A Few of Our Favorite Devils in SFF

The Devil is one of the greatest literary characters in human history. From Dante’s slobbering monster to Milton’s charming tyrant to Goethe’s cunning trickster, He Who Has So Many Names is the perfect antagonist—or, sometimes, the perfect tortured protagonist. It’s no wonder then that Old Scratch shows up so often in SFF film and television, often stealing the spotlight in scenery-chewing performances. We’ve got nearly 30 devils gathered below, but be sure to add your own picks in the comments!

 

Darkness, Legend (played by Tim Curry)

Screenshot: Universal Pictures

We were all supposed to root for Mia Sara and Tom Cruise, the innocent, pure-hearted young couple at the center of Legend, as they went on a quest to rescue a unicorn and restore Light to a fantasy kingdom. But then Tim Curry shows up as the Lord of Darkness and gives Mia the most iconic goth makeover since the sacking of Rome, and, well, I don’t want to speak for everyone, but literally every single person I’ve ever spoken to about this film knows where their allegiance lies.

It is NOT with sweet shiny Tom Cruise.

 

The Mysterious Stranger, The Adventures of Mark Twain

Screenshot: Will Vinton Productions

Get rid of The Babadook. Unfollow It Follows. Pelt Midsommar with wilted flower crowns. The Mysterious Stranger segment of The Adventures of Mark Twain is the scariest goddamn thing that’s ever been put on film.

 

The Devil, Brimstone (played by John Glover)

Screenshot: Fox/Warner Bros. Television

John Glover’s take on the Devil is the ideal ’90s version: sarcastic, glib, posing as a regular human man who hides behind a wall of snark to make you think he’s not so bad, right up until the moment he taunts you with a vision of your still-living wife while he forces you, a damned soul in the scenario, to hunt down 113 demons who escaped Hell and roam the Earth. And because John Glover’s really really good at playing the Devil, he lands every single devil-entendre, nailing the perfect dad joke cadences of a line like “They think they’ll beat the Devil! Nobody beats me!” but also winking at the camera enough to show that he knows the line is terrible, but terrible jokes are just another way to make the wicked suffer. Like any great ’90s reinvention, he’s also paradoxically, a hopeless romantic—having had his heart broken by God, he had finally found love again with the goddess Ashur. But then she betrayed him, freed hundreds of damned souls, and dipped out of Hell in an elaborate plot to conquer the Earth and dethrone God.

This has not been this Devil’s millennium.

 

John Milton, The Devil’s Advocate (played by Al Pacino)

Screenshot: Warner Bros. Pictures

It was probably inevitable that Al Pacino would play Satan? But man when he got his shot he went for it. The Devil’s Advocate opens in Gainesville, where Keanu Reeves is a suspiciously successful young lawyer, and his wife Charlize Theron works as a repo person. Keanu is hired by big-time Manhattan lawyer John Milton, who is actually, spoiler alert: the Devil, mwahahaha. This incarnation trusts that the mortals around him are so rock stupid they won’t understand the reference of his pseudonym, and, second spoiler alert: they do NOT. Now, I am shocked to be typing this, but if you can accept a certain amount of absurdity this movie is actually…good? Surprisingly good? Charlize Theron’s arc plays out as an update on Rosemary’s Baby that also functions as a critique of capitalism. Aside from a shaky accent (which he could have just skipped, because not everyone in Florida even has a Southern accent, so I respect his attempt) Keanu Reeves is legitimately great. There are two scenes in particular that should have forced people to admit that he’s a good actor, but I’m guessing the Devil Movie subgenre is so inherently silly that Keanu never got his due. And Al Pacino turns in a riveting over-the-top Devil performance. He’s funny and smarmy and goes out flamenco dancing at night, and for the first hour or so, seems like the best boss anyone could ever have.

