Over the years Hocus Pocus has become a cult classic with quite a few people watching it every Halloween. And—with a sequel right around the corner—there’s no better time to learn some fun facts about the original!
We love Halloween movies here at LifeSavvy and, on a personal note, I love trivia. So naturally, when a moment presents itself where we can combine a deep dive into the history of a beloved Halloween film with some fun trivia, we’re here for it. Below you’ll find 22 fun facts about Hocus Pocus that cover everything from stats about the box office sales to which actress’s dog had a cameo in the film.
It Wasn’t a Halloween Release
At this point the movie is a quintessential Halloween classic, popping up in top Halloween movie lists everywhere—including our own.
But for being an over-the-top campy Halloween movie the film wasn’t released at, or even near, Halloween. In fact, it was released on July 16, 1993 in the middle of summer. That’s not exactly the time of year people are sipping witch’s brew out of a cauldron mug.
Why release a spooky Halloween film when stores are running Christmas in July sales? Disney was hoping to cash in on kids being out of school for the summer while also avoiding creating artificial competition for their other big Halloween-themed film coming out that year.
The big Halloween film in question was another titan in the classic-Halloween-film space. The Nightmare Before Christmas hit the theaters a few days before Halloween in 1993 and Disney wanted the red carpet clear for audiences to dig into the Tim Burton masterpiece. Thus poor Hocus Pocus got the out-of-season summer treatment.
It Was Initially a Flop
Flop is such a harsh word when describing any film, let alone one that would go on to enjoy such fame and adoration. The truth hurts sometimes, though, and Hocus Pocus was definitely not a run-away success out of the gate.
The film budget was $24 million and the initial box office run for the film only pulled in $39.5 million so it managed to make it into the black, but not by much.
On top of it being a film with big fall-season vibes and a Halloween theme—which certainly didn’t help sell it during July—Hocus Pocus had to compete with hitting the theaters on the same day as Free Willy.
Not only was Free Willy a way more anticipated film, it was just a more natural fit for the kind of film you’d take your kids to see in the middle of summer. The box office sales reflected as much. Free Willy had a budget of $20 million and went on to net $153.6 million at the box office.
The Sanderson Sisters Were Originally the Stars
The Hocus Pocus film audiences got was one focused on the adventures of the Dennison children and how they get mixed up with centuries-old witches after lighting an old magical candle.
The original script and how the initial film was shot, however, was focused on the witches in question, the Sanderson sisters. This version was darker but Disney ultimately cut and edited the film to take on a lighter family-friendly tone.
That said, it might be a bit of a reach to say that the Sanderson sisters didn’t end up the stars of the film. Despite the great job done by their younger castmates, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy definitely stole the show.
The 25th Anniversary Release Has Deleted Footage
If thinking about how the film was cut and edited has you thinking about missing footage, you might be interested in checking out the 25th Anniversary edition of Hocus Pocus, released in 2018. The Bluray includes a bunch of bonus content including a pile of deleted scenes.
The Bluray also includes a neat feature where the deleted and alternate scenes can be imposed on the actual film so you see exactly where the footage would have appeared without wondering “So where exactly did this extra broomstick flight scene go?”
The Witches Fly Like They Drive
Speaking of broomstick flying, if you watch the way the various Sanderson Sisters fly in the film while riding their broomsticks, they all have a distinct “method” to broom-based-flight.
That wasn’t accidental. One of the film’s choreographers Peggy Holmes, in charge of the flight scenes, insisted on going driving with all of the women. She then, in turn, modeled their flight choreography based on how they drove a car, mirroring their quirks and approach to the road in how they handled their brooms.
We’re not sure how closely you recall the film, but we’re going to safely guess that Bette Middler is an assertive-bordering-on-aggressive driver if the choreography is true to life. Also, Sarah Jessica Parker loved the flying gear and would just stay in the harness between takes hanging out above the stage. It’s no wonder then that her flying style was a silly and lighthearted one focused on the joy of flying itself.
