Whatever Happened to Thora Birch from ‘Hocus Pocus’?
"I smell children!" Seeing as it's officially spooky season, it's time to bust out your perennial Halloween traditions and watch Hocus Pocus for the umpteenth time.
Yes, you know all the words to "I Put a Spell on You." Yes, you know which Sanderson sister you are. And yes, of course you can't wait for the sequel to be released on Disney+. But do you know what happened to the Disney classic's youngest breakout star?
Take Thora Birch for example. The then-11-year-old played Dani Dennison — Max's Halloween-loving eight-year-old sister who convinces him to take her trick-or-treating, thereby kicking off the film's entire chain of events. There would pretty much be no Hocus Pocus without Dani. (Okay, and Thackery Binx. And Billy Butcherson. And Emily. But you get the point.)
To celebrate the Halloween season, PopCrush did some digging to find out what happened to Thora Birch and what she's up to these days.
Pre-Hocus Pocus Beginnings
Even before landing the role most arguably recognizable to a generation of millennials, Thora Birch was already a hard-working child actor in Hollywood. (Random fact: Both of her parents were former adult film stars who appeared in 1972's Deep Throat, and they initially resisted young Thora's desire to pursue a career in Hollywood.)
While Hocus Pocus didn't premiere until July (yes, July!) of 1993, the young actress made her film debut five years prior in 1988's Purple People Eater alongside Neil Patrick Harris, Ned Beatty, Shelley Winters, Dustin Diamond and Peggy Lipton. For her role as Molly Johnson, Thora won both a Youth in Film Award and a Young Artist Award.
Between that film and Hocus Pocus, she also starred in movies such as 1991's All I Want for Christmas and 1992's Patriot Games (opposite Harrison Ford), and landed both main and recurring roles on television series such as NBC's Day by Day and Parenthood — the latter a precursor to the hit 2010s drama of the same name.
From Child Star to Serious Awards Contender
Thora worked steadily throughout the rest of the '90s: she reprised her Patriot Games role in the thriller's 1994 sequel Clear and Present Danger; played the younger version of Melanie Griffiths' character in 1995's Now and Then; tried her hand at adventure opposite a young Vincent Kartheiser in 1996's Alaska; and more.
However, her career — and public profile — rocketed to the next level at the turn of the century thanks to her role as Jane Burnham in 1999's American Beauty.
Just 17 at the time, Thora earned her first-ever BAFTA nomination (for Best Actress in a Supporting Role) for her part in the Sam Mendes-directed hit. (While the teenager lost the BAFTA to Dame Maggie Smith, American Beauty itself would go on to dominate that year's Academy Awards, earning eight nominations and winning five Oscars including Best Picture.)
Thora wisely continued her upward career trajectory from there... and it paid off. In 2001, she was nominated for her first Golden Globe (for Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical) for playing Enid in the cult favorite black comedy Ghost World. Two years later, she also earned her first nod at the Emmy Awards thank to her starring role in the made-for-TV movie Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story.
A Break From the Industry... and Then a Comeback
Frankly, Thora's credits throughout the rest of the 2000s are too many too name. There were lots of indie movies (2005's Slingshot, 2009's Winter of Frozen Dreams). There was a guest spot voicing a character on Nickelodeon's My Life as a Teenage Robot. There were even starring roles in a couple of music videos (Moby's "We Are All Made of Stars," Limp Bizkit's "Eat You Alive"). But by the 2010s, her acting career was starting to ebb.
In 2010, the actress was set to make her stage debut in the off-Broadway production of Dracula, but was summarily fired from the gig after her father — who was working as her manager at the time — reportedly physically threatened another cast member in an altercation. In 2012, Thora served as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention, and then took a break from acting altogether to focus on academic studies.
However, she didn't stay away from the clarion call of life in front of the camera for too long. She began mounting a comeback in 2015 with the recurring role of software engineer Morgan during Season 1 of the sci-fi series Colony.
More recently, she's played a recurring role on a little show you might have heard of called The Walking Dead (as Gamma/Mary in Season 10). She also landed a small role in the 2019 indie darling The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
And that's not all! Thora has new projects in the works, too.
Up next, she's slated to star in Netflix's upcoming Addams Family spin-off series Wednesday. Following the beloved character of Wednesday Addams, the series is being helmed by none other than Tim Burton, and stars Jenna Ortega in the titular role alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán as Morticia and Gomez Addams, respectively. While Thora specific role has yet to be announced, she'll be a series regular — and we can't wait to see what she does with her role.