Practical Magic

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Practical Magic
Practical magicposter.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by Griffin Dunne
Produced by Denise Di Novi
Screenplay by Robin Swicord
Akiva Goldsman
Adam Brooks
Based on Practical Magic 
by Alice Hoffman
Starring Sandra Bullock
Nicole Kidman
Goran Visnjic
Stockard Channing
Dianne Wiest
Aidan Quinn
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Andrew Dunn
Editing by Elizabeth King
Studio Village Roadshow Pictures
Di Novi Pictures
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • October 16, 1998 (1998-10-16)
Running time 103 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $75 million
Box office $68,336,997[1]

Practical Magic is a 1998 American romantic comedy 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. The film score was composed by Alan Silvestri.

Bullock and Kidman play sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, who have always known they were different from each other. Raised by their aunts after their parents' death, the sisters grew up in a household that was anything but typical--their aunts fed them chocolate cake for breakfast and taught them the uses of practical magic. But the invocation of the Owens' sorcery also carries a price--some call it 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 Owen's lives.


Maria Owens, a young and beautiful witch, is exiled to a small island, called Maria's Island in Massachusetts with her unborn child as punishment for escaping her execution. She casts a spell upon herself to never fall in love due to heartbreak, only to die soon after. The spell becomes a curse for hundreds of years. Gillian and Sally Owens, two descendants of the Owens family (who continue to keep their maiden names, or take the last name of their mothers, in order to continue the Owens legacy), are taken in by their aunts Frances and Jet after the death of their parents. Sally appears to be the more magically gifted of the two while Gillian's talents are more about charm and persuasion. Both were subjected to ridicule during their youth, but this only made their bond stronger. After witnessing their aunts cast a spell on a man for a woman who seems obsessed with having his love, Gillian decides to fall in love and Sally casts a true love spell to protect herself from ever being hurt because of love, by describing her true love as a mass of features and contradictions she feels could never happen.

The sisters take an oath to each other using blood from both of their hands just before 18 year-old Gillian runs away with a boy to California. Sally meets and marries Michael, an apple salesman. They have two daughters, Kylie and Antonia, and within several years open a botanical shop which sells their homemade soaps, shampoos, etc. After Michael is killed by a truck, Sally and her daughters return to the Owens home to live with the aunts, two free spirits who have never recognized, much less followed any rules except those imposed by their Craft. When Sally realizes that the aunts cast a spell so she could fall in love with Michael, she swears off magic because she believes the curse has ruined her life, and she vows that her daughters will not learn to practice magic. Devastated by her husband's death, Sally falls into a depression, and Gillian senses that her sister needs her, and makes a quick visit home. But when she returns to the southwest and the man with whom she's become involved, Jimmy Angelov, he becomes controlling and abusive, striking her in the face. Trying to escape him, Gillian drugs Jimmy so that she can return unimpeded to Massachusetts. This maneuver fails, so she phones her sister for help. Sally jumps on the next plane to rescue Gillian, but Jimmy becomes violent, and using his gun to threaten them, forces Sally to drive his car while he remains in the backseat with Gillian, drinking from a bottle of tequila.

Jimmy, drunk and rambling nonsense, is still alert enough to use his gun to menace the sisters if they don't do exactly what he wants. He insists that they join him in drinking his tequila. Sally, who's driving, manages to dose Jimmy's tequila with the belladonna Gillian had passed to her, to make him sleep, but inadvertently fatally overdoses him. Once they're back home in Massachusetts, the sisters manage to resurrect him using the forbidden spell from their aunts' book of spells, but Jimmy attempts to kill Gillian immediately upon being revived, so Sally kills him again and the sisters bury his body in the back garden of the Owens home. The aunts return home from a weekend away and instantly sense that their nieces have performed illicit magic. After ensuring the safety of the children with pieces of the rope that had been the noose intended to hang their ancestor Maria but broke instead, they leave, telling the children to pass on a message to their mother and aunt: "Clean up your own mess".

Arizona State investigator Gary Hallett arrives from Tucson, Arizona in search of Jimmy, who it turns out has killed before. As Gary begins to suspect Sally, who reacts very strangely to the man, even telling Gillian she didn't think she was capable of lying to him. He begins investigating her by interviewing her neighbors, who are the grown-up girls who treated the young Owens sisters so contemptuously many years ago, and still intentionally exclude her from school activities. Even Sally's employees describe her as a witch, although they attempt, however unsuccessfully, to explain that she only uses white magic, and would never harm anyone. When he confronts Sally with these allegations of witchcraft, Sally at first doesn't admit anything. Instead, she explains about the power of symbols, using his shield as an example. She tells him that the star-shaped piece of metal has no power in itself; the power comes from his belief that it means something, and that his belief is what gives it its power; a lesson he will soon witness and surely never forget.

