Top 10 Appearances of Satan in Film

I was thinking about how cool Satan is the other day. Not the serious biblical version of Satan. The characterization of the Devil in movies. What makes a good movie devil? There are basically two different types you'll likely see in a movie he's featured in. There's the horror Satan. He's a really bad guy. Responsible for possession and the gnashing of teeth and whatnot. Then there's the bargaining Devil, Mephistopheles. He's much more charming, generally suave and disguises himself as the guy you'd least likely expect to steal your soul. Sometimes he doesn't even want your soul, occasionally he's just a teacher of very harsh lessons. I'm fascinated with the interpretations of Satan on screen. Can you think of a better Super Villain? It doesn't get much more intense then the Devil himself. So I decided to make an admittedly uneven list of my favorite appearances of Satan. There's still a lot I haven't seen. I feel almost foolish for not being able to list the Devil Rides Out or Vincent Price in the Story of Mankind. I sadly have not seen those films and probably a good portion of other classics. I made a point to make this list specifically personifications or embodiments of Satan. No Anti-Christs, no devil worshiping cults, no exorcism movies, none of that unless the big bad boss himself makes an appearance.

By the way, this whole blog is just full of SPOILERS. So if you don't want to know that characters you might not have known were actually Satan until the end of the movie, um...don't read this. You've been warned.

I had to leave a few off. Either I ran out of room or it didn't meet my strict standards. One flick I was very displeased for having to omit was Jan Svankmajer's 1994 esoteric rendition of Faust.

Having a list of Satan appearances without mentioning Faust is like writing an essay on Hell in literature and leaving out Dante's Inferno. It belongs here, yet it's overpowering elements of puppetry and animation went against the idea that Satan is personified. In this masterpiece, Satan speaks through strange dolls and marionettes. Faust Lesson is a notable entry to the genre and is easily my favorite take on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's monumental tale of man's thirst for knowledge versus his moral integrity.

On that note, let's get to the list! without further adieu...


Tim Curry in Legend (1985)

I figured I should go ahead and get this one out of the way for #10. I thought about leaving it off for something perhaps a little less obvious, but who am I trying to kid? I can't leave this guy off! Tim Curry was a bad ass Satan , or Lord of Darkness rather. He often refers to another entity as being higher than he. I always assumed that Darkness itself was actually "Satan" and he is just it's incarnate. I mean, he has his army of goblins kill unicorns for Christ's sake. He is one ugly dude, complete with horns, hooves and a big red face. Somehow still managing to look like Tim Curry. He's easily the coolest mainstream Satan. The only thing that's disappointing about him is that he is somehow defeated by Tom Cruise of all people. Ugh.


Charlie Davoa in the Killing of Satan (1983)

Possibly one of the most underrated b-movies of all time. This Satan is responsible for more nonsense and mayhem than any other on my list. The characters in this movie have a hard time trying to kill this Satan. His obstacles include laser blasting, boulder dashing and snake slapping. His bad ass sorcery has to be seeen to be believed <3


Anton Lavey in The Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969)

When it comes to the occult you can always turn to Kenneth Anger for delivering a shamelessly iconoclastic product. The Invocation of My Demon Brother is arguably Anger's best short, and certainly his crowning achievement of the hippie movement. The (roughly) 10 minute short features a colorful cast of characters for a movie with zero dialog. Mick Jagger (who also did the wonderful score), Keith Richards, Kenneth Anger himself, Bobby Beausoleil who would later that year be convinced of killing Gary Hinman under the orders of Charles Manson, and none other than the creator of the Church of Satan, Anton Lavey AS Satan himself. Lavey only made two film appearances (this and the Devil's Rain, in which he also played Satan). As a character, I find him unassailably cool, but then again you only see him for a brief moment in this film so his appearance doesn't warrant I higher spot on this list. I couldn't exactly NOT include him though could I?! That would be like not including an Aleister Crowley film appearance or the Devil himself. As you can see, he's dressed like what I can only assume inspired Francis Buxton's devil costume in the Pee Wee's Big Adventure. I like that he's more of a cartoonish devil than something dark and grim. Perhaps my standards are a bit skewed. As I said, I like Anton Lavey as a character and in pop culture. His song "Satan Takes a Holiday" is pure camp, and seeing him in this classic art house favorite was a real treat.


