Who doesn’t love a good witch? Or a *bad* witch, for that matter? The ’90s in particular were a heyday for witchcraft and occult-themed mass media. There was family-oriented fare like Hocus Pocus, The Witches, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Double Double Toil and Trouble, and Halloweentown— alongside films aimed at more mature audiences like The Craft, Practical Magic, The Crucible, Eve’s Bayou, and even The Blair Witch Project. Television eventually jumped on this bandwagon as well with shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Worst Witch. Hell, even ’60s witch sitcom Bewitched had a mini-renaissance thanks to Nick at Nite (which led to a highly questionable film reboot).
During the aughts, witch-centered film and television offerings became far more scarce. The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings film franchises dominated most magic-themed movie discussions throughout the decade. You could occasionally spot badass witch characters in fantasy features trying to cash in on Pottermania like Stardust, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Brother’s Grimm, but true adult-oriented witch films were rarities (including entries like the very homoerotic The Covenant and Argento’s not-great Mother of Tears). There wasn’t much witch business happening in TV land either– aside from a handful of supernatural shows at the tail end of the decade with prominent witch characters (i.e. Hex, Eastwick, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries).
Thankfully, the 2010s have been much kinder to us children of Manon. For starters, there have been various TV shows throughout the decade featuring witches in lead roles, including The Secret Circle, The Witches of East End, Salem, Penny Dreadful, American Horror Story, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Shadowhunters, Once Upon a Time, Good Witch, Midnight Texas, Charmed (Reboot), Legacies, A Discovery of Witches, and Fort Motherland. Quite a few witchy films have graced the silver screen recently as well– though most have been indie gems.
For the list below, I’ve compiled 13 worthwhile, witchy horror/thriller films from the past 25 years. Because this is a horror-centric list, certain ‘lighter’ but delightful dark-fantasy films do not appear (i.e. Practical Magic, Dark Shadows, Maleficent, ParaNorman, etc.). Additionally, this list begins in the mid-90s, so some older gems unfortunately didn’t make the cut either (i.e. Black Sunday, Suspiria & Inferno, Superstition, Spellbinder, The Witches of Eastwick, etc.). With those things in mind, gather your sage and proceed below if you dare, mortal.
1. THE CRAFT (1996)
“A Catholic school newcomer falls in with a clique of teen witches who wield their powers against all who dare to cross them — be they teachers, rivals or meddlesome parents.”
The Craft remains the gold standard for coming-of-age witch films in my mind. Predating Scream in theaters by mere months, the film has a unique, punk rock sensibility and aesthetic all its own. While there are certainly moments of dark humor and camp throughout, Director Andrew Fleming and co-writer Peter Filardi’s story remains fairly grounded in its depiction of complex friendships between teenage girls. Tonally, the film shifts back and forth between teen drama and supernatural thriller, but I’m still placing this one firmly in the witch-horror camp. The final battle alone is pretty horrific (especially if you’re afraid of snakes and/or bugs). Plus, Fairuza Balk’s fabulously unhinged performance as Nancy remains one of the most iconic and terrifying depictions of a witch on screen. So punk rock!
WITCH COUNT: 5 (4 leads + 1 one kooky magic shop owner)
2. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
“In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.”
Love it or hate it, The Blair Witch Project is an iconic little ’90s time capsule celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. I would argue the film has spooky witch energy galore, but if you’re craving more, check out this companion faux-documentary that aired on TV the same year. The beauty of the film is that you don’t actually need to see the witch to feel her ominous presence throughout. It’s also an early example of found-footage horror done right. Though the internet-driven marketing campaign for The Blair Witch Project is often credited for its success in 1999, the actual film is an unsettling work in its own right and absolutely worth revisiting 20 years later. The merits of the [cash-grab] sequels are more up for debate, but those entries do have advocates. Personally, I’m a bit of a sucker for the meta angle in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
WITCH COUNT: 1 (probably)
3. THE WOODS (2006)
“Set in 1965 New England, a troubled girl encounters mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding an isolated girls school that she was sent to by her estranged parents.”
As mentioned above, there was a witch film drought in the aughts, but here’s one notable exception. The Woods is a curious little period horror-drama film that doesn’t quite live up to its intriguing premise and potential (to me). However, it features just enough solid performances, overt gothic imagery, and wrinkles in the plot to recommend (though I suggest checking out director Lucky McKee’s indie darling May first). The story here begins as a typical boarding school mystery– with underlying witchy hinjinks unfolding over time. When all is said and done, you really can’t go wrong with a film set at a witchy, all-girl boarding school in the ’60s with the fabulous Patricia Clarkson as headmistress. My advice: save this one for a rainy autumn day, light some incense, and bask in the ’60s witch vibes.
