This article contains spoilers for Supernatural and This Is The End.
There may be only two things certain in this life, but only one of those two has inspired countless works of art down the ages (taxes just aren’t quite that interesting). Speculation about what might await us after we shuffle off this mortal coil has taken many forms in many places over the years, from dank underworlds to reincarnation to Valhalla. One of the most recognisable afterlife-set-ups, though, must be the Christian mythology surrounding the concepts of Heaven and Hell. Regardless of whether or not individual authors, directors, artists and so on believe in the literal existence of these realms, many have enjoyed playing with the ideas they represent, not least in film and television.
This list is highlighting interesting examples of specifically Christian or Christianised Heavens – so there are no Greco-Roman underworlds, no Sto-Vo-Kor, no obscure references to a random other place, no in-between places, no limbo, not even Harry Potter’s King’s Cross Station – only landscapes specifically identified as Heaven, the place where good souls go after death, count.
1. This Is The End
Who’s in Heaven? Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogan
Are they dead? Sort of – nothing actually killed them, but they were taken up to Heaven in the Rapture, snatched from the jaws of a Balrog-like demon.
This could be Heaven for everyone: Okay, this is a rather silly and cheesy vision of Heaven in a silly and cheesy film. How much you like it will depend entirely on your sense of humour and on your tolerance levels for 1990s cheese, from the ironic echoes of Titanic in Seth Rogen telling Jay Baruchel to let him go, to the soaring sounds of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, to the ultimate in 90s nostalgia, an appearance from a 1990s boy band. But if you like boy bands and 90s cheesy pop, it’s fantastic, and it also features excellent and perfectly appropriate use of Norman Greenbaum’s classic Spirit In The Sky.
Most importantly, this vision of Heaven is truly joyful, full of partying people generally having a most excellent time. It’s the only version of Heaven on this list that really feels like somewhere built on joy, love, acceptance and general goodwill, and for that, it truly deserves its place on the list.
2. Supernatural, Dark Side Of The Moon
Who’s in Heaven? Sam and Dean Winchester, plus old friends Ash and Pamela.
Are they dead? It’s Sam and Dean Winchester, of course they are.
This could be Heaven for everyone: Supernatural’s inevitable entry on this list, although very interesting, loses points for being the most depressing image of heaven ever. It’s the exact opposite of This Is The End, depicting Heaven as a really rather depressing place (correctly likened to The Matrix by Dean) where everyone exists for ever on their own in separate heavens, built on memories and connected by a long, black road. Only soulmates can enter each other’s heavens, but you wouldn’t want to visit your loved ones anyway, because you might discover that all their most treasured memories focus on the moments in their life when they managed to get away from you. Ash’s heavenly Roadhouse offers some relief and Pamela seems happy enough – it’s certainly better than the alternative – but overall, it’s no wonder God decided He’d had enough and left.
3. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
Who’s in Heaven? Okay, so it’s a little bit unclear whether this is Heaven or not. And Judas is there, and if there’s any one person in the whole of history you’d think would have trouble getting into Christian Heaven, it’s Judas Iscariot. But Jesus is there and everyone’s wearing white, so that’s gotta be Heaven, right?!
Are they dead? Judas is definitely dead. Jesus is… it’s unclear. The film hasn’t got to the crucifixion yet, but on the other hand, this scene seems to take place much later, in the twentieth century judging by Judas’s references to ‘4 BC’ and ‘mass communication’. But then, this version doesn’t depict the Resurrection anyway. But resurrection is all about not being dead… we’re gonna leave this one to the theologians.
This could be Heaven for everyone: This must be the most purely 1970s vision of Heaven ever put on screen. The disco lights, the fringed white outfits, the dancing… if This Is The End is Heaven for those nostalgic for the 1990s, Jesus Christ Superstar is Heaven for those who belong in the 1970s. But there’s a rather nice, lively vibe to it, the song is great, and if there’s hope for Judas Iscariot, then surely there’s hope for us all.
4. Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey
Who’s in Heaven? Bill S. Preston, Esq., and Theodore ‘Ted’ Logan.
Are they dead? Definitely, the ‘evil uses’ did their job all too well.
This could be Heaven for everyone: Bill and Ted’s Heaven is heavily influenced by A Matter Of Life And Death, using a white and grey colour scheme for the costumes (albeit not actually filming in black and white) and having people ‘check in’ to Heaven with smiling, uniformed angels. It’s a nice direction to go in, though, offering a strong contrast with the far less organised Hell, as well as presenting Bill and Ted with the opportunity to mug people for their clothes in Heaven, which God seems to be surprisingly OK with. What it really gets bonus points for, though, is the inclusion of aliens as well as humans, because Heaven is for everyone and why should ‘everyone’ be restricted to just everyone on Earth?
5. A Matter Of Life And Death
Who’s in Heaven? Lots of people, but our main point of view guides are radio operator Bob Trubshawe, Conductor 71, and Doctor Frank Reeves.
Are they dead? Yes. One possible interpretation of the film, which opens with the clear statement that all of this may exist only in an imagination violently shaped by war, is that none of the Heaven sequences are real and they all take place solely in Peter Carter’s mind. However, as far as the characters actually seen in Heaven go, they are all very definitely dead before they get there – the closest Peter himself gets is about halfway up the Stairway.
This could be Heaven for everyone: Powell and Pressburger’s incredibly inventive response to a brief to make a propaganda movie about British and American troops getting along is the classic cinematic representation of Heaven. From the moment we realise that Heaven is black and white, while Earth is in full Technicolour, we know we’re in for something special.
The usual focus on everyone being able to do what they want to do is balanced with a sense that all the souls in Heaven are working together, as we see through Richard Attenborough’s young pilot who thinks it’s Heaven to be a clerk, while dead French and British pilots are able to communicate, each in their own language, without any trouble.
It’s true that the seating in the Heavenly courtroom at the climax is rather bizarrely segregated, especially considering the message of the movie is tolerance, but it’s worth it to see all the Pilgrim Fathers raise their eyes to – higher bits of Heaven?! – at the same time. And of course, everyone is carefully measured for properly fitting wings. We can only feel slightly jealous of the American GI who, when one of his friends cheerfully observes that “home was nothing like this!” replies calmly, “mine was”.