What happens after we die? It’s a question that has been asked by people for, well, millennia. There are many movies and TV shows that have given us a peek at ideas of the afterlife. In fact, the new Pixar film “Soul” deals with the afterlife, and it’s not the first Pixar film to do that. We can’t speak to the veracity of any of these pieces of entertainment (though some of them definitely seem inaccurate) but these are some of the notable TV shows and films that deal with the afterlife.
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“Defending Your Life” (1991)
Albert Brooks has made a few comedy movies that have been quite influential. “Defending Your Life” stands out as perhaps his best movie, or at least the one where he moved further into the big leagues. Maybe we just feel that way because Brooks costars with Meryl Streep, the iconic actress of her generation. In the film, when you go to the afterlife you have to, well, defend your life choices, and if you fail you will be reincarnated.
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“Heaven Can Wait” (1978)
“Heaven Can Wait” is technically a remake of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” but Warren Beatty’s comedy is definitely the more famous, and well-received, of the two. In fact, Beatty’s film got nine Oscar nominations. In the movie, Beatty plays a football player who dies accidentally, so Heaven agrees to send Beatty’s soul back to Earth in a new body, which happens to belong to an old millionaire.
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“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” (1991)
In “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the well-meaning, if a little dense, duo travels through time. How do you one-up that in the sequel? By sending Bill and Ted into the afterlife. The two go to both Hell and Heaven and also best the Grim Reaper in a game of Battleship.
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This is a Tim Burton film, so obviously the afterlife is a little strange. You might, like the Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) end up as ghosts in your old house. Then Catherine O’Hara shows up with Winona Ryder and things get chaotic. Whatever you do, don’t turn to bio-exorcist Betelgeuse, aka “Beetlejuice,” played famously by Michael Keaton one year before he played Batman.
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Yes, “Soul” isn’t the first Pixar movie to deal with the afterlife. In fact, just a few years ago “Coco” did it as well. That film owes a debt to the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, and it also won Best Animated Picture (and Best Original Song) at the Oscars.
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Hey, if you get to have a sexy pottery experience with the love of your life, maybe death isn’t so bad? “Ghost” feels like a pretty solid supernatural romance movie, but somehow it was quite the Oscars darling. In fact, Whoopi Goldberg even won an Oscar for the film, even if what we remember is Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore sculpting pottery to “Unchained Melody.”
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“The Sixth Sense” (1999)
Death doesn’t seem great in “The Sixth Sense,” but things also seem pretty bad for young Cole. Haley Joel Osment gave a remarkable performance for a young child in the film that made M. Night Shyamalan a noted name. Cole sees dead people, as you surely know, and many of them are in pretty rough shape. There’s also quite the twist, but just in case we won’t spoil it.
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The premise of “R.I.P.D.” isn’t terrible. Two dead men are members of the “Rest In Peace Department” where they are in charge of rounding up souls who refuse to move on to the afterlife. Hell, even the cast has Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds leading it! Unfortunately, the execution of “R.I.P.D.” was lacking, and the film turned out to be a bust.
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“The Frighteners” (1996)
This may be a forgotten movie for both director Peter Jackson and star Michael J. Fox. Fox plays a man who can interact with the dead, but he’s also seeing visions of a figure that seems to be the Grim Reaper, who is killing people in a way that reads as mysterious to the other living folks. We also get a glimpse of both Heaven and Hell in this film.
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“This is the End” (2013)
If “This is the End” has any charms, it’s in watching celebrities play skewed versions of themselves. Michael Cera and Emma Watson make particularly notable turns. This film is, well, about the end of the world. Specifically, the Apocalypse, in the biblical sense.
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“What Dreams May Come” (1998)
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What would you do for love? Robin Williams takes things to the extreme in “What Dreams May Come.” Williams’ character dies and goes to Heaven, but when his wife dies and goes to Hell, he decides to trek into Hell himself to be with her. Talk about dedication.
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“All Dogs Go to Heaven” (1989)
“All Dogs Go to Heaven” is one of those family movies that, as an adult, suddenly feel odds. This is, after all, a movie about dead dogs. Hey, at least they go to Heaven. In fact, all the dogs go to Heaven, and they did it again in the sequel movie as well.
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“Cabin the Sky” (1943)
“Cabin in the Sky” is about a man who dies and is brought back to life by an angel. He has six months to redeem himself to get into Heaven, otherwise, he will go to Hell. This musical, based on a popular Broadway play, stars Lena Horne and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. It is also noted for its all-black cast, which was remarkable at the time (and would, unfortunately, be kind of remarkable even still).
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“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
If you have watched TV around Christmas, you’ve surely seen “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You know the story. George Bailey wishes he had never been born. Because of this, his guardian angel Clarence comes to Earth to show him what life would be like if that were true. “Merry Christmas you old Building and Loan” and so on. Hey, we spend time in Heaven. That definitely counts as a movie about the afterlife.
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Isn’t it a bummer when your parents make a deal with the Devil on your life? That’s what happened to Sam Oliver in “Reaper,” a CW show that lasted two seasons. Having been promised to the Devil (played by Ray Wise), Sam takes on the job of a “reaper,” which means he captures souls that have escaped from Hell.
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“Dead Like Me”
The main character in “Dead Like Me” ends up with a job dealing with the afterlife as well. However, the difference is that she’s actually dead. She then becomes a grim reaper, if not theGrim Reaper, whose job is to harvest souls right before people die so that they can be taken to the afterlife.
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“The Good Place”
Michael Schur wrote for shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” which were straightforward. “The Good Place” is much more high concept. The show features characters who are in the afterlife and are told by the architect Michael that they are in “The Good Place.” There are plenty of twists along the way, and also some heady philosophy. “The Good Place” is funny and smart, and definitely recommended.
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In a way, just putting “Forever” on this list is kind of a spoiler. When Amazon Prime was promoting the Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph show they kept basically everything under wraps. We will tell you the show deals with the afterlife, but we won’t say anything more beyond that to keep things relatively spoiler-free. Not entirely spoiler-free, though. Hey, it’s been a couple of years.
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Apparently Amazon Prime likes comedies about the afterlife. “Upload” didn’t hide that fact, though. Greg Daniels, who also worked on “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” brought us this show about a world where people can, ahem, upload themselves into virtual afterlives. Even though everything is virtual, there are still some bugs to deal with.
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“Highway to Heaven”
We could have also gone with “Touched by an Angel” here, as both shows have similar premises. “Highway to Heaven” is about a probationary angel to takes trips to Earth to help people in need. It was a little cheesy, many shows involving angels are, but people didn’t mind. The Michael Landon-starring show ran for over 100 episodes.
Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the booksThe Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000andThe Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.