The Most Tear-jerking, Hilarious Movies About the Afterlife

DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:

“Afterlife Movies”

Last week we focused on the Grim Reaper, a hooded figure that ushers cinematic protagonists into the hereafter. This week I’m taking it a step further and exploring the destination of that trip. The Afterlife is something that no one can be wrong in describing, yet there are a few similarities that several cultures agree upon, and man has been writing about the afterlife, well, since we invented writing. With the advent of movies we’ve been given the ability to visualize what we think it looks like and how it works. I’ve tried to stay away from movies about ghosts sticking around on Earth, because that’s not so much the afterlife as some sort of Limbo. Below are five movies about where we go after we kick the bucket, and how they hit us directly in the feels.

1. What Dreams May Come
A highly polarizing movie; people either loved it to death (PUN!) or didn’t care for it at all. My guess is that the latter group didn’t enjoy the pervasive melancholy that persists throughout the entire film, but visually it’s groundbreaking. Robin Williams dies in a car crash after his wife committed suicide, and he has to rescue her from the level of the afterlife reserved for suicide victims. In this iteration of the afterlife there’s no real heaven or hell, but different levels that vary depending on how you died. Some are pleasant, some not so much.

Of course the entire movie is one long sad fest, but there’s a moment when Robin finds his wife and snaps her out of her daze, only to fall into a trance himself. For a movie built on visual effects and high-concept spectacle, this private moment of pure acting is the most emotional for me. It’s the kind of movie you don’t want to watch too often, but it’s worth watching at least once or twice

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2. Beetlejuice
Singing, dancing, bad puns and good ones. That’s how most remember this film, but it actually had a lot to say about the afterlife, namely that it’s infuriatingly bureaucratic. The main couple that dies in the beginning is given a manual to being dead, which is constantly referred to as hard to read. They have to have a case worker assigned to them, and not a very empathetic one. Between mandatory waiting periods of over a century in their old house before moving on, and finding out that suicide earns you a permanent job with administration, the afterlife is portrayed as a day at the DMV. If that’s not enough to make you cry, I don’t know what is.
The true core of the film, however, is Lydia. She is portrayed as goth and lonely, with empathy from the audience due to seeing how horrible her family is. Then she starts writing her own suicide letter, and it’s played for laughs. Sure, we know there is an afterlife which provides some comfort, but not only does it suck but it ESPECIALLY sucks for suicide victims. Gloss by it or not, Lydia needed some intense therapy that no one bothered to give her.

3. Wristcutters: a Love Story
This is a delightful indie comedy that I highly recommend you give a viewing. The majority of it takes place in the afterlife, which is portrayed as identical to life here on Earth except everything is a little bit worse and no one can smile. Despite everything being a little bit dirtier, more broken, and dated, residents are still expected to get jobs and form relationships just like when they were alive. This doesn’t bode well for the main characters who committed suicide to escape such a life, which is played deftly for laughs.
Even more bleak than the bureaucratic nonsense of Beetlejuice, this film depicts the afterlife as a worse version of life, with no one really in charge and no one caring. It’s like the Mad Max of the afterlife, which is pretty cool. However, finding out that even in the afterlife there are weak-minded individuals who will join a cult is a bit depressing. You’d think physically being in heaven would prove that cults are not the way to go.

4. Flatliners
I went with this choice because it depicts the afterlife as a destination you could only get to after facing those you’ve wronged during life. I find that fascinating, as it’s the polar opposite of the common idea that the afterlife is where you meet all your loved ones. A group of kids who use medically-induced death and revival episodes to explore the afterlife without it being a one-way trip, this film is a thriller more than anything else. Even so, it suggests an interesting wrinkle in the heaven/hell dynamic, where you have to pass through your own personal hell to gain access to heaven.

What makes me sad is that it’s unclear whether these trials that the protagonists had to go through were single player or whether they were actually interacting with the spirits of their past wrongdoings. Seems like a rude interruption for someone actually in heaven, to have to constantly be called down to harass those who deserve justice. Just let them rest in peace!

5. All Dogs Go to Heaven

This film is way darker than any animated film has right to be. The main character lies to an orphan, compulsively gambles, literally cheats death, and all in all isn’t that redeemable until the very end. Sure, it’s about dogs, but the afterlife portrayed is the most traditional of any movie on this list. You’ve got Heaven, Hell, and clear definitions of what earns a ticket which way. The aspect that sticks out to me the most is that Heaven seems to be highly naive and their security a bit lax. Simply yelling at someone when they force their way back to Earth isn’t quite forceful enough. They’re dogs, why not some invisible fence or shock collars?

All I’m saying is that a Heaven you can break out of with minimal effort, then gain immortality effectively as long as you keep a pocketwatch safe seems unfair, and that dog deserved to go to Hell. He lied to that little girl…about her parents…excuse me, I have something in my eye.

Bah! And after the black cloud of Dog Hell engulfed the screen, I have something in my pants. Seriously, scariest random moments in a kid movie ever.

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.