‘Hocus Pocus’ Director Kenny Ortega Thought He’d Never Work Again After the Film Flopped: ‘It’s All Over’

Hocus Pocus is a cult classic. A staple on Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween, it airs multiple times in October along with other popular movies. But it wasn’t always a spooky season favorite.

Years before people started quoting Hocus Pocus it debuted as a box office bomb. The film was met with such a bad reception, director Kenny Ortega thought it’d be the end of his career. 

Kenny Ortega at The Trevor Project's 2017 TrevorLIVE LA
Kenny Ortega at The Trevor Project’s 2017 TrevorLIVE LA | Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Audiences and critics hated ‘Hocus Pocus’ in 1993

People didn’t initially love the story of Max Dennison (Omri Katz) moving to Salem, Massachusetts, lighting the black flame candle, and bringing back the Sanderson Sisters (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker). The storyline didn’t bewitch critics. Box office numbers reflected the public’s feelings loud and clear. 

Hocus Pocus earned just $8.1 million opening weekend. With an estimated budget of $28 million, the movie looked like a major flop for Disney. It went on to gross a total of $39.5 million, making it one of the least profitable films of the year. The movie’s release date, July 16, 1993, may not have helped either.

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Kenny Ortega thought he’d never get to direct another movie after ‘Hocus Pocus’

Ortega was relatively new to directing feature films when he signed on for Hocus Pocus. It marked his second feature film behind 1992’s Newsies. When the movie flopped, Ortega lost confidence in the future of his filmmaking career.

“Honestly, at that point, I thought it’s all over for me,” Ortega told Forbes in 2020. “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.’”

Of course, that wasn’t really the end of his career. Ortega went on to direct more movies such as the High School Musical franchise and the Descendants trilogy. Not only that but he’s a TV director and an Emmy Award winner. 

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He’s happy ‘Hocus Pocus’ didn’t premiere as an immediate hit 

Hocus Pocus is no overnight sensation. And for that Ortega’s grateful. It taught him a life lesson. 

“What I’ve learned is don’t give up,” he said. “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.”

He continued, saying, “I’m just glad that although we had a slow start, we became known and embraced, and the audience I’d always hoped for found us.”

“People asked me what audience we were going for, and I said I wanted a broad audience,” he added. “Some thought I didn’t know what audience I was going after, kids or adults, or whatever, but I knew. I’m grateful it has turned out that way. I was right, after all.”

Hocus Pocus has certainly cast a spell on audiences. In 2020, decades after its initial release, Hocus Pocus is crushing box offices. There’s also talk of a Hocus Pocus 2.

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