Practical Magic

Practical Magic is a 1998 American romantic comedy fantasy film based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Alice Hoffman. The film was directed by Griffin Dunne and stars Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest, Aidan Quinn, and Goran Visnjic.

Practical Magic
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGriffin Dunne
Produced byDenise Di Novi
Screenplay by
Based onPractical Magic
by Alice Hoffman
Music byAlan Silvestri
CinematographyAndrew Dunn
Edited byElizabeth Kling
Village Roadshow Pictures
Di Novi Pictures
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Roadshow Entertainment (Australia & New Zealand)
Release date
  • October 16, 1998 (1998-10-16)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$75 million[1]
Box office$68.3 million[2]

Bullock and Kidman play sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, who have always known they were different from other people. Raised by their aunts after their parents' death, the sisters grew up in a household that was anything but — their aunts fed them chocolate cake for breakfast and taught them the uses of practical magic. But being a member of the Owens family carries a curse: The men they fall in love with are doomed to an untimely death. Now adult women with very different personalities, the quiet Sally and the fiery Gillian must use all of their powers to fight the family curse and a swarm of supernatural forces that could take away all the Owenses' lives.


Maria Owens, a young witch, is exiled (with her unborn child) to an island in Massachusetts. When her lover does not rescue her, she casts a spell to stop herself from ever falling in love again. The spell becomes a curse, affecting all future generations of women in the Owens family; any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will die. In the present, Gillian and Sally Owens are taken in by their maternal aunts Frances and Jet (Bridget) after the death of their parents. Gillian's talents lie in charm and persuasion, while Sally is more gifted in witchcraft. After witnessing their aunts cast a spell for a woman obsessed with having a specific man's love, Gillian is titillated at the idea of falling in love and Sally, terrified, casts a true love spell (Amas Veritas) to protect herself, summoning a man who possesses qualities that cannot possibly exist.

Years later, Gillian makes a blood oath to Sally, promising to return and leaves for Los Angeles. Sally marries Michael, a local produce seller and they have two daughters, Kylie and Antonia. They plan to open a botanical shop, but Michael dies after being hit by a truck. Sally realizes that her aunts cast a spell so she would be happy, not expecting Sally's love to trigger the curse. Devastated, Sally and her daughters return to the Owens home to live. Sally decides that she and her daughters will not perform magic. As Gillian begins a relationship with Jimmy Angelov, she can feel Sally's grief, and realizing that Sally really needs her, she returns to Massachusetts.

After Gillian helps her realize that she is neglecting her daughters due to her disabling grief, Sally wakes to find her sister gone. With a new-found resolve, she opens the botanical shop she had planned with Michael and tries to help her daughters navigate living in a town where the citizens openly taunt them for being witches.

Gillian calls Sally to come and rescue her after Jimmy becomes erratic and abusive, but after Sally arrives, he kidnaps them both. Sally puts belladonna into Jimmy's tequila, inadvertently killing him as he tries to strangle Gillian. Gillian decides that they must use magic to resurrect Jimmy so that neither of them will be guilty of murder. They return home, then resurrect him using their aunts' spellbook. Jimmy attempts to kill Gillian again immediately after being revived, and Sally is forced to kill him again to save Gillian. They bury his body in the garden. Signs begin occurring, indicating that something is wrong, yet they do not confess to their aunts when confronted. Frances and Jet leave after giving Kylie and Antonia protection wards, telling Antonia to give Sally and Gillian the message, "Clean up your own mess!".

Investigator Gary Hallett arrives from Tucson in search of Jimmy, who is revealed to be a serial killer. Gary begins to suspect that Sally and Gillian killed Jimmy, so Gillian, Kylie and Antonia create a potion to banish Gary. However, the girls realize he is the man described in young Sally's true love spell and dispose of the potion. While watching the girls toss the potion-laced pancake syrup into the sea, Gary (and a horrified Sally and Gillian) watch a frog regurgitate Jimmy's ring. Gary takes it as evidence and departs, angry and confused. Later, after fighting with her sister, Sally insists Gary record her testimony. While in his hotel room, she sees a letter she had written Gillian just before rescuing her from Jimmy. She realizes he read it many times. Unable to deny their feelings for each other, they kiss, and Sally realizes that he was there because of the Amas Veritas spell. Sally bolts, shaken.

Returning home, Sally discovers that Jimmy's spirit has possessed Gillian's body and Gary (following Sally) witnesses Jimmy's spirit emerge. Jimmy attempts to kill Gary by reaching into his chest, only to be hurt by Gary's silver star-shaped badge and disappears. Sally tells Gary that he is there because of her spell and the feelings they have for each other are not real. Gary replies that curses are only true if one believes in them and reveals that he also wished for her, then leaves.

