Halloween is the only time in the year when we can pretend magic is real—and if not real, then visible enough to tease the imagination with its whimsical mischief and jumpscare horror. Nothing typifies this fear and fascination better than witches, women who practice magic and defy the rules of mortal men, burned at the stake for centuries in Europe yet immortalized as a permanent fixture in pop culture today.
Whether it’s the hilarious mauve-haired crone who duels Merlin in Disney’s animated classic The Sword in the Stone, Anna Biller’s scorned femme fatale in the cult favorite The Love Witch, or the misunderstood, green-skinned Elphaba in the anticipated film adaptation of Wicked, the witch has always been a morally complex and sympathetic figure, revealing patriarchal anxieties about powerful women, and triggering an even more primordial human terror of magic and things unseen.
And yet, something about the witch inspires us to root for the underdog. Who, after all, doesn’t want to see the girl-next-door with magical powers in a rom-com win true love at all costs, and who can’t relate to weird teen girls rebelling against jocks in fantasy dramas set in high school? Even Minnie Castevet, the posh grandma who lives on the twelfth floor of the luxurious Manhattan apartment building in Rosemary’s Baby, has a sinister flair rarely matched by villains embodying such pure demonic evil.
Witches may not have always had the greatest PR, but Hollywood definitely rehabilitated their image. Here are the best films about witches to stream this Halloween.
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks, dir. Robert Stevenson, 1971
Initially shelved by Disney due to similarities with Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks stars Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price, an apprentice witch who takes in three Cockney children during World War II. Renowned for its glowing red flying enchanted bed, the film won an Oscar for visual effects, and mixes live-action with animation when Eglantine, the children and a faux magician con man travel to an island filled with cartoon animals, a visual cross between Robin Hood and The Jungle Book. Equal parts musical, cartoon, and social drama when Eglantine mobilizes a phantom army to fight off the Nazis, Bedknobs and Broomsticks teeters on the edge of the absurd: by not taking itself too seriously, the film opens a portal to childlike whimsy, the part of ourselves that can believe witches are, in fact, real. Streaming on Disney+
- Bell, Book and Candle, dir. Richard Quine, 1958
Kim Novak stars as Gillian Holroyd, a witch living in Greenwich Village with her Siamese cat. After wishing to meet “someone different” for Christmas (what Gen Z and tarot aficionados today might call manifestation), publishing magnate Shep Henderson, played by James Stewart, arrives on her doorstep to borrow her phone. When Gillian learns Shep is engaged to her college nemesis, she puts a love spell on him—but risks losing her powers when she falls in love with him herself. Worth watching for the vibes alone, the film shines because of Novak’s arched eyebrows, stylish outfits and iconic, wispy blonde haircut. There’s even a paranormal nightclub with a silver-turbaned bouncer and the 12 symbols of the zodiac emblazoned on the front door; the only way to gain entry is by divulging your birthday. Manhattan has never been more magical than in Bell, Book and Candle. Streaming on Tubi TV
- I Married a Witch, dir. René Clair, 1942
In this Great Depression-era screwball comedy, Jennifer and her father burn at the stake in Salem after Jonathan Wooley, a handsome pilgrim, accuses them of witchcraft, causing Jennifer to curse the Wooley line to always marry the wrong woman. Fast forward 200 years later, Jennifer comes back to life, played by the vamp-y, charismatic Veronica Lake, and tries to seduce governor-hopeful Wallace Wooley, engaged to marry the shrewish Estelle. Even as Wally, played by Fredric March, resists Jennifer’s advances, the two fall in love after Jennifer accidentally drinks a love philter meant for him, reversing the aims of the curse. Lake’s witty delivery and luminescent blonde hair carry the film, and the sexual chemistry between the two leads is intense—not least because both actors apparently hated each other’s guts in real life. Streaming on Max
- Practical Magic, dir. Griffin Dunne, 1998
Based on Alice Hoffman’s bestselling novel of the same name, Practical Magic stars Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman (in her redhead era!) as sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens, who live with their aunts after losing their parents to a generational curse in which any man who marries an Owens witch is fated to die. After the sisters accidentally kill, then resurrect, then kill again Gill’s abusive boyfriend, a detective investigating the case arrives, threatening the sisters’ secret identity and triggering a forgotten spell Sally made as a little girl. A modern take on witchcraft filtered through the lenses of drama and rom-com, Practical Magic endures because of the bond of sisterhood at its heart. Bullock’s performance as cautious, level-headed Sally and Kidman’s as the more romantic and impulsive Gill are both dynamic, making it an incredible film to watch year-round. Streaming on Hulu
