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.
Angel: The Escort (Buck Henry)
Mission: After accidentally pulling a star quarterback (Warren Beatty) out of his body before his time, the Escort handles damage control while a substitute body is found for the QB's soul.
Wings and Things: Heaven has gone corporate, and the Escort, a company man, sticks to conservative suits.
Powers: Life and death, repartee
Memorable Line: "You don't understand, Mr. Jordan. It's a mistake! I can't be dead! I'm the quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams and I'm starting against Dallas on Sunday."
Legacy: Somebody up there likes this story: "Heaven" is a remake of the 1941 Oscar-nominee "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (1941); 2001’s "Down to Earth" with Chris Rock is a subsequent remake.
Highway to Heaven (1984)
Angel: Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon)
Mission: A probationary angel teams up with an ex-cop/ex-alcoholic (Victor French) to help folks they encounter.
Wings and Things: A devilishly rugged aviator jacket
Powers: Empathy (and Little Joe looks) usually trumped angelic endowments.
Memorable Line: "The magic’s inside of you if you believe in yourself."
Legacy: Proved that spirituality, if syrupy enough, could work in primetime.
Wings of Desire (1987)
Angel: Damiel (Bruno Ganz)
Mission: Tired of monitoring human lives, Damiel wishes to become human himself after falling in love with a trapeze artist.
Wings and things: Set in Cold War Berlin, the film gives its heavenly agents somber black trench coats and cool ponytails.
Powers: Whispering in human ears introduces comforting words into our tortured streams of thought
Memorable Line: "From her to eternity"
Legacy: Briefly made angels chic, an effort undone by its 1998 remake, "City of Angels"
Angels in America, Part 2: Perestroika (1992)
Angels: The Angel; Angel America, Angel of Death
Mission: To alert a human named Prior that he has been chosen to somehow stop progress and return the world to the "good old days."
Wings and Things: Angels as drag queens reset the standard with magnificent gray-silver rack of feathers.
Powers: Humans experience orgasmic bliss on seeing the Angel.
Memorable Line: "[Angels] can do anything but they can't invent, create, they're sort of fabulous and dull all at once."
Legacy: Little in this for angels, but great for drag queens.
Touched by an Angel (1994)
Angels: Monica (Roma Downey), Tess (Della Reese) and Andrew, aka The Angel of Death (John Dye)
Mission: The heavenly triumvirate reminds desperate people that God loves them.
Wings and things: When revealing their true natures, they are bathed in an ethereal glow.
Powers: The ability to dole out miraculous advice and support.
Memorable Line: "There's not a doctor on the face of the earth that can save that man's soul. His faith in God is what he needs now."
Legacy: Fueled the huge angel revival of 1990s.
Angel: Archangel Michael (John Travolta)
Mission: Out for a last hurrah on earth before being stuck behind the Pearly gates, he manages to steer three tabloid reporters toward redemption.
Wings and Things: Comically huge, molting wings. Smells like cookies, despite pack a day smoking habit.
Powers: Has fought the Devil and authored parts of the Bible, but onscreen only brings a dog back to life.
Memorable Line: (From movie poster) "He's an angel... Not a saint."
Legacy: Refreshingly unholy, Michael suggests angels are unconcerned with petty human definitions of sin.
Angels: Bartleby (Ben Affleck), a fallen angel, and Loki (Matt Damon), the angel of death.
Mission: Exiled to Wisconsin, they discover a portal back to Heaven in New Jersey.
Wings and Things: Slacker attire, occasional bombastic breastplates and powerful wings.
Powers: Hold their own with WWF superstars
Memorable Line: "I can spot a commandment-breaker a mile away."
Legacy: The anti-"Touched By An Angel," satirizes religious folks, not the troubled, as the ones who need to earn their wings.