Angels: Gabriel and Archangel lead a band of angels--actually the Hall Johnson gospel choir--in a telling of Old Testament tales from a decidedly Southern rural perspective.
Wings and Things: Gowns and feathers, but less hi-tech than Victoria's Secret Fashion Show
Powers: Gabriel plays a mean horn.
Memorable Line: "Even bein’ God ain't no bed of roses,"
Legacy: The movie version of this controversial Pulitzer prize-winning 1929 play was one of the first movies with an all-black cast. It sold nearly 6,000 tickets every hour at its debut at Radio City Music Hall.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Angel: Angel Second-Class Clarence Oddbody
Mission: To show the suicidal George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who pleads, "Show me the way, oh God," why life is worth living.
Wings and Things: First appears as a shooting star, later in long underwear--but Clarence only gets his wings if George sees the light.
Powers: Can call up an alternate world in which George was never born, but otherwise depends on whimsical folksiness.
"One man's life touches so many others, when he's not there it leaves an awfully big hole."
Legacy: Born of WWII, Clarence's angel-as-heavenly Kilroy on probation, and God as a stern four-star general, became the dominant gag for a generation.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Angel: Dudley (Cary Grant)
Mission: To help Episcopal bishop David Niven remember the meaning of faith, and of his wife.
Wings and Things: Like Clarence, Dudley looks like you or me, except of course, he’s Cary Grant.
Powers: Mostly small-bore miracles; after all is well, no one remembers him, despite being imbued with happiness
Memorable Line: "Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread."
Legacy: Angels, increasingly lovable, can also be sexy. Re-made as The Preacher’s Wife (1996), with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.
Angels in the Outfield (1951)
Angels: Archangel Gabriel (voice of James Whitmore); the Heavenly Choir Nine
Mission: To help the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team win a pennant, if their abusive manager can keep his tongue in check.
Wings and things: None: only Bridget, an orphan, can see the heavenly helpers.
Powers: An eye-popping curveball.
Memorable Tagline: "The roughest guy you ever met... until an angel said 'Hello!'"
Legacy: Disney's remake in 1994 sanitized the storyline and changed the team to the California Angels. Get it?
Angel: Pygar the "Ornithothrope"
Mission: To help Barbarella (Jane Fonda) save the harmony of the known universe.
Wings and Things: Lives in a large nest. Talks without using contractions.
Powers: After finding love with Fonda, he rediscovers the will to fly.
Memorable Line: "An angel does not make love. An angel is love."
Legacy: Angels with heavenly bodies
Angel Levine (1970)
Angel: In the racially aware '70s, calypso great Harry Belafonte plays an updated Clarence--only Jewish and black.
Mission: Levine, a former street hustler, has to convince a down-on-his-luck Jewish tailor (Zero Mostel) to believe in him
Wings and things: A black leather jacket.
Powers: Fast talking
Memorable Lines: Tailor: "So if God sends me an angel, why a black?" Levine: "It was my turn to go next."
Legacy: Not the first Jewish angel—that was Jack Benny in 1943's The Horn Blows at Midnight"—Belafonte along with Sidney Poitier, brought back the African-American angel in the '70s.