Giving the Devil His Due: Satan’s 25 Best Appearances in Film

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Giving the Devil His Due: Satan’s 25 Best Appearances in Film

He wears many faces, answers to many names and takes many forms. He’s been around since the dawn of time and shows no signs of slowing down with age. Those who are of a mind to deal with him must know he’s seen and heard it all before, but they still think they might be the one to ante up against him and win. He’s the very personification of dread, and yet enough of a figure of fun that Christian Bale can just casually thank him for inspiring a performance. As a character in movies, Satan presents filmmakers with all sorts of intriguing choices: Will he spew fire and brimstone or leave his threats implied? Will he snarl and threaten or seduce and cajole?

In recognition of one of humanity’s oldest fictional characters (whether you believe he’s real or not), Paste has gathered this list of the Top 25 Devils in Film. The films in our list aren’t all classics, but they all feature unique and show-stopping appearances by the great antagonist, highlighting the dark lord’s rebelliousness, animal magnetism, fondness for toying with mortals, and base disdain for anything light and holy. Accordingly, we’ve ranked them in order of the strength of their Satan. In a few cases, we’ve included films with figures that aren’t explicitly the Satan of Christian tradition, but which nonetheless code as what he represents: the incarnation of pure evil.


25. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Director: Peter Hewitt

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For a duo of late ’80s, early ’90s Southern California metalheads like Keanu Reeves’ Ted Theodore Logan and Alex Winter’s Bill S. Preston Esq., ending up in a hell that looks exactly like a metal album cover from the period does not sound like such a raw deal. That is until the Devil, also looking like he sprang straight out of a Dio cover, traps them in an industrial dungeon full of mental torture. This Devil knows that there’s nothing metalhead teens hate more than mindless authority and having to cozy up to creepy relatives. Hence the living nightmares full of smooch-obsessed grandmas and a drill sergeant (Chelcie Ross) who makes R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket look like a pansy. Either Bill and Ted will choose to play the deadly games of Battleship, Clue, Electronic Football and Twister against The Grim Reaper (William Sadler) to save their mortal souls, or they have to pucker up and get a taste of granny’s overgrown lip hair. —Oktay Ege Kozak


24. Little Nicky (2000)
Director: Steven Brill

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Many portrayals of Old Scratch lean heavily into his hobby of tempting mortals to perdition, but it’s important to remember the old fellow works a 24/7 job for eternity. Little Nicky is an aggressive product of the Happy Madison brand, never shy about stooping as low as possible for a gag. Harvey Keitel’s horned, red-eyed, well-dressed Satan is a hard-working and relatively benevolent taskmaster. He’s matter-of-fact about his daily 4 p.m. ritual of shoving something uncomfortable up Hitler’s ass, but he refuses to accept Dan Marino’s soul in exchange for a Super Bowl win because the guy’s too nice. (Namath was hell-bound anyway, so it doesn’t count, he insists.) He’s so wedded to his work that he decides not to retire after his 10,000-year tenure, setting off a coup among his immediate subordinates. If there’s a hell, the boss would probably have to be somebody with a sense of humor. —Kenneth Lowe


23. The Story of Mankind (1957)
Director: Irwin Allen

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The devil can be a vicious devourer or a lust-fueled beast when abandon takes him, but he’s far more dangerous when he’s wearing his most presentable form. The movie surrounding Vincent Price’s “Mr. Scratch” plods along a bit too predictably, but the devil himself is a strong draw. Tall, handsome, with the same strange affect he brings to every role, Price is a cheerily evil and impeccably dressed devil who has stepped forward to prosecute mankind in a cosmic courtroom. The men in the sky want to decide whether or not humanity is worth saving on the eve of nuclear disaster. Mr. Scratch argues that we’re all hopeless, and to prove his point presents Exhibit A: The entirety of human history, from the dawn of time up through the world wars. The star-studded cast includes the Marx Brothers in several roles, Peter Lorre (Nero), Hedy Lamarr (Joan of Arc), and is sadly just as uncomfortable in its portrayal of people of color as you suspect from a film made in the ’50s. He’s destined to lose, of course, but Mr. Scratch won’t be deterred. When the judge of the proceedings lambasts him for being out of order, Price’s devil seems genuinely flattered. —Kenneth Lowe


22. Needful Things (1993)
Director: Fraser Clarke Heston

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“I’m not the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,” says Max von Sydow’s soft-spoken curio shop owner Leland Gaunt as one homicidal citizen of Castle Rock, Maine demands to know why he doesn’t just do his own dirty work. “I’m just one lonely guy.”

