Pop culture’s newest it girl loves a classic black dress, quality time with her best girlfriends, and the option to cast a hex now and then. Disney’s recent Oz the Great and Powerful featured a trio of fetching witches — played by Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz — and has grossed more than $200 million at the box office. They were just the first wave of ladies piloting broomsticks: There are now enough witch-driven projects in the pipeline to fill the largest of bubbling cauldrons. So vampires can head for their coffins, zombies can take a long lurch, and werewolves can gnaw on their chew toys, because these magical maidens are now the go-to supernatural trend in movies, TV, and books.
On the cinematic front, Rob Zombie, the director of the 2007 Halloween reboot, will tackle the Salem witch trials with his trippy horror flick The Lords of Salem (out April 19), while Julianne Moore will play a malevolent witch in the October fantasy Seventh Son and Angelina Jolie will take on the title role of sorceress Maleficent in Disney’s summer 2014 Sleeping Beauty reboot. On TV, there are a slew of shows this year, including season 3 of FX’s American Horror Story (subtitled Coven), The CW’s planned Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals, and Lifetime’s new series Witches of East End, based on Melissa de la Cruz’s popular book series. Other witchy literary titles that have been snatched up by Hollywood include Deborah Harkness’ best-selling A Discovery of Witches (optioned by Warner Bros.) from the All Souls Trilogy and Sally Green’s upcoming YA book Half Bad, just picked up by Fox 2000.
Why all the Wiccan fascination right now? ”You reach a saturation point with vampires and zombies,” says Witches of East End‘s exec producer Maggie Friedman, who also worked on ABC’s 2009 witch series Eastwick. ”When I was a kid, I used to watch Bewitched reruns when I was sick and home from school. I think it’s just a very potent fantasy to live life with these kinds of magical gifts. It’s a great way to tell stories that are relatable but slightly heightened.” Salem director Zombie takes it a step further. ”Everybody looks goofy when they turn into a werewolf with the hair on their face,” says the former heavy metal star, who also thinks the creatures that inspired his stage name don’t compare to a lady in a pointy hat. ”Zombies can’t do jack s—. They just stumble around, moan, and their heads explode. How far are you going to go with that? Witches can have personalities.”
Heroines who dabble in the dark arts are certainly not new figures. From The Wizard of Oz to The Craft and Charmed, the entertainment industry has always been enchanted with enchantresses. Now, however, it seems to coincide with a desire to highlight strong, active female characters. ”There’s this great empowerment and wish fulfillment attached to it,” says Vampire Diaries and Originals exec producer Julie Plec. ”[It’s] a woman not just being able to be in control of her own destiny, but to be able to physically manifest that magically, to defend herself, to protect her loved ones, to put the naughty boys in their place.” And, given that supernatural hits like The Twilight Saga, Warm Bodies, and Mama drew crowds of largely female moviegoers, there’s no better way of putting the boys in their place than moving the heroine’s journey front and center. ”In a vampire story, a lot of the times the woman is the damsel,” says Friedman. ”What’s great about witches is that they can be the heroes of the story.” Plus, according to Zombie, you have a little more flexibility in your portrayals. ”You can go different ways,” he says. ”You can go naked, scary Macbeth witches, which is the way I went. Or ‘Look out, Dorothy and Toto!’ witches.”
But witches can lead the pack for only so long. What will be the next big supernatural thing? Plec says to look to the heavens. ”Every five minutes, you get a pitch about angels,” she says. ”But the problem with angels is the problem with werewolves: At some point you’re gonna wanna see those big beautiful wings, and if you’re not Guillermo del Toro [with a] $100 million budget, it’s not so simple.” Maybe not, but there’s always the hope of a little more Hollywood magic.