They are messengers, they are ghosts, they are guardians. So many terms have been used to describe angels. They exist in nearly all branches of any Western religion and have a knack for appearing to alter the path of mankind at crucial moments. Commonly, we are given visuals of feathery winged protectors from on high. Others have depicted them as nearly human, while many see versions that have fallen from grace and exist only to torment us. Whatever the reason, they persist in the minds of men. In cinema, they are irresistible plot devices and open up a world of mystical possibility. They are also great fun to watch and for some reason in the 90’s, they only appeared in black or leather dusters.
In both written and cinematic worlds, angels are always better than us in every conceivable way. Their status guides them in human interaction, leading toward grace or chaos. Those are the two fountains from which they are forced to drink. In each story, will we be manipulated for good or evil, and why must people always do what angels say? Here are 10 movies sent from above that made the best use of their supernatural beings for our earthly entertainment.
The 90’s gave birth to a plenitude of morose angelic material, delving into the dark side of religion. Whether it was The Prophecy or End of Days which entertained us by ushering in the actual end of days, we were treated to alternate versions of angels. The Ninth Gate is a prime example of such films. Johnny Depp plays Dean Corso, a rare-book broker hired to track a copy of a 1666 book called The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, which is rumored to be adapted directly from Lucifer. The book also contains an exclusive spell that conjures a door to meet Lucifer. The hunt takes Dean Corso from Portugal to Paris while being pursued by deadly, unseen foes in an anti-Da Vinci Code experience. Then there’s the mysterious female protector that randomly shows up and saves Corso’s life, time and again. She has beautiful, glowing eyes and unnatural skills that aid his quest. Is she an angel? A demon? The Ninth Gate is a riddle-filled treasure-hunt-meets-detective story, featuring a pre-pirate Depp and Frank Langella in his prime. What more do you need in a dark, supernatural thriller?
Let’s get the (SPOILER ALERT) twist out of the way. The Devil is a lawyer. Of course he is. If Lucifer the fallen angel took a job while he was stuck on Earth, what else would he excel at? Not only is no one surprised, but I’m sure it was the running joke that led to this movie’s creation. While it sounds like the obvious premise for a great comedy, this is anything but. The Devil’s Advocate is a serious psychological thriller about the fragility of the human soul when faced with temptation. Keanu Reeves is a small-time Florida lawyer who is given the opportunity of a lifetime. He’s called to work for a big-time New York firm run by a charismatic partner named John Milton (Al Pacino). Milton is likable, powerful, and has very questionable taste in wall art, but he always finds a way to win. If you picked up on the name, yes, the famous author of Paradise Lost was also named John Milton. While not meant to be the same person here, there is an obvious parallel story theme, as we also witness the fall of men. Again, the twists we all see a mile away. That is the beauty of this film. It’s a bullet you see coming at you in slow motion and are unable to dodge. The impact still hits hard, as the inescapable force of Pacino’s performance and the eerie yet gratuitous nude scenes pull us into the central story exploiting man’s weakness for sin. We are meant to take in this story and slowly question which choices we are capable of making.
Hooray, they’ve finally green-lit a sequel after nearly 20 years of waiting! Constantine is a fan favorite spun from a comic, into a feature, then a TV show, and finally back into a coming feature sequel. The title character, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), is a spiritually learned man with the insatiable desire to find demons on earth and send them back to hell. His own cursed fate was set long ago, and he’s destined to join his victims in hellfire when he dies. While he lives, he looks for any way possibly to change his eternal outcome and earn a place in heaven. Played by sci-fi staple Reeves, our lead is part exorcist, part detective, and a one-man “truth” anti-smoking campaign. While the real fun of the film is the deep peek into the supernatural dominions battling for Earth, the plot shifts from being just basic enough to let us enjoy the few twists it brings. In this world of scheming demons, self-righteous angels, and a likable mob boss of a Satan, you’ll be glad there’s another dose of Constantine coming in the future.
In the last gasp of the 20th century, there was no star like Nicolas Cage. The man seamlessly transitioned from his dramatic Oscar-winning role in Leaving Las Vegas to mega-blockbuster action films, to gritty thrillers, and somehow in the middle of this was City of Angels. It’s a different take on divine beings, which is the movie’s entire point. Gone are the winged helpers with an interactive mission, and here are inquisitive bystanders clad in trench coats. Cage plays Seth, an invisible angel who escorts the newly departed to the afterlife. As you can imagine, he spends a good deal of his time in hospitals. One day, Dr. Maggie Rice (played by Meg Ryan) looks right at him while trying to bring a patient back from death. This begins Seth’s obsession with attractive doctors (or at least Meg Ryan), as he allows himself to finally be seen in an effort to romance her. Little by little, Maggie deciphers that Seth is an angel just as Seth later learns there are others who have given up their immortality to exist as life-loving humans (one not so subtly called Nathaniel Messenger). It’s a pure romance through and through, which is unusual for Cage, but it’s pulled off well with the chemistry between Cage and his costar. From the absolutely absurd amount of leather dusters, to the near Hallmark Channel premise, to the incredible exclusive soundtrack, this is all things late 90s and a great watch.
