Every generation gets the witches that they deserve, but the ’90s was a very special time for the witch (teen and otherwise) in pop culture. It was a time when even seamy little b-movies aimed at teens had a bunch of women talking to each other and accessing an ancient source of power. It was pretty cool! Now that the wheels of nostalgia have turned so that the ’90s is fair game, we’re separating the wheat from the chaff in your misty, rose-colored memories of pop culture witches.
Charmed (1998 – 2006)
Even in your memories, this piece of vintage WB cheese is not that good. And when it comes on in endless repeats, it’s still not really that watchable. But it lasted for a whopping 178 episodes, following the adventures of three sisters (Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs, until Doherty’s character died and long-lost half-sister Rose McGowan appeared), who were the most powerful “good witches” in the world and balanced witchery with being regular ladies in San Francisco. The theme song was a cover of The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” by Love Spit Love.
The Witches (1990), directed by Nicholas Roeg
I’d rank this higher due to the fact that the source, Roald Dahl’s book, The Witches, is great. But I saw this movie in the theaters, through my fingers, since the magnificent Angelica Huston seemingly spends much of the running time in terrifying, traumatizing makeup. So I really have no memory of this film besides the fact that it is the scariest thing in the world, and clearly perfect for the young child in your life.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)
Okay, this show is an untouchable classic and we all love it. It takes horror tropes — the girl in the alley, the girl in the graveyard — and it rewrites them in the Slayer’s blood. The only reason this needs to be low on the list is that the witchery, and Slayer sidekick Willow’s discovery of it, didn’t really come until the 90s were practically over. And when Willow goes full macha monster witch, that’s deep in the series and in the 2000s. That’s all, really. It’s still the raddest thing in the world, it’s just that witches are a part of it, not the whole thing.
The Crucible (1996), directed by Nicholas Hynter
A film adaptation of the classic Arthur Miller play, which was written during the Blacklist era, taking that era’s ideas of hysteria and applying them to the Salem Witch Trials. This handsome film has Daniel Day-Lewis (methodly-unbathed, apparently) as John Proctor, a man so manly that he drives his teen mistress Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder, excellent) to madness. She leads the local girls in making claims and accusations of witchcraft and Proctor’s name, reputation, and life is dragged through the mud. The results are chilling.
Hocus Pocus (1993), directed by Kenny Ortega
Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy make for some delightful witches, all big hair and eyeliner, who cause some havoc one Halloween night in Salem, Massachusetts. (The outdoor scenes were actually filmed around there.) It’s up to one plucky, hunky young teen outsider from Los Angeles (remember Omri Katz?) and his adorable little sister Thora Birch to save the day, with the help of a talking black cat, as you do.
The Craft (1996), directed by Andrew Fleming
You know, this movie doesn’t quite hold up. There could even be a remake. But it has been influential for Rookie fashion shoots, and general Greenpoint, Brooklyn witch vibes, so that’s cool. It’s a dark-R movie about a nice girl (Robin Tunney) who falls in with the school witches (Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True), who form a coven and take their revenge on racist bullies, slut-shaming jocks, and abusive stepfathers. Love Spit Love’s cover of The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” is again on the soundtrack (because they are sad witches). When Balk’s character gets too power-mad, it’s time for the ultimate witch-on-witch fight with ’90s CGI.
Teen Witch (1989), directed by Dorian Walker
Perfect cheesy cheese. The teen witch is played by Robin Lively (Blake Lively’s older sister), and when she discovers that she is the descendant of some Salem witches, well, she uses her new witchy power to cast a spell on the hottest guy in school and to get some teen popularity. Technically released in 1989, but a cable staple throughout the ’90s, and the “Top That!” rap lives on in infamy.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996 – 2003)
Salem forever. The other kind of great Melissa Joan Hart series, this features her as Sabrina, teenage, a witch, who lived in Massachusetts with her two aunts, including smoky-voiced super babe Beth Broderick. It was a piece of pure sitcom cheese buttressed by weirdness on every side. Noted director Paul Feig was in early seasons as Sabrina’s teacher, but our favorite weirdo was the source of all stoner humor for the show: Sabrina’s animatronic black cat, Salem, a witch who tried to take over the world and was cursed to live out the rest of his days as a punny pussy.
Practical Magic (1998), directed by Griffin Dunne
Based on a sensual, romantic novel by Alice Hoffman, the movie Practical Magic (handled well by Dunne, who’s now working on the Joan Didion documentary) is about two sisters raised by witches, wild Gillian (Nicole Kidman) and sensible Sally (Sandra Bullock). When the two sisters get older, their paths diverge, but they’re united (and followed) by the Owens women family curse: any man loved by an Owens woman will die tragically. This curse has tragic and comical consequences, leading to a family reunion at the spooky old house by the sea, a botched death, and a magical cover-up. Stevie Nicks is on the soundtrack. It is the witchiest witch movie of all. It wins.