Kathy Najimy Rewatches It Yearly
In interviews, Sarah Jessica Parker has admitted she’d didn’t fully recall the movie or the plot (so I think it’s safe to say she hasn’t rewatched the film). Given the cutting and editing we mentioned earlier, we can forgive her for not recalling it clearly. Bette Midler considers it her favorite film among all her movies but doesn’t frequently rewatch it. Kathy Najimy, on the other hand, watches it every year with us like the best of fans.
She and her family sit down and watch it every year in August, reliving the fun between the July release date and the coming Halloween season. While we’re sure part of it is because she loves the film, we’re also pretty confident part of it is that Najmy is a self-professed Bette Midler superfan. Like an intense, sneak backstage to see her, superfan kinda fan. Who wouldn’t want to watch a movie where you got to live it up beside your singing and acting idol?
Director Kenny Ortega Is a Famous Choreographer
Hocus Pocus director Kenny Ortega is a well-known director in his own right but even better known for his choreography chops.
He’s done choreography direction for major musical stars including Cher, KISS, Gloria Estefan, and Michael Jackson. He’s also done the choreography for movie hits like Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Newsies, Hocus Pocus (naturally), To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and both choreographed and directed the first three High School Musical films.
Bette Midler Wasn’t the Only One Who Sang
Bette Midler, of course, sang her parts in Hocus Pocus. We don’t even want to imagine trying to sell Bette Midler on the idea of not singing her own parts—you don’t sing for Bette, Bette sings for you. What most viewers don’t realize, though, is that Sarah Jessica Parker also sang in the film too.
When the witches are flying over Salem, Parker sings, Pied Piper-like, the song “Come Little Children” to lead them away from their homes. Her singing a musical number shouldn’t be a surprise for fans of the actress, though. She was trained in singing and ballet as a child and many of her early theater and film roles involved such talents.
Sarah Jessica Parker Is Related to a Salem Witch
Although she didn’t know it at the time of filming, Sarah Jessica Parker is a distant descendant of a woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.
She’s the 10th great-granddaughter of Esther Elwell. Esther was accused of witchcraft in 1692. Fortunately for Mrs. Elwell, by the time she was detained the witch trials had gotten so out of control that the mob was even trying to drag in the governor’s wife for witchcraft. She was released and went on to live well into her 80s—a very respectable old age for a 17th-century American colonist.
Sarah Jessica Parker didn’t find this out, however, until nearly twenty years after filming Hocus Pocus. In 2010, She was a guest star on the premiere of NBC’s genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? where experts showed her how far back they had traced her lineage.
Some Famous Names Turned Down Roles
In a different timeline, there are some different famous faces in Hocus Pocus. In the version we know, the role of Max Dennison is played by Omri Katz and Mary Sanderson is played by Kathy Najimy—both seen above. Roles, we might add, they completely nailed. We certainly can’t imagine Mary in any other way than how she was portrayed by Najimy.
But in an alternative casting, we’d have Leonardo DiCaprio as Max and Rosie O’Donnell as Mary. Both turned down the offered roles, however. O’Donnell turned down the role because she didn’t want to play a witch and DiCaprio turned down the role because he was holding out for a chance to audition in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. That was quite a gamble on his part, but it paid off handsomely—DiCaprio got the part and went on to get an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Arnold “Arnie” Grape.
And while we’re talking about casting what-ifs, there’s another to add to the pile. Jennifer Lopez auditioned for the role of Sarah Sanderson—which instead went to Sarah Jessica Parker. Given what a natural fit Parker was for the role it’s even more difficult to imagine Lopez portraying the ditzy Sanderson sister.
A Variety of Old Disney Costumes Appears in the Film
The filming budget for Hocus Pocus was pretty tight and one area where it shows—if you’re looking—is the town’s Halloween party.
Most of the time recycling costumes from other movies wouldn’t fly. You can’t exactly drop a bunch of people dressed as space marines into a movie about a bank heist, after all, but when your film is set at Halloween it’s a bit more flexible. In the party scene there are costumes from other Disney films including Tron, Treasure Island, The Sword and the Rose, and even, as a fun easter egg, costumes from Bette Midler’s film Gypsy.
