14 surprising things you probably never knew about 'Hocus Pocus'

Marilyn La Jeunesse
·9 min read
Hocus Pocus
"Hocus Pocus" will surely get you in the Halloween mood. Walt Disney Pictures
  • Disney's "Hocus Pocus" was released in 1993 and it has since become a Halloween classic.

  • Leonardo DiCaprio said he was offered the chance to play Max, but he turned down the role. 

  • Real moths fly out of Billy's mouth in the film, and the actor had to use a special pocket to stop them from flying down his throat.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

It's been over 27 years since the initial release of "Hocus Pocus," but the 1993 movie is still a Halloween favorite. 

Each October, fans ring in the season of spookiness by re-watching the Disney classic. This year, celebrate your yearly viewing of the movie with some hauntingly good film trivia.

Read on for 14 facts you probably didn't know about "Hocus Pocus."

Leonardo DiCaprio said he was offered the role of Max, but he turned it down.

Leonardo DiCaprio Hocus Pocus
Leonardo DiCaprio said he was offered a lot of money to play Max. Eugene Hoshiko/AP / Walt Disney Studios

Leonardo DiCaprio said he was offered "more money than [he] ever dreamed of" to play "Hocus Pocus" leading man Max Dennison. But DiCaprio turned down the part to hold out for a role in  "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" (1993) — a film he hadn't auditioned for yet.

In a 2014 interview with Variety, DiCaprio said, "I don't know where the hell I got the nerve. You live in an environment where you're influenced by people telling you to make a lot of money and strike while the iron's hot."

DiCaprio went on to star in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," and Omri Katz played Max instead.

Two actors helped bring Thackery Binx's character to life.

Thackery binx
Sean Murray in "Hocus Pocus." Walt Disney Productions

As shown in the film, the Sanderson sisters turned 17th-century-kid Thackery Binx into a cat after he insulted witch Winifred Sanderson. 

"NCIS" star Sean Murray played the human version of Binx, and actor Jason Marsden voiced the character, both in his human and feline forms. 

In 2017, Marsden told the Daily Beast that producers dubbed his voice over Murray's because the actor sounded "contemporary" and they thought it would be more realistic if Binx had "an affected accent" from the same time period as the witches. 

 

 

Each witch had distinct broomstick choreography.

Hocus Pocus
Peggy Holmes said each character had distinct traits when flying. Walt Disney Pictures

According to an archived press release, the film's choreographer, Peggy Holmes, said each of the Sanderson sisters flew their brooms "in character."

Holmes said, "Winifred is in charge and much more aggressive than the other two. She's always leading the way and looking for children."

"Sarah loves to fly. She's always lifting up with her mop and can't wait to get up in the air, whereas Mary is more cautious. Like a good driver, she signals with her hand. Mary is the safe and steady flier," she added.

The director of "Hocus Pocus" also worked on other popular Disney films.

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Kenny Ortega directed "Hocus Pocus." REUTERS/Fred Prouser

"Hocus Pocus" director Kenny Ortega was also involved in the creation of Disney's "Newsies" (1992), the "High School Musical" films, and "The Cheetah Girls 2" (2006).

In a 2020 interview with Forbes, he spoke about his work on "Hocus Pocus," saying, "It has always meant a lot to me. It was an incredible experience. It was only my second project as a feature-film director. It was extremely ambitious considering what we had to work with."

Most recently, Ortega produced and directed the Netflix series "Julie and the Phantoms."

Bette Midler inspired her own costume.

Hocus Pocus
Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy in "Hocus Pocus." Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2019 interview with Glamour, the film's costume designer, Mary Vogt, said each witch's outfit was tailored to resemble the character's personality.

Sarah's dress was inspired by "Sleeping Beauty," and Mary's resembles a baker's uniform.

But Bette Midler herself inspired Winnie's look.

Vogt recalled, "When I talked [to Ortega] about my vision for Bette, I said, 'You can't put her in some black witch outfit. You have to put her in something that's colorful and fun and has a little sparkle to it.'"

She continued, "So when I did sketches and talked to Kenny about it, he responded, 'Now let me talk to Bette, because this might not be what she was thinking of.' So he talked to Bette, who said, 'Well, of course. I'm not going to wear some black dress.'"

Multiple cats were used on set to play Binx.

binx hocus pocus
You probably wouldn't notice the difference between the cats. Walt Disney Pictures

Due to the length of the film and the variety of tricks Binx performs, several cats were used on the "Hocus Pocus" set.

Humane Hollywood reported that the crew chose which cat to feature in each scene based on the animal's skills and personality. Still, the animal stunts required training and creativity.

