What's Hell Like? 61 Hottest Depictions of the Pit in Art and Fiction

A scene from Universal Pictures' 'Drag Me to Hell.'

Perdition is always a god-awful thought when you're in the throes of death. What is hell like? What is hell shaped like? How do fire and brimstone feel like? Is hell hot or cold? Is there an exit?

As human beings, it compels us to wonder where people who wrong us go after they die. It came to a point where individuals in bygone days would write world-changing religious texts about this bad place, just because they thought they had received some "revelations." This level of fascination with the afterlife crosses the minds of painters, poets, novelists, filmmakers and artists to this day. 

Often holier-than-thou, sometimes crazy, and always imaginative, their visions of the pit are truly unpleasant as, well, hell. Here are some of the greatest books, art works, games, TV shows, and movies about hell:

61. Inferno

Order from Amazon

In the 2013 Dan Brown book and subsequent Tom Hanks vehicle, symbologist Robert Langdon deciphers infernal imagery to prevent an unseen enemy and all hell from infecting earth. 

60. Castlevania 

Via fandom.com

The anime-inspired Netflix series shows Dracula and his wife Lisa residing in hell. 

59. Cow and Chicken

Red's first appearance on the Cartoon Network series shows him emerging from an elevator that goes straight down to hell. 

58. The Powerpuff Girls

Yes, the network really had devilish fun in the 1990s. Look at Him, turning Townsville to hell. 

57. Family Guy

The offensive Peter Griffin and family have several adventures in hell. It seems like not all dogs go to heaven.

56. South Park

South Park characters have traveled to hell and back, too. 

55. The Simpsons 

So did Homer Simpson, etc. 

54. "Satan's Waitin'"

Sylvester and Tweety star in this cat-and-bird adventure through hell, which is quite reminiscent of a certain classic 1949 Tom and Jerry cartoon.  

53. Dragon Ball Z

Dragon Ball Z calls hell, an arctic place with a bloody lake, by its Japanese name jigoku. In the Puritan-ized American dub, however, it goes by the acronym HFIL or Home for Infinite Losers. 

52. Sleeping Beauty

As if a forest of thorns isn't enough, "all the powers of hell" turn King Stefan's castle into a towering inferno of spectacular green flames. Not so much a disgrace to the forces of evil, are we, Maleficent? 

51. Freddy vs. Jason

Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger gives us a glimpse of hell as he seeks out Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees, who has been hibernating in his patch of the infernal regions since Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. 

50. Tales from the Crypt (1972)

But of course, who has VIP access to the doors of hell other than the underground-loving Cryptkeeper himself? 

49. Diablo

What does a video game titled Diablo add to the hell mythology? Get your cheat codes ready, as you're up against the Prince of Lies, Al'Diabolos, no less. 

48. Lexx

Hell is the fire planet to Heaven's watery world in this intergalactic German-Canadian TV show.

47. The Devil in Miss Jones

Not to be confused with 1941's The Devil and Miss Jones, this pornographic movie from the 1970s gives a raging nympho the gravest of punishments: an eternity of sexual frustration. 

46. Santa Claus

For this unlikely 1959 Christmas movie, directed by Cuban-Mexican legend René Cardona, hell looks like your average cave-like place of eternal punishment, in contrast to the celestial Toyland inhabited by Santa.

45. Deconstructing Harry

The morally corrupt Woody Allen takes a self-deprecating trip to an air-conditioned hell in this 1997 film, where he banters with Billy Crystal as a fallen angel.

44. The Devil and Max Devlin

Speaking of Allen, Bill Cosby plays into the hell-as-an-office trope in this 1981 Disney comedy.  

43. Angel On My Shoulder

Old Nick Scratch is truly the "master of his sphere," a real toasty place complete with its own thermostat, in the Faustian 1946 movie, originally titled Me and Satan.

42. Little Nicky

Scheming and lying down under. Photo via RapidMoviez

Will I meet Hitler there? Another existential question worthy of an Adam Sandler movie.

41. "I'll Never Heil Again"

On the subject of Adolf, World War II was hell on earth, truly, and the The Three Stooges' 1941 depiction of neverending damnation, which demonizes Nazis, was a TV episode of its time. 

40. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey

Follow the doofuses as they plunge into the abyss long enough to play games with the Grim Reaper, and then deal with a God who conspires with extraterrestrials. The entire movie, like the hell in it, is one hot mess.

39. Doctor Who 

The Void is another name for hell in the decades-long British series. How is hell described here, a sci-fi show? It's simply a state of emptiness in the multiverse. 

38. Heaven Can Wait

Where Innumerable People Had Told Him So Often to Go has quite a ring to it in this 1943 romcom about a man waiting to be admitted to hell.

37. Reaper

For anyone who's had a hard time at the DMV, the dreaded office being depicted as a portal to hell couldn't be a more welcome poetic license. 

36. Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments 

Demons get the young-adult, Twilight treatment in the Shadowhunters universe. For every realm in hell, there's a dashing prince ready to sweep you off your feet (or swallow you from the ground perhaps).

35. Lucifer 

Angels, fallen or otherwise, rule Fox and Netflix's joint venture into hell. If you're after a handsome devil, literally, look no further than Tom Ellis' sexy Celestial.

34. Bedazzled

Hell is also the hottest it can be with a scantily clad Liz Hurley (a gender flip of the role originally portrayed by Peter Cook in 1967) ruling it with an iron fist and manicured nails. We're sure Bedazzled 2000's hell scenes, with its caged strippers, take place in the Second Circle of "Inferno."

33. Scrooge

Everybody's favorite Yuletide misanthrope Ebenezer briefly spends winter in hell, a frosty office manned by Lucifer's clerk. Come for his change of heart, stay for the songs; the 1970 movie was Oscar-nominated for its music.

32. God's Demon

Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, also calls Wayne Barlowe’s prose about Hell "strange, terrifying and bizarrely beautiful” 

Satan, Abaddon, Azazel...Add Sargatanas, the lead in Wayne Barlowe's 2007 novel "God's Demon", to your demonology studies. This creature of darkness has the balls to wage war against Beelzebub in a vision of hell divided into fiefdoms. No less than Guillermo del Toro and Mike Mignola have heaped praises on Barlowe's work.

31. DC's Legends of Tomorrow

In season five of The CW series, nightclub impresario Astra Logue lives in a hell that looks like any other sleek, 21st-century city, except that fellow urbanites include the damned souls of Brutus, Black Caesar, Bonnie, Caligula, Charles Manson, Henry VIII, Jack the Ripper, and Vlad the Impaler.

30. Drag Me to Hell

Hell only takes a peek twice in this movie, but you will have sat hard against your seat by the time flames lick at living, breathing human beings onscreen. The movie marked Sam Raimi's return to horror after a long hiatus.

29. City Infernal 

Take your literal concepts of Sin City with you. We'll go for Edward Lee's City Infernal, which reimagines hell as a triumph of urban planning called Mephistopolis, released coincidentally just before 9-11. 

28. Supernatural

"Downstairs," the long-running series' take on hell, really feels like torture even for demons, who came to this place originally as human souls. 

27. Hellboy

Via eddy currents

Capital sins require a capital city. In the Hellboy comics as in the movie adaptations, perdition has a bustling metropolis called Pandemonium, inspired by John Milton. 

26. Charmed

The good witches of the West Coast have their work cut out for them, squaring off against a Rolodex of demons in this Aaron Spelling-produced series. They, and all dark magic, stem from The Source, who reigns supreme in the Underworld, down to a prison-like Tartarus. 

25. Spawn

via Kinasin

Al Simmons, a murderous CIA operative, goes to hell and gets a second act in life as Spawn. This is the premise of the eponymous comics, created in 1992 and turned into a movie in 1997.

24. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

The unexpectedly dark turn that the 60-year-old Sabrina comics has taken, in print and on TV, offers repeat visits to perdition. A place of brazen nepotism, hell is ruled by a dynasty of Morningstars: fallen angel Lucifer and his daughter Sabrina, her beau Caliban, and the lovelorn Lilith.

23. As Above So Below

Oh mon Dieu! Paris is burning in the 2014 film by John Erick Dowdle, who had directed the M. Night Shyamalan story Devil just a few years prior. 