WITCH COUNT: several
4. THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012)
“A radio DJ in Salem, Massachussetts is plagued by nightmarish visions of vengeful witches after she plays a record by a mysterious group known only as “The Lords.”
The Lords of Salem is a welcome detour from Rob Zombie’s usual redneck-xploitation flicks. Many critics have noted the film’s Suspiria and Rosemary’s Baby influences– and I would argue it draws just as much from a more recent film, Gore Verbinski’s J-Horror remake, The Ring. Consider the similar premise and execution: a young woman receives a cursed object then spends a week-ish being plagued by increasingly terrifying supernatural manifestations. The first half or so of the film does a nice job building up spooky tension and suspense, but the last bit goes somewhat off the rails. Notably, the real stars here are horror/genre alums Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, and Patricia Quinn as camp-queen witches secretly priming the protagonist (Sherie Moon Zombie) for the film’s big, bonkers finale.
WITCH COUNT: several
5. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
“After getting a taste for blood as children, Hansel and Gretel have become the ultimate vigilantes, hell-bent on retribution. Now, unbeknownst to them, Hansel and Gretel have become the hunted, and must face an evil far greater than witches… their past.”
I can hear the groans, but listen: this movie is big, dumb, gory fun. Fairy tale-inspired action films had a moment in the early 2010s (i.e. Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman, etc.). At the tail end of that phase was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, a film many wrote off as being just another generic offering. However, this little R-rated, fantasy/horror/action/comedy hybrid is kind of a blast. You get genre Goddess Famke Janssen camping it up as Grand High Witch Muriel, and there’s a comically absurd amount of violence and gore thanks to horror director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) pulling the reins. If you’re in the mood for some mindless witchy fun and gore galore, seek this one out and enjoy the ride. Don’t overthink it.
WITCH COUNT: several (1 main)
6. WITCHING & BITCHING (2013)
“In this heist film turned horror fest, director Álex de la Iglesia’s love of mayhem is on full display as a gang of gold thieves lands in a coven of witches who are preparing for an ancient ritual – and in need of a sacrifice.“
Witching & Bitching is a non-stop, gore-filled thrill ride that never quite goes where you expect it to. Often compared to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, director Álex de la Iglesia’s little Spanish horror-comedy is a real charmer about bankrobbers on the lam who somehow end up in a battle to the death with a coven of cannibalistic witches. The film runs about two hours in length and does drag in places, but it has a generally satisfying ending that makes up for the bloated runtime. Suggestion: This witchy horror-comedy makes for a good, DIY trilogy marathon with Shaun of the Dead (zombies) and What We Do in the Shadows (vampires).
WITCH COUNT: several
7. THE CONJURING (2013)
“Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.”
What can I say about The Conjuring that hasn’t already been said by thousands of others? This is the film that launched Warner. Bros’ extremely lucrative Conjuring Universe, and I would argue it’s heavily responsible for the wave of atmosphere-driven, supernatural horror films we’ve been given since. How much of a witch movie is it, though? Well, the central antagonist is the ghost of an accused witch from the 1800s who sacrificed her child to the devil after cursing anyone who would take her land in the future (she was also the descendant of another woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692). So, fairly witchy in that regard. In terms of genre classification, there’s plenty of ghost/haunting and demonic posession influences here as well. Watch and judge for yourself.
WITCH COUNT: 1
8. STARRY EYES (2014)
“A hopeful young starlet uncovers the ominous origins of the Hollywood elite and enters into a deadly agreement in exchange for fame and fortune.“
Starry Eyes is more of a throwback Satanic Panic film than a straight-out witch movie, but I’d say there are enough creepy, supernatural goings-on in the plot to satisfy many witch-horror fans. Co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (2019’s Pet Semetary) were clearly vibing hard on films like Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Lynch’s Mulholland Drive with this one, and the end result is an above-average little Faustian supernatural thriller about a young actress who sells her soul to Hollywood/’The Devil’ in order to become a big film star. As with The Lords of Salem, the ending of this one loses me a bit, but the film’s focus on character development and prolonged suspense is appreciated. It’s a mean little film.
WITCH COUNT: debatable, but several implied
9. THE WITCH (2015)
“In 1630s New England, William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness, exiled from their settlement when William defies the local church. When their newborn son vanishes and crops mysteriously fail, the family turns on one another.”