 

The Devil, Fantasy Island (played by Roddy McDowell)

Screenshot: Spelling-Goldberg Productions/Columbia Pictures Television

The extraordinary late-’70s Aaron Spelling production Fantasy Island was many things. On the surface, it was a fluffy slice of escapism. But one thing that slipped most viewers’ attention was that Mr. Roarke, Ricardo Montalban’s suave-as-hell concierge, was almost certainly an immortal being operating the Island as some sort of Purgatorial experiment. (And I don’t know what Tattoo’s deal was.) Over the course of the show, Mr. Roarke, who, again, ran a luxury resort, battles the Devil not once but twice? And that Devil is played to the damn hilt by none other than Roddy McDowell. Check it out:

 

Wilson Fisk, Daredevil (played by Vincent D’Onofrio)

Screenshot: Netflix

This one might seem a little silly, but Netflix’s take on Daredevil makes it pretty clear that in Matt Murdock’s tortured Catholic worldview, Wilson Fisk is the Devil incarnate, walking the Earth in the form of an emotionally-troubled real estate titan.

And this is New York, after all, so the idea of a real estate titan being an agent of evil maybe isn’t such a stretch?

But mostly I want to include him because I will take any opportunity to sing the praises of (a) Vincent D’Onofrio and (b) the absolutely perfect third season of Daredevil.

 

Satan, End of Days (played by Gabriel Byrne)

Screenshot: Universal Pictures

If you haven’t seen End of Days yet, you are doing yourself a disservice. This movie literally opens with Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting a helicopter (and winning) right before he peels a slice of pizza off his filthy apartment’s floor, stuffs it into a blender with a couple of raw eggs, and drinks the result. And that’s before the Devil even shows up!

Right after Christmas in 1999, the spirit of the Devil comes to New York to impregnate his destined bride and have a li’l baby Antichrist. He possesses a rich Manhattanite who looks suspiciously like Gabriel Byrne. Byrne makes some interesting choices—rather than being smarmy or funny like other late ’90s Devils, he plays the role as a feral snarling id. He’s barely even settled into human form before he’s groping women in public and blowing up restaurants. He also pisses fire at one point? And he crucifies Arnold? Did I mention this is technically a Christmas movie?

Also, as in Devil’s Advocate, one of the clues that the Devil is Evil Incarnate is that he has a three-way (which I think means that Clint Eastwood’s character in The Mule, having had two three-ways in that film, is twice as evil as the Devil) but the End of Days‘ three-way involves a mother and daughter, which, ICK.

 

His Excellency, Heaven Can Wait (played by Laird Cregar)

Screenshot: 20th Century Fox

The opening scene of Ernst Lubitsch’s all-time classic Heaven Can Wait introduces us to Henry Van Cleve, a recently deceased cad and playboy who has delivered himself unto the gates of Hell, because he’s pretty sure that’s where he’s supposed to end up. He is met by His Excellency, an urbane Devil who has made time in his busy schedule to attend to Henry personally. But he has to make sure the man deserves his spot in the Inferno, so Henry’s asked to take us on a tour of his life revealing one of the most effervescent love stories in American cinema. The Devil doesn’t actually get much screen time in this film, but I’m including him because Laird Cregar lights up the damned screen in his brief role, and I love that in Ernst Lubitsch’s universe, even Satan himself has class.

 

The Devil, Dean Stockwell, Quantum Leap: “The Boogieman” (played by Dean Stockwell)

Screenshot: NBC

Along the same lines as Mr. McDowell, another great ’60s character actor got a turn to shine as Old Scratch. After two seasons of “putting right what once went wrong” Dr. Sam Beckett finally cuts to the chase and fights Satan in Quantum Leap’s Halloween episode, “The Boogieman.” More specifically, he fights Satan in the form of his BFF, Al Calavicci. The episode immediately strikes a sinister note when Sam fails to save a side character, and things just get darker as bodies pile up (not a typical occurrence on QL) and Al forsakes his usual antics, instead trying to convince Sam that his leapee’s wife is a murderer. Sam finally becomes suspicious of Al, at which point he drops all pretenses, cops to being Satan, and the two of them try to choke each other out while spinning in a hallucinogenic circle. At one point, Al transforms into a literal goat! Why this is great, other than the everything about it, is that Dean Stockwell channels every bit of the creepiness he uses as one of David Lynch’s stock players. He growls and shrieks and is genuinely terrifying despite the silly early ’90s FX.

 

Devil, Cuphead

Screenshot: Studio MDHR, Studio MDHR Entertainment Inc.