If you’re curious where the Madonna costume came from—worn by Stephanie Faracy playing mom Jenny Dennison—that one was handmade by costume designer Mary Vogt to give it a homemade costume vibe.
The Fountain Appeared in the Friends Intro
When it comes to movie details there are sharp-eyed viewers and then there are unbelievably sharp-eyed viewers. This little detail comes to us courtesy of those unbelievably sharp-eyed movie fans out there: the fountain in Hocus Pocus is the same fountain in the opening of the show Friends.
While fans of the show Friends might be under the impression that the iconic fountain from the opening scene is located in New York City, it’s not. The fountain is actually located at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California. As such it has appeared in a wide variety of movies and films over the years dating all the way back to the 1960s.
If you’re looking for a very similar fountain that’s actually in New York City, however, do pop over to Cherry Hill Fountain in Central Park. It’s not the one from Friends but it looks pretty close and it’s actually in the city!
One of the Houses Is Movie Frequent Flyer
Just like the fountain is part of a Hollywood movie lot, quite a bit of the rest of the film is too. When Max stops to talk to the cat Binx outside a home with a wrought iron fence and blue shutters, that’s none other than the house from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
As a fun little coincidence, the actress that played Dani Dennison (Thora Birch) revisited the same house later in her career. That very same house that the kids stop in front of after escaping from the witches and where Max talks to the cat, is the same house where her character in the film American Beauty lives.
But that’s hardly the only places you’ll find this particular Warner Bros. backlot home. The street it sits on is a fictional street called “Blondie Street” and features a number of homes that have appeared in everything from old TV shows like I Dream of Jennie and The Donna Reed Show, to modern titles. In fact, if you look very closely at the shutters and chimney while watching the Marvel show WandaVision you’ll notice that Wanda and Vision live in the same house as Clark Griswold.
Some Of It Was Actually Filmed in Salem
While the bulk of the filming occurred on sound stages and movie lots in California, you might be interested to learn that a significant amount of the outdoor footage was shot on location in none other than Salem, MA.
For a few weeks, the cast packed up and headed east, filming in the real town the story takes place in. The scenes from the 1600s depicting the history that lead up to the trouble the modern kids find themselves in? Those were shot in Pioneer Village, a historical site in Salem—seen above left. In addition to the very authentic historical cottages, many other local buildings made appearances in the film.
The high school in the film Jacob Bailey High was actually Philips Elementary School. The adorable little 1870s Victorian home the Dennison family lived in is on Ocean Avenue in Salem. The Halloween party in the film takes place in the “Old Town Hall” which is actually the Salem Museum on Derby Square. And finally, the beautiful white house that belongs to Allison’s family in the film—seen above right—is actually the Ropes Mansion in Salem’s McIntyre Historic District.
Bette Midler Turning to Stone Was Practical Effects
While the film included a lot of digital effects (we assure you that green glowing smoke did not come pouring out of an actual elementary school in Salem) it also had a lot of good old fashion practical effects to carry the film.
Among the more interesting practical effects were those used to turn Bette Middler’s character Winifred Sanderson to stone at the end of the film. Rather than rely on CGI (which would have looked hokey) or actually painting Midler up to look like stone (which probably would have looked even hokier yet), the special effects team had seven different statues made. The statues created the progression from living Midler to stone-cold-statue Midler and were swapped out during the scene to create the effect.
Thackery Binx Was Voiced by a Different Actor
In the film, Thackery Binx is a young man living in the 17th century who is turned into a cat as punishment for insulting the lead Sanderson sister, Winifred.
Curiously, the human form for the role is portrayed by actor Sean Murray (who you might know, in the present, as an actor from NCIS). But the voice of the role, both in human and cat form, is provided by Jason Marsden. While you may know Marsden from various sitcom roles in the 1990s, you most likely know him—without realizing you do—from his extensive voice acting resume which includes, most famously, voicing Max Goof, the animated son of Goofy, since 1995.