Meanwhile, Gillian works with her nieces Kylie and Antonia to create a potion to send Gary away; however, as their aunt tells them about the spell their mom cast when she was a girl afraid of being hurt by love, the girls recognize that Gary is the impossible man described in Sally's true love spell, and as the family and Gary sit at the patio table for a pancakes breakfast, the girls grab the pitcher holding the pancake syrup into which Gillian had mixed the potion and throw it off the cliff into the ocean below. Later, Sally visits Gary's motel room, and has him record her testimony. She sees a letter she had once written Gillian, and becomes enraged that he had invaded her privacy in such a way. But after he explains to her the effect the letter had on him; how he feels he knows her from reading it again and again, they are unable to deny their feelings for each other. They kiss and Sally realizes that he was there because of the spell she cast years earlier.

When Sally returns home, she discovers that Jimmy's spirit has possessed Gillian's body and Gary witnesses Jimmy's spirit emerge. Jimmy attempts to grab Gary's heart, but his star-shaped badge saves him and temporarily exiles the spirit. Later, Sally tells Gary that he is there because of her spell and the feelings they have for each other are not real, but the result of a spell she cast on herself many years before. Gary replies that curses are only true if one believes in them, which he doesn't, and reveals that he also wished for her, before he returns to Arizona.

Jimmy possesses Gillian again and attempts to kill Sally. When Frances and Jet return, they realize what has happened, after a night of drinking margueritas inadvertently made with the tequila from Jimmy's bottle. Finally accepting she must embrace her gift of magic to save her sister, Sally asks the aid of the townswomen who have excluded her all these years. The townswomen respond to the basic story of an ex Gillian simply couldn't get rid of, and following the basic instructions of the aunts form a coven to exorcise Jimmy's spirit, but Sally makes them stop when she sees that the effort might kill Gillian. Carefully remaining outside the circle, Sally repeats the blood oath they swore when Gillian first left: they clasp their hands to mix each other's blood once more, exorcising Jimmy's spirit and allowing the coven to banish him completely, while also breaking Maria's curse on the Owens women. Soon after Sally receives a letter from Gary telling her that she and her sister are cleared of any suspicion of wrongdoing in Jimmy's case and Gary returns to Massachusetts to be with Sally. The Owens women celebrate All Hallow's Eve (a/k/a Samhain, one of the sacred 8 Sabbats) dressed up in witch costumes that have been used to mock witches over the years, complete from the pointy black hats to the striped socks (a la the "Wicked Witch" in the "Wizard of Oz" who was killed when Dorothy's house landed on her). They even jump off the roof as they'd long been accused of doing, using black umbrellas to control their descent. But now they are embraced and welcomed by the townsfolk, and Gary scoops up Sally's daughters, just like the father he's planning to become.


  • Sandra Bullock as Sally Owens, a witch who becomes widowed after the Owens’ curse kills her husband.
  • Nicole Kidman as Gillian Owens, sister of Sally, who grows bored with small town life and becomes the victim of an abusive relationship.
  • Goran Visnjic as James 'Jimmy' Angelov, boyfriend of Gillian, who becomes abusive and kidnaps the sisters, and is ultimately killed by them, twice.
  • Stockard Channing as Aunt Frances Owens, aunt of Sally and Gillian, who tends to be more outgoing and fun-loving. She also loves to meddle in people's love lives.
  • Dianne Wiest as Aunt Bridget 'Jet' Owens, aunt of Sally and Gillian, who tends to be more tenderhearted and quiet.
  • Aidan Quinn as Investigator Gary Hallet, a lawman who investigates Sally and Gillian in the murder of Jimmy Angelov and falls in love with Sally.
  • Caprice Benedetti as Maria Owens, matriarch of the Owens clan.
  • Evan Rachel Wood as Kylie Owens, daughter of Sally Owens, who lives with her mom and aunts after the death of her father, Michael. She looks and acts a lot like her Aunt Gillian.
  • Alexandra Artrip as Antonia Owens, daughter of Sally Owens, who lives with her mom and aunts after the death of her father, Michael. She looks a lot like her mother.
  • Mark Feuerstein as Michael, husband of Sally Owens, and father of Kylie and Antonia Owens. He is a victim of the "Owens' Curse", which resulted in his death.
  • Lora Anne Criswell as young Gillian Owens.
  • Camilla Belle as young Sally Owens.
  • Margo Martindale as Linda Bennett
  • Chloe Webb as Carla.
  • Martha Gehman as Patty.


