These are movies in which a character changes before entering the afterlife or, in some cases, a better state of affairs.
The state of being stuck halfway between heaven and hell is known as purgatory. It’s a place where people go to be punished and purified before going to heaven. According to Thomas Smith’s article in The Great Adventure, Furnace Divine Love: Biblical Roots of Purgatory, purgatory is a place where people go to find love after death. Purgatory is often depicted in films as a place of suffering and completion of tasks before death. A selection of films where purgatory features prominently in the storyline.
1. Groundhog Day (1993)
Watch the original movie about the same day reoccurring endlessly in your mind. Bill Murray and Andie McDowell star in this lighthearted romantic comedy. The movie features many amusing scenes involving what happens if you repeat the same day over and over again. He transforms from a callous jerk who couldn’t give a damn to a kindhearted romantic who cares deeply.
2. Ghost (1990)
When one of a young couple who recently bought a condo in the artsy but violent part of town dies, the other suffers heartbreak. Sam, Demi Moore’s live-in boyfriend, is stabbed to death in front of his new residence. He stayed behind to protect Demi and track down the person responsible for his death, rather than crossing over to the other side. Most people enjoy and feel sad when they watch this early 1990s romantic comedy. It always struck me as a compelling tale about the power of clinging to people, things, and concepts. An amusing side note: Sam is repeatedly referred to as stubborn both alive and dead throughout the film.
3. Jacobs Ladder (1990)
In the aftermath of his service in Vietnam, a soldier from that country feels like he can relate to the people around him. For the main character and his fellow soldiers, there is a lot of imagery that conveys terror, fear, and disorientation. His struggle to return to normal life is a major plot point in the film because you get to see his plight all the way to the end.
4. Happy Death Day (2017)
When a girl keeps dying on her birthday, she’s resurrected to die again on the same day. This is a more upbeat film about repeating the same day until the character gets it right, so it takes her a while to crack the case. It’s possible that the ringtone will irritate you. “Party in da club” by 50 Cent was the original song used to promote the film. They also make fun of Groundhog Day throughout the film as a nod to her antics.
5. What Dreams May Come (1999)
Richard Burton Matheson’s novel of the same name was the inspiration for this hazy CGI film. Throughout the film, the new metaphors and imagery clash. When a doctor dies in a car accident, he goes to heaven and lives among the many paintings his late wife created during her lifetime. Things go from bad to worse for his widowed wife, who loses her children, ends up in an institution, and then kills herself four years later. Given the chance, he decides to put his life on the line to find her. Because of how depressing this film may be, it’s not for everyone.
6. I fall (2017)
Until she completes this one task, one of the school’s most popular girls must relive the day of her death. Unlike Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day, this film is based on Lauren Oliver’s novel of the same name. In a dramatic teen film, the main character changes as a person.
7. Heart and Soul (1993)
Following a tragic bus accident that claimed the lives of all ten of its passengers, young Thomas finds himself haunted by the spirits of his past. According to his parents, Thomas’ ghostly friends are simply imaginary friends that he has chosen to keep hidden from him. Long after the young boy has become an adult working in a corporation with his own life, the spirits learn that they must cross over to the other side. They reappear before Thomas and take control of his body in order to help them cross over. To watch this film is a wonderful combination of humor and sadness. The story’s many threads come together in the end for a satisfying conclusion anchored by hilarious performances.
8. Corpse Bride (2005)
The story of a young man who has second thoughts about his wedding day in this stop motion animation. By accident, he sets the wedding band on the finger of a dead corpse in the middle of the night, only to have her accept his marriage proposal. To avoid being married to a woman who isn’t his future bride, the would-be groom must help the bride cross over to the other side.
9. Coco (2017)
Beautiful animated film about a young boy who goes to the Land of the Dead in search of a long-lost relative in order to prove his talent. A family history inquest is required for the young boy to return home. Almost all of the story is based on the Day of the Dead celebration, which is a time when loved ones gather to remember and pray for those who have passed away, as well as to lend a hand and support each other on their spiritual journey.
10. Beetlejuice (1988)
A car accident claims the lives of a young country-style Connecticut couple trying to start a family. Due to bureaucracy that exists even after death, they are being sent to the netherworld, a world for the recently deceased, to file paperwork. When they return from that world, they find that their house has been sold to a wealthy New York family and has been transformed into a yuppie Gothic New Memphis style. They scare the family away but end up hiring a con artist ghoul to do the job instead, which has unintended consequences.