Sylvester Stallone’s Best Blockbuster Almost Featured David Bowie As The Villain

By Jacob VanGundy | Published

david bowie labyrinth

The idea of David Bowie acting against Sylvester Stallone sounds absurd, but it almost happened in the 1993 action-thriller Cliffhanger. In a recent interview, the film’s director claimed that the rock star was his first choice for the villain in the movie, which became a blockbuster hit. As anyone who’s seen the movie knows, that didn’t happen, but it would have made for fascinating casting if it had. 

David Bowie Wasn’t An Outlandish Choice

labyrinth goblins

While he didn’t end up acting in Cliffhanger, David Bowie did have an extensive list of films made in between his prolific work in the music industry. Perhaps his most well-known role was in the 1986 Jim Henson movie Labyrinth, in which he played the charming but villainous Goblin King Jareth. He also acted in notable films like The Prestige, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and The Last Temptation of Christ. 

But even without David Bowie’s star power, Cliffhanger was a smash success. Directed by Renny Harlin and starring Sylvester Stallone, it made $255 million at the box office on a budget of $70 million. In addition to its massive earnings, the movie was generally well-received, earning 68 percent on Rotten Tomatoes

Cliffhanger Was A Smash Hit

sylvester stallone

Cliffhanger is a classic 90s action movie about a pair of mountain climbing rescue rangers who answer a fake distress call and get taken hostage by a group of criminals. The rescue rangers, played by Stallone and Michael Rooker, put their survival skills to the test as they fight off the criminals. It’s a fun, high-octane action movie with plenty of explosions and gunfights, which would have made David Bowie’s involvement all the more interesting. 

Casting Preferences Explains The Accent

The role of Eric Quelan, the villain of Cliffhanger, ended up going to legendary actor John Lithgow. Lithgow’s performance as the psychotic criminal mastermind was great, though his questionable British accent has been criticized. Knowing the role was intended for the British David Bowie, the villain’s nationality makes more sense. 

David Bowie Would Have Been Great In Cliffhanger

the man who fell to earth

While it’s hard to imagine anyone other than John Lithgow in the role now, he wasn’t even the second choice for the villain in Cligghanger. In the same interview in which he talked about wanting David Bowie for the role, Renny Harlin claimed that Brian Ferry of Roxie Music was considered but didn’t have the acting talent needed. John Lithgow also stated that Christopher Walken was ahead of him for the role, but ended up walking away from the film. 

In the end, David Bowie’s touring schedule prevented him from appearing in Cliffhanger. During casting, Renny Harlin met with the rockstar to discuss the role, but they couldn’t make it work. The director says he still regrets that he didn’t get to work with the glam rock icon. 

The Legacy Of David Bowie

David Bowie passed away in 2016, leaving behind a legacy of incredible music and a handful of great acting performances. While he didn’t end up in Cliffhanger, it would have been interesting to hear his side of the story and hear his opinions on the film. We can only imagine what the movie would have been like with Ziggy Stardust himself as the antagonist.