Skip
Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

1 minute read

11 Movies Vastly Improved By The Right David Bowie Song At The Right Time

No matter the mood or the movie, there's likely a David Bowie song that could soundtrack it. Here are 11 times they got it especially right.

  • <p><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPRh537QyVo" target="_blank">"Underground" </a>sounded just as right on '80s radio as it did in the otherworldly scenery of <em>Labyrinth</em>, which Bowie starred in. When the song wafts in over the opening credits, it strikes a promising tone for the mystical proceedings to come.</p>
  • <p>The <em>Ziggy Stardust</em>-era jam, "Moonage Daydream," stands out even in a movie packed with killer '70s song as fitting particularly well with the outer space scenery of <em>Guardians</em>. The song plays as our heroes arrive at the celestial mining colony "Knowhere" (which is a giant severed head, giving added heft to lyrics about "space faces").</p>
  • <p>David Fincher's dark, grimy opus happened to coincide with the moment in time when David Bowie was experimenting with Trent Reznor-style industrial music. His single, "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," captures the eerie atmosphere of the film as it comes in over the closing credits.</p>
  • <p>Music cues are often rather on the nose in a lot of films, but especially so in <em>Clueless</em>. During the scene when Alicia Silverstone's Cher is trying on clothes, you can hear Bowie's "Fashion" playing--and a scene that shows how sloppily high school boys dress is soundtracked by the Bowie-penned "All The Young Dudes."</p>
  • <p>John Hughes had a deft ear for tunes, so it's not surprising he put Bowie's "Young Americans" on during an otherwise awkward scene in which Molly Ringwald's character's family is getting into two cars to go to her sister's wedding.</p>
  • <p>A film known for its twee soundtrack, and for inventing suspicious slang such as "Oh my blog," <em>Juno</em> also featured a scene of age-inappropriate horniness between Jason Bateman and Ellen Page scored to the Bowie-penned "All The Young Dudes."</p>
  • <p>In the middle of the abrupt (fictionalized) downfall of Nazi Germany, Quentin Tarantino pauses for a moody moment to play this period-inaccurate song, while the heroine prepares to exact her revenge--which involves fire, nicely mirroring the lyrics--on Adolph Hitler. (If you haven't seen the movie, this probably sounds insane and you're not wrong.) Somehow, it all works.</p>
  • <p>A watershed moment for Bowie, "Ziggy Stardust" occurs at a pivotal point in the found-footage superhero movie, when the lead character Andrew makes a decision to go in a dark direction with his newfound powers. The song's wistful sound serves as an evocative background for a bad decision in progress.</p>
  • <p>Capping off this comedy about the generational divide is Bowie's undeniably funky, age-bridging classic, "Golden Years," which it's easy to imagine all the film's characters getting down to.</p>
  • <p>Although the entire production features lovely Bowie covers, including one of "Life On Mars," from Brazlian musician Seu Jorge, who also appears in the film, it is the real thing in the end that ties the movie together with a pristine bow. The final scene features the requisite Wes Anderson slow-motion shot, this one of Bill Murray walking in front of a crowd, toward the camera, hoisting a boy above his shoulders as "Queen Bitch" kicks in. It feels like the end of a journey for the character, in addition to just sounding badass.</p>
  • <p>After an hour and a half or so of nothing but disco songs, under the very outdated perception that everyone still hates disco, the most appropriate Bowie number possible cranks up. "Starman" arrives near the climax, and it is both a literal description of who Matt Damon's character has become, and a nice, sturdy rock song for a rescue-preparation montage. This is the song that's stuck in your head hours after the movie ends. Well, either this one or ABBA.</p>
  • 01 /21 | David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly in "Labyrinth", 1986.

    "Underground" sounded just as right on '80s radio as it did in the otherworldly scenery of Labyrinth, which Bowie starred in. When the song wafts in over the opening credits, it strikes a promising tone for the mystical proceedings to come.

  • 02 /21 | "Guardians of the Galaxy," 2014

    The Ziggy Stardust-era jam, "Moonage Daydream," stands out even in a movie packed with killer '70s song as fitting particularly well with the outer space scenery of Guardians. The song plays as our heroes arrive at the celestial mining colony "Knowhere" (which is a giant severed head, giving added heft to lyrics about "space faces").

  • 03 /21 | "Moonage Daydream"
  • 04 /21 | "Se7en," 1995

    David Fincher's dark, grimy opus happened to coincide with the moment in time when David Bowie was experimenting with Trent Reznor-style industrial music. His single, "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," captures the eerie atmosphere of the film as it comes in over the closing credits.