- The Craft, dir. Andrew Fleming, 1996
As much a coming-of-age drama as a horror film, The Craft follows Sarah (Robin Tunney) as she befriends a group of outcasts at her new school in Los Angeles, girls shunned as witches and clad in leather jackets, plaid skirts, slip dresses, and knee-high socks, a sartorial blend of prep school uniform with ’90s goth aesthetics. As the girls’ magical powers grow stronger, and they hex bullies who wronged them, their lives—and more importantly, their friendship—spiral dangerously out of control. Ahead of its time in depicting a vigilante #MeToo-style revenge against sexual assault and the karmic consequences of racist bullying, The Craft remains timeless because of how it vests teen girls with agency via magic—even when it incurs damning consequences. Streaming on Hulu
- Hocus Pocus, dir. Kenny Ortega, 1993
Hocus Pocus tanked at the box office when it first came out in 1993, losing Disney around $16.5 million, but endured in perhaps the more vital forms of annual television airings and the frequently-rented Blockbuster DVD. Today, it’s a nostalgic, feel-good watch making viewers laugh hysterically as the stereotypically camp-y Sanderson sisters wreak havoc and try to eat children. These witches are too ridiculous to take seriously, much less perceive as totally evil (even if they are). Hocus Pocus paved the way for both the witch films that came later in the decade and the domination the Harry Potter franchise in the early 2000s. Streaming on Disney+
- Halloweentown, dir. Duwayne Dunham, 1998
This memorable Disney Channel Original Movie stars Kimberly J. Brown as 13-year-old Marnie Piper, forbidden from trick-or-treating or celebrating Halloween in any way by her overprotective mother, Gwen. After Marnie’s grandmother (Debbie Reynolds) visits, Marnie learns she’s part of a family of witches from Halloweentown, a parallel world filled with goblins, anthropomorphic pumpkins, skeletons, ghouls, and more. Residents have been disappearing—and it falls to Marnie and her little brother and sister to stop the mysterious villain before it’s too late. A holiday classic, Halloweentown remains a fun watch with family and friends for its nostalgia factor, and the somewhat relatable journey of teenage Marnie discovering family secrets, and tapping into latent powers—even if those powers are magical. Streaming on Disney+
- Eve’s Bayou, dir. Kasi Lemmons, 1997
A haunting family drama set on the edge of a swamp in Louisian, Kasi Lemmons’ directorial debut stars then-child-actor Jurnee Smollett as Eve, the daughter of Louis, a handsome doctor played by Samuel L. Jackson, and his elegant wife, Roz. After witnessing her father with another woman, Eve’s innocence slowly unravels, triggering a series of events that lands her at the door of Elzora, the neighborhood witch. Pulsing with the languid beauty of the South, Eve’s Bayou shows the spiritual voodoo practices of the African diaspora: monochrome visions flash ominously in the film, and Eve’s aunt, Mozelle, can divine the future, but can never guess when her lovers die. Jackson masterfully skirts the line between a charming Lothario and a loving father, deepening the hazy mystery of the film, and showing that nothing is ever really as it seems. Streaming on Roku
- The Love Witch, dir. Anna Biller, 2016
No list of witch films would be complete without Anna Biller’s feminist cult masterpiece. Samantha Robinson stars as Elaine, an alluring witch sporting dreamy teal-blue eyeshadow and pale pink lip gloss, as she seduces her lovers and kills them, one by one, driving them so crazy they can’t bear to live without her.“You have to give a man his fantasy,” Elaine says, and she isn’t wrong: her hypnotizing performance of femininity, as well as her witchcraft, are ways to exert power over men. While technically set in current-day northern California, the costumes, colors and set design, and the fact the film was shot on 35mm, draw the viewer into a vintage 1960s atmosphere. The Love Witch ultimately satirizes the heartbreak of loving emotionally unavailable men, as Elaine takes revenge because men can’t love her in the way she wants to be loved. Streaming on Peacock, Tubi, and Pluto
- The Witch, dir. by Robert Eggers, 2015
This brutal A24 horror film shows the panic around witches in 1600s New England. A Puritan family builds a farm near a dark forest, but finds their vision of the promised land threatened when their newborn son is taken by a witch. This being an A24 movie, there’s an ominous goat that might be more than just an animal, a series of hair-raising events that turn the family on each other, and the creepy hedonism of woodland pagan rituals. Streaming on Max