It's hard to believe that Hocus Pocus was ever less than a Halloween classic. But it's true, Hocus Pocus was a box office flop.
During its release in July of 1993, it only made 39.5 million (IMDb) domestically. Its overseas sales were not that much better at 30.3 million, which turned into disappointment for its studio, Disney. It didn't help that it went up against family-friendly adventure/drama Free Willy (a month earlier and Hocus Pocus would have been in more trouble due to Jurassic Park's release), its opening weekend the movie made 77.6 million.
Janet Maslin called Hocus Pocus "an unholy mess" in her 1993 review of the movie in the New York Times. She also goes on saying that Bette Midler's performance as Winnie Sanderson could have been "pure witchcraft".
Ms. Midler's performance is such a crazy amalgam of great-lady mannerisms and withering sneers that it deserves to have been shown off more clearly. Instead, the star is buried beneath a mountain of makeup, while the combined effects of prosthetic buck teeth and affected Britishisms make her hard to hear. More problematic, the movie that has been built around Ms. Midler's feisty Winifred is badly cluttered, as the witches mix with zombies, parents and teen-agers on Halloween. Entirely too diverting is the spectacle of an entire cast elaborately overdressed for a costume party.
---Janet Maslin (The New York Times, July 16th, 1993)
When Hocus Pocus debuted it made fourth place its opening weekend, and quickly dropped out of the top 10. With so much talent acquired for the movie it's a mystery to why it was a miss. It was directed by Kenny Ortega (Dirty Dancing, Newies), John Debney (composer), James Horner (co-wrote Come Little Children), Bette Midler (For the Boys), Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy (Sister Act). But it was a miss, a huge miss.
Its cult status didn't come until nearly 20 years later, October is Hocus Pocus month. DVD sales go through the roof, according to The Numbers, from October of 2008 through October 4th, 2015 it brings in close to 20 million dollars.
What made it so popular? Certainly the 90s nostalgia, memories of post Halloween binge. Also because its Disney, and Disney can be inescapable.
This year, for the first time, Walt Disney World in Orlando added the “Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular” to its Not So Scary Halloween Party.
Hocus Pocus is annually aired on ABC Family, apart of its 13 Nights of Halloween.
Whatever the reason for its cult classic status, you might have to say that the sisters put a spell on us to fall in love with the movie.