Usually, movies and TV shows paint the Devil with rather broad strokes. He might be charming, but make no mistake: He’s invariably there to cause pain, snatch souls, impregnate housewives, challenge violinists and guitarists to musical duels, etc. But every once in awhile... Satan can be a pretty awesome guy.
Released in 1999, South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut remains a standout example of how to make a film that both completely elevates and remains totally true to its (gleefully crude) source material. Satan, an occasional character on the TV show, enters the movie’s story when Kenny’s inevitable death sends him to hell, where there’s a power struggle afoot between Satan and his gross, manipulative boyfriend, Saddam Hussein. Satan gets a big, sweeping ballad about wanting to live a carefree life on Earth, and his longing soon leads him to launch a plan—tied to a prophecy involving Canadian martyrs/fart comedians Terrance and Phillip—to invade the surface. But on the brink of the apocalypse, Kenny helps Satan see past his relationship drama, Saddam gets flung back into hell, and the world is saved—along with Kenny’s soul, after he wishes for everything to go back the way it was before the great US vs Canada battle royale. This portrayal of Satan is over-the-top and doesn’t care about offending anyone, much like every other aspect of South Park. But true to the spirit of the show, it also sneaks some genuine warm-fuzzy feels amid all the stereotypes; Satan booting Saddam out of his life is hands-down one of the film’s emotional highlights.
Peter Stormare’s slithery take on Lucifer Morningstar isn’t a dude you would ever want to hang out with, but he does come through in the clutch when the twisted half-angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) is about to unleash Lucifer’s son and would-be usurper, Mammon, upon the human race. Then—much like South Park’s Satan, and in a move that’s pretty common in stories involving the Devil—“Lou” grants the previously damned John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) a wish, which the dying detective selflessly uses to save another person’s soul... which means he himself is no longer damned. The Devil’s none too pleased about losing his grip on Constantine, but he understands how the game is played and admits defeat, at least for now. As a parting gesture, he rips the lung cancer right out of the chain-smoking Constantine’s body—so he’ll stay alive longer and increase his chances of re-damning himself. As “fuck you” parting gestures go, it’s actually pretty magnanimous.
Based on the character that first appeared in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, the Fox TV show is a fizzy blend of police procedural, occult drama, and pop-culture wackiness. Central to this it’s-weird-but-somehow-it-works formula is the title character, portrayed by Tom Ellis as an amiable know-it-all whose specific talents (particularly his powers of persuasion during interrogations) land him a gig assisting the LAPD’s top homicide detective. On the side, of course, he runs a nightclub and engages in plenty of debauchery; he also has to deal with some problems unique to his status as legendary supernatural being. Like, that time his wings got stolen... or the time they suddenly reappeared attached to his back after he’d cut them off. Also, his best friend is a demon, his brother is an angel, and “Dad” is always watching his every move, which can be a drag. But while Lucifer has taken a few serious detours in examining the Devil’s desire to be more human, it’s generally a lighthearted show—and while its main character does unleash hellfire once and awhile, he’s mostly committed to the pursuit of having as much fun as possible.
Sometimes, the news is so insane that even Satan has something to say about it; fortunately, Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” provided the perfect platform. Clad in horns, a cape, and a garish red suit, the jovial Devil (Jason Sudeikis) periodically stopped by the segment to offer exasperated opinions on the child molestation scandals at Penn State and within the Catholic Church, the Westboro Baptist Church, and other timely topics (watch all of the skits here). Though he’s quick to declare how much he loves evil (we have him to thank for the McRib as well as the internet, where bad decisions live forever), he’s very displeased with anyone he thinks is doing it all wrong—and he’s all too excited to welcome them into hell for some very special treatment. Except Osama bin Ladin, because having that guy hanging around is the worst.
This Ten Little Indians rip (from a story by twist-lovin’ M. Night Shyalaman) strands a group of strangers in a high-rise elevator, which would be scary enough, but then they start dying off in variously horrible ways. Eventually, it’s revealed that one among them is the Devil, come to hasten the collection of some very sinful souls. Though the people who get offed aren’t, like, mass murderers, they all have a history of violence, sleaze, lying, and just generally being shitty people. And make no mistake, Devil is a horror movie, and you-know-who is obviously the villain. But while this version of Satan does slash some throats, it’s an act done with a specific purpose in mind: removing only the irredeemably awful from the surface of the Earth. The Devil ends up begrudgingly sparing one elevator passenger, a man who caused an accident that killed an innocent woman and her child, because he confesses and repents in the nick of time—an act that also brings peace of mind to yet another character, a cop who’s been wondering who to blame for the death of his wife and son five years prior. (As an added bonus, the cop forgives the guy instead of beating him to a pulp.)
This version of Satan—embodied throughout most of The Witch in the form of a menacing yet oddly charismatic goat named Black Phillip—also causes death and mayhem. But he also gives the film’s protagonist, long-suffering Puritan teenager Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) the happy ending that she’d never dreamed would be possible. Throughout the movie, we’ve seen eldest child Thomasin doing the bulk of the backbreaking chores on her family’s farm, which is isolated in the middle of nowhere. Then, she must put up with her bratty twin siblings, her leering brother, her unstable mother, and a likely future of being sold into indentured servitude... until things take a turn for the even worse and she’s accused of being a witch. It’s a truly miserable life. No wonder she beams with delight when the film’s final act brings Satan into her life—can you really blame her for marking her name in his book and fleeing into the woods for a life of butter, pretty dresses, dancing naked by the fire, and generally living deliciously? The choice is obvious. Hail!