10 best movie witches who put a spell on audiences

Maleficent/Scarlet Witch/Hermione Granger/Wicked Witch of the West
Images via Disney/Marvel Studios/Warner Bros./MGM

We’re on the cusp of Spooky Season 2022, and it looks to be a particularly bewitching one this year. Later this September, Disney Plus is debuting the long-awaited Hocus Pocus 2, the sequel to the studio’s beloved 1990s Halloween fixture, with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy reprising their roles. With any luck, the belated follow-up will be able to recapture the magic of the original.

With Hocus Pocus 2 about to be summoned onto our screens, now seems like the perfect opportunity to celebrate the most spellbinding movie witches of them all. Movie witches come in all shapes and sizes, from the stereotypical evil enchantress to the more noble sort who maybe are just misunderstood by society. You’ll find both types, plus those who exist somewhere in the middle, in the following list.

With commiserations to the women of The Witches of Eastwick, Elaine from The Love Witch, and Thomasin from The VVitch, here’s our picks for the greatest cinematic sorceresses in film history.

Sanderson Sisters (Hocus Pocus)

Yes, obviously the Sanderson sisters themselves deserve a place on this list. Although they plan to suck the life out of all the children in Salem, the trio of resurrected hags are so much fun to watch that we’re almost rooting for them to win over Max, Dani, and Allison. Almost. Bette Midler gives what is these days her most iconic performance as Winifred Sanderson, with practically every line of dialogue being eminently quotable. Personal favorite: “Look, another glorious morning… Makes me sick!”

The Grand High Witch (The Witches)

Before she was The Addams Family‘s Morticia Addams, Angelica Huston played a much more sinister witchy sort in The Grand High Witch, the uber-villain from 1990 Roald Dahl adaptation, The Witches. Although she seems like a glamorous woman with a ridiculously over-the-top German accent, The Grand High Witch is really a monster, as brilliantly brought to life by The Jim Henson Company’s prosthetics. Anne Hathaway tried her best with the part in the 2020 remake, but Huston’s portrayal remains superior.

Sally and Gillian Owens (Practical Magic)

In the 1998 fantasy rom-com, Practical Magic, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play sisters Sally and Gillian who are the latest generation of Owens women to be affected by a centuries-old curse — the men they love are destined to die. Their doomed love lives lead the two sisters to take very different tracks in life, but a murder brings them back together as they fight to keep their family’s magic a secret. Bullock and Kidman’s loveable sisterly bond makes them a favorite of all witchy siblings who grew up with this movie.

The White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia)

Who could’ve brought the White Witch to life better than Tilda Swinton? The ice queen enchantress from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, Swinton’s White Witch is as fearsome and frosty a villain as we’ve ever seen, with her capacity for manipulation and cruelty — R.I.P. Aslan — knowing no bounds. Swinton steals the show in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and her absence (outside of brief cameos) is strongly felt in its sequels, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service)

Sometimes, even witches need to earn a living. Such is the case for Kiki, a teenage witch who, armed with her handy flying broomstick and joined by talking cat Jiji, starts a delivery service after she moves to a new town. Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of the most charming films to come from the mind of Studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki and its titular character (as voiced by Kirsten Dunst in the Disney English language dub) is one of his most memorable heroines.

Sarah, Nancy, Rochelle, and Bonnie (The Craft)

When Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to Los Angeles, she joins a clique of outcast girls who dabble in witchcraft. After performing a ritual to the pagan god Manon, the foursome find themselves developing genuine powers. They initially use to punish their high school bullies and improve their lives, but the power goes to their heads. The Craft is peak ’90s teen entertainment with Fairuza Balk stealing the show as the unhinged Nancy. Just don’t watch the 2020 sequel, The Craft: Legacy.

Scarlet Witch (MCU)

The most recognizable witch operating on cinema screens these days has to be Elizabeth Olsen’s Avenger, Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch. After initially serving as a secondary member of Marvel’s superhero team, Wanda proved just how powerful she was in Avengers: Endgame before suffering a great loss in the WandaVision TV series. Unfortunately, Wanda broke bad in this year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Somehow, we don’t think her story is over just yet.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)

The Harry Potter saga had to feature on this list somewhere. While the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange and Professor McGonagall deserve a mention too, Hermione Granger is unequivocally the most beloved witch from the Wizarding World, not to mention one of the most famous witches in pop culture. Emma Watson’s heroic overachiever, the so-called “brightest witch of her age” has been an icon for every book-loving, secretly school-loving nerd since The Sorcerer’s Stone came out in 2001.

Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent)

Disney has given us a lot of memorable witchy villains over the past century, from Snow White’s stepmother to Ursula the Sea-Witch and Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove. The self-proclaimed Mistress of Evil herself, the one and only Maleficent, has to claim the crown as the Mouse House’s most malevolent malcontent. After serving as Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis in the original 1959 animation, Angelina Jolie reimagined her as an anti-heroine in 2014’s Maleficent and its 2019 sequel.

The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)

The greatest movie witch of all time has to be the Wicked Witch of the West as peerlessly played by Margaret Hamilton in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. From her pointed hat to her green skin to her flying monkey minions, Dorothy Gale’s persecutor made such a mark on the world that she became the default image of a witch in the public consciousness. Stay tuned for the upcoming two-part adaptation of stage musical Wicked, in which Elphaba the Witch of the West will be played by Cynthia Erivo.