Poor John Constantine. He isn’t quite a superhero per se, but he’s tangled with enough dark magic and terrifying fiends that would make even the grittiest of vigilantes shake in their boots. Despite all his best efforts, he’s yet to receive the on-screen popularity of his peers like Batman or Green Arrow.
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Boasting only a single live-action film, one season of television (although CW Seed is picking it up for a second season in the form of animated shorts) and a crossover episode in “Arrow,” Constantine has made a valiant effort to gain traction, but has never quite taken off in movies or television. Regardless, we here at CBR are counting down some of the best appearances for the character in his limited live-action runs, because with a guy like John Constantine, it’s all about quality over quantity.
CAUTION: MULTIPLE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CONSTANTINE FILM AND TV EPISODES.
15. BLESSED ARE THE DAMNED
Once John is given direction by another one of Zed’s visions, he sets off to Kentucky where he discovers a small-time preacher who relies on faith healing, but can actually heal people. Not one to buy into the hype, Constantine digs deeper and discovers an ex-angel (cast out of Heaven for having killed a mortal), who granted the pastor the abilities via one of its feathers as a means to escape hell. Manny, John’s guardian angel of sorts, steps in to kill the creature, and the misled preacher realizes that he’s caused more harm than good in irresponsibly using this ill-gotten power.
While not one of his strongest episodes, “Blessed Are the Damned” gave a little more insight to John’s views on religion. He has a particularly intriguing conversation with Zed that shines; in it, Constantine addresses his distaste for blind faith and the congregation. It was a spot-on moment for the oft-pessimistic dark arts practitioner and one worthy of his character from the books.
14. RAGE OF CALIBAN
Chas and John get wind of an incident where two parents were brutally murdered by inexplicable means. Constantine narrows down the suspect to a spirit that is possessing kids and killing parental figures as a form of retribution for the horrors it suffered as a child. After it possesses a young boy named Henry and starts wreaking havoc, Chas and Constantine exorcise the spirit back to its rightful place: his still-living body at a mental health hospital.
“Rage of Caliban” wasn’t terribly engaging from the outset, but it did a lot to address Constantine’s need to do good on top of his regular cynicism. He wanted to put a stop to the spirit’s rage because of all the collateral damage it caused to families. In his final showdown with the evil soul, John blatantly calls it out as whiny and weak for continuing its decades-long killings. It’s a great moment, because whereas some folks would try to sympathize in order to calm the spirit, Constantine classically berates it instead.
13. A WHOLE WORLD OUT THERE
When a group of college students decide that performing ill-advised occult rituals is the correct way to spend a Friday night, they are trapped in another realm controlled by a serial killer. John enlists the help of his old Newcastle crew member Ritchie, somewhat of an expert in the field, to try and save the students from being trapped in the alternate dimension forever. The duo travel to the other world and come face-to-face with its creator, but Ritchie is able to overthrow his control to eradicate the villain. They were able to save only one student from the other realm safely, but Ritchie emerged an emboldened man after his scrape with death.
This appearance was a nice look at a not-often-seen side of Constantine. He had to get outside help for such a case and forced to rebuild a previously burned bridge with an old ally. Ritchie very much hates John for his newly erratic state due to the terrors he saw at Newcastle, but helped him because it meant the lives of innocents. Constantine’s play on folks’ better nature was a usual tool in his arsenal, and used well in this appearance.
12. WAITING FOR THE MAN
John and Zed enlist the help of a detective named Jim Corrigan with investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl. Meanwhile, John’s old nemesis Papa Midnite, reemerges to try and kill the sorcerer to collect a bounty. Constantine and crew find out the girl has been kidnapped by a devil-worshiping killer, who marries and murders his young victims. John manages to track down the psychopath and Corrigan attempts to arrest him. Constantine convinces Jim to let the killer “run away” so they have free means to kill him.
The finale (of sorts) to the “Constantine” series gave a lot for the characters to chew on. John showed off his magical skills at reanimating a corpse with a glamour in his image to fool Midnite in his assault. He also displayed his less-than-noble sense of justice in getting the murderer… well, murdered. John is a man of hard sense, so when he saw an opportunity to balance the scales, he took it, consequences be damned.
11. QUID PRO QUO
Chas’ young daughter suddenly falls into a coma when her soul is stolen. He demands John help him and the two discover the person behind it, who turns out to be none other than hack sorcerer, Felix Faust! Constantine struggles to get the villain to release the stolen souls, worried now that his usual tactics bear too much risk since it’s Chas’ child that hangs in the balance. The cabbie takes things into his own hands, readies a hand grenade and obliterates himself and Faust in an explosion, instantly restoring his daughter’s soul to her body.
