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14 Essential David Bowie Musical Moments In Movies

Hundreds of the late artist's tunes, lyrics, and melodies have impacted the big screen. Here are some of the most memorable.

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David Bowie is credited in more than a hundred films, most notably as a performer and composer (and, cosmically, as poet and warrior). He was a movie star in his own right, too, and not just for Man Who Fell to Earth, Labyrinth, or Basquiat, but also in his short films and music videos like "Jazzin' for Blue Jean," "The Next Day," "Ashes to Ashes," "I'm Afraid of Americans," and, his parting gift, "Lazarus."

Recent sci-fi and adventure movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Martian used Bowie's songs like "Moonage Daydream" and "Starman" as a outer space and nostalgia shorthand, while American Psycho and Memento both used "Something in the Air" to heightened emotional effect.

Beloved by a number of high-profile directors, Bowie's songs have been honored and reworked completely in films like Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. His musical imprint has been left on scenes of drug trippin', teen angst, coming out, dressing drag, sass, irony, camp, and pure jest (see: Zoolander, "Let's Dance").

The more poignant of these musical movie moments marry Bowie's lyrical, melodic, and artistic intentions to scenes of similar determination, allowing the film and the performer himself to live longer, if not forever. Here are some of the best examples.

1. "Cat People," Inglourious Basterds (2009)

The Weinstein Company

Just as the song's lyric "putting out fire with gasoline" is inflammatory, Inglourious Basterds's Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) prepares to set fire to a cinema with a pile of old film in order to kill Nazi leaders in the theater.

It's an allegory for an allegory, folks, let it ride. Quentin Tarantino did. "I've always loved that song and I was always disappointed at how [director] Paul Schrader used it in 'Cat People,' because he didn't use it — he just threw it in the closing credits," the Inglourious director told Billboard in 2009 of the song, aka "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)." "And I remember back then, when 'Cat People' came out, going, 'Man, if I had that song, I'd build a 20-minute scene around it. I wouldn't throw it away in the closing credits.' So I did."

2. "Heroes," The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Summit Entertainment

The running joke between Emma Watson and Ezra Miller's characters in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is that Charlie (Logan Lerman) is clueless as to the author of the soundtrack of their lives.

By the early '90s, "Heroes" could have been also the soundtrack to a lot of teens' lives. Co-written by Bowie and Brian Eno, the cheeky anthem wasn't a big hit when it first dropped in 1977 (it has only ever peaked at No. 24 on the U.K. chart, for example), but the song "grew up" in the 1980s, with a bigger windfall of appreciation especially after the singer performed it at Live Aid in 1985. It had its own trajectory of growth, just like Charlie.

3. "Fame," Foxcatcher (2014)

Annapurna Pictures

Bowie's "Fame" had a pretty sarcastic drop-in during Oscar nominee Foxcatcher, as John du Pont and Mark Schultz celebrate a major wrestling victory...and shortly before the former introduces cocaine into the mix.

A remix, "Fame 90" had previously reared up in one of the seediest scenes of Pretty Woman, which involved a nightclub and drug dealer. Julia Roberts' character's Fun Time Shop Day will have to wait.

4. "Modern Love," Mauves Sang (The Night Is Young) (1986)

Leos Carax has utilized Bowie a couple of times in his films, though Mauves Sang (The Night Is Young) features the most famous case.

Lead Alex (played by Denis Lavant, Carax's alter ego and muse) dances to "Modern Love," vacillating between unabashed joy and repeating bouts of crippling pain as he sprints and leaps on the streets. Ain't love grand? For a coming-of-age, with a plot orbiting around a disease that spreads between unemotional sexual partners, it was surely a "modern" romance.

This scene was later adapted by Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, slightly altered for this female protagonist's celebrations.

5. "I'm Deranged," Lost Highway (1992)

Ciby 2000

David Lynch and David Bowie: arm in arm for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and then again for Lost Highway.