Cuphead, a sentient cup, and his brother Mugman, also a sentient cup, accidentally lose their souls in a craps game with the Devil.

You know, that old chestnut.

Then they have to collect “soul contracts” from the damned to try to buy their way out of Hell. Fun stuff! And the Devil is just the kind of Max Fleischer nightmare that brings me joy.

 

Lucifer, The Prophecy (played by Viggo Mortensen)

Screenshot: First Look Pictures/Dimension Films

Cards on the table, this might be my favorite devil on the list. A pre-Aragorn Viggo Mortensen drops into Christopher Walken’s apocalyptic thriller The Prophecy and gives us five minutes of pure horror in the midst of enough ’90s cheese to fuel a CiCi’s Pizza franchise. He hisses his lines. He threatens Virginia Madsen in a terribly specific way. He does that thing cinematic Devils do where he’s the only reasonable, level-headed one in the story.

And then he sings! And eats a flower on camera!

Is this a thing the Devil is known for? Was it in the script? Or did Viggo just decide on the spot, “I bet the fallen angel Lucifer Morningstar, most beautiful of all the Heavenly Host and eternal enemy of God, would eat a flower while he threatens a mortal” and the director just went with it?

 

Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal (played by Mads Mikkelson)

Screenshot: NBC

When Brian Cox played Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann’s thriller Manhunter, Hannibal was not the Devil. And when Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for playing him in Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal was not the Devil. In both of those instances Hannibal the Cannibal was a brilliant psychopath, living a double life as an upper class psychologist and lover of the arts who also enjoyed killing and eating humans. However! When Bryan Fuller brought Mads Mikkelson in to update the role for his television adaptation, Mikkelson opened their talks by announcing that he thought Hannibal was the Devil. Fuller went with it, and we all got three perfect seasons of TV, as Hannibal seduced and tempted and corrupted poor innocent Will Graham, and the writers and production tea pushed the limits of the show until it morphed from crime procedural into surreal horror. Hannibal, unusually for a therapist, openly sets himself in opposition to God during one of his sessions with Will, and spends the rest of the series doing everything he can to make a mockery of morality.

 

Leland Gaunt, Needful Things (played by Max von Sydow)

Screenshot: Castle Rock Entertainment/New Line Cinema

Stephen King’s more famous incarnation of Evil may be Randall Flagg, but I want to give a hat tip to Needful Things’ Leland Gaunt, particularly Max von Sydow’s performance in the film adaptation. After battling Death with wits and chess in The Seventh Seal, tangling with Satan (in the form of Donald Pleasance) when he played Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and facing off with Satan again (in the form of Pazuzu/Regan MacNeil) as Father Merrin in The Exorcist, it was only right that he should get to play the Father of Lies himself. As the proprietor of a shop called Needful Things, Mr. Gaunt tempts dumb humans with their darkest desires, and the dumb humans never disappoint with their depravity. Along the way he makes quips about trying to cut a deal with a carpenter from Nazareth, blows up a whole ass church, and is generally gleeful as heck about all the chaos he’s sowing.

 

Lucius Needful, Rick and Morty: “Something Ricked This Way Comes” (voiced by Alfred Molina)

Screenshot: Williams Street

Mr. Needful comes to town, opens a spooky shop full of cursed objects, and hires Summer as his assistant. Her mad scientist grandpa, Rick Sanchez, obviously figures out Mr. Needful’s true identity. While Rick’s main antagonist tends to be God, he decides he might as well destroy the Devil too. His side hustle removing Mr. Needful’s curses runs the Devil out of business, at which point the depressive Lucius has to pull himself together, break out a black turtleneck, and figure out how to take his shop online. Molina plays Needful as a perfect oily devil parody before seamlessly shifting into the Devil’s later role as a dotcom billionaire.

