What The Afterlife Looks Like, According To Hollywood

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In the movie Flatliners (out September 29), a group of precocious medical students discover a way to reach the afterlife — and then come back again. At first, the students' extreme, heart-stopping experiment achieves thrilling results. While flatlining, each student hallucinates, and returns to life feeling super-charged. But playing with metaphysics of the Great Beyond is a bad idea. Soon, everyone is pursued by visions that threaten to pull them back to the other side.
Flatliners never actually shows us what heaven looks like, but other movies have tried. After all, who hasn't sketched out a mental vision of the Great Beyond at some point? Are there palm trees and cotton candy bushes? Are there chocolate fountains and everyone you ever loved in one big room? And is it wonderful?
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Since everyone has a different interpretation of the world after this one (which may or may not exist), each movie does, too. Here's what cinema has told us to expect in the afterlife.
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A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

There's a literal stairway to heaven in this British classic. Actually, it's a massive escalator. As the escalator winds upwards, Peter Carter (David Niven) sits and sees the "greats," like Lincoln and Plato, rendered in statue form along the way.

Peter, an air force pilot, was supposed to die during a parachute-less skydive – but miraculously survived, and cheated death. The fates in heaven still want him. Peter needs to choose someone to defend his case so that he can plead for more time on earth. Unlike heaven, which is filmed in black and white, earth is seen in vivid color. For now, he's stranded in the in-between.
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Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Heaven, as Joseph Pendleton (Warren Beatty) discovers, is a vast landscape of clouds run by men in suits. Departed souls wait to board an airplane that will take them to their "ultimate destination," which is likely more interesting than endless clouds.

Joe, a professional football player, isn't sold on heaven. He knows he was taken before his time was actually up, and he was right: The businessmen in suits messed up, as they tend to. Since his body's already been cremated, Joe's soul is put back in the body of a millionaire industrialist who'd just been murdered by his wife.
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Monty Python & The Meaning Of Life (1983)

Only the comedy troupe behind Monty Python could create a musical sketch comedy tour-de-force focusing on all the stages of life, from birth to death. In the film, a dinner party is interrupted by the Grim Reaper, who unfortunately announces that each of them had been accidentally poisoned.

He escorts them to heaven, which turns out to be a perpetual Christmas party in a flashy, Las Vegas-style hotel.
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Beetlejuice (1988)

On their drive home to their Connecticut house, newlyweds Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin) drive their car off a bridge. When they materialize in their old house, they find a Handbook for the Recently Deceased on the table. As it turns out, the Netherworld is a society as complex as our own. The Maitlands get a taste for the system when they travel to the Netherworld's waiting room, with its dank office lights and residents with a gruesome sense of humor.
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Always (1989)

In her final film, Audrey Hepburn plays a Hap, a guardian of heaven who introduces the newly departed Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) to his new home following a fatal plane crash. A legendary pilot while he was alive, Pete's now tasked with "inspiring" another young pilot through the friendliest, most well-intentioned hauntings ever seen in cinema.

Hap says, "They hear you inside their own minds as if it were their thoughts.”

Things get hairy when the new pilot, Ted (Brad Johnson) falls for Pete's girlfriend, Dorinda (Holly Hunter).
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What Dreams May Come (1988)

What Dreams May Come is a movie heavy with tragedy. Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams) and his wife lose both of their children, and then both of them pass away, too. The film tracks Chris's journey through the afterlife to rescue his wife (and confirmed soulmate) Annie (Annabella Sciorra) from Hell, which no one has ever successfully done before. In the film, heaven is depicted as an endlessly customizable, majestic dreamscape called a "corner" — everyone gets his or her own corner, and can visit others'.

I'm not going to lie, seeing Robin Williams laugh with glee while staring at the majesty at the heaven of his own imagination did make me tear up.
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All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)

Charlie the German Shepherd arrives to heaven, and is not impressed by its riches. "No surprises," he says, glumly. Without adventure and danger, all of the joy of life for him is taken away. Charlie charms the whippet, his greeter in heaven, by singing about his love for surprises. Distracting the whippet angel, Charlie manages to steal the watch in which his life is stored and come back to earth.
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Defending Your Life (1991)

Daniel (Albert Brooks) isn't quite good enough to ascend straight into heaven. Instead, he finds himself in Judgment City, where he must present the worthiness of his life to a group of judges. Judgement City is clean and well-organized, but isn't as spectacular as he's promised heaven will be — so long as Daniel is able to conquer the fears that had held him back during his life.
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Don't Tempt Me (2001)

If heaven were to be set in any earthly city, it would be a very nostalgic, black-and-white version of 1930's Paris. Hell, on the other hand, would be a terribly overheated bureaucracy. There are no cloud-covered majestic landscapes to be seen in this Spanish film. Instead, the afterlife is utterly human.
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Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)

During a near-death experience, Scrat finds out what his version of heaven is: A cloud-lined, sunny paradise, where acorns are endlessly abundant. Just as he's reaching a big ol' acorn, Sid manages to save his life. He's pulled back to earth, where he'll have to keep working for his acorns.
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The Lovely Bones (2009)

Heaven, in The Lovely Bones, is as hypersaturated with color as a former Bachelor contestant's Instagram feed. Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon (Saorise Ronan) is trapped in a lonely, but beautiful, purgatory while she watches her grieving family. Once Susie accepts her new place in the universe, other spirits materialize in her once-lonely paradise, and take her off to the real heaven.
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The Tree of Life (2011)

Don't try to understand this Terrence Malick fever dream about life, the universe, and everything in between. Just watch it.
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This Is the End (2013)

Heaven's pretty sweet in This Is the End. Not only does it have all the quintessential "heaven" imagery — halos, clouds, and golden doors — rollercoasters loom in the background, people are dressed for a nonstop party, and weed is readily available.

"That's heaven. Anything you think of is yours," says Craig Robinson. With that, Seth Rogen immediately conjures up a Segway, and Jay Baruchel, a Backstreet Boys concert.
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