22. Incarnations of Immortality

'On A Pale Horse' is the first book in Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series

Satan a shrewd marketer? You'll be damned. The beast advertises hell as a great place to be in this eight-book fantasy by English-American novelist Piers Anthony. 

21. The Good Place

Not gonna spoil the twist in this award-winning series for you, but this saying applies to earth as it does to the Bad Place: "Hell is other people." (Thanks, Jean-Paul Sartre for the helluva quote.) 

20. Event Horizon

Apparently, there are two ways to hell: sinning on earth or traveling to the nether realms of space. Pick a struggle. 

19. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Demonic principals, witchy teachers, vampire students...high school is literally and figuratively hell in Sunnydale a.k.a. Hellmouth.

18. The Devil's Advocate

Keanu Reeves is really bedeviled by a satanic Al Pacino in the 1997 horror movie. Here, Manhattan embodies Hell HQ, with 94th Street at Fifth Avenue, the Continental Plaza, and Donald Trump's own cribs at Trump Tower, natch, among the film locations. Check out the beautiful shots of 57th Street as an eerie, silent road to hell. 

17. "Hell Is the Absence of God" 

The anthology contains lots of amazing short stories, including the one on which 'Arrival' is based

Ted Chiang does the incongruous: writing awesome religious fantasy as well as breathtaking sci-fi. His 2001 short story, which reappears the following year in his anthology Stories of Your Life and Others (basis of the 2016 film Arrival), makes out hell to be a world just like our own, with some depressing exceptions. 

16. The Frighteners

Forget dreams within dreams. Peter Jackson's pre-Lord-of-the-Rings perspective of hell is nightmare fuel inside slithering nightmare fuel.

15. Memnoch the Devil

Tom Cruise as Lestat, virtually a demon on earth

Anne Rice's wild imagination drags the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt through space and time to the land of the damned, all while nurturing sympathy for the Devil who takes the name Memnoch. In this novel, the fifth in The Vampire Chronicles, Rice transcribes the sorrow of Sheol as artfully as she details the jaded splendor of Heaven. She also gives a gripping explanation of where demons come from. Let's just say vampires are lucky bastards for skipping the afterlife and, thereby, eternal damnation.

14. Hellraiser 

Hell is in the eyes of the beholder. For enthusiasts of bondage and sadomasochism, Pinhead's sanctuary might as well be heaven.

13. Constantine

Years after Bogus Journey and Devil's Advocate, Keanu Reeves was able to revisit the fiery realms. The 2009 movie adaptation of Vertigo's Hellblazer comics casts Reeves as John Constantine, living proof of what a multiple-entry visa to Hell gets you to: a decaying city perpetually swept by gales, its roads and subways teeming with suffering souls.

12. Good Omens 

Think your job is hell? The rat race never ends even in the afterlife. Hell, along with heaven, is the plush London office building Broadgate Tower in Amazon and BBC Two's Good Omens, adapted from the 1990 Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel.

11. Ghost Rider

Before Constantine, before Hellboy, before Spawn, there was Johnny Blaze, the murderer of murderers. The land of damnation has taken on various forms ever since Marvel Comics introduced us to this hellion on wheels in 1972. Sometimes it looks like a magma-filled desert, other times a palatial realm with a fiendish throne as desired as that in GOT.

10. "Night on Bald Mountain"

The iconic segment in the 1940 Disney masterpiece Fantasia hand-illustrates hell as something all at once demonic and volcanic. It stops short of calling Bald Mountain hell, but still you're going to say your Ave Marias after this. 

9. "A Nice Place to Visit"

There's a special place in hell for the greedy. No, there is a special hell for the greedy, warns this memorable Twilight Zone episode from 1960. 

8. "Heavenly Puss"

What kid has not seen these eight minutes of awesome? In this timeless 1949 cartoon, Tom is dead and begs for Jerry's clemency to enter the pearly gates. We catch glimpses of the Devil himself; if you've watched Tom and Jerry long enough, you may have an idea who:

Spike fits the bill

7. What Dreams May Come

WATCH YOUR STEP. Robin Williams on a hellish plain. Via Hell Happens

This Robin Williams vehicle sees the comedian falling, Orpheus-like, to save his wife, whose suicide has lodged her in a personal Gehenna. Dreams demands optical attention, what with allusions to Caspar David Friedrich artworks and all. It even tries to one-up Dante's "Inferno" by conceptualizing its own levels of hell, including unforgettable images of a field of human heads. The visual effects team of Joel Hynek, Nicholas Brooks, Stuart Robertson, and Kevin Scott Mack got well-deserved Oscars for this unforgettable flick. 