Jimmy possesses Gillian again and attempts to assault Sally, who knocks her out just before Frances and Jet return. Sally, realizing she must embrace magic to save her sister, asks the aid of the mothers on the school's emergency phone tree and they form a coven to exorcise Jimmy's spirit. Sally makes them stop when she sees that the effort is killing Gillian. Sally, inspired, opens the magic protection circle surrounding the possessed Gillian and entices Jimmy to assume control over Gillian's body. Swiftly, Sally repeats her blood oath with Gillian, again slicing their palms to join their blood in promise. The Owens curse is broken and Jimmy's spirit is exorcised and permanently banished. Gary clears the sisters of any suspicion of wrongdoing in Jimmy's death. Sally comes to a decision, encouraged by Gillian, to take a risk on love again. Sally sends out a message via a leaf on the wind and in Arizona, Gary senses her call. He returns to Massachusetts to be with Sally. Halloween is celebrated and all the Owens women, demonstrating their powers by leaping off their roof and landing safely, are lovingly accepted by the townsfolk.


  • Sandra Bullock as Sally Owens, a witch who becomes widowed after the Owens curse kills her husband.
  • Nicole Kidman as Gillian Owens, Sally's sister, who grows restless with her family's estrangement in their small town, leaves, and becomes the victim of an abusive relationship.
    • Lora Anne Criswell as young Gillian
  • Goran Visnjic as James 'Jimmy' Angelov, Gillian's lover, who becomes abusive and kidnaps the sisters, and is killed by them, twice, in self-defense.
  • Stockard Channing as Aunt Frances Owens, aunt of Sally and Gillian, who tends to be direct, assertive, and salty.
  • Dianne Wiest as Aunt Bridget 'Jet' Owens, aunt of Sally and Gillian, who is tenderhearted and gentle.
  • Aidan Quinn as Investigator Gary Hallet, from Tucson, Arizona, who investigates Sally and Gillian in the disappearance of Jimmy Angelov and falls in love with Sally.
  • Caprice Benedetti as Maria Owens, the first witch in the Owens family.
  • Evan Rachel Wood as Kylie Owens, Sally's elder daughter, who lives with her mom and great-aunts after the death of her father, Michael. She looks and acts a lot like her Aunt Gillian.
  • Alexandra Artrip as Antonia Owens, Sally's younger daughter, who also lives with her mom and great-aunts after the death of her father, Michael. She looks a lot like her mother.
  • Mark Feuerstein as Michael, Sally Owens' husband, and father of Kylie and Antonia Owens. He is a victim of the "Owens Curse," which results in his death.
  • Peter Shaw as Jack, Sally and Gillian's father, who died from the Owens curse when they were children.
  • Caralyn Kozlowski as Regina, Sally and Gillian's mother, who died of a broken heart after losing her husband to the Owens curse.
  • Chloe Webb as Carla, a friend of Sally's, who works at her shop.
  • Lucinda Jenney as Sara, one of the town women, who initially fears the Owens but later responds to Sally's call for help.
  • Margo Martindale as Linda Bennett, one of town women who responds to Sally's call for help.
  • Martha Gehman as Patty, one of town women who responds to Sally's call for help.


Practical Magic was filmed in part on an artificial set in California. Because the film's producers decided the house was a big part of the depiction of the Owens culture, a house to accurately represent that vision was built on San Juan Island in the state of Washington.[3] While much of the set from California was brought to that location and placed inside the house, it took nearly a year to perfect the image of the house and the interior.[4] The house, actually only a shell with nothing inside, was built only for this filming and was torn down after filming was completed. The small town scenes were filmed in downtown Coupeville, Washington, a Victorian-era seaside port town located on the south side of Penn's Cove on Whidbey Island.

According to Sandra Bullock in the DVD commentary, while filming the scene where the Owens women are drunk and slinging insults, the actresses actually got drunk on very bad tequila brought by Kidman. The cast further stated in the film's commentary that they felt supernatural elements of the house started to affect them. Both the cast and crew claimed they heard supernatural noises while filming the coven scene at the end of the film. For the final scene with all of the townspeople at the Owens home, the entire population of the town where filming took place was invited to show up in costume and appear as townsfolk.


