Top ten movie and TV witches

Celtic Woman by Darksouls1 on Pixabay. [Public Domain, CC0]

Celtic Woman by Darksouls1 on Pixabay. [Public Domain, CC0]

The image of the witch in fiction is ambivalent. The witch defies patriarchal notions of womanhood, asserting her independence, her right to her own sexuality, and her innate power. This is scary for the patriarchy, so witches are often portrayed as coming to a bad end, or being bitter and destructive. But every so often, there’s a movie witch who transcends these ideas and asserts her right to be sassy and feisty and powerful, and gets to live happily ever after.

1. Serafina Pekkala in The Golden Compass (2007)

The witches in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of books are amazing. They are very long-lived, they can fly by riding on an enchanted branch of cloud-pine, and they can separate themselves from their daemons at need. They are also excellent archers. They are friends of the Gyptians and enemies of the Magisterium. Serafina Pekkala is the queen of the Lake Enara clan of witches, and her daemon, Kaisa, takes the form of a goose. She was played by Eva Green in the film The Golden Compass.

Serafina Pekkala: “We feel cold, but we don’t mind it, because we will not come to harm. And if we wrapped up against the cold, we wouldn’t feel other things, like the bright tingle of the stars, or the music of the aurora, or best of all the silky feeling of moonlight on our skin. It’s worth being cold for that.”

2. Morticia Addams in The Addams Family (1991)

 Morticia is magnificent. She’s dark and alluring, sassy and independent, and not afraid of anything. She is a kinky, kooky, stylish and sexy feminist icon. And she is bringing up her daughter Wednesday to be equally independent-minded.

Morticia: “Don’t torture yourself, darling. That’s my job.”

Morticia: “Last night you were unhinged. You were like some desperate howling demon. You frightened me. … Do it again.”

3. Olive Hawthorn in Doctor Who and the Daemons (1971)

 Olive Hawthorn is a witch who lives in the village of Devil’s End. She is a person of good sense and impeccable character, who warns that an archaeological dig in the village will disturb great evil: the Daemons that live in the mound. She turns out to be right. The episode was also memorable for the evil Morris dancers who appeared in it. The character was played by Damaris Hayman.

Olive: “I hit him over the head with my reticule. It had my crystal ball in it.”

4. Maleficent in Maleficent (2014)

A vengeful fairy dressed black with her black horns standing and the film's title belowMaleficent is a faery who lives in the Moors, a beautiful wild region. She is an embodiment of nature and wildness. She turns vengeful when her wings are stolen from her. She is an interesting character because she is both hero and villain of the story. The 2014 film is a brilliant retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the bad fairy. Maleficent is played by Angelina Jolie, who had always liked the character after seeing the 1959 Disney cartoon of Sleeping Beauty.

Aurora: I know who you are.
Maleficent: Do you?
Aurora: You’re my fairy godmother!
Maleficent: What?

5. Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter films

Minerva McGonagall often gets overlooked, but she is a powerful shape-shifter (Animagus), professor of Transfiguration, intellectual, cat-lover, and implacable opponent of the horrible Dolores Umbridge, school inspector. McGonagall is played by Maggie Smith, a brilliant actress who has played a string of great character roles. Apparently, the Sorting Hat took five and a half minutes to decide whether she was a Ravenclaw or a Gryffindor, eventually settling on Gryffindor.

McGonagall: “They’re the worst sort of Muggles imaginable.”

6. August Boatwright in The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

Secret life of bees.jpgAugust is not exactly a witch, but she worships the Black Madonna, lives with her two sisters, and promotes equality and wisdom, so she is embodying a similar archetype. She was played by Queen Latifah to critical acclaim in the film, which received several award nominations from the NAACP.

“The people called her Our Lady of Chains. They called her that not because she wore chains…”

Not because she wore chains,” the Daughters chanted.

“They called her Our Lady of Chains because she broke them.

7. Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

This is a delightful coming-of-age story from Studio Ghibli, based on the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono. Kiki and her cat Jiji set out to a strange town so that Kiki can gain independence and learn to be a witch. She starts a delivery service, using her skill of flying. One of the most poignant sequences in the film is when she loses her magical powers and can no longer fly or communicate with Jiji.
Kiki: “Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself and find out how I did it.”

8. Sally Owens in Practical Magic (1995)

Practicalmagicalbum.jpgDespite spending most of the film trying to be “normal” and not use her magic,  Sandra Bullock’s character, Sally Owens, comes through in  a crisis and keeps a cool head. She goes to rescue her sister from an abusive relationship, and manages to keep it together through several crises. The aunts also deserve special mention as being great witchy role models, especially for eating chocolate cake for breakfast.

Gary Hallet: Did you or your sister kill James Angelov?
Sally Owens: Yeah, a couple of times.

9. Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

WillowRosenberg.jpgThe only actual Wiccan on this list, and a bisexual who has a long-term same-sex relationship too – what’s not to love? (The only reason she isn’t higher on the list is because I never watched Buffy.) According to the Wikipedia page about her, her vulnerability, shyness, and intelligence often resonated strongly with viewers. She is also bookish and good with computers, and comes from a Jewish background.

Willow: “Occasionally, I’m callous and strange.”

10. Samantha in Bewitched (1964-1972)

I mean really, who doesn’t want to get all the housework done with just a twitch of the nose? Samantha subverts the image of the 1950s housewife by being sassy, independent, and cunning. She was played by Elizabeth Montgomery, who had progressive political views and championed women’s rights and gay rights. She was pro-choice, strongly criticised the Vietnam War, and advocated for AIDS research and rights for disabled people.
Darrin: Is Tabitha ready for school?
Samantha: Of course she’s ready for school! [pause] The question is, is school ready for Tabitha?
Compiling this list led me to wonder why there are so few witches of colour, and no transgender witches that I could think of. At least Willow from Buffy is waving the LGBT flag. And of course Hollywood has no idea that there’s any such thing as a male witch.
Who are your favourite TV and movie witches, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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8 thoughts on “Top ten movie and TV witches

  1. Thanks to this post, I rewatched the Daemons on Sunday afternoon. What a treat! To add to the list, I would include Makoto Kowata from the anime Flying Witch. If you enjoy Kiki’s Delivery Service, you would probably like this too. Makoto is a bit scatterbrained but clearly genuinely loves witchcraft as a way of helping people, and the focus is on rural life and food rather than flashy magic.

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