Michael Jackson Made Some of the Most Expensive Music Videos of All Time
Being the King of Pop didn’t come cheap, that’s for sure. As Michael Jackson’s fame grew, so did his net worth and his fans’ expectations. Jackson certainly didn’t disappoint: he delivered five of the most expensive music videos of all time, four of which were the most expensive ever made at their inception.
We ranked Jackson’s top music videos from least to most expensive. Plus, the one he made with his top competitor for most expensive video — sister Janet Jackson — which took the crown.
- Production cost in 1983: $1 million
- Inflation-adjusted PC: $2.5 million
Jackson collaborated with director John Landis (known for The Blues Brothers) to bring to life this spooky Halloween spectacular. “Thriller” went platinum in the U.S. and triple platinum in Australia. It was MTV’s first world premiere video, one of Billboard’s “Top 10 Halloween Songs,” and one of the Guinness World Records “most successful music videos.”
Thriller’s cost wasn’t in vain. Jackson nearly saved Epic, which had just laid off half its marketing department. “There is no question that ‘Thriller’ was the driving force behind what became the hottest span in Epic’s history,” Epic/Portrait/CBS Associated Labels VP of merchandising Dan Beck told Billboard.
‘Remember the Time’
- Production cost in 1992: $2 million
- Inflation-adjusted PC: $3.5 million
Jackson and Academy Award-winning director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) high production cost for Remember the Time is a result of a few factors. The Los Angeles-shot video was set in Ancient Egypt and featured household names like Magic Johnson and Eddie Murphy.
And while the well-known influencers were probably paid a pretty penny for their cameos, the extras admitted they weren’t included in the high production costs. The snake charmer in the video told the media how the shoot was non-union and the pay was below scale. He took the job because “it seemed like a chance to be a part of history if only recent history.”
- Production cost in 1987: $2.2 million
- Inflation-adjusted PC: $4.7 million
In 1987, the music video for Jackson’s chart-topping single “Bad” was the most expensive video of all time at the time of production. It came as no surprise to Martin Scorsese fans; the director is known for his modern crime themes and high budget box office hits.
“Bad” was notable as it gave Jackson an edgier side (his previous hits included “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” and “We Are the World”). The video was inspired partially by the film West Side Story (a modern Romeo and Juliet) and features Jackson alongside talented dancers in a pseudo-gang-fight-meets-dance-off in a Brooklyn subway station.
‘Black or White’
- Production cost in 1991: $4 million
- Inflation-adjusted PC: $7.2 million
Jackson’s video for “Black or White” premiered on MTV, BET, and VH1 — the usual premiere sites — and, notably, Fox. It gave Fox their highest Nielsen ratings ever when the network premiered it in 1991.
Landis directed again (he had previously taken “Thriller” to the top) and featured other relevant ’90s pop culture figures like Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt. The premiere garnered the most viewers ever for a music video at the time: 500 million. The video quickly received controversial reviews for the last four minutes. The final scenes show Jackson grabbing his crotch and smashing car windows with a crowbar. Jackson announced he would cut the end in a press release. “It upsets me to think that ‘Black or White’ could influence any child or adult to destructive behavior, either sexual or violent,” he said.
- Production cost in 1991: $7 million
- Inflation-adjusted PC: $11.2 million
Michael and sister Janet Jackson currently hold the number one spot for the most expensive music video made of all time. If produced today, “Scream” would budget an estimated $11 million in production costs.
Mark Romanek directed the video. He is also known for his work with The Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Can’t Stop”), Jay-Z (“99 Problems”) and Taylor Swift (“Shake It Off”). He has won more Grammy Awards for Best Short Form Music Video than any other director. The video was a collaboration between the two Jackson artists as well as the director and producers. It was filmed using a spacecraft and designed to depict the Jackson backlash to their negative media attention.
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