This Halloween season, we’re taking a look at some of the most gruesome depictions of female power in popular culture, from TV, film, and real life.
When it comes to horror films, you’ve seen a plethora of creatures from the nightmarish realms of werewolves, vampires, zombies and serial murderers. Aren’t the witches of film finally getting the recognition they deserve? In a fantastic witch movie, a character who defies society’s expectations is the driving force behind the story. What makes witch movies so interesting as a collection, however, is the wide range of tones and messages they convey. Hocus Pocus or Black Sunday? There’s a pointy hat and broomstick out there for you.
Vulture has compiled a list of the finest 15 witch movies ever created, which you can see below. While “Top That” from Teen Witch didn’t quite make the criteria, it’s still the best-worst magical rap song in movie history. These films, like witches, defy easy categorization. From horror to comedy, there’s something for everyone in this collection. All of them, though, are odd, startling, and perhaps even hazardous. Is that something you’d like to do?
1. Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
Basically the antithesis of Vertigo, which came out six months earlier, this Kim Novak–Jimmy Stewart rom-com has a witch in New York casting a love spell on her neighbor to save him from marrying her obnoxious college foe. It all goes horribly wrong when she falls head over broomsticks in love with the boy, despite the fact that witches who fall in love lose their magic. I Married a Witch and Bell, Book, and Candle helped inspire the television show Bewitched. A bongo-playing warlock’s performance by Jack Lemmon alone justifies a viewing.
2. Black Sunday (1960)
Mario Bava’s seminal masterwork was widely censored after its release—and outright banned in the United Kingdom—into austere yet magnificent black and white. Witches, coffins, and gore abound as a long-dead executioner emerges from the grave in a gruesome visual feast. Still, even today, the images are so powerful that they’re almost stomach-churning. The queasy will not enjoy this film: As part of the opening scenario, Barbara Steele’s head is hammered with a spiked mask, and scorpions begin to creep out of her horrific, semi-preserved face.
3. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
An early pioneer of the found-footage subgenre, this film follows three filmmakers as they become disoriented in the Black Hills Forest while searching for a peculiar old woman supposed to live there. Basically, things don’t work out well for them. With a viral marketing campaign that implied that the performers were genuinely missing and presumed dead, Blair Witch became a global sensation However, despite the film’s numerous parodies and overexposure to pop culture, it remains terrifying. As a result, you may want to avoid reading the sequels, and the residents of Burkittsville, Maryland, would really appreciate it if you did not visit them.
4. The Craft (1996)
To help her with her essay on The Crucible, hand her a copy of The Craft. She’ll thank you for it in the long run. In addition to its dark brand of girl power, this 1990s horror film about a coven of high school outcasts holds up rather well. “The ceremonies to Manon” conducted by the girls, as well as the film’s severe subjects like death and rape, are what I mean by “black.” Make no mistake, this is Fairuza Balk’s film. The insane Nancy, for whom I would gladly spend a little fortune at Hot Topic, even if it meant she would try to kill me, is all blue eyes and a snarl.
5. Eve’s Bayou (1997)
Set in the 1960s in Louisiana, Kasi Lemmons’ beautiful southern gothic film explores themes of familial ties and spirituality as well as sexuality. It’s the year 2000 and Eve (Jurnee Smollett), ten, is witness to the adulterous behavior of her philandering doctor father (Samuel L Jackson). To avenge an act of drunken aggression, Eve seeks out Diahann Carroll (who plays Eve’s aunt) who is an expert in the practice of voodoo.
6. Hocus Pocus (1993)
More than a decade after its release, Hocus Pocus has cemented itself as a cult classic, dominating Halloween radios the way A Christmas Story does in December. To put it another way, it’s the perfect Halloween movie and a must-see for any aspiring young witch. Three sisters, played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, return to Salem, Massachusetts, to terrorize the town’s children on Halloween night. Along with Thora Birch, an 11 year-old girl who has been cursed by witches, a zombie, and one of the best covers of “I Put a Spell on You,” the cast includes a centuries-old talking cat that contains the soul of the boy.
7. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Studio Ghibli, the famed Japanese animation powerhouse known for creating fantastical worlds populated by fearless young adventurers like Hayao Miyazaki, debuted with this Hayao Miyazaki animated masterpiece (particularly girls). Kiki, a witch at the age of 13, embarks on a delivery business on her broomstick after leaving home with her “familiar spirit” black cat in this family-friendly fantasy film. Kiki’s Delivery Service is more than just a fairy tale about a young woman coming of age and learning to fend for herself in the world. Witches: They’re not that different from the rest of us, after all!