This episode was a sorely needed dive into the friendship between John and Chas. It shows Constantine drunkenly casting the spell on his buddy, thus making Chas absorb the souls lost in a catastrophic fire he was caught in. It also shows John’s effect on his friend’s life, as Chas became separated from his wife when his mission to do good interfered with being a present parent. Of course, there’s always John’s fantastic snipes at the lowly sorcerer Felix Faust, as well. That’s always a good time.
10. THE DARKNESS BENEATH
Constantine hears news of a man being burned alive in his shower and sets out to investigate. Traveling to a Podunk mining town, John finds whispers of knocking sounds in the mines, as well as a nosy artist/medium named Zed. The sorcerer finds out that special demons called Coblynau have been summoned and set upon the miners. With the assistance of Zed, they blow up the mine and discover the summoner of the demons, a miner’s widow. The woman claimed she came from a gypsy family and was duped into marrying the miner, who claimed he had lots of money. Constantine showed little pity for the woman and set her own summoned demons to drag her to hell.
This appearance had a lot of good moments for Constantine. From his off-kilter discussion about always staying in honeymoon suites (it has good vibes according to him), to his laughable attempt at sneaking into a funeral pot luck with nothing more than a frozen dinner, this episode really nailed down some good beats for the character moving forward.
9. ANGELS AND MINISTERS OF GRACE
A series of killings lead Team Constantine to a hospital, but Zed suffers a seizure after a vision and is admitted. She finds out she has a mass in her brain. Enraged, John asks Manny to heal her, but when the angel refuses, the sorcerer traps the angel into a human body to help him investigate. Manny protests but assists John as he has no other options. Together they find out the killer targets people who squander second chances at life, and is powered by an evil stone known as the Black Diamond. They find the culprit is Zed’s doctor, soJohn frees Manny from his body and the angel compels the doctor to return to the light.
John was seen in rare form here in that he was genuinely shaken. The news of Zed’s tumor blindsided him and he felt severe guilt as he had encouraged her to exercise her power of visions past the pain she experienced. Constantine showed time and time again that he was ready to pay the price for magic, but didn’t want people to suffer if they didn’t know the consequences. This episode showed exactly where he drew the line with his magic.
8. THE DEVIL’S VINYL
An old acetate with the only known recording of the voice of the devil surfaces, and John goes into a mad race between himself and Papa Midnite to recover it. The disc, when played, essentially drives people mad enough to kill themselves or others. Midnite wishes to keep it for himself, John wants to see it destroyed. Constantine tracks the record (even running into an old music rival in the process), and comes up against Midnite. Papa holds him at bay but John gets the upper hand and orders the record to return to hell.
Even though the mystical item in question was a bit hokey, it certainly led to some great moments for the character. John’s throwaway discussions about his early career in music was a great reference to the comics. As was his defense against hearing the discomfort being broadcast: a pair of ear buds blasting the Sex Pistols. Plus it debuted one of his finest villains in Papa Midnite, and the exchanges between the two were perfect mirrors of their comic book rivalry.
When Oliver Queen experienced a mystical mishap in resurrecting Sara Lance, he called the best expert in the field he knew: John Constantine. In this episode of “Arrow,” it is revealed the two heroes had run into each other on Lian Yu when the sorcerer was looking for an ancient artifact. Constantine arrived in Star City, tasked with restoring Sara’s lost soul back into her reborn body. Using his magical expertise, Laurel and Oliver rescue Sara’s spirit successfully.
While the appearance was brief, this episode felt straight out of a crossover comic. Constantine’s happenstance appearance on the island was comically convenient, as was his off-kilter manor completely throwing the members of Team Arrow. John even makes reference to his series, speaking of “being on the side of angels.” John’s dark humor was a great clash with Oliver’s stoic manner, and we can only hope he’ll appear again in future seasons of “Arrow.”
6. SAINT OF LAST RESORTS (PART 1)
An old member of the Newcastle crew, Anne Marie, reaches out to John for help. A baby went missing in her church and she believes something supernatural snatched it. Constantine travels to Mexico and finds out the creature responsible is Lamashtu, a baby-eating demon. John works with Anne Marie to track down the monster to the sewers and rescue the newborns, but they encounter an invunche. Knowing they can’t fight or outrun it, Anne Marie shoots John in the stomach to deter the demon and she escapes safely with the babies.
John was finally seen here up against the ropes. For all his narrow escapes and seemingly incidental successes, Constantine was finally done in by one of his allies. Marie, of course, feels justified, since she shoots him in order to protect innocent lives, so John hardly argues. In fact, he’s rather proud of Anne Marie for finally getting her hands dirty like he does. However, he is left with few options as he bled out with an angry invunche on his scent.
