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Culture Re-View: Labyrinth is released - a tale of fantasy, puppets, and sexual awakening

David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly in a scene from 'Labyrinth', 1986
David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly in a scene from 'Labyrinth', 1986 Copyright Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images
Copyright Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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On this day 37 years ago, the classic movie was released in the U.S., but it took some time to achieve the cult status it boasts today


Released on 27 June 1986, the cult fantasy film Labyrinth continues to captivate audiences worldwide. While the movie received a lukewarm response upon its release in the United States, it went on to achieve greater popularity on the other side of the pond.

37 years on, the late, great David Bowie’s performance and Jim Henson's puppetry in the fantastical fantasy endure.

The film's universal themes of self-discovery, perseverance and the power of imagination also struck a chord with viewers worldwide as well as being the source of a sexual awakening for countless viewers.

If you google ‘Jareth the Goblin King’ - the part Bowie made his own - and ‘sexual awakening’, you’ll discover endless think pieces about what exactly it is about the character that encouraged such a reaction among some of the audience of generation X and older millennials.

In a 2016 article in ‘Decider’, one journalist writes of the Goblin King, “His Tina Turner mullet wig and glitter eyeshadow somehow only added to the overpowering eroticism of his character” and even Gen Z have got on board, with videos reacting to the film boasting millions of views.

On a more innocent and whimsical level, puppets also feature heavily in the tale which follows Jennifer Connelly’s Sarah as she embarks on a quest to reach the centre of an enormous, otherworldly labyrinth to rescue her half-brother Toby, after wishing him away to Jareth.

Directed by Jim Henson of Muppets fame, the film elevated puppetry to new heights, seamlessly blending puppet characters with live-action actors, creating a mesmerising world where all kinds of unusual creatures roamed.

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Jennifer Connelly with an actor in the costume of 'Hoggle', during filming of 'Labyrinth'Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

From the mischievous Hoggle to the anthropomorphic fox Sir Didymus, the creatures in Labyrinth were meticulously crafted and animated, displaying the artistry and attention to detail that Henson was renowned for, also showcasing the technical prowess of his team and establishing a new standard for puppetry in film.

Labyrinth was not an instant hit at the time of its release in the U. S. in 1986, only opening at number 8 in the box office, but it did far better overseas, garnering great reviews in Japan and, when released in Europe in December of that year, it was far more popular.

In the UK, it opened in the number one spot and was the highest-grossing film over the Christmas period, with a gross of $4.5 million - or about €4.13m - in its first month, an impressive three times more than its competitors.

Despite initially shaky box office results, Labyrinth gradually gained a passionate following thanks in part to home video performance and became a cult classic.

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Jennifer Connelly is encountered by Fireys in a scene from the filmTriStar/Getty Images

The musical film, the last directed by Henson in his long, Muppet-filled career, seems to cross boundaries and invite all kinds of audiences from Bowie fans to fantasy lovers and those who enjoy adventure themes.

Despite being nearly 40 years old, its popularity shows no sign of slowing down. The internet age has played a significant role in sustaining Labyrinth's following. Online communities, social media platforms and fan conventions have allowed enthusiasts to connect, share their nostalgic love for the film, keep its legacy alive and introduce it to new generations.

There have also long been rumours of a re-boot. In 2016, it was announced that a sequel was in development, with screenwriter Nicole Perlman allaying the fears of devoted fans, saying it was less a remake and more a ‘spin-off’ in the same fictional universe - but we may be waiting for some time, in our own personal labyrinths.

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