David Bowie, the Actor: Nine of His Most Memorable Movie Roles

The rock star also lit up the silver screen, and we're counting off his best roles

Photo: TriStar/Everett

The music world suffered a huge blow with the loss of David Bowie. It would be heard to overestimate the influence he had as a rock star, but Bowie, who died early on Monday, also brought his magic to movies as well.

Today, we’re taking a moment to count off the great cinematic roles for which we’ll also remember him.

1. Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986)

And this list has to start with Jareth, a role that served as an introduction to David Bowie for a generation of ’80s babies. Jareth is weirdly cool and weirdly sexy to the point that the role seems like it was written specifically for Bowie, but it’s important to know that he wasn’t the only artist considered for the part – Sting, Mick Jagger and Prince were all in the running at one point – but in the end it was Bowie who won out and proved he could hold his own opposite a cast of goth Muppets (and Jennifer Connelly).

2. John Blaylock in The Hunger (1983)

The film focuses on a sexy vampire love triangle between Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve and Bowie, and while it’s not the first to glamorize the world of bloodsuckers, it’s easily one of the most successful. Many of the similar love triangles on this current season of American Horror Storry owe a debt to The Hunger.

3. Agent Phillip Jeffries in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

Bowie is only onscreen for a few seconds, but the mystery of what happened to his babbling FBI agent character remains one of the Twin Peaks series’ many unanswered questions. Where did he go? Why did he come back? Who the hell is Judy? Is he foreshadowing the sad fate of Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)? We’re just sad that Bowie’s death means Jeffries presumably won’t be showing up in the new episodes.

4. Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The controversial movie features Bowie as the Roman official who ultimately sends Jesus (Willem Dafoe) to be crucified, and he does so in a reserved, even-handed manner.

5. Andy Warhol in Basquiat (1996)

(Warning: this clip features some NSFW language.)

It would be a tall order for any actor to portray a cultural icon like Andy Warhol, but if anyone understood how to carry oneself like an artistic legend, it was Bowie.

6. Nikolai Tesla in The Prestige (2006)

Few would have guessed that Bowie would be the go-to actor to portray the famed inventor, but The Prestige explored the blurry edges where science ends and magic begins, and that sort of liminal state is exactly where you’d expect to find David Bowie.

For more coverage of Bowie’s sad passing and inspiring legacy, read about his love story with Iman, see many moving fan tributes, or watch 16 of his most enduring videos.

7. Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

It’s an artful sci-fi film that has David Bowie playing an alien on Earth. It remained part of his public persona to the point that Bowie even today is still referred to as “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” among many other nicknames.

8. Vendice Partners in Absolute Beginners (1986)

A lesser-known musical that features him opposite Sade in 1950s London, Absolute Beginners is a must-see for any David Bowie completionist.

9. As himself in Zoolander (2001)

You could argue that Bowie is always playing versions of himself onscreen, but really, when you need a character to be the supreme arbiter of cool, you can do no better than David Bowie literally playing himself.

Honorable Mention: As Major Jack (not Major Tom) in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

The British-Japanese war film has Bowie playing Major Jack Celliers, a New Zealander soldier being held prisoner by the Japanese army in World War II, and who has a tense and layered relationship with the camp’s commandant (Ryuichi Sakamoto). The film was inspired by the accounts of Laurens van der Post, who in real-life was a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II.

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