How ’90s Disney Classics Like ‘Hocus Pocus’ Are Scaring Up Box Office Amid Pandemic Slump

The Wrap


Disney’s rerelease of the 1993 family horror-comedy “Hocus Pocus” has fueled much-needed mojo into the domestic box office this month. With theaters once again looking to older films for revenue to prevent thousands of cinemas from going into bankruptcy, Disney has provided a bit of help to that scary situation with some Halloween classics.

Two weeks ago, Disney rereleased “Hocus Pocus,” which bombed with critics and the box office when it opened 27 years ago, but has slowly gained a cult following and introduced Bette Midler to a new audience as the evil witch Winnie Sanderson. Now, it has grossed just over $4 million over three weekends in 2,000 theaters that are still open, making it the highest-grossing rerelease since the start of the pandemic in March.

Disney followed this weekend with a rerelease of Tim Burton’s 1993 animated film “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which grossed $1.3 million this weekend from 2,194 theaters. That success came despite the absence of Regal Cinemas, which closed its 534 locations in the U.S. earlier this month. At this pace, it is set to also pass the $2.4 million pandemic re-release total earned by “The Empire Strikes Back,” which returned to theaters in September for its 40th anniversary and had held the pandemic rerelease record before “Hocus Pocus.”

Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian attributes the success of the two films to being in the right place at the right time.

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“In this market, where so many theaters are closing and those that are open are starving for content, any film in theaters at the right time and with the right tie-in can find some solid numbers,” he said. “These films are really doing well with younger audiences, who are in the Halloween spirit and feel safe in going to their local theaters.”

With older moviegoers still staying home, millennial and Gen Xers have provided whatever diminished turnout theaters have seen since they started reopening in August. That makes “Nightmare” and “Hocus Pocus” perfect offerings, as they hit the sweet spot of millennial nostalgia and seasonal spirit.

Back in 1993, “Hocus Pocus” struggled at the box office with just under $40 million grossed from its mid-July release and barely making back its $28 million production budget. “Nightmare Before Christmas” had slightly better fortunes three months later, grossing a decent $50 million in its initial theatrical run against an $18 million budget.

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But in the years that followed, both films gained a cult following among millennials that Disney helped cultivate. “Nightmare” and “Hocus Pocus” both got annual reairings every October on Disney-owned cable networks like Freeform — formerly ABC Family — and Disney Channel.

Kids eho grew up watching those showings in the ’90s and 2000s are now turning these films into unexpected successes as adults, and Disney is reaping the benefits with nearly nonexistent marketing and no costs beyond distributing the films to theaters. The studio will try to keep the success going in the coming weeks with rereleases of “Monsters Inc.” and 20th Century’s “Alita: Battle Angel” coming in late October.

Of course, these grosses will do very little to help the financial struggles both Disney and movie theaters face. There is no true substitution for new releases, and theaters are facing widespread bankruptcies if the drought of new, major studio titles continues well into next year.

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Disney, which has suffered huge financial losses from the pandemic, announced this past week that it is significantly reorienting its media and entertainment divisions around its streaming services: Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. Between that move and the announcement that Pixar’s “Soul” would shift from theaters to streaming, the existential threat to movie theaters is growing almost by the day.

But Dergarabedian still believes that the small victories should be celebrated.

“It’s a win-win for both theaters and Disney at a time when we are seeing so few of those win-win situations,” he said.

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