Not many musicians can say they have had a prolific acting career as well. Apart from his tremendous talent as a musician, songwriter and painter, late artist David Bowie gave us some fascinating performances in his movies. We have lost one of the few true cultural icons, but his work will stay with us as a symbol of extraordinary talent. We have put together the best David Bowie movie performances to prove the versatility of the actor, as well as his great contributions for cinema.
1. Thomas Jerome Newton
Movie: The Man Who Fell to Earth
Bowie begun his acting career with this movie directed by Nicholas Roeg, where he played a mysterious man from space who arrives to Earth to collect and transport water to his home on another planet. Newton becomes incredibly rich and famous thanks to his talents, but ends up a lonely and broken alcoholic, in spite of his wealth. From the first minutes of the movie, Newton defines Bowie as a cultural icon.
2. Major Jack Celliers
Movie: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
Among the best David Bowie movie performances, this is arguably the most human character he played. Celliers was a war prisoner in a camp supervised by a Japanese, who happens to be played by Ryuchi Sakamoto, a famous rock musician. Both celebrities are incredibly humanized in this story about friendship, compassion and forgiveness. The emotional scenes proving that love can still exist in the middle of a war have touched us all.
3. John Blaylock
Movie: The Hunger
John Blaylock was definitely one of the first modern vampires of cinema, and Bowie’s performance looked quite effortless. His fascinating turn was led by director Tony Scott with his evocative visual style, and completed by fellow movie icon Catherine Deneuve. One of the most memorable scenes was the one when Blaylock is carefully placed inside the coffin to spend all eternity.
4. Jareth the Goblin King
Bowie’s next performance allowed him to step away from complex and dramatic characters, and simply have fun. Jareth the Goblin King was quite a sight with the black eye makeup, deteriorated wig and juggling balls. Even so, he remained in the minds of all of us who watched Labyrinth because of his quirkiness: he refused to wear underwear under his pants, he tossed babies in the air and did the Magic Dance with Muppets.
5. Pontius Pilate
Movie: The Last Temptation of Christ
This movie by Martin Scorsese featured a contemporary touch to the story of Jesus Christ. Bowie had only one scene during which his character, Pontius Pilate, has a discussion with Jesus, played by Willem Dafoe. Pilate is simply laying out reasons why he cannot allow the revolution to continue: Christ was trying to change the way people felt and thought, not only how they lived. However, Bowie lends him sensitivity and humanity which play well with Christ’s insecurities about his mission.
6. Agent Phillip Jeffries
Movie: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
One of the best David Bowie movie performances is considered by many to be his cameo from the Twin Peaks sequel. His character stands as a symbol for director David Lynch’s surreal world. Phillip Jeffries is a missing FBI agent, who only passes by Dale Cooper, mutters some nonsense and disappears as suddenly as he came into the scene. As lame as that might sound, Bowie’s presence in the movie is a great addition to representing the strange world around him.
7. Andy Warhol
Bowie’s film career also included many roles as real-life people. However, the artist did not copy them 100%, but preferred to introduce his own spin on the famous figures. Andy Warhol is no exception, as beneath the perfect impersonation of his gestures the viewers are still aware of Bowie’s persona. This ended up as a strange but pleasant blend of two different celebrities.
8. David Bowie (Himself)
Complex characters have all been part of the best David Bowie movie performances, but he was also great at playing himself. Zoolander offered us quite a surprise when the artist appeared in a difficult moment to judge the walk-off between Ben Stiller’s Zoolander and Owen Wilson’s Hansel. Bowie takes his role very seriously which in turn prompts us to view the scene in the same way, regardless of its ridiculous nature. The moment worked wonderfully, and mostly thanks to his commitment to his own caricature.
9. Nikola Tesla
Movie: The Prestige
Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece provided Bowie with a role that suited him perfectly. The Austrian accent along with the old school mustache and his weariness were all elements that combined wonderfully. The role Tesla has in the protagonist’s life, a magician played by Hugh Jackman, is quite similar to the role of Pilate. Tesla admires the talent and determination of Robert Angier, but at the same time constantly warns him of the consequences of his actions.
10. David Bowie (Himself)
Last but not least, our list of the top David Bowie movie performances ends with another cameo. The Extras comedy series was filled with celebrity appearances, but Bowie’s moment stood out, mostly because of his song that mocks Ricky Gervais. Magic is always present with David Bowie, so it is only natural for a piano to materialize next to him at the opportune moment. The artist’s ability to play his own persona is truly something that will be greatly missed.