From an evil queen pondering “Mirror, mirror on the wall: Who is the fairest of them all?” to Three Weird Sisters chanting “Double, double toil and trouble! Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” witchcraft has been something of a skeleton key across centuries of storytelling on screen and in print. As old as ghost stories themselves, witches are fabled beings — typically more human than creature, but sometimes vice versa — known for using magic to abuse and manipulate us mere mortals.

Some witches feed on children; see Roald Dahl‘s “The Witches” and its two film adaptations starring Anjelica Huston and Anne Hathaway respectively. Some witches just want to be loved; consider the appropriately-named “The Love Witch” or the middle chunk of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Others crave beauty, youth, power, or something altogether more sinister; think the unending greed examined in Luca Guadagnino’s astounding re-imagining of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria.”

What makes these characters compelling isn’t their sentient spell books, flying broomsticks, or poisonous apples. No, witches endure because they channel an unceasing appetite for cruelty: a willingness to destroy whatever stands in the way of their desire and an eagerness to sacrifice whomever it takes to prove undying devotion to their own wickedness.

Considering the epic moral quandaries witches and witchcraft so often represent, it’s no wonder these characters have appeared in all kinds of stories intended for all kinds of audiences. For children, you might try “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or “The Wizard of Oz.” For slightly older children, you could cue up “Hocus Pocus” or the recently released “Hocus Pocus 2.” Of course, the best of the best witch stories — those forged in the fearsome horror genre, where no devilish detail of witchy legend need be darkened — belong to only the most daring (read: age appropriate) viewers.

Updated for the 2023 spooky season, the following collection of the best witch movies reflects the most iconic witches and witchcraft stories of the big screen, from ’90s fantasy comedies to chilling ’60s historical horrors. Films about generic pagan ritual or wizardry have been excluded from consideration.

[Editor’s note: This list was originally published in October 2022 and has since been updated.] With editorial contributions by Christian Blauvelt, Wilson Chapman, Mark Peikert, and Michael Nordine.

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