Moral dilemmas are often a feature of dramatic movies. It’s not surprising that many movies have been made that touch on the topic and involved the battle between good and evil. Many films throughout history have portrayed Satan. Some are meant to scare. Some grapple with the subjects of faith, good and evil. some are even comical. Here are our picks for the top 20 portrayals of Satan in movie history.
Most would agree that the best and most frightening portrayal of Satan in movie history is “The Exorcist”. The 1973 William Friedkin directed move left many scarred with nightmares. The movie is based on the 1971 book by William Peter Blatty which was inspired by the real exorcism of a boy known as Roland Doe in 1949. The fact that “The Exorcist” is even loosely based on a real event is haunting. In the movie, a young Georgetown, Washington DC priest (Max von Sydow) is called upon by the Catholic Church to investigate and help a mother (Ellen Burstyn) and her young daughter (Linda Blair). The 12 year old girl, Regan, increasingly exhibits signs of satanic possession. As Father Lankester Marrin performs the exorcism of demons from the little girl, the special effects are absolutely gruesome. The film also grapples with psychological issues of faith and motherhood. “The Exorcist” spawned several sequels but the original remains etched in many minds as the most frightening portrayal of Satan and what it looks like when the Antichrist and demons possess an innocent human being.
Like “The Exorcist”, “The Omen” spawned several sequels, but the original 1976 movie stands out as one of the most frightening portrayal of Satan in film. Richard Donner directed the supernatural horror movie in 1976. The movie tells the story of Robert and Katherine Thorn, an older American Ambassador (Gregory Peck) and his wife (Lee Remick) living in Europe. When the wife gives birth to the couple’s first child in Rome, the child dies. Instead of telling his wife who would be distraught, a Chaplain at the hospital helps him obtain a newborn orphan whose mother died during childbirth at the same hospital. Unaware of that the baby is not her own, Katherine is ecstatic to begin their lives as a family. While living in the United Kingdom, the Thorns begin to notice bizarre behavior by the young son, Damien. Zoo animals are frightened, people die, and Damien looks on with a cold dark scare. Robert Thorn finally discovers the truth about his adoptive son. Damien is the Antichrist. The movie is haunting and terrifying and remains one of the best films in history to portray Satan.
The Devil’s Advocate
“The Devil’s Advocate” was a commercial success and won the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. In this 1997 movie directed by Taylor Hackford, Satan takes the form of a high powered Manhattan attorney. The movie alludes to classic literature depicting the Antichrist including John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”, and the works of Faust. Al Pacino plays John Milton, the head of a major New York City law firm. Milton recruits a young attorney from Florida, Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) and persuades him and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron). In Manhattan, Kevin is drawn into his job and a big murder case the firm is representing and Mary Ann soon exhibits hallucinations. Eventually it is revealed that John Milton is Satan and that Kevin Lomax is his son. “The Devil’s Advocate” is a horror film wrapped up in a mystery. The movie has great special effects and a frightening air. The movie also deals with philosophical issues such as the concept of Free Will. .
2013’s “The Conjuring” is one of a series of horror films that delve into the paranormal cases of Ed and Lorrraine Warren. The couple investigated several famous hauntings in the 1970’s and 1980’s including the Amityville haunting on Long Island in New York and the Perron haunting in Rhode Island. “The Conjuring” looks at the Peron haunting. The movie was directed by James Wan and starred Ron Livingston as Roger Perron and Lili Taylor as his wife Carolyn. Patrick Wilson played Ed Warren and Vera Farmiga played Lorraine Warren. The movie draws on several of the Warren cases but focuses on the true story of the Perron family who claim that their seventeenth century farmhouse and property were haunted mostly by a real life with who lived in the area centuries ago. The movie shows Carolyn’s progressive possession by demons. The Warrens eventually have to perform an emergency exorcism on Carolyn at the home. The movie is mostly frightening due to the use of music and pop up imagery.
“Rosemary’s Baby” was nominated and won several awards and was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The 1967 psychological horror film remains a classic movie about a frightening New York City satanic cult. Roman Polanski directed the movie based on a book by Ira Levin. The film stars Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse and John Cassevetes as her husband Guy. Rosemary is a young naive Midwestern girl raised with strong Catholic values. Guy is an actor. The young couple move into a Gothic Manhattan apartment building where they meet an older couple, the Castevets (played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer). The Woodhouses are trying to have a baby, and the night of the conception, Rosemary has strange hallucinations. When she becomes pregnant the couple is elated. Rosemary undergoes strange pregnancy symptoms including abdominal pains, loss of weight and a craving for raw meat. Rosemary begins to investigate the strange Castevets and becomes increasingly disturbed by their mystery. During labor, Rosemary is sedated and is told the baby died during childbirth. She finds a hidden passage through her apartment closet that leads to the Castevets apartment where her baby is alive. The baby’s father is not Guy but Satan. Rosemary must choose whether to raise the child herself.