Practical Magic was partially filmed on an artificial set in California. The film's producers said the house was a big part of the depiction of the Owens' culture, so they knew they had to build a house to accurately depict this. They built it on San Juan Island, Washington.[2] They brought much of the set from California and placed it inside the house, but it still took almost a year to perfect the image of the house and the interior.[3] The house used is owned by the Sundstrom Family and is located on San Juan Valley Road, San Juan Island. They built a replica of the outside of the house on the west side of San Juan Island so that it looked like the house was on the waterfront, but in actuality it is in the valley. They built the house in San Juan County Park but since the house was built only for this filming, it was torn down after the movie was released. Many of the small town scenes were filmed in downtown Coupeville Washington located on Whidbey Island.

According to Sandra Bullock in the DVD commentary, in 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 also thinks that the supernatural elements of the house started to affect them; the cast and crew say that they have heard ghost 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
Released October 6, 1998 (original pressing)
Recorded August 15–16, 1998,
Abbey Road Studios (Michael Nyman tracks)
Genre Soundtrack, pop, minimalism, orchestral
Length 56:58 (Nyman pressing)
Language English
Label Reprise/WEA
Producer Danny 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 songs "If You Ever Did Believe" and a new recording of her song "Crystal", both songs featuring Sheryl Crow on back-up vocals.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "If You Ever Did Believe" – Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow
  2. "This Kiss" – Faith Hill
  3. "Got to Give It Up (Pt.1)" – Marvin Gaye
  4. "Is This Real?" – Lisahall
  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 and Sheryl Crow
  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[edit]

Practical Magic opened at #1 with $13.1 million in ticket sales. The film went on to gross $68.3 million worldwide, well short of its $75 million budget.

Critical reception[edit]

Practical Magic received negative reviews from film critics. The film has a 20% approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 55 reviews with an average rating of 4.4/10 and the consensus being "Comedy, romance and humor mix with unsatisfying results."[4] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 1–100 reviews from film critics, calculated an average rating score of 55 based on 22 reviews.[5]

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."[6] 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."[7]

Accolades [edit]

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

Differences from the novel[edit]

  • Sally lives with her husband Michael in the aunts' home until he dies. She then moves to New York to raise her children.
  • Gillian does not show up until Sally's children are 16 and 13 (they are much younger in the film).
  • Jimmy Angelov (Jimmy Hawkins in the book) is already dead in Gillian's car when she arrives at Sally's. Sally never meets him and she is not responsible for his death.
  • Jimmy's death is accidental: Gillian begins slipping nightshade into his drinks so he will stop beating her at night. She believes it accumulated in his blood and he died spontaneously. In the film, Sally poisons him while he holds them hostage on the road.
  • The aunts virtually disappear from the book until the end when they return to get rid of Jimmy's ghost.
  • The book delves in-depth into the lives of the teenage sisters Antonia and Kylie and their fluctuating relationship.
  • Gary Hallet plays a minor role in the book. He is not, however, a manifestation of a spell by Sally to never fall in love (as in the film).
  • Sally works for the school district, she does not own her own store.
  • In the book, Gillian does not get possessed by Jimmy Angelov. He simply wreaks havoc on Sally's house and taunts Kylie (who has psychic powers and can see him).
  • Gillian meets a local biology teacher named Ben Fry and marries him.

Efforts for television series[edit]

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.[8] 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 reboot television series.[9]


  1. ^ Practical Magic at
  2. ^ "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." 
  3. ^ "Design". Practical Magic. Amas Veritas. Retrieved 31 October 2012. "Months later, key sets like the conservatory, which leads to the garden, were transported to Washington and reassembled so outdoor scenes could be shot. Though this Victorian house looks as if it's been in place for a century, it's actually an architectural shell." 
  4. ^ "Practical Magic". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Practical Magic". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  6. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (October 16, 1998). "Practical Magic Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 16, 1998). "Practical Magic". Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Sudbury (TV 2004)". 
  9. ^ Hibberd, James (October 29, 2010). "ABC Family brewing 'Practical Magic' reboot". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 

External links[edit]