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Data show “Hocus Pocus” is the “All I Want for Christmas Is You” of Halloween

A witch riding a broom.
Reuters/Mike Blake
A virgin lit the candle.
  • Dan Kopf
By Dan Kopf

Data editor


These days, the 1993 Disney movie Hocus Pocus is beloved by many as a Halloween cult classic. But the film, starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as three witches who come back from the dead, only started enchanting viewers after experiencing its own kind of resurrection.

The year of its release, Hocus Pocus made a disappointing $40 million at the box office. It was also derided by critics. Roger Ebert gave it one star, while the New York Times’ Janet Maslin called it “an unholy mess.”

But over time, the movie began to cast a spell on audiences. It made over $800,000 in DVD sales in 2009, peaking at number 18 in the sales rankings during the holiday season. Still, it languished behind other Halloween favorites like Edward ScissorhandsCorpse Bride, and The Wizard of Oz.

It was in the 2010s when the Sanderson sisters truly began to thrive in popular culture, as if rejuvenated by sucking the souls from small children. Throughout the decade, the movie crept up the sales rankings, until October 2017, when it finally hit number one. The movie now regularly makes over $4 million in sales from DVD and Blu-ray sales annually, and garnered over $10 million in 2018, when a 25th anniversary edition of the movie was released.

This year, Hocus Pocus was rereleased in theaters, and has already made almost $4 million. It was the second highest grossing movie in the US the weekend of October 2-4, after the blockbuster Tenet. There are now even plans for a sequel, though it’s unclear when it will be released.

All this makes Hocus Pocus a holiday phenomenon like no other. Well… actually, maybe like one other.

Mariah Carey’s megahit “All I Want for Christmas is You,” released in 1994, rose from an unexceptional part of the Christmas music canon in the 2000s to cultural ubiquity today. Just like Hocus Pocus, no one could have seen its popularity coming at the start of the millennium.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Hocus Pocus and “All I Want for Christmas Is You” came out within one year of each other. TV critic Jen Chaney attributes the success of Hocus Pocus today to 1990s nostalgia. People who saw Hocus Pocus as children are now in their 30s and have their own children, to whom they expose the kitschy movie in turn.

Having watched the movie for the first time recently, I find nostalgia the only plausible explanation, as I have to agree with the critics that it’s not particularly charming on initial watch. I did think Bette Midler was spectacular as Winnie, though. Perhaps I will also find myself bewitched by Hocus Pocus in future screenings.

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