But why one actor for the physical role and one for the voice? The production team felt Murray’s voice was simply too modern-sounding and viewers wouldn’t believe it was the voice of a 17th-century boy-turned-cat.
Binx Was Played by 9 Cats (And a Robot)
The portrayal of Binx in his cat form might have been one of the most complex things about filming Hocus Pocus as it involved not one but nine live cats and an animatronic robot to boot.
Why nine cats? While we’d love to believe that the use of nine cats, specifically, was a delightful little Easter egg for only the most super-of-super fans to find, the use of multiple cats has a rather practical reason. Cats are finicky animals to use in filming and teaching one cat every single trick you might use in a movie is a gamble because if anything goes wrong with the one cat you’re just out of luck. Instead, the animal handlers will train multiple cats to do different tasks and tricks.
Then, for scenes that it would be difficult to safely film with a real cat or where you need the cat to make certain expressions or “talk” on demand, you bring in an animatronic cat to get the job done. As a fun bit of bonus trivia, the animatronic version of Binx also appears in Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
The Kids Disliked the Multi-Cat Routine
While the kids in the film didn’t dislike the cats in general, they weren’t huge of the multi-cat approach to filming all the scenes with feline Thackery Binx.
Every time filming shifted and a new cat was brought in for a new scene or a particular trick, all the children involved in that particular scene had to essentially become “friends” with the new cat through the use of treats, clicker training, and other techniques.
After a while, the novelty of buddying up to yet another cat to get the scene just right wore off and the kids were pretty sick of winning over Binx #7 or whoever was the cat of the day.
The Black Cat Inspired Everything
Boy, we sure have talked a lot about Binx the black cat huh? Well, he’s kind of a big deal. A really, really, big deal. Sure he’s an important character in the film, but the real reason the black cat is such a huge deal is that a black cat inspired the entire movie.
Film writer David Kirshner, a natural storyteller, loved to regale his daughter with fresh and interesting stories. Inspired by a black cat in their neighborhood one evening, he told her a bedtime story about a boy who was turned into a black cat as a punishment for angering a witch. His daughter loved the story and Kirshner refined it into the script of Hocus Pocus.
The Devil’s Dog Was Actually Kathy Najimy’s
We really can’t lavish so much attention on the cat without at least giving every dog his day, so to speak.
There’s a scene in the film where the Sanderson Sisters meet a man dressed up for Halloween as The Devil. They, humorously, take him to be the literal Devil and are entranced by the opportunity to meet “Master.” The Devil’s dog, Ralph, was actually Kathy Najima’s real-life dog, tucked into the scene as a fun little Easter egg.
The Devil and His Wife Are Famous
Speaking of The Devil and his wife (who ultimately throws the Sanderson sisters out of the house) the duo are actually famous in their own right and real-life brother and sister.
Kids these days might not recognize the more iconic member of the pair, but old-timers will. The Devil’s cranky smoking wife is played by none other than Penny Marshall, best known for her role as Laverne DeFazio in the popular sitcom Laverne & Shirley.
Garry Marshall, her real-life brother, while not recognize-him-on-the-street famous, was a well-known director, producer, writer, and often appeared in random small roles in films he worked on.
While he didn’t work on Hocus Pocus he did have a special in to secure a cameo. He directed Bette Midler previously in the film Beaches and she and Penny were friends.
There’s a Hocus Pocus Sequel Coming
Finally, we saved the best for last. For years there have been rumors about a Hocus Pocus sequel with rumor after rumor getting shot down. But now there’s a proper sequel in the works! No, really, we promise!
In December of 2020, Disney confirmed that Hocus Pocus 2 was on and would be coming to Disney+ sometime in the fall of 2022.
Filming is currently underway in Rhode Island and the film will, thankfully, include reprised roles by Midler, Parker, and Najimy. No word, at the moment, on whether or not any of the other members of the original cast are reprising roles in any capacity or making cameo appearances.
So there you have it! Twenty things we hope you didn’t know about Hocus Pocus and can now amaze, delight, and perhaps annoy, your friends and family with! And if all this talk about the film has you in a Hocus Pocus mood, you can watch it tonight on Disney+.