Whose Pope Is It Anyway? A Guide To All The Pop Culture Popes

In the past year or so, Hollywood has come down with a case of Pope Fever. Apparently, the 266 papal leaders throughout history weren't enough, and now places like HBO and Netflix have not only made shows and movies about real popes, but also literally invented new ones. I'm not here to say why everyone suddenly got so thirsty for the papacy — only God can do that — I'm just here to try to bring some order to the gaggle of popes and priests currently all bumping into each other in our collective pop culture.
Popes on screen is not a new phenomena. Popes, both real and fictional, have been portrayed by actor legends like John Goodman and Robbie Coltrane. But in one fell swoop, names like Jude Law, John Malkovich, and Anthony Hopkins have been added to the list, significantly increasing the Pope's star power — in Hollywood that is. The Pope's power in Christianity is, of course, unparalleled, and a light game of "Who's Pope Is It Anyway?" is not meant to diminish papal authority in any way.
Advertisement
With that out of the way, let us begin.

Pope Francis

Photo: Vatican Pool/Getty Images.
This is the real pope. I'm including him in this as the control that all these other fictional or fictionalized versions of the Pope have spun off of. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Pope Francis is the first Pope to come out of the Americas, and is generally considered, as Popes go, somewhat progressive. He's in line with the Church's traditional values regarding abortion, marriage, ordination of women, and clerical celibacy, but uses Twitter to speak out about climate change and subtweet President Trump. Go off.

Pope Benedict and the future Pope Francis in The Two Popes

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Based on a 2017 play called The Pope, The Two Popes is Netflix's biographical drama based on the transition between Pope Benedict XVI (played by Anthony Hopkins) to the aforementioned Pope Francis (played by Jonathan Pryce). Pope Benedict's reputation is rapidly deteriorating following the 2012 Vatican leaks that revealed corruption and cover-ups in the Catholic church. Amidst all this, the future Pope Francis, Bergoglio, attempts to resign as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, but he is ignored. This is because Pope Benedict also wants to resign and hopes Bergoglio would be his successor, but Bergoglio objects due to his own controversial past. However, over time, the two win each other over, and in 2013, Bergoglio is elected as Pope Benedict's successor.
Advertisement

Pius XIII, aka Lenny Belardo from The Young Pope

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
It may shock to you to hear that Jude Law is not playing a real pope. For one, his character, Lenny Belardo, is American. He's also movie star hot which, no offense to past popes, isn't usually the case — unless of course that is your thing. Formerly the Archbishop of New York, Lenny Belardo takes on the role of Pope Pius XIII in The Young Pope almost by default after chaos in the Vatican leaves no other option. Everything about him is new and different, but also a little corrupt, as he uses his own personal history and whims to take the church in an unheard of direction.

Pope John Paul III from The New Pope

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
This continuation of The Young Pope, now called The New Pope, has John Malkovich front and center, who takes on the role of Pope John Paul III — originally born John Brannox. Don't worry, Jude Law is still part of The New Pope as Pope Pius XIII, but we'll have to watch how the dynamic of these competing popes plays out in the season ahead.

The Hot Priest from Fleabag

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Not a pope but still relevant, the Hot Priest (played by Andrew Scott) is a main character in the second season of Fleabag. A pope is a bishop and the head honcho, whereas priests are a different holy order that assists bishops. The Hot Priest is a parish priest, meaning his main duties concern only the community in which he is serving. This particular priest, though, is best known for telling Phoebe Waller-Bridge to kneel.
Advertisement

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series