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Labyrinth
Labyrinth

The 10 David Bowie movies that define his film career

We revisit and rank Bowie's 10 best (and craziest) roles on the silver screen, from Labyrinth to The Prestige

Written by
Rebecca Fontana
&
Miles Raymer
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Ready for a David Bowie movies marathon? The artist was never afraid to take his performance to a new level, especially in these 10 standout film roles (fine, one’s a TV show). Some of David Bowie’s roles, like artist Andy Warhol, make sense, and others, like a cocaine-crazy vampire, make sense only for someone with Ziggy Stardust as an alter ego.

Best David Bowie movies and acting roles

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  • Film

Having already brought Ziggy Stardust to life on his breakthrough concept album a few years prior, Bowie had plenty of experience playing tragic extraterrestrials before bringing his otherworldly elegance to the role of Thomas Jerome Newton, a wandering member of a drought-stricken alien race who comes to Earth for our water and winds up drowning in gin and existential angst.

The Hunger (1983)
  • Film
  • Fantasy

The music icon spent much of the ’70s living like a vampire—but with cocaine instead of blood—so when it came time to play a romantically betrayed creature of the night, he brought to the role an emotional resonance that matched its old-school elegance and otherworldly sex appeal.

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Labyrinth (1986)
  • Film

Regal, arrogant and wildly charismatic, Bowie is frighteningly believable as the magical, baby-snatching tyrant Jareth the Goblin King. His menacing glamour and the prominent bulge in his tights add a deep streak of psychosexual darkness to Jim Henson’s psychedelic sorta-kid-friendly fairy tale.

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Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)
  • Film

Considering that at the time he was rocking a bleach-blond perm and making New Wave–inflected synth pop, casting Bowie as a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp during World War II seems like an almost surreally bad idea—but the gentle, Christlike serenity he brings to the role makes it one of his most mythical performances.

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The Prestige (2006)
  • Film

Christopher Nolan’s tale of rival stage magicians is full of unexpected surprises. One of the most satisfying is when Bowie appears on-screen amidst swirling bolts of electricity as the mustachioed Nikola Tesla, the real-life 20th century scientific pioneer whose fictional inventions provide the film’s most crucial pivot point.

Extras (2006)
Photograph: ©HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection

8. Extras (2006)

No, it’s not a movie, but Bowie is so excruciatingly funny in his guest turn on the follow-up to The Office that we had to include it. He may be a pal of Ricky Gervais in real life, but here, he leads an eager crowd in singing a jazzy, catchy and deeply cruel tune, “Little Fat Man,” aimed at Gervais’s character, Andy Millman.

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  • Film

Famed documentarian D.A. Pennebaker’s drama-infused concert film may be visually murky, but the intensity of the glitter-encrusted cult that had sprung up around Bowie’s glam-rock alien persona shines through clearly in disarming interviews with Ziggy’s biggest super-fans and reaction shots of the crowd during a face-melting performance. The footage backstage during the show’s many costume changes are peak Bowie.

B.U.S.T.E.D (1999)

10. B.U.S.T.E.D (1999)

Representing the lower end of the wave of British gangster flicks that followed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' unexpected international success, B.U.S.T.E.D isn't a very good movie altogether, but Bowie's brief turn as a silky veteran of London's criminal community alongside drum 'n' bass superstar Goldie is almost enough to make it worth sitting through. Good thing you can watch just his parts on YouTube.

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