 

Lucifer, Constantine (played by Peter Stormare)

Screenshot: Warner Bros. Pictures

I’ve spoken often and at length about how unfairly maligned Constantine is. The L.A. noir take on the character is fun, Keanu Reeves is great, Tilda Swinton is incandescent. But of all the bits that really should get more credit, Peter Stormare’s performance as Lucifer is easily one of the best Devils put on screen. Not the tragic figure who shows up in The Sandman, or the pompous demon John battles in the Hellblazer comics, Stormare’s take is truly scary. We’ve watched a sense of dread gather around John Constantine over the course of the film, because he knows he’s damned, and he knows he’ll be trapped in Hell with the demons he’s “deported” over the years. But then we meet Stormare’s Lucifer and we understand that John’s fear was about something else entirely. Lucifer, dead-eyed like a shark, dripping black ooze, is giddy at the thought of causing John pain forever and ever, without end, amen. Watching the Devil clap his hands like a schoolgirl is much scarier than any amount of hissing, growling, or even flower-eating.

 

Mephistopheles, Ghost Rider (played by Peter Fonda)

Screenshot: Columbia Pictures/Marvel

Given that the foreshadowingly-named Johnny Blaze is a stunt motorcycle rider before he cuts the deal with the Devil that makes him Ghost Rider, it’s only appropriate that Mephisto is played by the star of Easy Rider. Peter Fonda looks weirdly like Dennis Hopper? OR like he and Dennis Hopper have fused into one unholy Boomer icon/fallen angel? He sends Nicolas Cage out on a mission that to track down escaped demons…okay, how often do the denizens of Hell escape? That’s like half the plots on this list?

 

HIM, The Powerpuff Girls (voiced by Tom Kane)

Screenshot: Hanna-Barbera Cartoons/Cartoon Network

Maybe HIM is The Devil? Maybe he’s not? The show leaves it fairly ambiguous.

You know what isn’t ambiguous, though? This kind of representation led to a generation of fucking awesome queer people.

 

Lucifer, Supernatural (played by Mark Pellegrino)

Screenshot: Kripke Enterprises/ Warner Bros. Television

Unsurprisingly, Satan appeared several times over the course of Supernatural. Also unsurprisingly, the show follows the modern trend of positing that rather than a monstrous evil, Satan is pissy cause he used to be God’s favorite, but then the humans showed up. This allows him a bit more depth, and makes it easier to create recurring plotlines for him. He’s originally played by Mark Pellegrino, before possessing Sam Winchester for a while so he can have a bro-fight with Archangel Michael.

 

Mr. Scratch, The Devil and Daniel Webster (played by Walter Huston)

Screenshot: RKO Radio Pictures

The Devil in The Devil and Daniel Webster is the purest Yankee concoction this side of maple snow candy. For those who haven’t seen it, this film adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét’s story is surprisingly dark. Jabez Stone is a humble, hardworking farmer until one mishap too many drives him to promise the Devil his soul for seven years of good luck. That’s all fine, and what we expect from a story with the Devil in it—the horror comes in as he puffs himself up into a great and prominent man, screwing his neighbors over, forsaking his sweet wife for a particularly hot demon played by Simone Simon (I confess I can’t totally blame him for that part), and betraying every part of his solid Vermont upbringing. Luckily lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster is willing to be his defense attorney when his contract comes due, and the movie really kicks into high gear as Webster and Scratch duke it out in a trial. Walter Huston’s Devil is homespun, folksy, happy to sit and talk with Daniel Webster and act like the whole trial is a lark right up until the moment he doesn’t.

 

Ned Flanders, The Simpsons: “The Devil and Homer Simpson” (voiced by Harry Shearer)

Screenshot: Gracie Films/20th Century Fox Television

Following on The Devil and Daniel Webster, it was Stephen Vincent Benét’s devil who led directly to my personal favorite of all the “Treehouse of Horror” segments. It would have been easy for the show to make Mr. Burns the Devil, or for them to go the queer-coding route and give the role to Waylon Smithers. Instead they went for a twist that would have made Nathaniel Hawthorne proud and slapped some goat legs and a forked tail on Ned Flanders. The mash-up of inexorable evil and Flanders-isms is note perfect.