Tom Waits in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

I think we all thought it at one time or another. "Tom Waits should totally play Satan"...ok, maybe that was just me. It's always a delight to see Waits' film appearances, and this long awaited almost-didn't-happen Terry Gilliam film appeased my appetite in more ways than one. Waits plays the "devil on your shoulder" type in this one. He really doesn't seem like a bad guy at all, in fact I'd quite enjoy his company if Satan was really like this. In the end he appears to be more like Doctor Parnassus' friend than foe. That's why he's officially this lists nicest Devil, aw shucks :-)


Peter Cook in Bedazzled (1967)

Not all Satans are serious. Some are just down right delightful. In Bedazzled we're treated to Peter Cook's mischievous antics against a lovesick Dudley Moore. He's more of a whimsical prankster devil. At his hellacious factory he has a conveyor belt where new hit records are being delivered specifically for him to scratch and repackage. He's the "be careful what you wish for" kind of Devil as he takes the pussified Moore through a series of would-be fantasies gone awry. It's hard to imagine that the atrocious remake with Elizabeth Hurley sprung from the loins of this comedic masterpiece.


Jose Luis Aguirre ‘Trotsky’ in Santa Claus (1959)

      Once you've entered the world of cheesy Mexican kids movies, there's really no turning back. It's like making a pact with the devil in its own way. Anything with K. Gordon Murray's name attached to it is sure to be a riot. He's also responsible for Robot Vs. the Aztec Mummy, the Witch's Mirror not to mention a slue of mediocre sexploitation and El Santo movies. Add to the that, the UNfamous Rene Cardona being in the directors seat! Oh yeah, it just doesn't get better than this! "Pitch" is the bright red devil whose goal is to ruin Christmas for all the little boys and girls. I guess he's more of a minion of hell than thee actual Satan himself, but whadaya want?! For all intents and purposes he is a representation of the Devil. This movie is pure unbridled camp. Probably the plushiest movie in my Satanic roster from back when kids' movies really had something to offer and their makers had some balls!


   John Goodman in Barton Fink (1991)

      Leave it to the Cohens to insert a subtle (or not so subtle) average Joe kinda Satan in one of their bleak comedies. For the record, I'm new to Barton Fink. I only saw it this week and it was actually the inspiration for this entire list. Some people doubt that Goodman was Satan at all. I guess those people assume the hotel walls igniting into flame was just for dramatic effect? Or that his role defining quote "I'll Show You the Life of the Mind!" was just the ramblings of "Madman Mundt"? I think it's safe to say that this Faustian tale of selling ones soul to Hollywood is a bit more straight forward than that. John Goodman as Charlie Meadows falls under the likable Devil category. He's not bargaining for Barton's soul, he's just letting Fink's own arrogance lead the him down a path of misfortune, with a little extra push. In the end, Barton is trapped. Contractually shackled to Los Angeles and the broken existence of a fallen hack writer.

   Burgess Meredith in The Sentinel (1977)

      My love for Burgess Meredith may have made me a bit biased in bumping this entry to the #3 spot, but you know what? The ending of this otherwise mediocre film really shocked me! This is where that spoiler alert really comes into effect. When it's realized that the beautiful apartment our lady protagonist is living in is the gateway to Hell and that our sweet little old guy neighbor is actually the human manifestation of SATAN, I was literally floored. Consider my mind blown. I just love him and his charming face so much that I can't even begin to imagine him squashing a spider let alone being the Prince of Darkness. I don't have much to add other than "Holy Shit, I love Burgess Meredith"...