The Devil doesn’t have God’s ability to work miracles, but how much does it really take to sow discord among the humans whose souls he covets? Based on Stephen King’s novel, Needful Things argues that there isn’t much holding together the friendly façade of small town values and neighborly politeness. Leland Gaunt, owner of the eponymous shop that just happens to have whatever possession your heart desires (if you’re willing to do him a small favor), is exactly the sort of devil to put pressure on those fracture points. He’s kindly, unassuming, always concerned about how to make his customers happy, and never inclined to dirty his own hands or assume any bestial forms. It certainly doesn’t seem like he needs to: Before anybody knows what’s happening, the entire town is at one another’s throats over perceived slights arising from his tiny little favors. The film ends with the townsfolk blaming their rampages on him, but the local sheriff’s insistence that the residents of Castle Rock are “decent people” rings hollow. We know the truth just as well as Gaunt does: These “decent people” were looking for any excuse to drop the act. —Kenneth Lowe


21. Jigoku (1960)
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa

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If your damned soul has to end up in hell and you’re asked about which movie version of the Devil you’d like to be tortured under, Jigoku’s vengeful and ruthless demon of ultimate punishment for any sort of wickedness should be at the rock bottom of your list. Nobuo Nakagawa’s sleazy exploitation horror flick hidden inside an after school morality tale was shockingly gory and violent when it was released in 1960, and can still easily compete with the ickiest of modern day torture porn. The Devil isn’t visually presented as a clear character in the film, but his handiwork, the damned being boiled and skinned alive, chopped into pieces with every bit still pulsating with life, is like a version of Jigsaw with no interest in covering his devilry under the pretense of a sadistic game. The Devil of Jigoku doesn’t offer his victims a choice; he just cuts straight to the good stuff, if you pardon the pun. —Oktay Ege Kozak


20. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Director:   Mel Gibson  

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There are no half-measures to anything Mel Gibson does, so in his masochistic play-by-play of Jesus’s (Jim Caviezel) last hours on earth, an inhuman degree of torture—in which every ounce of bodily fluid empties viscously from the man-god’s body—must be matched by enough indulgent symbolism to convince any skeptical viewers that maybe Jesus’s sacrifice was worth all that goo.

Which also means the whole ordeal represents, for Gibson, as literal a battleground between Good and Evil as these things can get. Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) shows up to glower and lurk and generally slink asexually in the background, sheared of all body hair, an androgynous wraith-like alien-thing in a black robe studying Jesus like he’s a snack. In the garden of Gethsemane, Satan cheers on Jesus’s rebuttal to God—“Maybe I don’t die tomorrow?”—making the valid point that no one man should bear the burden of humanity’s sins, but because Gibson can’t help himself, Satan craps out a snake, giving Jesus a convenient symbol to heroically stomp underfoot. Jesus: 1; Satan: 0.

Otherwise, Gibson’s ghoulish ode to non-heteronormative temptation shows up during Jesus’s torture, cradling a pale infant creature that resembles Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. It’s jarring, especially when the weird old man baby reaches up to caress Satan’s cheek, dotting the “I”s and crossing the “T”s of Gibson’s perverted take on Madonna/Child iconography. It’s as creepy as it is a-religious as it is really stupid, because whether Gibson’s drawing parallels between the devil and the Virgin Mary, attempting to dredge up potential mommy issues in his messiah, whatever, the unbridled, inhuman gore of The Passion of the Christ blots out any salient message Gibson could ever make. —Dom Sinacola


19. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Director: Roman Polanski

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The banality of evil isn’t a concept new to the horror genre, but in Roman Polanski’s troubled hands, that banality is an unadulterated expression of institutionalized horror, one so ingrained in our society it becomes practically organic. With Rosemary’s Baby, the body of young Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is the institution through which Satan’s malice gestates, a body over which everyone but Rosemary herself seems to have any control. At the mercy of her overbearing neighbors (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), her Ur-Dudebro husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), and the doctor (Ralph Bellamy) recommended by her high society cadre of new friends, Rosemary is treated as if she’s the last person who knows what’s best for her and her fetus—a position she accepts as a matter of fact. She’s only a woman, a homemaker at that, so such is her lot. The worse she feels and the more fraught her pregnancy becomes—as well as the recurring flashes of a ghastly dream she can’t quite shake in which a ManBearPig mounts her, its glowing yellow eyes the talismans of her trauma—the clearer Rosemary begins to suspect she’s an unwilling pawn in something cosmically insidious. She is—She is the mother of Satan’s offspring, the victim of a coven’s will to worship their Dark Lord that much better. The baby has “his father’s eyes” it’s said; what of the mother’s does the baby have? —Dom Sinacola


18. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Director: George Miller

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Few actors cast as Satan have ever had more of a “Sure, that makes sense” quality than Jack Nicholson. The rakish figure that Nicholson cut as a leading man was always defined by his toothy, predatory-looking grin—a smile that seemed to suggest he knew many important things that you did not. “Devilish” was simply imprinted on his face from the start. We never quite get a sense in The Witches of Eastwick whether Nicholson’s “Daryl” is simply a demon or Old Scratch himself, but he certainly holds himself like a fiend without a care in the world—as long as things are going his way, at least. There is a type of cinematic Satan that is depicted as being in constant agony as a result of The Fall—sad-sack devils who continue to rue their own personal excommunication from heaven. Suffice to say, Nicholson’s Satan is the polar opposite. Everything about his character luxuriates in the tactile pleasures and carnal desires of being alive. He’s an aesthete, an epicurean, a tinkerer, a troublemaker. He’s very much a devil in the Miltonian sense; one that knows it’s far preferable to reign in hell than to serve in heaven. Heck, he’s the kind of devil who’s apparently free to just disappear from hell and cavort on the Earth at will, when he wants to get simultaneously embroiled in the love lives of Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon. Of course, at the same time, he’s also human enough to throw a spectacular hissy fit at church when he’s fed up with his lovers. In the end, both the passions and the temper of Nicholson’s histrionic devil have a tendency to run very hot indeed. —Jim Vorel


17. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Director:   Martin Scorsese  

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Martin Scorsese’s ultimate spiritual masterwork, a pretension-free and morally naked meditation on the deeply human burden of divinity, depicts the Devil as the exact opposite of the giant evil beast visualized by centuries of Christian dogma. To Willem Dafoe’s Jesus Christ, the Devil comes in the form of an innocent and pure-looking little girl, lifting the immeasurable spiritual weight of being the messiah off Jesus’ frail shoulders, instead offering peaceful salvation in the form of a regular human existence. The Devil’s ulterior motivations become clear as we reach the illuminating climax, yet Scorsese, and in turn novelist Nikos Kazantzakis and screenwriter Paul Schrader, defy the easy temptation of literally and figuratively demonizing the Devil, offering a transcendental treatise on free will instead. —Oktay Ege Kozak


16. Prince of Darkness (1987)
Director:   John Carpenter  

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John Carpenter  takes the title literally and imagines Satan as the offspring of a deeper evil in Prince of Darkness. In the basement of an abandoned LA church, a cylinder of sentient green goo waits, churning out endless streams of data to be eventually translated by a quantum physics professor and his young group of horned-up grad students. A local priest believes the goo to be the manifestation of Satan on corporeal Earth; when all the coeds discover that the goo’s transmitting differential equations, that belief grows into a complicated mythos regarding an evil greater than Satan, the Anti-God, who lives in antimatter, attempting to consume souls across dimensions, to reach through time and space with very real, very not spiritual, consequences. In the film, Satan may only be a prince and not a king, but it (genderless goo) still wreaks plenty of havoc, even possessing one of the grad students, Kelly (Susan Blanchard), wielding her as Satan’s vessel, a disfiguring privilege which just so happens to include the power of telekinesis. —Dom Sinacola


15. The Day of the Beast (1988)
Director: Álex de la Iglesia

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The burden of knowledge is heavy indeed, especially on the shoulders of Father Ángel (Álex Angulo); after burying his nose in “Bible Code” theory, he has discovered that the Antichrist will be born at midnight on Christmas Eve. If anyone should find out the time and date of the Antichrist’s birth, it should be a priest, but Ángel has a specific plan in mind for dealing with his discovery: Sin as much as possible.

