Bowie on film

In honor of The Man Who Fell to Earth's rerelease, we cycle through the pop chameleon's finest onscreen colors.

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  • THE HUNGER (1983)

    Style rules this fog-shrouded vampire flick, directed by Tony Scott (when he owed a lot more to his superior older brother, Ridley). But amid Bauhaus’s drones and a sultry sapphic sex scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, David Bowie excels as a creature of the night, aging prematurely and cast out of the circle.

    THE HUNGER (1983)
  • MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE

    MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE (1983)
    Bowie commits to this subtly erotic WWII prisoner-of-war drama—and a role that might have been laughable without his sincere demeanor. He plays a British major, a rebel and an object of the Japanese camp commandant’s secret fixation. As with virtually all of his onscreen dramatic performances, Bowie says more with a look than with a line.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE
  • LABYRINTH (1986)

    Of course we had to include it; the cult swirling around this movie demanded as much. A young Jennifer Connelly enters a magical realm lorded over by the singer’s Jareth the Goblin King; Bowie should be held responsible for casting a spell—alternatively menacing, paternal and magnetic—over a generation of girls grown into longtime fans.

    LABYRINTH (1986)
  • THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

    THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)
    Onstage and off, the icon often leans on his vaguely imperial air to make a point; Bowie’s performance as a thoughtful Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s religious lightning rod was a beautifully considered piece of work. In less than five minutes of screen time, he dominates a movie overshadowed by controversy.

    THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
  • BASQUIAT (1996)

    On his 1971 breakthrough, Hunky Dory, Bowie immortalized his idol in the song “Andy Warhol.” Who better, then, to play the shock-haired artist in Julian Schnabel’s dense, rambling tribute to late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat? Opposite a fierce Jeffrey Wright, Bowie adds just the right notes of dithering distraction and fatherly fondness.

    BASQUIAT (1996)
  • THE PRESTIGE (2006)

    Bowie’s most substantial role in years has him playing a vaguely ominous Nikola Tesla, expat physicist and—it’s implied—a tamperer with the cosmos. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale do battle as competing magicians, but with Bowie in close proximity, the electricity accrues to one man only.

    THE PRESTIGE (2006)

THE HUNGER (1983)

Style rules this fog-shrouded vampire flick, directed by Tony Scott (when he owed a lot more to his superior older brother, Ridley). But amid Bauhaus’s drones and a sultry sapphic sex scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, David Bowie excels as a creature of the night, aging prematurely and cast out of the circle.

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