    Benjamin Christensen in Haxan:Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

      Perhaps the earliest and still one of the most frightening portrayals of Satanism, witchcraft and the occult to be put on film. Haxan is like a Goya painting come to life. No film has ever matched it's beauty and horror and there will likely never be anything that tops it in that respect. Benjamin Christensen wrote, directed and starred as the beast like Devil in this fantastic opus of science and story telling. It was banned in America for it's shocking portrayal of torture and sexual perversion, which even in the pre-code 1920's, was unheard of in decent film going society. The public was not ready for such graphic depictions of debauchery. I could see how it may have influenced directors such as Kenneth Anger whose themes of magick and ritual would still be considered controversial some 30-50 years later. Now Haxan is more than a cult classic, it's a legend and I whole heartedly consider it one of the greatest efforts ever emblazoned on film. The copy readily available now includes a score done by Jean-Luc Ponty and narration by William S. Burroughs. Can you think of anything more incredible? I raise my glass to Benjamin Christensen. Cheers.

   Danny Elfman in Forbidden Zone (1982)

It's been quite few years since I've even breached this subject and I'm fairly certain it's never been mentioned in this blog. Forbidden Zone is pretty much the movie that started it all for me. Being a dumb teenager with nothing more than a few slashers in her collection I somehow ended up with a vhs copy of Forbidden Zone. It changed everything. It heightened my standards of "weird movies", it opened up new doors as far as my musical taste goes and most of all it introduced me to a Pre-Tim Burton Danny Elfman.The entire film is a strange vaudevillian Alice in Wonderland inspired tale of a girl finding herself in the 6th Dimension. She falls in love with it's midget King, a dashing Herve Villechaize. Of course his Queen, the forever iconic Susan-fucking-Tyrell has something to say about that. The whole movie is like a lurid Max Fleischer cartoon come to life. The high light for me? Danny Elfman scored the film along with The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. Before they were simply "Oingo Boingo" they were a traveling theater group, and Forbidden Zone was a way of capturing their monkeyshines on film. Danny Elfman plays the Satanic conductor of this mad circus. An image so vivid and profound that I painted it on my bedroom wall at my Dad's house...

This is obviously a choice made for very personal reasons. I basically orchestrated my entire taste in cinema around my fondness of Forbidden Zone. Danny Elfman's animated interpretation of the Devil made me want more of what I was seeing. Of course there's nothing quite like Forbidden Zone and there's no portrayal of Satan quite so jovial. That in itself if the primary reason he has earned the # 1 spot.

Danny Elfman encompassed what's unabashedly cool about the Devil. My point in writing this blog is not to say that evil is good and Godliness sucks. We need these characters in fiction to make movies interesting. Whether they're monstrous or funny, the caricature of Satan isn't something to be feared, it's something to be embraced. As the Ultimate Super Villain or the ultimate Irony. Satan's infamy is a powerful archetype in the realms of there cinematic stratosphere. He reminds us of our own humanity. Despite your religion or lack there of, the image of Satan is alarming. In any culture El Diablo is recognizable, and we can't help but be reminded of our own morality and death. I think that's why so many people are uncomfortable talking about Satan and everything that he represents. It's not really about facing him its about facing ourselves and our choices in life.

Well that pretty much sums it up! I hope you enjoyed my list. I know there's a lot not included here. Maybe this will be annual thing I post around Easter? In the meantime, what are some of your favorite on-screen Devils?


  1. Danny Elfman, your personal Satan! Choice dictated by their experiences ... I lit my eyes when you mentioned the Faust of Švankmjaer!
    Devil in "Legend" is that of the imagination of many teenagers, then the Devil takes many forms and grows more "daily"...

  2. John Emery was great in the Thriller episode The Devil's Ticket



  3. Earl Pastko as Mr Skin aka Satan in Canadian indie Highway 61 is my favourite Satan, though I heartily agree with your top ten as well!