Jareth (David Bowie) holds up a glass orb, wearing a shimmery silver outfit and heavy makeup.

One of the Best Fantasy Movies of All Time Was Released 37 Years Ago Today

Dance! Magic dance!

When we were growing up, my sister and I spent every Friday afternoon at the video store. It was one of my family’s little rituals at the end of the week: My mom let us each pick out a video to rent, and we would return them on Sunday. We were such regular customers that the family who owned the shop knew us all by name.

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In general, I had free reign over the kids’ section, but there was one movie my mom never let me rent: Labyrinth, starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie.

In Labyrinth, 16-year-old Sarah (Connelly) is fascinated by fairy tales, and she finds herself transported into a fairy tale of her own when she accidentally wishes her baby brother away to the realm of the goblins. Sarah has to navigate a magical labyrinth so that she can face the Goblin King Jareth (Bowie) and make him give her brother back.

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) stands in a huge white ballgown, surrounded by other women in white ballgowns.
(Tri-Star Pictures)

Labyrinth‘s theatrical debut was June 27, 1986, and despite tepid box office numbers and a mixed reception from critics, it went on to become a beloved cult classic. It’s easy to see why—the list of fantasy and science fiction luminaries who helped bring it to life is jaw-dropping. The numerous puppets in the movie were created by Jim Henson, with character design by renowned fantasy artist Brian Froud. Monty Python‘s Terry Jones wrote the first draft of the script, with George Lucas serving as executive producer. Gates McFadden (yes, that Gates McFadden) choreographed the film’s catchy musical numbers. The story is simple, yet compelling; the creatures and landscapes are sumptuous and immersive; and the songs are fun as hell.

Connelly is great, as always, but what makes the movie truly unforgettable is Bowie as Jareth. Jareth is absolutely magnetic—cheesy, campy, and dead sexy all at once. As one of the pioneers of glam rock, which pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality when homosexuality had only recently been decriminalized in the U.K., Bowie brought Jareth to life in a way that no other actor could. As far as many fantasy fans are concerned, David Bowie is the Goblin King.

David Bowie as Jareth, looking at the camera and holding a crystal orb in a black-gloved hand.
(Tri-Star Pictures)

For a while, I wondered if my mom wouldn’t let me rent the movie because of Bowie. After all, the movie has some pretty strong sexual undertones, with Jareth even trying to seduce Sarah, and there’s been plenty of commentary over the years about Bowie’s extraordinarily tight-fitting pants. I was six when it came out on video, so you can’t blame my mom for having reservations. However, I finally asked her about it after I found out my husband wasn’t allowed to watch the movie, either. It turns out both our parents just thought it looked too scary for kids.

To be honest, that hesitancy could partly explain the low box office numbers, too. Nevertheless, 37 years later, Labyrinth is frequently counted as one of the best fantasy movies of all time. I might make my five-year-old wait a couple of years before she watches it (the kid couldn’t handle the stepmother in Cinderella, to give you an idea of her fear tolerance), but I’m glad that it’s endured all this time.

(featured image: Tri-Star Pictures)


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Author
Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>