The Ninth Gate
Roman Polanski directed the 1999 film “The Ninth Gate” which is based on a novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Johnny Depp plays Dean Corso, a shady Manhattan rare books dealer. A wealthy book collector, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), hires Corso to find 2 copies of a book that was allegedly written by Satan. Balkan has a third copy, and he wants Corso to research which of the 3 books is authentic. The original book allegedly helps summon the Devil and achieve immortality. Corso find the other copies in Portugal and Paris. The movie combines a mystery and a thriller as well as the occult and horror. The book and movie are based on the mystery surrounding an actual medieval book called the Codex Gigas.
“The Witch” is the directorial debut of Robert Eggers who also wrote the screenplay for the 2015 movie. The plot takes place in 1630’s New England when a Puritan family is banished from the plantation because the father has a different interpretation of the New Testament. The family builds a farm along the edge of a forest but are soon traumatized. One of the children disappears. Other mysterious tragedies unfold. The children claim to talk with one of the farm’s goats, Black Phillip. It turns out Black Phillip is Satan in the form of the goat and he destroys the farm, gores a child and convinces the eldest daughter to sign over her soul and join the coven of witches living in the forest.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Skeptics of demonic possession argue whether the symptoms are real or a manifestation of medical or psychological illness. The Catholic Church goes to great lengths to disprove physical or psychological illness before performing an exorcism. “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is loosely based on the actual exorcism of Anneliese Michel, who died of malnutrition following an attempted exorcism. The 2005 movie was directed by Scott Derrickson and follows the court case against Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) who is accused of murdering 19 year old Emily Rose who died of malnutrition and self inflicted woulds following an exorcism attempt. Laura Linney playes Erin Bruner who defends the priest at trial. Through the course of the trial Bruner begins experiencing supernatural phenomena and begins to fear she is a target for the demons. Through the trial, flashbacks to the exorcism are shown. The tape recording of the exorcism is also shown to prove the priest’s innocence. Finally, Father Moore shows the Court a letter Emily Roe (Jennifer Carpenter) wrote explaining that following the exorcism, she was visited by the Virgin Mary and given the choice to ascend to Heaven or become a martyr by proving the existence of God and demons.
Stephen King always knows how to create a scary story. 1993’s “Needful Things” was adapted from King’s 1991 story which he wrote just after recovering from drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The book and film explore the existence of Satan and his sneaky ways to obtain human souls. Fraser C. Heston directed the movie which stars Max von Sydow (from “The Exorcist”) as Leland Gaunt, a mysterious old man who opens a shop in a small town in Maine. Gaunt entices the residents of the town by selling valuable merchandise at very low prices. The town’s sheriff, Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris) is skeptical. In some movies Satan is depicted as a frightening monstrous beast, but the devil can be even more frightening when portrayed as an innocent appearing old shopkeeper.
Drag Me to Hell
The supernatural horror movie “Drag Me to Hell” conveniently set itself up for a sequel like many horror movies involving the devil. “Drag Me to Hell” was released in 2009 and directed by Sam Raimi and co-written with his brother Ivan. The preface of the movie begins with a boy steeling a necklace from a Gypsy carriage in Pasadena, California in 1969. The boy becomes possessed by a demon so the family holds a sÃ©ance where the boy appears to be dragged into Hell. Forty years later a bank loan officer, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) makes the tough decision to deny a loan to extend an elderly woman’s mortgage to prove herself to her boss and advance her career. The old woman attacks Christine, rips off her button and curses it. Christine begins to experience horrific hallucinations and learns from a medium that she is cursed by the demon Lamia. She will experience horrible things in the next three days and will be drug to Hell. Of course, Christine does everything she can to break the curse but in the end is hit by a train and dragged to Hell.
M. Knight Shyamalan is renown for his paranormal thrillers. 2010’s “Devil” is based on a story by the filmmaker. The American supernatural horror was directed by John Erick Dowdle. The movie opens with a voice over by Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) summarizing the stories his mother used to tell him about how Satan will trap sinners in confined spaces and kill them one by one until the last one commits suicide. When a group of 5 people are trapped together in a stuck elevator, Ramirez is one of the building’s security guards. Security is unable to communicate with the inhabitants of the elevator but are working to solve the problem. Each person in the elevator has committed a sin. One by one, they die in the elevator. Ramirez witnesses a frightening face on the closed circuit television camera and remembers his mother’s warnings. Is Satan in the elevator making these people pay for their sins where they can’t escape?
2011’s “The Rite” was directed by Mikael HafstrÃ¶m and loosely based on a book by Matt Bagliou. The book, “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist”, is based on the stories of Father Guy Thomas. Father Thomas is an American exorcist who trained with Vatican exorcists in Rome. In the movie, a young man named Michael Kovak (played by Colin O’Donoghue) enters the seminar for a free education. When his resignation is refused, Father Michael is sent to the Vatican to train as an exorcist. Father Michael is still skeptical in his faith when he meets a Welsh Jesuit exorcist Father Lucas Trevant (played by Anthony Hopkins) and witnesses the exorcism of a 16 year old girl who was raped and impregnated by her father leading to her possession. The woman and child die in childbirth. Father Lucas begins to appear possessed. Father Michael must perform the exorcism and returns to the United States and becomes an exorcist.
