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13 Acting Performances From David Bowie

There's more to Bowie the actor than just Labyrinth. He was directed by Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Tony Scott, and Nicolas Roeg.

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1. The Man Who Fell to Earth, 1976

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Bowie was perfectly cast as the bewildered, beguiling alien Thomas Jerome Newton in Nicolas Roeg's sci-fi piece – the star's big-screen debut.

The ultimate outsider, Bowie fits the bill for an alien visitor who can't understand Earth culture. It's a somewhat incoherent film but Bowie makes it his own.

The New York Times wrote at the time: "Mr. Bowie gives an extraordinary performance. The details, the chemistry of this tall pale figure with black-rimmed eyes are clearly not human. Yet he acquires a moving, tragic force as the stranger caught and destroyed in a strange land."

2. The Elephant Man, 1980

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Bowie won rave reviews for his stage debut, which opened in Denver in 1980.

Variety said in its review: "Playing a man too ugly to draw a freak audience, and too human to survive within a distorted body, Bowie shows a mastery of movement and of vocal projection."

3. The Hunger, 1983

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Tony Scott directing Bowie, Susan Sarandon, and Catherine Deneuve in a slightly schlocky early '80s drama about sexy Gothic vampires?

Yes, The Hunger is ridiculous, and not everyone considers it a classic, but it's good fun.

4. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, 1983

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A powerful performance as a British soldier held in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on Java in 1942. Bowie is alongside Tom Conti in a Japanese-produced film that makes for a tough watch at times.

But Bowie is always believable as the stiff-upper-lip officer Jack Celliers, who pays the price for confronting the camp's officers.

5. Into the Night, 1985

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Only a small role in this drama starring Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer – but a glimpse of how good Bowie could have been as a big-screen villain.

6. Absolute Beginners, 1986

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Bowie starred in – and wrote the theme song for – Julien Temple's 1986 rock musical, alongside Patsy Kensit.

It was a huge deal for the British film industry at the time, but failed to live up to its hype, with critics struggling to get their heads around an '80s soundtrack playing over a '50s setting. Temple says Michael Jackson contacted him to say he really liked it, however.

7. Labyrinth, 1986

Henson Associates / Lucasfilm

A lot of people are very fond of this fantasy starring David Bowie as a baby-stealing goblin king with amazing hair and very tight pants.

Maybe it hasn't aged that well, maybe it's still great fun, but either way it has some good songs and wonderful Jim Henson creatures.

8. Last Temptation of Christ, 1988

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He's only in Martin Scorsese's film for a few minutes but Bowie is menacing as Roman official Pontius Pilate, questioning Jesus Christ on his "magical" powers. When Jesus fails to perform a miracle, Pilate declares, with venom: "That's disappointing. This means that you're nothing more than a Jewish politician."

9. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, 1992

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Easily the strangest appearance on this list, Bowie makes an incomprehensible cameo in this already befuddling movie. Literally nobody understands what is happening here.

10. Basquiat, 1996

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Bowie once wrote a song about Andy Warhol – Warhol didn't like it and told him as much when the two met. But this didn't stop Bowie playing the pop art pioneer on screen.

It's quite a star-studded film – it also features Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Benicio Del Toro, and Christopher Walken – and tells the story of New York graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, played by Jeffrey Wright.

Bonus fact: Bowie wore a wig once owned by Warhol while playing him.

11. Zoolander, 2001

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Bowie was clearly enjoying himself in this cameo, contrasting his usual casting as dark, serious characters.

Not only is Bowie's appearance in Ricky Gervais' Extras – in which he mocks the hapless Andy's tragicomic career by making up a song on the spot – funny, it's also a pretty good song.

13. The Prestige, 2006

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Bowie brought all his detachment and natural weirdness to the role of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American genius inventor, in Christopher Nolan's classic magic-and-murder drama.

Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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