Practical Magic
Photo by Suzanne Tenner
Soundtrack album by
Various artists
ReleasedOctober 6, 1998 (original pressing)
RecordedAugust 15–16, 1998,
Abbey Road Studios (Michael Nyman tracks)
GenreSoundtrack, pop, minimalism, orchestral
Length56:58 (Nyman pressing); 51:46 (Silvestri pressing)
ProducerDanny Bramson, Sandra Bullock
Michael Nyman chronology
Strong on Oaks, Strong on the Causes of Oaks
Practical Magic
Alan Silvestri chronology
The Parent Trap
Practical Magic
Stuart Little

Composer Michael Nyman's score to the movie was abruptly replaced with music by Alan Silvestri for the theatrical release. This last-minute change resulted in the release of two soundtracks, although as primarily a compilation album only the two tracks of newly created material were changed. A 50-track demo (the last two tracks being "Convening the Coven" and "Maria Owens") of Nyman's score has been circulating among fans as a bootleg. The complete Nyman score runs 62:30 and contains music that would later appear, in altered form, in Ravenous and The Actors, as well as a bit of his stepwise chord progression theme from Out of the Ruins/String Quartet No. 3/Carrington/The End of the Affair/The Claim. "Convening the Coven", though not "Maria Owens," was subsequently reissued on The Very Best of Michael Nyman: Film Music 1980–2001, and music that uses material related to this piece has not been used elsewhere.

Singer Stevie Nicks headlined the soundtrack's published advertisements, promoting her song "If You Ever Did Believe" and a new recording of her song "Crystal," both featuring Sheryl Crow on back-up vocals.

Track listing
  1. "If You Ever Did Believe" – Stevie Nicks
  2. "This Kiss" – Faith Hill
  3. "Got to Give It Up (Pt.1)" – Marvin Gaye
  4. "Is This Real?" – Lisa Hall
  5. "Black Eyed Dog" – Nick Drake
  6. "A Case of You" – Joni Mitchell
  7. "Nowhere and Everywhere" – Michelle Lewis
  8. "Always on My Mind" – Elvis Presley
  9. "Everywhere" – Bran Van 3000
  10. "Coconut" – Harry Nilsson
  11. "Crystal" – Stevie Nicks
  12. "Practical Magic" – Alan Silvestri / "Convening the Coven" – The Michael Nyman Orchestra
  13. "Amas Veritas" – Alan Silvestri / "Maria Owens" – The Michael Nyman Orchestra


Box office

Practical Magic opened at #1 with $13.1 million in ticket sales. The film went on to gross $68.3 million worldwide, less than its $75 million production budget.[2]

Critical reception

Practical Magic received poor reviews from film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 21% approval rating, based on 91 reviews, with an average rating of 4.5/10 and the site's consensus states: "Practical Magic's jarring tonal shifts sink what little potential its offbeat story may have -- though Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock's chemistry makes a strong argument for future collaborations."[5] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 1–100 reviews from film critics, gives a score of 46 out of 100 based on reviews from 22 critics.[6]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave Practical Magic a negative review, calling it "a witch comedy so slapdash, plodding, and muddled it seems to have had a hex put on it."[7] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said that the film "doesn't seem sure what tone to adopt, veering uncertainly from horror to laughs to romance."[8]


Year Nominated work Award Result
1999 Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Dianne Wiest
American Comedy Award Nominated
1999 Favorite Supporting Actress – Comedy/Romance
Stockard Channing
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Won
1999 Favorite Actor – Comedy/Romance
Aidan Quinn
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Nominated
1999 Favorite Song from a Movie
Faith Hill
For the song "This Kiss".
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Nominated
1999 Favorite Supporting Actress – Comedy/Romance
Dianne Wiest
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Nominated
1999 Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young Actress
Camilla Belle
Young Artist Award Nominated
1999 Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young Actress
Evan Rachel Wood
Young Artist Award Nominated

In other media

In 2004, Warner Bros. and CBS produced Sudbury, a television pilot written by Becky Hartman Edwards, starring Kim Delaney in the role played by Bullock in the film, and Jeri Ryan in the role played by Kidman. The series, named for the Sudbury, Massachusetts location of the novel and film, was not picked up.

In 2010, Warner Bros. and ABC Family attempted to develop a prequel television series.[9]

See also


  1. Sims, David (2018-10-16). "Thank the '90s for Practical Magic". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-10-16.
  2. "Practical Magic". The Numbers.
  3. "Practical Magic: A Victorian House Fit for a Witch". Hooked. 25 October 2009. Retrieved 31 October 2012. It looks like a real house that was built in the 1850s, but it’s really just an “architectural shell” that took 8 months to build and was (sadly) destroyed after filming was over.
  4. "Design". Practical Magic. Amas Veritas. Archived from the original on 6 May 2012. Retrieved 31 October 2012. Though this Victorian house looks as if it's been in place for a century, it's actually an architectural shell.
  5. "Practical Magic". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  6. "Practical Magic". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  7. Gleiberman, Owen (October 16, 1998). "Practical Magic Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  8. Ebert, Roger (October 16, 1998). "Practical Magic". Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  9. Hibberd, James (October 29, 2010). "ABC Family brewing 'Practical Magic' reboot". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
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