6. Dogma (1999)
In addition to being a gifted writer, director Kevin Smith has enough talented A-list friends on his roster to make his endeavors fun. This film is proof that when he allows himself to finally take a break from the Jay and Silent Bob routine, his creativity shines. Oh, who are we kidding? Of course they’re in this. Dogma, however, is a very different experience from his previous outings. Gone are singular set pieces and witty talking heads. This is a larger budget, potty-mouthed take on religion and the Catholic Church, with witty talking heads. The elevator-pitch version is this: Banished to Wisconsin, a pair of fallen angels find a loophole created by the Church that will allow them to reenter heaven and destroy the world. They must get to New Jersey, and the only one that can stop them is an abortion-clinic worker. Suffice it to say, you definitely won’t confuse this storyline for another. Aside from a plot meant to be pointed, the cast makes this good fun. George Carlin as a Catholic cardinal sets the tone for satire from the gate, while Chris Rock and Salma Hayek do their part to keep the tone light. We all know that Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Jason Lee are going to show up as well, just as sure as Kevin Smith can’t leave his backwards ball cap at home. Dogma is a highly likable movie that dares you to be offended but is entertaining enough to make us forget why we should be.
Robert Downey, Jr. stars in a heartwarming comedy about missed opportunity and supernatural redemption. This flick is vastly underrated and often forgotten, as it directly competed in the theater against juggernauts such as The Fugitive, Jurassic Park, and In the Line of Fire. It still stands up today with a great mix of comedic timing, solid acting, slapstick, and absurd situations. Heart and Souls is a story of four humans whose lives are tragically cut short after a bus accident. They’re now stuck on Earth as guardian angels to a newborn baby. Over 30 years, they watch him grow into a man, only to realize they have very little time left to use their human conduit, make amends for earthly mistakes, and catch a bus to heaven. RDJ absolutely shines in the lead role, as he’s hilariously tormented, tripped up, and even possessed by the charismatic entities. The ghosts/angels are likewise very well cast, with Charles Grodin as the self-doubter, Tom Sizemore as the crook, and the lovelorn Kyra Sedgwick and Alfre Woodard as the maternal glue. This is a film for everybody. It lets great actors do what they do to carry a movie and doesn’t need heavy visual effects to show us angelic action.
Fallen is proof that the music of The Rolling Stones is universally loved by men and supernatural beings alike. While strapped down in the gas chamber, serial killer Edgar Reese hums “Time Is On My Side” before being executed. Detective John Hobbes (played by Denzel Washington) is in attendance and thinks nothing of it. It’s just more odd behavior he’d witnessed by an unpredictable psychopath. Things take a serious turn when fresh victims surface in the coming days, all looking as if they’d been murdered by the now very dead Edgar Reese. As Hobbes investigates, random people begin to follow him and creepily sing “Time Is On My Side” in the exact way Reese did in the gas chamber. The detective soon learns that he’s not hunting a human serial killer. He’s discovered a fallen angel named Azazel who inhabits human bodies for fun and now has his sites set on Hobbes. The detective is left with no choice but to put his career and life at risk to stop a killer who can’t be killed. This movie is a great noir detective story with a heavy heap of supernatural suspense. It’s a mind twist, a guessing game, and all perfectly acted by Denzel Washington, John Goodman, and Donald Sutherland. If you’re not humming The Rolling Stones by the time credits roll, then you probably weren’t paying attention.
What would the world look like without you in it? It’s an engrossing thought that tugs at our hubris and makes us question the importance of mortal existence. It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas film that tackles this philosophical subject in a charming yet provoking way that only a director such as Frank Capra could pull off. The setting is Bedford Falls, a small town caught in a real estate battle. As ruthless millionaire Mr. Potter plots to buy up everything in sight, the only thing stopping him is George Bailey, an honest man who owns a building and loan company. An unfortunate financial error on Christmas Eve allows Potter to finalize his land grab and close George’s family business. This brings thoughts of suicide to Bailey, who is talked down from a bridge by a stranger. This man is Clarence, a heavenly being tasked with showing George what life would be like if he had never been born. The plot expertly drives home the importance of all life and fighting for uncorrupted small-town morals even if it’s a fools errand. It’s a formula that Capra and star Jimmy Stewart have perfected together in other titles such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Aside from the real Christmas miracle being that this movie wasn’t titled Mr. Bailey Goes to the Bridge is the absolute staying power that it’s had, as it’s aired on network television nearly every year since 1956.