  • 05 /21 | David Bowie - "The Heart's Filthy Lesson"
  • 06 /21 | "Clueless," 1995

    Music cues are often rather on the nose in a lot of films, but especially so in Clueless. During the scene when Alicia Silverstone's Cher is trying on clothes, you can hear Bowie's "Fashion" playing--and a scene that shows how sloppily high school boys dress is soundtracked by the Bowie-penned "All The Young Dudes."

  • 07 /21 | David Bowie - "Fashion"
  • 08 /21 | "Sixteen Candles," 1984

    John Hughes had a deft ear for tunes, so it's not surprising he put Bowie's "Young Americans" on during an otherwise awkward scene in which Molly Ringwald's character's family is getting into two cars to go to her sister's wedding.

  • 09 /21 | David Bowie - "Young Americans"
  • 10 /21 | "Juno," 2007

    A film known for its twee soundtrack, and for inventing suspicious slang such as "Oh my blog," Juno also featured a scene of age-inappropriate horniness between Jason Bateman and Ellen Page scored to the Bowie-penned "All The Young Dudes."

  • 11 /21 | Mott The Hoople - "All The Young Dudes"
  • 12 /21 | "Inglourious Basterds," 2009

    In the middle of the abrupt (fictionalized) downfall of Nazi Germany, Quentin Tarantino pauses for a moody moment to play this period-inaccurate song, while the heroine prepares to exact her revenge--which involves fire, nicely mirroring the lyrics--on Adolph Hitler. (If you haven't seen the movie, this probably sounds insane and you're not wrong.) Somehow, it all works.

  • 13 /21 | "Cat People"
  • 14 /21 | "Chronicle," 2012

    A watershed moment for Bowie, "Ziggy Stardust" occurs at a pivotal point in the found-footage superhero movie, when the lead character Andrew makes a decision to go in a dark direction with his newfound powers. The song's wistful sound serves as an evocative background for a bad decision in progress.

  • 15 /21 | "Ziggy Stardust"
  • 16 /21 | "While We're Young," 2014

    Capping off this comedy about the generational divide is Bowie's undeniably funky, age-bridging classic, "Golden Years," which it's easy to imagine all the film's characters getting down to.

  • 17 /21 | "Golden Years"
  • 18 /21 | "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," 2004

    Although the entire production features lovely Bowie covers, including one of "Life On Mars," from Brazlian musician Seu Jorge, who also appears in the film, it is the real thing in the end that ties the movie together with a pristine bow. The final scene features the requisite Wes Anderson slow-motion shot, this one of Bill Murray walking in front of a crowd, toward the camera, hoisting a boy above his shoulders as "Queen Bitch" kicks in. It feels like the end of a journey for the character, in addition to just sounding badass.

  • 19 /21 | "Queen Bitch"
  • 20 /21 | "The Martian," 2015

    After an hour and a half or so of nothing but disco songs, under the very outdated perception that everyone still hates disco, the most appropriate Bowie number possible cranks up. "Starman" arrives near the climax, and it is both a literal description of who Matt Damon's character has become, and a nice, sturdy rock song for a rescue-preparation montage. This is the song that's stuck in your head hours after the movie ends. Well, either this one or ABBA.

  • 21 /21 | "Starman"

This week, we lost a towering creative giant in David Bowie. His art transcended the stuffy confines of medium, era, and genre, and left lasting impressions in every direction. He created music so richly layered and textured, it's difficult to experience with just one sense at a time; hearing a certain song likely conjures a mental image of the visual aesthetic he was cultivating during the era it was released. That constant marriage of sight and sound is perhaps why Bowie's music translates so well to cinema.

David Bowie onstage in 1978Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Bowie's film-acting is far superior to most musicians who've tried their hand at it, but his most lasting contribution to that world is probably the sonic backdrop he provided for over 400 movies. Because there were so many discrete stylistic phases to Bowie's career, he has songs that slip seamlessly into just about any genre—from high school comedy to street-level drug drama to action-packed space opera. It turns out the ability to marry Bowie songs with moving images is just as versatile as the man himself.

Have a look through the slides above for 11 times filmmakers got it especially right. Also, obviously there are a lot more options than what we've included, so let us know what your favorite Bowie music cues in movies are in the comments.

Slideshow Credits: 01 / Photo: Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection, Getty Images; 04 / Photo: courtesy of New Line Cinema; 06 / Photo: courtesy of Paramount Pictures; 12 / Photo: The Weinstein Company; 14 / Photo: 20th Century Fox; 16 / Photo: courtesy of A24 Films; 18 / Photo: courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures; 20 / Photo: 20th Century Fox;

loading