Sounds like good times for the end times, but Ángel wants to get in Satan’s good books as a way of finding out the exact coordinates of the Antichrist’s birth. He just knows it’s somewhere in Madrid. So here goes this milquetoast man of God, stealing money from the homeless, knocking over street performers, and suggesting that a dying man should “go to Hell.” (He also drugs a woman and siphons off some of her blood.) The Day of the Beast is profane. It’s blasphemous. It’s also an uproarious black comedy, though what else anyone might expect from Álex de la Iglesia than bad taste filtered into a good movie? De la Iglesia’s Devil doesn’t make it easy for Ángel, of course. He’s cleverer by far than that. But Ángel, the hapless schmuck, keeps trying, and the film, bless de la Iglesia and his sick mind, keeps getting gorier. De la Iglesia sticks with the classic “hooved and horned monster” image of Satan in the end, somewhat of a disappointment for a movie with such imaginative acts of heresy. But The Day of the Beast boasts among the best representation of Satan’s influence among all of Hell’s cinema. —Andy Crump


14. Angel Heart (1987)
Director: Alan Parker

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A master class in casting: recruiting Robert De Niro to play the impeccably mannered, vaguely Euro-trashy Louis Cyphre, a name whose pun is deliciously at odds with the bleakness at the heart of Alan Parker’s equally trashy neo-noir. Listed in the credits as a “special appearance,” and really only in four scenes, De Niro stays laconic and careful throughout every one of his check-ins, his every accoutrement, movement and aspect both completely unnerving and totally unnecessary. With fingernails like talons, an overtly evil, Seagal-esque beard and a cane that one would guess has no ambulatory purpose, Cyphre seems less like the physical embodiment of Satan and more like shallow cosplay. Yet, watching him eat a hardboiled egg, efficiently cracking its shell and dumping a menacing amount of salt on its tip, we get a whiff of the devil’s ultimate game here. He could get what he wants, the ending he demands, without putting the film and our gumshoe protagonist (Mickey Rourke) through an increasingly nightmarish ordeal. He doesn’t need garish fingernails to intimidate; he doesn’t need all that salt. The whole of Angel Heart need not happen at all, really. The devil is just fucking with us. —Dom Sinacola


13. The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
Director: William Dieterle

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The devil is wily, and always ready to argue that you deserve the ill-gotten gains he’s offering. That Faustian narrative has been revisited in all sorts of contexts in the long history of Satan’s fictional intercessions on Earth, and it receives the 19th Century Nor’eastern treatment in The Devil and Daniel Webster. Jabez Stone (James Craig) is a young farmer fallen on hard times in 1840 New Hampshire, and his idle cursing summons up Mr. Scratch, (a plain-looking Walter Huston) whose emergence from eerily lit smoke and the panicked howling of barn animals leaves no doubt to his true identity. Jabez signs his name in Mr. Scratch’s book, and soon enough tears up his debt notes and becomes the richest man in the state. But when the devil comes to collect, Jabez wants out. It’s no good, of course—a hurled axe at Mr. Scratch’s head simply disintegrates into flames. When Jabez’s longtime family friend and politician Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) argues for the nullification of the contract, he tries to argue an American can’t be held to a foreign prince’s agreement. Who has a better right to American citizenship, Scratch argues: “When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on the deck.” We’re all susceptible to evil, Dieterle argues. Its agent on earth is Mr. Scratch, ready to offer up a loan or a jug of rum to the unwary, and willing to bring it to a jury trial—as long as that jury includes Benedict Arnold and Captain Kidd, and is presided over by a Salem witch trials judge, of course. —Kenneth Lowe