6. "Hell's Bells"

Milk it for what it's worth.

Long before they showed the world a lava-filled cave of wonders, Disney had already visualized a red-hot void beneath the earth. In the 1929 Silly Symphony short "Hell's Bells," beasts and imps hold court in a cave of terrors: one of the earliest depictions of inferno in the motion picture industry. A behemoth of a cow being milked for hellfire? Judge Claude Frollo must be drinking a venti cup right now.

5. The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer's at-times homophobic poem "The Canterbury Tales" promises corrupt summoners a front-row seat to hell, so exclusive that they'd be able to describe it better than Dante Alighieri. Check out the 1972 Italian movie by Pier Paolo Pasolini who puts through the silver screen a very anal concept of hell. 

4. "Paradise Lost"

Pandæmonium, the capital of Hell, as painted by John Martin for "Paradise Lost"

"Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.''

With that, Lucifer made the most of the lot God relegated him to: "one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames / No light."

Yes, for all its surplus of heat, from sea of "liquid fire" to shore of "solid" flames, John Milton's depiction of hell is one rayless place to be. As if the horrific verses aren't enough, creepy illustrations accompany "Paradise Lost." From the scowling angels of William Blake to the searing Pandæmonium of John Martin, Milton's epic poem will leave you morally remorseful.

3. "Inferno"

HELL HATH NO WRATH. The Fifth Circle of Hell in Dante's "Inferno" as illustrated by Stradanus

Was Dante Alighieri that scot-free in life? Because he has envisaged the worst punishments for sins, small and big, in "Inferno," one of the cantiche in his long-ass poem "The Divine Comedy." 

Many faiths have defined hell as distance from God; this poem takes that interpretation to heart. A religious experience in terrifying terms, the "Inferno" portion of the poem has popularized the concept of hell as a series of circles, each one Further, My God, to Thee.

Dante is more imaginative than simply casting wrongdoers to a lake that burns with sulphur. Were you licentious in life? Get whipped by endless squalls. Gluttonous? Be dog food. Greedy? Roll humongous stones uphill. Are you the Devil and all the sins that go with being Him/Her? Find yourself in the last circle and the best oxymoron of the universe: a frozen hell.

"Inferno" has inspired artists through the centuries, including Auguste Rodin who went on to sculpt "The Gates of Hell" after the famous cantica. The poem hasn't aged well, however, with more and more literary scholars coming to terms with its racist, homophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic passages.

2. The Aeneid

Frederick Ahl is one of the most respected translators of ancient epic poems

The idea of the nether realms predates Christianity, and Dante himself appropriates from ancient Rome for "Inferno." It was heavily inspired by Book 6 of The Aeneid by Virgil, about the wanderer Aeneas' journey to the Underworld and descent to its pits, Tartarus, where he witnesses the torment of wrongdoers. 

Tartarus as a concept originated in ancient Greek mythology: a place where the gods hurled down their foes. Later Tartarus would become synonymous with Hades, never mind that Tartarus was said to be deeper than Hades in the abyss. As the Hebrew Bible spread to Greece, Hades became interchangeable with Sheol, the land of the dead in Judeo-Christian tradition. Talk about getting lost in translation.

1. "The Garden of Earthly Delights"

Fun starts in the triptych's third panel.

Of all the known paintings of hell, Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" takes the devil's food cake.

Accentuated by pastoral scenes of Eden and Earth to its left, all hell breaks loose in the third panel of "Garden." It's a visceral tableau of doom and gloom: a burning metropolis and, outside its gates, horrors of the worst degree. A beaked creature swallowing bodies whole and excreting them into a hole of diabolic turd. Musical instruments being poked into places they shouldn't be. Eggshell taverns governed by dancing demons...Keep telling yourself: "It's just a painting."

(P.S. Get a poster instead.)


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