As sad as it is that David Bowie passed away, it’s been sort of great these past few days to hear everyone’s tributes and see the legacy of a true original in the music world. Yes, his catalog is brilliant on its own, and Bowie was always great when he appeared in movies. But when the two mixed, it was kind of magical. Many, many films have used Bowie songs for various scenes over his career; weirdly, it’s been happening a lot more from the late-’90s forward. His songs have appeared on soundtracks of all sorts, but special are the scenes that use a song perfectly and create something truly iconic.
Below are my seven favorite uses of a David Bowie song in a film. (Your mileage may vary.)
7) A Knight’s Tale (2001)
This was a damned weird movie, and was very much of its time, but there was something kind of wonderful about a medieval-style fairy tale using pop music, both on the soundtrack and in the actual scenes themselves. In this use, Heath Ledger’s pretend knight has to try to convince a banquet hall that he is who he says he is and makes up a dance for it. Miraculously, it works, and the minstrels’ baroque playing of Bowie’s “Golden Years” melts into the actual track from Station to Station.
6) Grosse Pointe Blank (1996)
This movie has about a billion good songs in it—along with John Cusack’s later High Fidelity, this may be the best jukebox soundtrack I can think of—from the late ’70s and ’80s including the English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom” and a particularly good usage of Guns ‘n Roses’ version of “Live and Let Die.” For one of the most poignant (and on the nose, if I’m honest) moments of the movie, when hitman Martin Blank (Cusack) holds his friend’s new baby while at his high school reunion, what better music could there be than Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” team-up? Probably none. None better.
5) Frances Ha (2012)
Even if you find Noah Baumbach’s movies sort of New York Twee, it’s hard to not like Greta Gerwig and her unabashed exuberance. So, for a scene when Frances is running and indeed dancing down the Manhattan streets, Baumbach chose what is arguably David Bowie’s most joyous and upbeat sounding track: “Modern Love,” off of the 1983 album Let’s Dance. It sounds very ’80s, but it paints a picture for damn sure. And when Frances gets up to top speed and straight-up Billy Elliots her way home, it’s kind of magical.
4) The Martian (2015)
I couldn’t find the actual clip of this movie, probably because it hasn’t been on Blu-ray for more than a couple days. But when watching Ridley Scott‘s latest sci-fi epic, with more fun and human emotion than most, a standout moment came when Mark Watney (Matt Damon) on Mars and all the crew back on Earth work to get ready to bring him home. It’s a montage, folks! And, yes, it might not have been the most profound or unexpected use of Bowie’s “Starman” off of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, but it undoubtedly works. Plus, it may be one of Bowie 10 best songs ever, so I think it should be used in every movie. Or how about a whole movie that only uses “Starman”? That’d be cool, right? Maybe.
3) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The now-iconic Awesome Mix vol. 1 was the most-bought soundtrack of 2014 and it contains all kinds of amazing ’70s music, mostly from the Motown crowd or easy listening stations. But it also contained another great track off of Ziggy Stardust, which is used when the Milano spaceship pulls into the Knowhere system. “Moonage Daydream” is another killer choice with an absolute gut-punch of an opening few bars.
2) Inglourious Basterds (2009)
When I was in the theater watching Quentin Tarantino‘s sixth film (according to his numbering system) for the first time, and we’d gotten through four chapters mainly made up of cues from older Morricone compositions and French or German songs of the period, I guessed we wouldn’t have a modern pop song—the movie takes place during World War II, for Pete’s sake! Oh, how silly I was. Chapter Five, “Revenge of the Giant Face,” opens with a montage of Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) getting ready for the big showdown and it’s set to, of all songs, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire).” Now, this song was the theme to Paul Schrader’s 1982 movie Cat People, but it was only used during the end credits. Tarantino said in interviews it was a travesty that such a great song was never used in a movie scene. Hence, we get this wonderful anachronism.
1) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
There was never a chance my number one was going to be anything other than Wes Anderson‘s ode to both Jacques Cousteau and David Bowie. While the action of the movie is very much based on the seafaring adventurer, oceanographer, and documentarian, all of the music comes from Bowie, though most of it is sung in Portuguese by co-star Seu Jorge. But the ending slow motion shot and Buckaroo Banzai-inspired end credit sequence are set to Bowie himself, singing the penultimate track off of Hunky Dory, the now-immortal “Queen Bitch.” If you don’t think I still march around when listening to this song to this day, you are beyond wrong.
And there you have my seven favorite uses of David Bowie music in movies. What are some of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!
Image: Universal Pictures/The Weinstein Company
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor as well as a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. David Bowie is his favorite musician. So there. Follow him on Twitter!