From A Matter of Life and Death (1946), dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger (image courtesy Criterion)

People tend to pay special attention to horror movies during October, but there are plenty of non-spooky titles delving into the afterlife. Here are a few good ones that you can watch right now.

A Matter of Life and Death

One of the best works from legendary British filmmaking duo Powell & Pressburger, this 1946 classic features David Niven as an Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot who miraculously evades his predetermined death after being shot down. The “Other World” is still after him, though, but he gets a chance to take the matter to court — on the grounds that, since he’s fallen in love, he deserves to continue on with his life. A beautiful, swooning film with a brilliant (and highly influential) conception of the afterlife.

Available on Classix

Defending Your Life

Leave it to Albert Brooks to make a very different spin on the idea of going on trial after death. Here, the worst thing that can happen to a soul is reincarnation, having to go through all the bs of human life on Earth all over again. Instead, Brooks’s character is desperate to assert that he is free enough of mortal fears and concerns to continue on to the next realm of existence. (Particularly since he’s fallen in love with Meryl Streep, who’s already bound for that realm.)

Available on Criterion Channel and other platforms.


This is the best film Pixar made in the 2010s. (I see you, Inside Out fans, but I do not acknowledge you.) Its evocative portrayal of an afterlife inspired by the culture of Mexico is also a parable for how the true afterlife is how we remember the people we knew and loved after they are gone. The result is a gorgeous-looking, fantastically animated adventure that earns its biggest heartwarming moments without ever pandering to kids.

Available on Disney+ and other platforms.

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.

One reply on “Glimpse Heaven and Other Afterlives With Films About Life After Death”

  1. Seriously that’s all you’ve got?

    What about ‘Heaven can wait’? What dreams may come? Cocteaus’ ‘Orphée’? ‘The Sixth Sense’? ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’? To name a few. Then if you want to go into a massively in depth discussion about it ‘The Good Place”. This one is TV but it’s one of the deepest if the most cotton candy coated.

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