5. DANSE VAUDOU
Team Constantine was tasked with investigating awry spirits in New Orleans, where they meet Detective Jim Corrigan for the first time. The ghosts are causing havoc for innocent victims in the city, and they trace it back to Papa Midnite. Turns out Midnite’s rituals to contact the dead for people have turned for the worse, actually bringing out the dead rather than just talking with them. He teams up with Constantine to banish the souls back to the grave and set things right.
Regardless of the ghosts themselves being kind of eclectic, seeing Constantine strike up a temporary truce with Midnite was classic. Seeing the two bicker about whose magic is powerful or more acute was entertaining, as Papa is a sorcerer actually on par with John’s level of skill. While Midnite often clashes with Constantine, this appearance showed how much of a mirror the two could be when they actually cooperate.
4. NON EST ASYLUM
In this debut episode, John Constantine is checked into a mental hospital, intensely trying to come to terms with a botched exorcism he performed on a little girl named Astra in Newcastle. He receives a message from beyond that his dead friend Jasper’s daughter, Liv Aberdeen, is in danger. He tracks down Liv and tells her of her unknown lineage and scrying abilities. The two draw out the demon targeting her and are able to dispatch it. Liv, however, is shaken by her ability to tap into the mystical and leaves the team. When Manny angrily confronts John about it, the sorcerer reveals he wanted to give Liv a decision before thrusting her into a battle against this sudden rising darkness.
Even though a bit bogged down in exposition, this was a great first television appearance for the character. John is shown as conflicted, very much wanting to keep to himself, but unable to resist his desire to help people. The guilt he carries over Astra just furthers his way of keeping people at arm’s length, which is a perfect introduction to him, using a lot of the original comic content.
3. CONSTANTINE (2005)
CURVEBALL! In his big screen debut, John Constantine finds himself caught in a holy conflict between heaven and hell. The devil’s son Mammon is attempting to bring the underworld to earth, causing catastrophe. Constantine himself finds out he has lung cancer and is trying to rack up good deeds to avoid going to hell when his time is done. Teaming up with a detective named Angela, John works to set the scales back, using all manner of mystic tools and magic to do it.
Sure, Keanu Reeves wasn’t British or blonde (nor did he even pretend to be) in the film, but “Constantine” (2005) had a lot of high notes. It truly dove into the dual world of sorts John often found himself in, seeing mystical things where others don’t. Despite somewhat off origins, it at least got Constantine’s gruff and offish exterior down. Sure it had its misgivings and weird adjustments for the adaptation, but visually it shined, especially with its depiction of hell.
2. SAINT OF LAST RESORTS (PART 2)
Following being shot by Anne Marie and left behind to an angry invunche, Constantine did the only thing he could do: invite the demon Pazuzu into his body to heal himself and ward off the creature. John attempts to retain control from the demon in him, but gets thrown in jail by Mexican authorities when the beast comes out. Zed, Chas and Anne Marie work together to rescue John from incarceration and exorcise the demon to save his life.
Probably one of the strongest episodes from the show, this second part was chock full of good Constantine moments. Foremost among these was his high reputation in prison due to the bloodbaths he caused when Pazuzu temporarily wrested free of John’s control (with inmates reverently nicknaming him “El diablo”). Even better was Constantine’s solution to incapacitating himself and the demon long enough to endure a road trip to the safe house: taking a lot of heroin. It genuinely came off as a well-rounded adventure for the hero, in which the stakes were his own life based on his rather risky decisions in the past.
1. A FEAST OF FRIENDS
When Constantine’s old friend Gary Lester shows up at this safe house, John figures it’s trouble. Lester stumbled upon a boy with a hunger demon inside of him and exorcises it, trapping it inside a bottle. When Gary attempts to cross back into the States, the bottle is accidentally opened and the demon is set loose on a consuming rampage. John realizes that the only way to get rid of the demon is to trap it in a person so it will eventually devour itself. He convinces Gary to do this, trapping the spirit in Lester’s body and John stays with him through the entirety of his suffering until he was finally gone.
This particular appearance of Constantine was incredibly spot on. Practically ripped from the initial “Hellblazer” issues, this early story for the character was portrayed fantastically. Zed functions a bit like the audience in questioning Constantine’s motives, saying that he manipulated Gary. John simply responds that Lester essentially doomed himself by coming to John in the first place. Gary proved to be just another body of Constantine’s friends, piled up in the fight against the rising darkness; one John feared wouldn’t be the last.
What were your favorite on-screen Constantine moments? Let us know in the comments!
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