12. Fantasia (1940)
Night on Bald Mountain Segment directed by: Wilfred Jackson

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This may be a list of the best film Satans, but surely Fantasia’s “Chernabog” comes close enough to fitting the bill on imagery alone—and to be fair, Walt Disney did refer to the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of the musical film as depicting “Satan himself.” So there you go. Regardless, the fact that this depiction of the archfiend is animated would surely have been of little comfort to children seeing Fantasia in the 1940s or 1950s, given how purely menacing he is, looming over Bald Mountain. Utterly massive and clearly evil to the bone, Chernabog smirks and seems to gloat at his own grandiosity as he summons all manner of ghosts, goblins, witches and wicked creatures to his orbit. The depiction is pure gothic horror, and wouldn’t look out of place as a world-ending threat to be overcome in a high fantasy epic, or a modern superhero film like Hellboy. Ultimately, he’s vanquished (or at least driven back for a moment) by the ringing of the Angelus bell and the holy power it represents, but there’s a certain feeling of unease, even in victory. One gets the sense that a being like Chernabog will never give up, and that one day we’ll lose the will to oppose him. And when that happens, all hell truly will break loose. —Jim Vorel


11. Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006)
Director: Liam Lynch

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There’s one simple quote from The D’s vastly underrated but financially disastrous heavy metal comedy/musical/kitschy sasquatch porn feature The Pick of Destiny that tells you everything you need to know about the film’s depiction of the prince of darkness: “I am Devil, I love metal!” At the end of this painstakingly accurate biopic about Tenacious D’s rise to stardom, Jack Black and Kyle Gass have finally gotten their paws on the titular pick, forged from the chipped tooth of Satan (Dave Grohl), and are ready to blow some minds with their rock! Alas, Satan rips through hell’s searing cracks to challenge KG and Jables to a rock-off. If The D wins, Satan will let them be. If Satan wins, he’ll take KG back to hell and make him gargle copious amounts of “Devil’s mayonnaise” as his sex slave. With Grohl in the role, of course Satan shreds his drums. Does KG’s tender behind stand a chance? With the ultimate worship of everything metal in its thematic sights, The Pick of Destiny presents the wet dream of an ’80s metal cover in its depiction of the Devil, an imposing crimson beast with a voice so deep and hoarse, that it resembles that of an ’80s Kathleen Turner after a long night of karaoke. —Oktay Ege Kozak


10. Time Bandits (1981)
Director:   Terry Gilliam  

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Evil seeks above all other things to be banal so that it can appear legitimate. That banality forms the core of David Warner’s cosmic antagonist in Time Bandits, the ultimate personification of evil who hunts down Kevin (Craig Warnock) and a crew of mischievous little people who have stolen a map from him that allows them to travel through holes in time and space. Like Gilliam’s other visionary works, there is humor, whimsy, ridiculousness, and more than the movie’s fair share of truly dark moments. Warner (credited simply as “Evil”) is looking to dominate all creation and remake it in his hyper-efficient, coldly no-nonsense image. The heroes are absolutely no match for him in a straight-up fight, and don’t even think of touching his charred remains if you know what’s good for you. — Kenneth Lowe


9. The Witch (2015)
Director: Roger Eggers

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“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” Of course thou wouldst. Black Phillip as Satan (in the form of a goat) asks this of our young puritan Tomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), but only in the end, after she’s endured the explosion of everything her family’s repressed. While she became increasingly covered in the blood of everyone she knew, the goat stood by, staring dumbly and suffering two small children screaming into his ears, until the goat needed to push matters along, killing the religious oppressors he needed to get out of the way so he could transform into a smooth-voiced man-sized shadow and get Tomasin to sign her soul away to him. Everything goes easily according to plan—because as Robert Eggers’ The Witch demonstrates, religious fanatics are easy targets—and the devil awards Tomasin with the ability to cast off the clothes of her spirituality’s burden and levitate naked around a campfire. —Dom Sinacola


8. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Director:   Terry Gilliam  

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Tom Waits, musician, requires acclimation to the ear: He’s unusual, saying the least, not an artist easily digested by new listeners, if not because he doesn’t possess what most of us consider a real “singing voice,” then because he’s all over the map with style and eras. But his voice suits his style, and over the course of his career has trained him to play one of the best screen versions of the Devil in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, a movie that’s less interesting for what it is than what it could’ve been in an alternate dimension where Heath Ledger doesn’t pass away before his time. Waits plays Mr. Nick, longstanding antagonist to the title character, a sage locked in an eternal bet with Nick to see who can persuade the most souls to their side of the afterlife. Parnassus represents enlightenment, Nick ignorance. Guess who’s winning the wager?