According to Humane Hollywood, "When the children first meet Binx at the witches' house, Binx surprises Max by jumping on him and Max falls down. To achieve this scene, one trainer released the cat, while a second trainer called the cat by way of a buzzer hidden in the actor's clothing."

For some scenes, animatronics were used in place of a real cat. 

Real moths fly out of Billy's mouth in the film.

Hocus Pocus
The actor had to use a special pocket to stop the moths from flying down his throat. Walt Disney Pictures

Doug Jones, who played Billy Butcherson in "Hocus Pocus," had real moths in his mouth. 

In a 2018 interview with Bloody Disgusting, makeup and special-effects designer Tony Gardner said that the actor wore a "mouth rig" — a latex pocket attached to dentures that blocked off Jones' throat — to make the moths come out 

"There was a small hole in the very back of the pocket so that Doug could cough some air through it ... An animal wrangler would place several moths in the pocket with tweezers … Then the stitches would be glued shut, and we'd run out of frame so that they could get to the shot as fast as possible," Gardner said. 

"Hocus Pocus" started as a bedtime story.

Hocus Pocus
Thora Birch in "Hocus Pocus." Walt Disney Pictures

The inspiration for "Hocus Pocus" came from the bedtime story producer and cowriter David Kirschner would tell his kids. 

"Halloween is a huge deal in our home, and it has been since our daughters were little," Kirschner told Yahoo in 2015. "It speaks to me in a way that becomes so emotional for me and always has."

Kirschner went on to pitch the plot of the spooky story to Walt Disney Studios in 1984.

The film was almost called "Halloween House."

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The film was initially titled "Halloween House." Walt Disney Studios

"Hocus Pocus" was originally titled "Halloween House." 

And the title wouldn't have been the only difference — the first draft Mick Garris wrote in the 1980s was much darker than the final version. 

What I had written originally was about 12-year-olds," Garris told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. "The kids being younger and in more jeopardy was certainly something more explicitly frightening."

Winnie's insults were accurate for the time-period.

Hocus Pocus
Bette Midler's assistants followed her around with a book of old curses. Walt Disney Pictures

Winnie's iconic curses like "maggoty malfeasance" and "trollimog" weren't scripted, but are authentic insults. They came from a book of old curses Midler referenced on set. 

Thora Birch, who played Max's younger sister Dani Dennison, said in a D23 and Creature Features 2013 panel, "Bette had two people running around behind her with dictionaries of old curse words."

"Hocus Pocus" wasn't released around Halloween — and it initially flopped.

Hocus Pocus
The movie was released in July. Walt Disney Pictures

The film made its theatrical debut in July of 1993. The summer-time release date may have contributed to its less-than-stellar box-office performance.

Ortega spoke about the film's initial flop in that same 2020 interview with Forbes.

He said, "Honestly, at that point, I thought it's all over for me. I thought to myself, 'I'm never going to get a chance to do this ever again. My career as a filmmaker was all over.' Then, over the years, everything changes."

He continued, "What I've learned is don't give up. I believed in Hocus Pocus, the girls believed in it, and even though it wasn't found by audiences immediately, the generations have believed in it."

The original trailer featured deleted scenes.

Hocus Pocus
Kathy Najimy in the "Hocus Pocus" trailer. Walt Disney Pictures/YouTube

Two scenes featured in original trailer of the film didn't end up in the final movie — the Sanderson sisters surrounded by trick-or-treaters and Mary running wild in a grocery store.

Kathy Najimy, who played Mary Sanderson in the film, told SYFY Wire in 2018 that the movie originally was centered around the witches, but was later edited to be more kid-friendly. As a result, five major Sanderson sister scenes were cut.

One of the deleted scenes found in the trailer involved Mary being set loose in a supermarket, Najimy said.

 

There's a "Hocus Pocus" show at Disney World's annual Halloween event.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween
The Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular premiered in 2015. Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

The Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, which debuted in 2015, is an exclusive attraction at Magic Kingdom's Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in Florida.

The 20-minute show is performed on the Cinderella Castle stage. The Sanderson sisters come back from the grave to perform alongside other famous Disney villains like Maleficent and Dr. Facilier.

"Hocus Pocus" has a book sequel, and a movie sequel is in the works.

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In 2019, a Disney executive confirmed to the New York Times that a film sequel is in the works. Courtesy of Amazon

Released for the film's 25th anniversary, "Hocus Pocus & the All-New Sequel" was published in 2018 and is a young-adult retelling of and a sequel to the original story. Set 25 years in the future, the new story features Max and Allison's 17-year-old daughter.

Currently, a film sequel is in the works for Disney Plus.

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