While angels in the outfield is not a new concept in cinema, angels in a cornfield certainly is. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is an Iowa farmer who hears a mysterious whispering voice in his crop, giving him instructions. It repeatedly tells him, “If you build it, he will come.” This now-famous phrase is one that has gone down in cinema lore, immediately identifying this film with its fanbase and baseball in general. Kinsella believes he’s been instructed to demolish his corn and build a ball field. The voice then goes on to tell him to find several older men, estranged from society and bring them to his new diamond. It is a whimsical mystery of faith and reconnection that is boiled down to the pureness of playing catch with a loved one. Field of Dreams also carries some basic religious parallels in the same way that many characters of Western religion had to sacrifice their lives and trust the words they heard in the wind. So too does Ray have to sacrifice his livelihood and trust the voice to build this baseball diamond. This movie ultimately shows us the power of people coming together through a simple game and the often unspoken longing of all men to bond with their fathers. While we (SPOILER ALERT) find out that the field brings dead players back from parts unknown to play ball, we’re not sure at the end if they were ghosts, men, or angels. Since the voice in the corn originally has a godlike quality and is about helping men find closure, we’ll call them angels for the sake of this list. Field of Dreams still holds a special place in the hearts of all baseball fans and has even inspired a real-life baseball diamond where the MLB holds actual games each year.
Boxing, body swapping, mystery, romance, and saxophones—this movie has everything you didn’t know you wanted. Here Comes Mr. Jordan is so special that it’s been remade twice: once, as Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty and also as Down to Earth with Chris Rock. Neither of them can hold a candle to the original. In this (best) version, boxing contender Joe Pendleton’s destiny is interrupted when he’s snatched from a plane crash and sent to heaven. He was meant to survive but due to angelic error is taken prematurely and had no body to which he could return, as his was cremated. With the help of companion angel Mr. Jordan, Joe is given a loaner body. He searches long for a replacement but only after seeing the stunning Bette Logan does Joe decide to take over the body of freshly murdered millionaire Bruce Farnsworth and make a move. Joe walks around in the body of Mr. Farnsworth, much to the surprise of his wife Julia and her lover Tony who think they have just drowned him. In his new body, Joe is able to find love, go after his missed title shot, bring the Farnsworth killers to justice, and most of all impress everyone with his saxophone playing. This is a perfect romantic film with just the right dose of comedy. Robert Montgomery absolutely charms no matter what body he’s in, while Claude Rains as Mr. Jordan gives his best role only to be seconded later as Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca. Classics like this are a rarity, so pop some corn, give it a watch, and as Mr. Jordan says, “So long, Champ.”
More Movies About Angels
- Wings of Desire (1987) Daniel (Bruno Ganz) portrays an angel who is perched above Berlin but decides to relinquish his immortality when he falls in love with a female earthling.
- Always (1989) is Steven Spielberg’s contribution to the angel genre. A dead firefighter (JD Souther) returns to Earth from heaven to comfort his grieving girlfriend.
- Angels in the Outfield (1994) A young boy asks an angel (Christopher Lloyd) to turn his favorite baseball team, the California Angels, into winners rather than losers.
- Casper (1995) in this famous 90s ghost movie, an angel plays a critical role in what propels the film’s plot and climax.
- The Preacher’s Wife (1996) When a reverend (Denzel Washington) begins to question his faith and his ability to help his community, an angel is sent from heaven to reassure him.
- Michael (1996) In this comedy by writer/director Nora Ephron, John Travolta portrays an angel who gives life-coaching lessons to three losers from Chicago.
- A Life Less Ordinary (1997) a pair of angels encourage a romance between an unlikely duo—a kidnapper and the woman he’s just kidnapped.
- What Dreams May Come (1998) Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams) dies in a car accident and goes to heaven. But when his distraught wife (Annabella Sciorra) commits suicide, she is condemned to hell. Chris makes it his mission to enter the netherworld and redeem his wife.
- Legion (2010) a band of ragtag strangers battle both demons and angels for control of planet Earth.