Waits has a deep, gravelly, “you’re damned forever” voice that belies his unassuming appearance, coupled with a casual cool befitting his legend. And he’s handy with a taunt, too, a carrot of hope to dangle in Parnassus’ face always at the ready , getting him on the hook and keeping him there for all time. Every bet bears a promise that the good Doctor might turn his fortunes around, and Waits savors every opportunity to see that promise dashed. He’s having a good time, and when the Devil’s having a good time, no one else can. —Andy Crump


7. Constantine (2005)
Director: Francis Lawrence

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What kind of a rock star demon-slayer must you be to count yourself among the names on the shit list of the Devil himself? That’s the rep preceding John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) in the way-better-than-it-gets-credit-for comic adaptation that didn’t really bring many character traits from the comics. Nevertheless, it’s a movie with some unforgettable images and incredible scenery-chewing, not the least of which comes courtesy of Peter Stormare’s Satan in a very brief appearance that leaves one of the biggest impressions of anyone in the cast. Well-dressed but looking sunken-eyed and wretched, like an outcast playing at being the boss, Lucifer hates Constantine, and so relishes the thought of dragging him to hell that his one scene in the movie fairly boils with vindictive delight. How sadistic is the Prince of Lies? Enough to cure a man’s cancer out of spite. —Kenneth Lowe


6. Legend (1985)
Director:   Ridley Scott  

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The Devil so often appears in film in the guise of a human. Many times this is to impress upon us his inherently seductive and persuasive nature. A lot of the time, though, it’s purely out of practical concerns. It’s hard work getting an actor made up, all for an end product that might look silly. Ridley Scott said nuts to all that when he shot Legend, which makes Tim Curry into the ultimate movie devil if you buy into the idea that he should be physically bestial. Huge, red and with horns as wide at the base as his entire face, bursting into scenes by phasing through mirrors and exuding the second most menacing sexuality of Curry’s career, “Darkness” desires to force the young Lili (Mia Sara) to marry him and slay the last unicorn in the world to bring about eternal night. He’s evil through and through and loving it. —Kenneth Lowe


5. Häxan (1922)
Director: Benjamin Christensen

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Watching Häxan, a.k.a. Witchcraft through the Ages, in 2019 is an experience that is equal parts amusing and disconcerting. It’s important to note that in its time, the film was already approaching the subjects of witchcraft and Satanism through the sarcastic eyes of bemused, educated, “modern” members of society, and its not-so-subtle mockery of Christian superstition seems particularly strange to a modern audience, given that we tend to associate silent film with a bygone era of cultural naïveté. The beauty of Häxan, then, is how it reveals that our own “modern” cynicism toward the church is hardly a new development—simply an extension of the sentiment European filmmakers like Benjamin Christensen were capturing a century ago. And yet, at the same time, there’s often something genuinely off-putting about the devilish imagery that Christensen captures in Häxan. Its depiction of “the devil” is a grotesque and bestial one—hairy and unkempt, tongue lolling out. It’s an image that would likely lose its potency in the sound era of film, but coupled with silence it’s weirdly unnerving and ethereal. Footage of Satan in Häxan feels like something unearthed from a forbidden vault of occult collectibles—images that human beings weren’t meant to witness. In modern HD, it only looks all the stranger. Ultimately, Häxan feels like a film that has come unmoored from time itself. You’d like to laugh at it, but there’s always a voice in the back of your head, telling you that it would be a bad idea. —Jim Vorel


4. Faust (1926)
Director: F.W. Murnau

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The Devil is a seducer, a defiler, a trickster, an adversary, but he’s also a tragic figure. In many interpretations like this cornerstone of German Expressionism, no amount of scheming or conniving can bring him a victory against authority. Yet, Mephisto (Emil Jannings) is still a massive, terrifying, seemingly all-powerful presence. Betting with the archangel that he can corrupt the mortal Faust (the prize is the sum of all mankind’s mortal souls … no pressure), he unleashes a deadly plague and then entices the powerless alchemist to invoke his name for aid. Jannings figures into most scenes in the movie, and at times seems more the main character than does Faust. He is both disarmingly buffoonish, as when he messes around with a mortal woman, and unfathomably powerful, summoning skeletal armies and looming over cities with black wings that look like they dwarf mountains.

