Once, in the ’90s, it was told unto us that God was one of us, just a slob like one of us, trying to make his way home. The all-knowing, all-seeing, all-feeling creator of everything and anything in the universe could take on many forms, and he typically has throughout the many channels of pop culture. But it’s hard to find a good version of God in movies – for good reason. It’s a part that many might not want to take; God is, after all, the ultimate role. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
How do you embody a deity, the most important figure in a vast amount of people’s lives, and a part they’ve already cast in their minds while daydreaming in church pews from an early age? You get around it, and you get creative. Sometimes, you don’t even have to be on screen. Just pray for the best.
5. Alanis Morissette, Dogma
Let’s start with what would be deemed the largest departure from the concept of the gray-haired, stone-faced, ancient man on top of the clouds who rains down judgment with a booming thunderclap of a voice: A woman. Throughout Kevin Smith’s Dogma, a host of demons, fallen angels, muses, prophets, and certain chosen humans search desperately for God, all trying to get there first in an attempt to stop the end of the world. You see, if a fallen angel enters a church to attain absolution, it’s enough to screw up the whole game.
When the motley crew finally runs into God manifested in human form, she’s not exactly what they were expecting – a spritely, ethereal woman who looks an awful lot like Alanis Morissette and who can kill a demon with the power of her screeching voice. Fear her wrath. She’s perfect because she’s the antithesis of tradition, the answers to the universe wearing cute hair flowers. Doesn’t that make her seem a little more powerful?
4. Graham Chapman, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Sometimes God isn’t actually depicted by an actor. He’s the gigantic animated antique photo of a cricket player wearing a ridiculously ornate crown, peeking down from the heavens. And his eyes are maybe replaced by glowing embers as bright as the sun behind him as he instructs the knights of the roundtable – Sir Bedevere the Wise, Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot and Sir Galahad the Pure – to set forth and find the Holy Grail.
Monty Python player Graham Chapman serves as the voice of God, in the sense that he literally gives a voice to the cricket player in the sky. That cricket player, by the way, is W.G. Grace. When a massive photograph of God peering from the heavens demands an insane journey rife with peril and bloodshed, the only answer is yes.
3. Morgan Freeman, Bruce Almighty
It’s hard to imagine that there was a time that Morgan Freeman didn’t have God on his resume. There’s a distinct number of people, guaranteed, that if you asked them to close their eyes tightly and imagine God speaking to them directly, they would answer with “Morgan Freeman” when reporting back what they saw. There’s something about his stately manner and his regal disposition that screams authority and omnipotence. Slap a classy all-white tuxedo on the man and it’s a recipe for beautiful, rapturous praise.
So that’s why teaming Freeman up with Jim Carrey, a hapless human in need of some humility in Bruce Almighty proved to be such a good idea. While Carrey did what he usually does in comedies – flail around aimlessly attempting to sort out his life – Freeman served as the calm voice of reason that guided him through his trials. Of course, the premise of Almighty is that the two – human and God – switch places and see what it’s like having the weight of humanity’s woes on your shoulders while the other is able to chill like the dumb bro he created.
In his brief stint as God, Carrey is miserable because he’s supposed to be; it’s not a job that anyone can do, and that’s why Freeman looks so good in the role – he walks into it somehow effortlessly. If someone just casually mentioned to you today that it turned out that Morgan Freeman was actually God, would you even really be that surprised?
2. The Burning Bush, The Ten Commandments (1956)
It doesn’t get more old school than the version of God as a burning bush that speaks to Moses (Charlton Heston) on the summit of Mount Sinai. The story is classic Biblical fare – God, as the burning bush, berates Moses (there’s no way around it, he’s a little mean) to return to Egypt and free his chosen people. If a wall of fire spoke to you, you’d start making things happen too. Heston/Moses is naturally inspired to go full-on “let my people go” after this encounter because his God is a raging God. That is, he’s a wall of genuine Technicolor flames blazing in the desert, urging him to start a revolution. Yeah! Do it!
This Biblical story has been adapted numerous times for film and television (including The Prince of Egypt, the animated children’s version where Val Kilmer voices both Moses AND the burning bush), but none pack quite the dramatic punch that Heston and his God deliver together in this film.
1. George Burns, Oh, God!
Sometimes God is just a tiny, kindly old man who has a very sure plan for what he wants to be done on this planet. It makes sense in a way; what else would God be besides a senior citizen? In Oh, God! that titular deity comes down from heaven in the form of George Burns to find himself a modern-day Moses to spread his good word; naturally, the rest of the world is a bit more skeptical in the 1970s than they were back in Biblical times.
But who wouldn’t be convinced by a wisecracking, sweet old man who provides miracles in the form of card tricks? Telling a court “so help me Me” while getting sworn in to prove you exist is also a pretty solid joke for grandpas and gods alike.