David Bowie's Most Memorable Movie Roles

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David Bowie (1947-2016)

Photo of David BOWIE
Redferns / Getty Images

David Bowie (1947-2016) was such a giant in the history of pop music that the word “iconic” doesn’t seem strong enough to describe how influential and celebrated his career was. A rock star of that magnitude rarely can be contained by music alone, and Bowie’s influence transcended music into the worlds of pop culture, fashion, and film.

Bowie was such a charismatic performer that he could have become as popular of an actor as he was a musician, though he chose his roles carefully because of his focus on recording music. Though Bowie will be most remembered for his music, film fans will also remember him for these four memorable movie roles.

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‘Zoolander’ – Himself

David Bowie in Zoolander
Paramount Pictures

Being that he was one of the most famous rock stars on the planet, David Bowie played himself in several movies. His most memorable cameo is likely his appearance in Ben Stiller’s 2001 comedy Zoolander. Bowie appears in a hilarious scene when he judges the “old-school rules” walk-off between male models Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson). Being that Bowie was a huge influence in the world of fashion, he was the perfect man for the job.

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‘The Prestige’ – Nikola Tesla

David Bowie as Nikola Tesla
Warner Bros. Pictures

Though Bowie was a prolific musician for much of his career and issued an album about once every two years from 1967 through 2003, he did not issue an album from 2003's Reality until 2013's The Next Day. During that period he took on several acting roles, the most famous of which was his supporting role as the real-life famed inventor (and Thomas Edison rival) Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film The Prestige.

The enigmatic Bowie was an inspired choice to play the futurist inventor whose popularity has grown tremendously since his 1943 death. Like Bowie, Tesla was ahead of his time and often misunderstood by his contemporaries.

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‘Labyrinth’ – Jareth the Goblin King

David Bowie Labyrinth
The Jim Henson Company

At least two generations of children likely first learned of David Bowie from his starring role in Jim Henson's Labyrinth. Bowie played the film’s villain, Jareth, who kidnaps the baby brother of Sarah (a teenage Jennifer Connelly) and challenges her to find him in his perplexing maze. Aside from Jareth and Sarah, most of the film’s characters are puppets designed by renowned fantasy illustrator Brian Froud. Bowie performed several songs in the film, including the favorite “Magic Dance.”

Though Labyrinth was a major box office disappointment upon its initial release, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't have​ an affinity for the film’s campy fun and Bowie’s outrageous costumes unless the movie’s goblin characters gave them nightmares as children. Labyrinth has since been rediscovered by new audiences who now regard it as a fantasy classic.

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'The Man Who Fell to Earth' – Thomas Jerome Newton

David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth
British Lion Film Corporation

The role most closely associated with Bowie's own persona was Thomas Jerome Newton from 1976's The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie played an alien who visits Earth in on a mission to find water for his dying planet. However, Thomas becomes rich from "inventing" technology that is commonplace in his world, and he soon becomes distracted from his mission as he becomes caught up in his new life on Earth. The Man Who Fell to Earth was Bowie's first starring role and the film was based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis. Though the film wasn't a huge success at the box office, it became a cult favorite and critics have since praised Bowie's performance.

Bowie revisited The Man Who Fell to Earth by creating a sequel, Lazarus, which premiered as an off-Broadway musical in 2015 that featured some of his greatest hits. The title track from the musical appeared on Bowie's final album, Blackstar, which was released two days before his death on his 69th birthday.