Scarier than such vulgar displays of power is his first appearance before Faust—a stooped old man with a twisted grin and glowing eyes, tipping his hat nonchalantly to the terrified Faust, who can’t outrun him no matter how he might flee. And yet, despite his power to grant and revoke youth, to cure and to stricken, to be run through by a jealous prince and then to simply walk in from offstage and kill his attacker in kind, we know Mephisto is bound to lose. He can take Faust’s life, but he can’t sway his soul. — Kenneth Lowe


3. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
Director: Trey Parker

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One thing that can’t be disputed about Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s concept of Satan, which combines the classic Christian red-horned devil look with the characteristics of a ’90s sitcom gay stereotype, is that the dark lord can hit a mean falsetto. During his big musical number, clearly inspired by The Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World,” Satan laments the fact that he can’t enjoy the pleasures of the material plane, which in his imagination is full of hunky sailors lathered in oil sipping cocktails on cruise ships, since he has to stay in hell and attend to the daily business of torturing the damned. Yet this Satan, voiced by Parker, is actually a gentle and loving soul deep inside. It’s his abusive and unappreciative boyfriend, Saddam Hussein (Stone), who’s the real troublemaker here. Saddam’s plans to turn a group of conservative mothers against Terence & Philip’s potty mouth, which naturally ends up in an apocalyptic war with Canada, is some serious buzzkill. Thankfully, Satan finally grows a pair and takes a stand against Saddam, stopping the eternal damnation of all human souls in the process. Which is something he … doesn’t … want? The ultimate motivations of this Satan are a bit unclear. —Oktay Ege Kozak


2. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Director: Taylor Hackford

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If you’re looking for the sly and subtle trickster who operates in shadows and whispers inspirations for evil shenanigans into his human playthings’ ear, look elsewhere. Boosted heavily by Al Pacino’s well-documented late ’90s no-fucks given period, this incarnation of the Devil has a BIG and booming personality, a transparent thirst for ultimate power, and the libido of a rabbit on Viagra. When he’s not busy chewing all forms of scenery delivering long-winded and bug-eyed monologues about how God’s somehow both a spineless pussy and an abusive tyrant, Pacino’s devil, a.k.a. New York City mega-lawyer John Milton, is busy trying to corrupt an aw-shucks southern lawyer with the personality of a blank canvas—and the performance from Keanu Reeves to match that personality—into spawning the Anti-Christ and bring about the end of times. All he has to do to reach this goal is to convince Reeves’ lawyer to raw dog his half-sister (Connie Nielsen) and get her pregnant. And you thought your family was fucked up. —Oktay Ege Kozak


1. The Prophecy (1995)
Director: Gregory Widen

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There’s an old saying in some Spanish-speaking countries: “The devil knows more because he’s old than he does because he’s the devil.” Experience is an unquantifiable advantage, and many movies grapple with Satan’s unfathomable age (or simply play it for laughs). The Prophecy is an avowedly crazy movie with an earnestly ’90s gothic punk plot about the jealous angel Gabriel (Christopher Walken) seeking to smuggle the soul of a recently deceased war criminal in the body of a little girl so that he can continue a petty war with God. Showing up near the end to explain this cosmic conflict to the hapless human protagonists is Viggo Mortensen’s Lucifer, a hissing, snarling creature who only wears the ill-fitting guise of a man.

In speaking about his portrayal of the character in an interview, Mortensen said that “The Devil can be anything. Can do anything. He doesn’t have to yell. He has power.” Mortensen’s Devil absolutely doesn’t need to yell to get his point across. Even his brief pep talk to Elias Koteas’ overmatched hero, while certainly well-meaning, is enough to make you believe a person might die of fright just talking to this guy. The terror he causes in others is compelling, but the moment that sells his immortality comes during a Native American exorcism ritual in which he intercedes. The stunned participants have lost their place in the chant, and Lucifer impatiently feeds them their next lines, as you or I might to a child who’s taking too long to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s ennui, disdain and encyclopedic knowledge all wrapped into one line. He’s learned a lot from being so old, but he still snarls with delight at the thought of ensnaring a couple more human souls before he takes his leave: “I love you,” he seethes, covered in blood, somehow pleading at the same time he’s threatening. “I love you more than Jesus.” — Kenneth Lowe

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