 

Mr. Zero, The Monkees: “The Devil and Peter Tork” (played by Monte Landis)

Screenshot: Raybert Productions/Screen Gems

The Monkees’ take on the Benét story, “The Devil and Peter Tork,” is probably the only adaptation that features a harp solo. The Devil takes the name Mr. Zero, and he one swinging scenery-chewing ’60s Devil. He changes between a suit straight out of Carnaby Street and a dapper magician look—that’s for when he’s presiding over a Hell filled with go-go dancing lady demons. This episode features not only a scene where the boys try to talk about Peter’s fear of Hell without actually being able to say the word “hell” on TV, and an impassioned speech courtesy of Mike Nesmith about how the Devil can’t give you musical ability because everyone has the spirit of music inside them. It also gives us possibly the greatest line of dialogue of any of these Devils: “People always talk about the fires! But you don’t burn. All you feel…is a sense of depression.”

Same, Satan. Same.

 

Robot Devil AKA Beelzebot, Futurama (voiced by Dan Castellaneta)

Screenshot: Rough Draft Studios/The Curiosity Company/20th Century Fox Television

Futurama’s Robot Devil took all the best bits of the Christian Devil and made them better! Not only does he look the part with a red shell and cloven robot hooves, but he leans into campy melodrama and byzantine deals (some resolved by the Fairness in Hell Act of 2275), and fiddle-playing. He’s originally introduced as a figure of punishment and fear for robots after Bender reneges on a conversion experience, but over the course of the show he negotiates with Fry and Leela, and even grants Bender an ill-advised Army of the Damned.

 

Chernabog, Fantasia: “Night on Bald Mountain”

Screenshot: Walt Disney Productions

The terrifying emotional hackeysack game that is Fantasia gives us an excellent devil in its penultimate segment. (Yeah, sure, he’s called Chernabog, but come on.) And as Dante warned us, it’s a lot easier to create art from Hell than from Heaven, as “Night on Bald Mountain” is iconic, and seriously overshadows the pretty-but-kind-of-dull “Ave Maria” segment that actually closes the film.

 

Samael/Lucifer Morningstar, Lucifer (played by Tom Ellis)

Screenshot: Netflix

An even more glib and cheerfully wicked take than in either The Sandman or his titular comic, Tom Ellis plays Lucifer to the hilt as a charming, devil-entendre-slinging club owner. Having quit Hell for LA (obligatory “But however can he tell?” from the New Yorker writing this) Lucifer juggles running his club, therapy sessions, and, well, a lot of sex with a side gig consulting on unsolved, supernatural crimes for the LAPD.

 

George Spiggott, Bedazzled (played by Peter Cook)

Screenshot: 20th Century Fox

Both versions of Bedazzled are retellings of Faust. The Stanley Donen version moves the story to 1960s London. Peter Cook plays a gentleman named George Spiggott, who gives Dudley Moore’s Stanley Moon seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Sticking to the tradition of other Faust productions, various Vices are paraded across the screen, with Raquel Welch making a particularly memorable Lust. But Cook’s Devil has his own agenda: he’s in a cosmological Supermarket Sweep with God: they’re each trying to round up 100 billion souls, and if the Devil hits the magic number first, he can get back into Heaven. Giving the Devil a real arc beyond Insidious Tempter or Afterlife Cop is a fun touch that grounds the movie a bit.

 

The Devil (a non-profit corporation, with offices in Purgatory, Hell, and Los Angeles), Bedazzled (played by Elizabeth Hurley)

Screenshot: 20th Century Fox

Now as for the 2000 remake… um, look. We all heart Brendan Fraser on this site. Ask most of the denizens of Tor Dot Com and they will talk about The Mummy for a startlingly long time. Several of us also consider Blast From the Past an underrated gem! One of us is a couple episodes into Trust and really digging it so far! (Seriously, watch Trust, Fraser’s amazing in it.) But this version of Bedazzled simply doesn’t live up to its original. Fraser is game for each of his roles, but none of them have quite enough weight, and the movie bogs itself down in conversations about Elliot’s contract rather than digging into the chemistry between the nerd and the devil. Having said that, we’re here for devils, and Elizabeth Hurley is a really fun Devil. She plays with all the sexpot cliches that were such a large part of the 1960s film, and she and Fraser are fun to watch together.

 

Black Phillip, The VVitch (played by Charlie the Goat)

Screenshot: A24

The GOAT.

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