The Number One Movie in America: The Craft
By Sean Collier
May 14, 2021

The Craft

Ultimately, “The Craft” didn’t sell all that many tickets. But it did sell one small storefront.

The 1996 cult favorite earned a relatively light $24.8 million at the box office, making it only the 66th top-grossing film of the year. It did win its opening weekend, albeit with a light $6.7 million. The film managed to beat a trio of also-ran openers that week — “The Great White Hype,” “Last Dance” and “The Pallbearer” — but it was obliterated the following weekend by the debuting “Twister,” which launched with more than $41 million.

The news was much better, though, for the then-owners of Panpipes Magickal Marketplace of Santa Monica Boulevard. The store, which is visited by the quartet of young witches in “The Craft,” was purchased immediately after filming wrapped.

By Fairuza Balk. Yup — she immediately became the owner of the store.

Balk sold the shop in 2001, but it’s still open today. Like Panpipes Magickal Marketplace — I just love typing that phrase — “The Craft” endures. While its theatrical release was hamstrung by an R rating (received, depending on who you believe, mainly due to outrage over the depictions of teens dabbling in the dark arts), it became a home-video mainstay, a hit for the teen sleepover set. In the great signifier of teen acceptance in the ’90s, it was an MTV Movie Award winner — Balk and Robin Tunney received the Best Fight trophy.

“The Craft” is not a triumph of writing; its characterizations are broad and stereotypical, and most of its plot advancements feel unearned. Rather, it’s a masterpiece of tone and MTV-era cool. The opening credits alone feel like the in-house video at a Hot Topic, and the soundtrack (while decried by contemporary critics) now sounds like a perfect time capsule, hitting the bullseye in the era of disaffected, post-grunge alternative rock.

It will certainly translate more directly for those who attach some nostalgia to it. For a generation of teens, “The Craft” was the movie that caused a witchcraft phase. (If you look at TikTok, it seems this had lasting influence.) Furthermore, it is a distinct product of its era (and not just in the soundtrack); there hasn’t been a direct analogue ever since, and the belated sequel, “The Craft: Legacy,” was essentially dumped to PVOD in 2020, with middling-at-best reviews and little fanfare.

Still, the original film has a legacy that outweighs both its limited success and few flaws. Mention it on Twitter, and you’re likely to provoke a rapturous response in the 30-40 set. (In fact, this episode of the podcast was chosen by a fan vote, in which “The Craft” edged out “Titanic.”) That it provoked a cult following, and plenty of nostalgia, shouldn’t surprise anyone who revisits it.

“The Craft” is the subject of the latest episode of The Number One Movie in America, a look back at past box-office champions. Each episode’s film is drawn at random from a list of every number-one movie since 1977. Please listen and subscribe!

Next time: A record is broken, as Jet Li and Zhang Yimou dethrone “Crouching Tiger” with one of the biggest-ever weekends for a film not in the English language.