Big-screen Bowie: the Five Greatest David Bowie Film Appearances


Over the past 75 years, David Bowie has undoubtedly earned his place as a musical legend. Having released over 20 studio albums and mastered around 14 instruments, there’s no denying that the man is a musical god.

Yet, his talents do not simply end at the boundaries of musical art. Bowie has also shaped a much more elusive, and sometimes rockier, career as an actor. It’s no surprise considering his obsession with avant-garde cinema in his earlier years, before he began his incredible career as a musician. So, in honour of the great man himself and in frustration of his refusal to go on tour, I have comprised a list of David Bowie’s best film appearances; from leading-roles to 30 second cameos.

5. A shark in Yellowbeard (1983)

At the bottom of the list, is a very short (and I mean very short) appearance of Bowie in a 1983 pirate comedy. Despite the film being, well, not very good, the fact that David Bowie plays a man pretending to be a Shark, definitely earns the movie some merit. The scene in question is rather bizarre and played fairly straight-faced, but seeing such a revered musical icon wearing a fake shark fin on his back and grinning, provides more than enough enjoyment for everyone.

4. As himself in Zoolander (2001) / As Lord Royal Highness in Spongebob Atlantis Squarepantis (2007)

This appears to be a draw of “what’s the most ridiculous situation David Bowie can act in?” Either as himself judging a ‘walk-off’ between Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in the cult-classic fashion comedy Zoolander, or as the king of Atlantis or Lord Royal Highness in a Spongebob movie. Despite being in a film which didn’t even make it to the cinema (a fact that amuses me greatly), I have to give it to his cameo in Zoolander, because I can genuinely imagine him turning up to an event as ludicrous as a ‘walk-off’; it’s like Bill Murray, but more sophisticated.

3. As Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)

Now for something a little more serious. Prior to this film, Bowie had starred a few other minor movies, but The Man Who Fell to Earth was his first big acting role. Playing an alien who travels to earth in order to transport water to his dying planet, Bowie captures the audience’s attention in such an intense way, it’s almost indescribable. It helps that his already unusual appearance adds to his alien-ness, but it’s his acting that really convinces us he is not of this world. The finale, where Thomas reveals his true form to his lover Mary-Lou is powerfully shocking, as well as deeply melancholic, and its ending is also suitably beautifully depressing.

2. As Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006)

Genuinely one of my favourite films to date, The Prestige is an excellent drama/thriller by the Christopher Nolan. Set in Victorian London, the film sees stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two magicians battling in an intense rivalry over love and power. Bowie plays the role of Serbian/American scientist and original electrician; Nikola Tesla, whose character is used albeit a little liberally by Nolan. Nevertheless, Bowie is impressively believable as Tesla; even nailing the accent without a shimmer of doubt and throwing in his own little twist on the character. Ultimately, it’s his best serious acting role, which might give you a clue as to what the no.1 spot is…

1. As Jareth, King of the Goblins in Labyrinth (1986)

Some of you may have seen this coming, but let’s just face it; who can forget that hair, those pants! If any of you are confused, then allow me to explain the wonders of Jim Henson’s bizarre 80’s fantasy flick Labyrinth. The film follows the quest of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) as she attempts to rescue her baby brother from the clutches of the mischievous Goblin King (Bowie). It takes place in the magical land of the Goblin King’s Labyrinth (hence the title) and features a large cast of puppets as its various inhabitants. The initial set-up is what you’d expect from a children’s film in the 80’s; character goes on quest, discovers magical kingdom, makes friends with magical people, sings songs, learns lessons etc. However, that is where the normalities end, as Labyrinth has a ton of elements you wouldn’t really expect from a children’s film; David Bowie dressed in extremely tight leggings, David Bowie singing songs about babies, David Bowie trying to seduce teenage girls, David Bowie chasing said teenage girls around his very own stair-labyrinth, but to name a few. Watching it is a strange and somewhat unnerving experience, yet I thank god that it exists!




About Author

Third-year English undergraduate, dabbles in records and video-games. Can be found trying to raise money for new games and consoles, worshiping David Bowie and reading young-adult fiction unashamedly.

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