10 Great Movies That Explore The Wonders & Horrors of Immortality

The topic of immortality is a popular one to explore in fiction. It’s something that everyone thinks about or, at the very least, finds interesting. Given that movies are a visual medium, it becomes extra powerful when the idea of immortality is explored on-screen. It’s easy to project yourself onto a character grappling with such a concept, and for the length of a movie, we too can experience what an immortal being might feel for eternity.

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The best movies that deal with the concept of living forever explore it by unpacking the positives and negatives. There may be wonderful things about living forever, but at the same time, there would be aspects of it that would be heartbreaking and horrifying.


‘Wings of Desire’ (1987)

Image via Road Movies

Wings of Desire is a fantasy/romance movie that follows two angels who observe humanity from a distance. They’re able to view a person’s every movement and even read their thoughts but must do so at a distance… at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be, as eventually, one of the angels decides against this.

He’s fallen in love with one of the people he watches over, but to get to know her personally would mean giving up on being an angel and becoming mortal. In this way, Wings of Desire explores how lonely it would be to be immortal. You may be able to learn and see everything, but the way all the other mortals around you would come and go would ensure a lonely, often distant existence.

‘Death Becomes Her’ (1992)

death-becomes-her feature

While Death Becomes Her takes a zanier, more comedic look at the highs and lows of immortality, it still does so pretty effectively. Essentially, the plot centers on two women who are both rivals—professionally and romantically—and what happens to said rivalry when both become immortal.

At first, there’s the power that comes with drinking a potion that lets you live forever, but the consequences become apparent pretty quickly. It’s a great power used with anything but great responsibility, with much of the film’s dark humor coming from the fact the two women can still have their bodies damaged, even if horrific injuries don’t kill them. It’s absurd, kind of gross, and quite funny, all the while exploring immortality in an interesting way.

‘Toy Story 2’ (1999)

Stinky Pete the Prospector in Toy Story 2

Leave it to Pixar to make a kid’s movie that has the main character facing one of the most difficult decisions imaginable: does he want to live his life as he was, knowing one day he’ll be forgotten or destroyed, or does he want to live forever and always be remembered (albeit at a distance) without any personal relationship with anyone?

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This is what Woody (Tom Hanks) must choose in Toy Story 2, and it’s quite a haunting dilemma for a family-friendly movie when you think about it. Being inside a glass case in a museum would allow him to effectively live forever, but it would mean never being played with by Andy, nor any other kid, and it would also mean never getting to say goodbye to old friends. This mature exploration of living forever versus living a shorter, more rewarding life is just one reason why Toy Story 2 is one of Pixar’s best movies.

‘The Fountain’ (2006)

The Fountain - 2006

The Fountain is an unusual and original film by visionary director Darren Aronofsky. It tells three separate storylines that all represent the cyclical nature of life, over the years, decades, and centuries, with its most famous story focusing on a scientist fighting to find a cure for his wife’s brain cancer.

It unpacks the conflict between accepting death and wanting to live forever in a manner that’s not always easy to understand, and in the process, The Fountain is a complex and sometimes perplexing film. However, you can’t fault it for its ambition, and even if you don’t understand everything, the core themes explored shine through.

‘Groundhog Day’ (1993)

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day
Image via Sony Pictures

The classic 1993 comedy Groundhog Day doesn’t seem to be explicitly about immortality at first. Initially, it seems to be about a jaded weatherman stuck on an assignment he hates in a town he hates even more… until it’s revealed he’s actually stuck in a time loop and is experiencing the same awful day over and over again, with no way out of town, and no way out of that single day.

Because the day endlessly loops and Phil Connors (Bill Murray) retains all his memories, he achieves a sort of immortality, thanks to the time loop. There are fun things about this sort of immortality, but it comes with a lot of horrifying baggage, both of which this film explores expertly, becoming an unconventional look at a kind of eternal life.

‘The Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy (2001-2003)

The Lord of the Rings' Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn and Live Tyler as Arwen on the throne of Gondor
Image via New Line Cinema

The Lord of the Rings, as a trilogy, focuses on a quest to destroy a Ring that, if not destroyed, would lead to the world’s destruction. The Ring is an awe-inspiring and terrible thing, for what it has done and could do in the wrong hands, as it can corrupt minds and artificially extend lives.

This happens most clearly with Sméagol/Gollum (portrayed by Andy Serkis), who’s driven mad by the Ring and becomes a shell of his former self, even if it enables him to live for hundreds of years. Elsewhere, other characters deal with their long lives more effectively, like Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) and most elves. The series, as a whole, shows the good and the bad of being immortal in a fantasy world.

‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’ (2012)

It's Such a Beautiful Day

A surreal, sometimes funny, but mostly soul-crushing film, It’s Such a Beautiful Day has minimalist animation and a simple core story, though it grapples with some heavy themes throughout its brief (yet impactful) 60-ish minute runtime.

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It’s a heavily existential movie, with one sequence imagining what would happen to the main character if he lived forever. Though it’s short and far from the whole movie, it leaves a tremendous impact, as the unassuming Bill learns all there is to know, falls in and out of love hundreds of times, and even outlives the world itself, destined, eventually, to float isolated in space forever. It’s Such a Beautiful Day pushes the idea of immortality to its breaking point, making for some truly thought-provoking stuff in the process.

‘Nosferatu the Vampyre’ (1979)

Nosferatu The Vampyre

Directed by expert documentarian/feature filmmaker Werner Herzog, Nosferatu the Vampyre is one of his best movies. It’s a remake of the silent horror film classic Nosferatu but updated to feel a little more biting (pun intended) when it comes to its violence and thematic weight.

Part of this comes from how much it delves into how a vampire would feel if blessed —or cursed—with eternal life. While Dracula (Klaus Kinski) is the film’s antagonist, he’s also explored in a surprisingly sympathetic way, with the film going to great lengths to show how lonely his never-ending life is and how he finds it impossible to find any connection with humans due to his condition.

‘Blade of the Immortal’ (2017)

Blade of the Immortal

A notable samurai film that wasn’t directed by the great Akira Kurosawa, Blade of the Immortal centers on…well, an immortal samurai, and he has a blade. And he uses that blade during some violent, extended action sequences (mostly found in the film’s opening and closing scenes).

The upsides of immortality here are more exciting for the audience than the main character. Basically, it means huge action scenes where he can withstand all the damage inflicted on him. For the main character, however, being immortal is damaging and isolating, which suggests that the novelty of being unable to die might be fun for, say, the length of a movie but would wear out its welcome in real life.

‘Highlander’ (1986)

Highlander - 1986

Highlander might be the definitive movie about immortality. It’s a very 1980s fantasy/action movie about immortal rivals who have battled over the centuries, with beheading via a sword being the only way they can actually die.

Notably, it features a Queensong that essentially spells out the movie’s message: « Who Wants To Live Forever? » There may be some upsides, but seeing loved ones die while staying alive yourself is shown to be incredibly painful. Ironically, the series may get rebooted soon, suggesting that the producers want the series to achieve immortality even if the characters may not want to live on forever.

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