End of Days
“End of Days” is a 1999 action fantasy that used our fears of the new millennium to capitalize on our fears that the world would end. The movie was directed by Peter Hyams and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a former New York City police detective grappling with the murders of his wife and daughter and his faith in God. In 1999, Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger) is hired to protect an investment banker form assassins. Cane soon learns that a young girl, Christine York (Robin Tunney) has been chosen to conceive the Antichrist with Satan on New Years Eve 1999. Despite his weak faith in God, his alcoholism and his suicidal thoughts, Cane must prevent this from happening. In the end, Cane faces Satan while protecting the girl in a church on New Years Eve in a dramatic, action packed sequence. Cane finds his strength through God and helps God cast the demon back into Hell, saves the girl, dies and finds peace with the souls of his deceased family, and saves the world from Satan in the new millennium.
1987’s neo-noir horror film is based on the 1978 novel, “Falling Angel”, by William Hjarsberg. The movie was written and directed by Alan Parker and received critical acclaim and a cult following. The movie is about a New York City Detective, Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke), hired by Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a missing singer, Johnny in 1955. Johnny Favorite was a popular singer before serving in World War II. Since his return from the battlefield, Johnny was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital and is now missing. Harry’s investigation leads him to New Orleans where he finds that Johnny was involved with the occult and voodoo. People are murdered along the way through Harry’s investigation. It turns out that Johnny performed a human sacrifice and Harry is Johnny. They are possessed.
The Witches of Eastwick
Not all portrayals of the devil in movies are frightening and horrific. “The Witches of Eastwick” portrays Satan in a comedic light. The 1987 movie is based on John Updike’s 1984 novel of the same name. George Miller directed “The Witches of Eastwick” which is about three dissatisfied women (played by Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon) living in a small, pretentious, conservative Rhode Island town. Mysterious Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) moves to town and purchases the Lennox Mansion. Gossip is stirred when the three women begin spending time with Daryl at his mansion. The women realize that Van Horne is Satan and they have become his witches. They seek revenge on the man through voodoo and he eventually disappears but not before impregnating each of the women with a son.
The Devil and Daniel Webster
1941’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” is based on the writings of Faust. The movie was directed by William Dieterle and starred James Craig as down on his luck New Hampshire farmer as Jabez Stone. Edward Arnold played congressman Daniel Webster, and Walter Huston played “Mr. Scratch”, the Devil. When Stone states that he’d sell his soul to the devil for help, Mr. Scratch appears and accepts the offer. He offers Stone seven years of prosperity for his soul. The deal works well until it’s time for Scratch to collect. A breach of contract trial ensues with Stone being defended by Webster and Scratch choosing a jury of well known corrupt Americans. The Faustian question is investigated. Would you sell your soul for eternity to the devil for a period of wealth and prosperity?
The Last Temptation of Christ
“The Last Temptation of Christ” imagines how Jesus Christ was led into temptation by Satan during his life on Earth. The 1988 epic drama was directed by Martin Scorsese and is based on the controversial novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. In the novel and the film, Jesus of Nazareth must deal with the temptations of being human. The son of God must deal with fear, doubt, depression and lust. He is torn between the desires of being a human and the plan that God has for him to be the Messiah. The film shows the human side of God’s son as he grapples with the devil’s temptations and learns that as the Son of God, he can perform miracles and teach mankind love.
1995’s “The Prophecy” began the series of movies written and directed by Gregory Widen. The films deal with the war between the Angels and Devils that comes to Earth affecting human lives. The original film stars Christopher Walken as the Archangel Gabriel who comes to Earth to search and destroy an evil soul. Detective Thomas Batgget (Elies Koteas) becomes involved in the battle when he is warned by an angel named Simon (Eric Stolz) of upcoming events. The evil soul is transferred to a young girl who becomes ill. Her teacher (played by Virginia Madsen) meets Lucifer (Viggo Mortenson) who tells her that no soul can be admitted to Heaven because of Gabriel’s war.
2005’s “Constantine” may not have been a critically acclaimed film, but it is a popular movie that portrays the war between God and Lucifer. The movie is based on DC Comics’ “Hellblazer”. The basis of the movie is that God and Lucifer have agreed that the angels and devils’ offspring on earth can fight the ultimate war of the soul. Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, an occult detective, and Rachel Weiss plays a police detective. The movie is based on a comic series and is intended for that audience. It’s not a particularly frightening portrayal of the devil, but the movie is an exciting supernatural one to see.
Once upon a time fairy tales did not have happy endings. In fact, oral tales that considered right from wrong and human moral dilemmas were gruesome, ugly and horrific. 1985’s “Legend” brings this to light. The Ridley Scott directed movie tells the story of the Lord of Darkness or Satan (played by Tim Curry) on a quest to destroy the earthly guardians of light, the unicorns. Satan sends goblins to Earth to accomplish his goal. The movie wasn’t a big hit when it was released by was acclaimed for its photography and story. The movie starred a young Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert, and Annabelle Lanyan.
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