Another Eno–Bowie collab, "I'm Deranged" played over the opening credits for Lynch's 1997 film, setting the tone for the noir-horror hybrid. And it says a lot that Bowie's voice resonates again at its end.

6. "Under Pressure," It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

Focus Features

Meanwhile, It's Kind of a Funny Story highlighted the therapeutic effects of "Under Pressure" on a group of mentally ill patients coping with, well, pressure to be better.

It's a song about anxiety sung corporately — not solo — and with all the glam one can muster. Bowie and Queen's collaboration, an immaculate and powerful duet with Freddie Mercury, has been on the soundtrack for numerous films including Grosse Pointe Blank, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Stepbrothers, Stepmom, and even Happy Feet 2. But in almost all of its iterations, this opus refuses to play simply as a backing track.

8. "Space Oddity," C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)

TVA Films

C.R.A.Z.Y. is an award-winning Canadian family drama about fathers and sons, homophobia, ability, and normativeness. In a scene surrounding a teenager’s fantastical sexual awakening and escape, of course it’s “Space Oddity” that shoots him to the moon, the Aladdin Sane face paint zigzagging across his face, his voice cracking over lines like, “Can you hear me, Major Tom?” Director Jean-Marc Vallée expertly sent a man into the infinite while remaining joyfully in his bedroom.

9. "Changes," The Breakfast Club (1985)

Universal Pictures

It was actress Ally Sheedy who actually influenced John Hughes to sport the lyrics to Bowie’s “Changes” as the opening of Breakfast Club.

As the "basket case," her character Allison would resonate with the lines, "These children that you spit on…are immune to your consultations / They're quite aware of what they're going through." Hughes very naturally included "Young Americans" on the Sixteen Candles soundtrack, too.

10. “Wig in a Box," Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

New Line Cinema

Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine included a gorgeous Bowie-esque cover of Cockney Rebels' "Tumbling Down" in its glittering homage to The Thin White Duke, but his highness famously objected to the production of that film from the start.

In lieu of that, let us honor a parallel salute, John Cameron Mitchell’s original “Wig in a Box” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a jaunty singalong and tip of the hat/wig to the famed gender bender.

The themes of putting on and taking off of one's personae applied to Bowie: Just as he had to "kill" Ziggy Stardust to put an end to the character, Hedwig puts on her makeup and wig and asserts to her old self, "I'm never turning back."

Bowie was a major supporter of the original theater version of Hedwig. He was one of its producers at the Los Angeles stagings, and even skipped the Grammys one year to go see it.

11. "Absolute Beginners," Absolute Beginners (1986)

MGM

Like Labyrinth, there were many more Bowie music-movie moments in which he was actor and musician. In Absolute Beginners, he was both, in a story about early rock ‘n’ roll, fashion, and boundlessness/boundaries. He even rocked the title tune.

12. "I'm Afraid of Americans," Showgirls (1995)

20th Century Fox

In 1995, Bowie’s “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” is just one of the reasons you had the heebies in David Fincher’s Se7en, but another film from that year also expertly wielded the wild Brit...

That's right: Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls.

The song "I'm Afraid of Americans" later showed up on the Earthlings album, but the demo version with the words "I'm afraid of the animals" (instead of "Americans") played during one of several ambling dances from Elizabeth Berkley's Nomi.

13. "The Jean Genie," Control (2007)

The Weinstein Company

"Drive-In Saturday," "Sister Midnight,” and "Warszawa” were all included as incidental tracks in the Ian Curtis biopic Control. But Bowie's early influence on the Joy Division singer goes on display as Curtis (played by Sam Riley) struts in the mirror to "The Jean Genie."

(Worlds further collided IRL when Bowie later covered Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart.")

14. "Lust for Life," Trainspotting (1996)

Miramax

Finally, nothing glorifies shitting the sheets and running away from cops like Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” — co-written by Bowie — smeared onto Danny Boyle’s heroin-addled film Trainspotting.

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