used) were used to play Binx for their various abilities and qualities. Some of the cats were good at jumping on command, others could stay still pretty well, and others were good at moving their paws on command. Obviously, an audio-animatronic cat was used for certain key parts, but no one cat was good at doing all the things that Binx needed to do. The actors on set reportedly hated working with the cats too– it would take forever to get one cat to warm up to them and work well with them, and they were quickly replaced with another cat to deal with all over again.
5. The songwriter behind “Come Little Children” wrote “My Heart Will Go On”
James Horner was a famous American composer, conductor, and film score orchestrator. He did the scores for a ton of ’80s and ’90s classics from Titanic to Aliens. He also wrote “Come Little Children” for Hocus Pocus and the classic “My Heart Will Go On” along with Will Jennings for Celine Dion. Horner won an Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy for that song, making it his most successful and popular song ever. “Come Little Children” is a close second.
You can hear the similarities between the songs– James Horner had an affinity for almost-Celtic sounds and that translated well into the famous “Come Little Children”, which is sung by Sarah Jessica Parker in the film.
Unfortunately, Horner passed away in an airplane crash in 2015. We may never get to hear new music scores and songs from the brilliant composer, but at least we can enjoy his legacy by listening to “Came Little Children” and “My Heart Will Go On” for years to come.
4. Jason Marsden and Omri Katz were in Eerie, Indiana and are also BFFs
Omri Katz is the actor who played Max Dennison, the teen who accidentally resurrects the Sanderson witches. Jason Marsden was the voice behind Thackery Binx’s cat form.
The two previously worked together in the supernatural kids show Eerie, Indiana. Omri Katz played our favorite Weirdness Investigator, Marshall Teller, in Eerie, Indiana and Jason Marsden played the mysterious grey-haired boy, Dash X. If you’ve never seen this classic nineties show, you should. The weirdness factor and unsettling atmosphere make the show more like Twin Peaks than Goosebumps. It definitely didn’t feel like a kid’s show.
Katz and Marsden are also still close friends to this day.
Another fact: Originally, the babyfaced actor who plays the human version of Thackery Binx, Sean Murray, auditioned for Jason Marsden’s position as the voice behind the cat. However, his voice was apparently too modern and the filmmakers decided to dub his voice over with Marsden’s.
3. The house from Hocus Pocus is the same house from American Beauty
Remember the part in Hocus Pocus where the gang is celebrating their victory in defeating the Sanderson sisters after shoving them into the pottery kiln? Right after, they are seen walking past a house on their way to a park. If you’re a big American Beauty fan, you’ll probably recognize the house behind them right away– it’s the same house used in the 1999 American drama film starring Kevin Spacey.
Thora Birch played little Dani Dennison in Hocus Pocus as well as the troubled insecure Jane in American Beauty. Talk about two totally different characters. Dani is an enthusiastic little kid and a lover of trick-or-treating, while Jane is an unhappy parent-loathing teen with a creepy dad that’s in love with her underage best friend. Luckily for Birch, American Beauty was the film that made her famous and she went on to play the lead role of Enid in Ghost World and other indie gems.
2. There were seven statues made for Winifred’s death scene
This may seem a bit excessive, but it’s true. There were seven statues made of Bette Midler’s character Winifred Sanderson for the scene in which she explodes in the sunlight at the end of the movie. Why there needed to be seven of those statues, nobody knows.
One of the famous statues, along with the famous fleshy spell book, is located at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Orlando, Florida.
That’s not the only little-known Winifred/Bette Midler fact within the context of Hocus Pocus. While filming, Midler had two people follow her around with dictionaries of old curse words. Also, in the scene where Midler takes to stage to sing Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell On You”, she opens with “Hello, Salem! My Name’s Winifred. What’s yours?” That line is a reference to Mama Rose from the musical Gypsy, a role that Midler played for a TV adaptation of the play.
1. Roxette’s Hocus Pocus Theme Song is in the Super Mario Bros. movie
Roxette is the Swedish music group who created the song “Almost Unreal“, a synthy banger with a lot of references to Hocus Pocus. The song was, of course, written and recorded for the film Hocus Pocus, but the studio and filmmakers behind Hocus Pocus decided not to use the song. Since Disney owned the song by Roxette, they decided to pair it with an unlikely movie– Super Mario Bros. Yes, the 1993 one that’s hailed as one of the worst movie ever made. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, considered how often “hocus pocus” is used throughout the song.
Per Gessle, one half of Roxette and the writer of the song, was reported pretty mad about the switch. Neither member of the band was especially happy with the song at all, either. In the booklet for the 2006 release A Collection of Roxette Hits: Their 20 Greatest Songs!, Marie Fredriksson said of the song, “Not one of our most inspired moments.”
Will you be watching Hocus Pocus this Halloween or do you have another movie tradition? Let us know in the comments!