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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

‘Hocus Pocus’: Cult Classic Yet Box-Office Flop

Drew Struzan/Disney

October is a hectic month for everyone, but there is one thing that makes it all better. WIS students, in particular, undergo much stress as they approach countless tests, exams, and projects crammed in before the release of progress reports. Thankfully, it’s not just a month of schoolwork. The days leading up to October 31st are filled with last-minute costume purchases, candy hauls and rewatching everyone’s favorite Halloween movies, such as the ever so popular Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus is a Disney feature film about witch sisters Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) Sanderson. The trio is brought back to life three hundred years after dying in the 1693 Salem Witch Trials when sixteen-year-old Max Dennison (Omri Katz) lights a magic candle in an effort to impress his crush, Allison (Vinessa Shaw). It’s up to Max, his little sister Dani (Thora Birch), Allison, and a talking cat named Binx (Sean Murray) to stop the witches from sucking the souls of the children of Salem.

You’ve likely heard Hocus Pocus described as a cult classic. According to The Free Dictionary, cult films are movies that have acquired a “passionate fan base”, although often “lacking critical acclaim, box office success, and/or mainstream interest”. Hocus Pocus easily fits this description, as it was a definitive box-office flop. Critics detested it, and their harsh reviews weren’t utterly wrong. 

Hocus Pocus is a flawed movie, with countless plot holes, questionable moments, and an undefined audience. The references made throughout the film, for example the constant allusions to virginity, make it slightly inappropriate for young children, while the cheesy jokes give off a “kiddy” vibe, repelling teens. Movie critic Roger Ebert rated it one star, describing that “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.” The overall Rotten Tomatoes critics’ consensus (along with a shocking 33 percent approval) was that it was “never much more than mediocre” and “fail[ed] to live up to the talents of its impressive cast.” 

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Besides the scathing reviews, there were other factors that caused this now beloved family film to flop. One of these is that it was released on July 16, 1993, so that it wouldn’t compete with The Nightmare Before Christmas (another Halloween themed Disney film), which was set to be released mid-October of that year. Unfortunately, due to its unusual release date, as well as the aforementioned lackluster reviews, it ultimately lost Walt Disney Pictures approximately $16.5 million. Nevertheless, 25 years later, Hocus Pocus remains relevant in society and continues to generate profit for Disney. How exactly did it become so prominent?

This spike in popularity is most likely due to Disney reruns. Throughout the late 1990s, Disney Channel would air the film leading up to Halloween. When the company purchased the Fox Family Channel in 2002 (now ABC Family), they began showing Hocus Pocus during the 13 Nights of Halloween, a seasonal programming block. These reruns created a whole new generation of millennials who grew up watching the film and associating the movie with Halloween. Hocus Pocus became a classic that would be rewatched annually due to adults’ nostalgia for the Halloweens of their childhoods. Nonetheless, every other film aired through the program did not gain the cult classic status that Hocus Pocus did, something surprising as this family-favorite film is far from being a masterpiece. Hocus Pocus’ ability to remain a beloved classic shows that its positive points outweigh its flaws. 

Andrew Lapin, another film critic, aptly described why the film has such sentimental value. He feels that it hits upon “this nostalgic sweet spot for a lot of people” and is “perched right on this edge of being creepy and spooky, but also fun and inviting.” Lapin added that films you watch at a young age can leave a positive impression on you, as you care less about movie quality as a kid. You “sort of carry that nostalgia with you as you get older,” Lapin said. This reasoning explains why Hocus Pocus reruns on children’s TV channels caused it to rise to such prominence.

This strong nostalgic sentiment has prompted Disney to continue milking the film over twenty-five years after its release. A sequel was recently announced to be in the works, which will be streamed on Disney+, the company’s new streaming service. Evidently, Hocus Pocus’ presence in modern culture isn’t vanishing anytime soon.

By Maia Nehme

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