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David Bowie on Film: Celebrating a Life on Mars

It’s sadly ironic that mere hours before David Bowie’s death was announced, a film called The Martian (which featured a memorable montage sequence set to his song “Starman”) was honored in two major categories at the Golden Globes. Maybe the universe really was calling out to him – fitting for a figure that seemed to transcend both time and space.

Bowie was, of course, most known as a singer and songwriter and performer, and enormous amounts of ink both virtual and electronic will be spilled singing his praises there.

However, we cannot forget that Bowie was quite an accomplished actor during his career. Let’s take a run through his most memorable movie roles. Watch one of these, and then throw in Hunky Dory or Station to Station, and appreciate the life of one of the greatest artists the world’s ever seen.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)


If you had to pick a movie that best represents the 1970’s, this might be a good choice. Nicolas Roeg brings his trademark style to the filmed adaptation of Walter Tevis’ alien-on-earth novel, and a detached, quiet Bowie is the perfect choice to bring the visitor Thomas Jerome to life. It’s a trippy, spacey (fitting) film directed with kinetic era flair by Roeg, dated but unforgettable.

Labyrinth (1986)

David Bowie in LABYRINTH

Directed by Jim Henson and written by Monty Python member Terry Jones, this beautiful fantasy film became an instant cult classic for any kid growing up in the late 80’s or 90’s. Bowie, resplendent in one of the most famous outfits in movie history, is scarily charming as the “Goblin King” Jareth, who leads young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) into the dangerous maze of the film’s title. Probably Bowie’s most beloved movie role.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)


Martin Scorsese’s controversial version of the talked-about book is striking in every way, with Willem Dafoe starring as a very human Jesus, Harvey Keitel as Judas Iscariot, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, and Bowie as the Roman leader Pontius Pilate. It’s a mesmerizingly strange movie, and Bowie fits it like a glove.

Basquiat (1996)

David Bowie in BASQUIAT

One of the most underrated films from the 1990s is Julian Schnabel’s biopic of the great artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, played here by Jeffrey Wright. The movie is studded with stars – Benicio Del Toro, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper – and Bowie has one of the cooler appearances, doing a memorable Andy Warhol.

Zoolander (2001)

David Bowie in ZOOLANDER

The greatest cameo in film history? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better one. An impeccably dressed Bowie calls the walk-off between numbskull fashion models Derek (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) to the strains of “Beat It.” A standout part in one of Hollywood’s funniest films. “Disqualified!”

The Prestige (2006)

David Bowie in THE PRESTIGE

Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to Batman Begins is a wonderfully twisty battle between two London magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale), taking their one-up fights to dangerous ends. There’s a fabulously deep cast here – Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, and Michael Caine – but Bowie is a real standout, playing the fabled and mysterious Nikola Tesla. Few of Nolan’s characters have a more memorable entrance.

* All photos used are property of their respective owners.

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