8. The Love Witch (2016)
To escape the investigation into her husband’s strange death in San Francisco, she moves to a gothic mansion adorned like her beloved tarot card deck. It is only when a murder interrupts the seduction that she takes a step back and considers what she has accomplished. For Anna Biller, who wrote and directed as well as produced and edited The Love Witch, it was a labor of love to create a ’60s-exploitation movie turned feminist parody that was heavy on retro glamour and sensuality.
9. Practical Magic (1998)
Think about how fortunate we are as a species to have a film in which Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play two outlandish, modern-day witch sisters. Practical Magic is truly a blessing from above. Gillian (Kidman) is a free-spirited free-spirited free spirit, whereas Sally (Bullock) is a guarded yet forceful mother. It is here that the two ladies leave after killing Gillian’s abusive lover Jimmy (who happens to be a serial killer because, well, why not?). A attractive police officer (Aidan Quinn) and Jimmy’s vengeful spirit soon arrive at their house. Sally and Gillian’s hilarious, blender-enchanting aunts Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest steal the show in a couple of key moments!
10. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Despite the fact that this is the only picture in the Criterion Collection on our list that is based on an Ira Levin novel, it doesn’t detract from the film’s visceral impact. Since then, the threshold for bad neighbors has been lifted to unprecedented heights. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is raped and impregnated by Satan himself when a group of Devil-worshiping ghouls, led by her husband, take over an Upper West Side apartment building. When it comes to taking prenatal “vitamin cocktails” from the frightening lady down the hall (played by Ruth Gordon, in an Oscar-winning performance), four out of five obstetricians recommend against it. A half-century after its release, Rosemary’s Baby’s legacy is stronger than ever: Jordan Peele identified Rosemary’s Baby as an inspiration for Get Out, while SZA sampled Rosemary’s dialogue on her EP S.
11. Suspiria (1977)
Suspiria tells the story of a young American lady who comes to Germany to study ballet at a prestigious school, only to learn that the school is actually a demonic coven. In any case, this is one of the most gorgeous movies that you’ll ever see, therefore the plot doesn’t matter. Dario Argento’s gorgeous Technicolor fever dream is combined with an equally classic prog-rock soundtrack by Goblin. I think you’ll want to see this one soon: Tilda Swinton, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Dakota Johnson star in Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming version of Call Me by Your Name.
12. The Witch (2016)
Slow-burning and heart-stopping, this A24 masterpiece is a must-see. Following the strange kidnapping of their daughter’s baby sibling, a family of religious exiles in 17th-century New England becomes suspicious of their adolescent daughter. Evil lurking in the dark woods or the dread and distrust that engulfs the isolated farmstead in The Witch is hard to pin down. Tell Black Phillip to say hello for us if you see him.
13. The Witches (1990)
Even for a family movie, “The Witches,” based on a Roald Dahl novel, is far more frightening than the ordinary fare. To children, it implies that any lady could be a witch, plotting your demise at any given moment. He discovers a gathering of child-hating witches who hide their hideous claws and bald heads under disguised wigs and gloves, the product of Jim Henson and his Creature Shop. The Grand High Witch, played by Anjelica Huston, has an unmistakably European accent and, as a result, is unquestionably malevolent.
14. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Susan Sarandon (!) and Cher (!!!) bond over their visions of a dream man only for him to materialize as enigmatic, appealingly evil Daryl Van Horne to the trio of best friends they’ve ever had (Jack Nicholson). It’s a familiar tale: A boy meets a girl, seduces her, then meets and seduces two other girls, and all three realize they’ve been witches all along. As Racked recently pointed out, the film’s visuals are spot on.
15. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
For good reason, this is the obvious choice. It is hard to think of a more recognizable cinematic witch than Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West, a part that afflicted her with second- and third-degree burns and required her to wear deadly copper oxide green makeup. Even in the midst of all that pain, Hamilton (who, by the way, was over two decades younger than Billie Burke, a.k.a. Glinda the Good Witch) made being wicked appear like a lot of fun. Because of this, we nearly didn’t get to see this vision of evil at all. Despite being a minor character in L. Frank Baum’s stories, the Wicked Witch of the West does not have a broom and is not green. Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as a Snow White’s Evil Queen-style figure, clothed in black sequins with artificial lashes longer than the Yellow Brick Road in the film version of the character. For Halloween, youngsters dress up as witches in honor of Hamilton’s artfully repulsive freak, who is exactly what we think of when we think of a witch. Wicked is a terrific show, but the Wicked Witch doesn’t need any rewriting of history to have you root for her. Glinda says, “Only bad witches are ugly,” but we argue that good witches are as boring as hell.