The Witch is a slow-burn, brilliantly crafted period piece set in 1600s New England. Writer/director Robbert Eggert’s attention to detail here is astounding, and this is a film that essentially demands being watched with subtitles in order to understand the nuances of the early colonial dialect on display throughout. I will say this upfront: this is not a film for everyone. My initial reaction was very mixed, but I’ve learned to appreciate what The Witch brings to the table in terms of atmospheric dread, phenomenal performances from its cast members, and a rich folk-horror aesthetic that is nearly unmatched today. While I won’t be putting this on at parties anytime soon, that’s also not what the film was created for.
WITCH COUNT: 1 (probably)
10. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (2016)
“Father and son coroners receive a mysterious unidentified corpse with no apparent cause of death. As they attempt to examine the beautiful young “Jane Doe,” they discover increasingly bizarre clues that hold the key to her terrifying secrets.”
I debated whether to list The Autopsy of Jane Doe here because its mere inclusion is a bit of a spoiler, but I couldn’t resist. This is easily one of my favorite horror films of the decade. The plot is relatively simple: a father and son coroner team perform an autopsy on an unidentified corpse. As their work progresses, increasingly bizarre events begin to occur in the morgue where they work. At the risk of revealing anything beyond that, I’ll just say this is one of those films that constantly keeps you on your toes and unfolds in surprising– and often terrifying– ways. You may think you know what you’re getting into, but I can assure you that you don’t.
WITCH COUNT: just watch.
11. THE LOVE WITCH (2016)
“Elaine, a beautiful young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, and then picks up men and seduces them. However her spells work too well, and she ends up with a string of hapless victims. When she finally meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved will drive her to the brink of insanity and murder.”
The Love Witch is a hazy, technicolor fantasia intentionally shot to look like a film from the 1960s. It’s also a truly feminist work of art written, edited, directed, produced, AND scored by one woman: Anna Biller. Biller has a lot to say about feminism and the ever-raging battle of the sexes here. The film’s witchy protagonist, Elaine (Samantha Robinson), has no qualms about using her sexuality and unique brand of ‘sex magic’ to woo male suitors. She also has little issue disposing of men who prove unwilling or unable to love her the way she feels she deserves to be loved. It’s a complex brand of feminism, sure, but that’s what makes it so juicy. Ultimately, this a film that refuses to be confined to a single genre box– blending horror, drama, comedy, satire, camp, and more. One word: delicious.
WITCH COUNT: several (1 main)
12. SUSPIRIA (2018)
“A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the troupe’s artistic director, an ambitious young dancer and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare, others will finally wake up.”
Suspiria isn’t a remake in the traditional sense. While it does share obvious DNA with Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s Italian-horror masterpiece, director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) and co-writer David Kajganich have crafted something stunningly unique with this hypnotic and mesmerizing re-imagining. The film is set in post-World War II Germany during 1977, and it explores themes like generational guilt, motherhood, and power dynamics within matriarchal societies. Running two and a half hours and split into six narrative acts, Suspiria plays out [almost] more like a miniseries than a feature film. While critic opinions have been divided, I very much appreciated the film’s visual aesthetic, rich supernatural mythology, musical score by Thom Yorke, complex female characters, and cast performances across the board.
WITCH COUNT: several
13. HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE (2019)
“The dark legend of the young woman Albrun and her struggle to preserve her own sanity, and tries to explore the fine line between ancient magic, faith and madness at a time when pagan beliefs in witches and nature spirits spread fear and terror in the minds of the rural population.”
The newest entry on this list. Full disclosure: I haven’t got around to watching this German film everyone has been buzzing about just yet, so I will instead refer you to this take by Haleigh Foutch over at Collider (someone I have come to always trust on these matters): “Understandably, Hagazussa gets compared to The Witch a lot, but it’s more of a cousin film than a sibling, sharing some of the same DNA, but ultimately, it’s a distinct terrifying experience with a personality all its own.” The film is also killing it with critics (though I don’t put as much stock in that factor as some do). Color me intrigued!
WITCH COUNT: watch
If you need more modern horror films to scratch that witch/psychic/supernatural itch, seek ye out these entries:
- Sleepy Hollow (1999)
- What Lies Beneath (2000)
- The Gift (2000)
- The Skeleton Key (2005)
- Drag Me to Hell (2009)
- Jennifer’s Body (2009)
- The House of the Devil (2009)
- Black Death (2010)
- All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
- The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
- Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
- A Dark Song (2016)
- Thelma (2017)
- Pyewacket (2017)
- Hereditary (2018)
- Down a Dark Hall (2018)
- Gwen (2019)
- The Golem (2019)