The music video as it was known in its heyday is now all but dead, reborn as online videos that roam the halls of YouTube and Tidal Exclusives. At their peak, however, they were incredibly effective short films-cum-advertisements, selling records and concert tours. Eventually, Hollywood realized they could also be used to sell movie tickets, and thus the movie music video was born: not a trailer, not a TV spot, and not a normal music video, but some conflation of all three. Hundreds were produced, but only a few stand above the rest, becoming as memorable and iconic as the films they supported. Hit the play buttons below to watch and sing along…
12. “Guardians Inferno” by The Sneepers (from Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, 2017)
The pop-music-only soundtrack has been dead for a while now, but James Gunn’s Marvel Cinematic Universe entry Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) brought it roaring back. Bolstered by the album’s success, Gunn, composer Tyler Bates, and living internet meme David Hasselhoff recorded an original disco track for last year’s sequel, and the accompanying music video recreates the cheesy late ‘70s vibe a little too perfectly. Hasselhoff’s lyrics summarize the movie while stars Zoe Saldana, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, Sean Gunn, Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, and director Gunn all show up disguised in ‘70s garb (guess Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper don’t own bellbottoms). They even wedged a Stan Lee cameo in here. If someone you know has been living under a rock and you need to explain what the MCU is to them, this is your best bet.
11. “All Star” by Smash Mouth (from Mystery Men, 1999)
Quick — what movie is the music video for Smash Mouth’s ridiculously ubiquitous hit “All Star” promoting? If you said Shrek, congratulations, you’ve been raised by memes. Not to worry! Now you can pedantically annoy your friends and win at bar trivia by knowing that the song was written for, appears in, and has its video promote the cult superhero comedy Mystery Men. The video makes the connection to the movie explicit, opening with a scene from the actual film. However, it quickly bifurcates, with movie clips awkwardly inserted into a storyline about lead singer Steve Harwell performing feats of superherodom around town while the Mystery Men, um … attack the band’s limo? Watch from the sidelines? It’s unclear, but director McG’s four color visual style somehow makes the thing work.
10. “Princes Of The Universe” by Queen (from Highlander, 1986)
Director Russell Mulcahy rose through the ranks directing music videos (including the first video ever shown on MTV, The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”), so directing a video promoting his second feature Highlander was almost a given. Queen had several hits that were written for the Highlander soundtrack (which to this day has never had an official release!), but this video for “Princes Of The Universe” is the only one 100% Highlander flavored, and it’s spectacular. Mulcahy’s MTV-ready footage from the film plays between the band performing in front of the Silvercup Studios sign, while the immortal Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) shows up for a brief moment ready to duel with Freddie Mercury before realizing his mistake and disappearing for the rest of the video. Guitarist Brian May’s crunchy riffs destroy a mock-up of the castle set from the film, and a music video classic is born.
9. “Walls (Circus)” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (from She’s The One, 1996)
Tom Petty had a legendary run of music videos on his own during the ‘80s and ‘90s, with clips like “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Free Fallin’” always in heavy rotation. When he agreed to write and perform the songs and score for Ed Burns’ rom-com She’s The One, he brought a director he’d worked with before as well as his own concepts and ideas to the music video for “Walls (Circus).” The clip makes reference to the film by the appearance of Burns (playing his taxi driver character from the movie) and actors Maxine Bahns and Jennifer Aniston, but other than that looks and feels like a Petty video from that period, featuring Indian imagery and iconography blending with an old-style circus tent/sideshow set. It’s psychedelic, playful in its use of black-and-white giving way to vibrant colors, and by extension makes Burns’ rom-com seem much more visually rich and deep than it is.
8. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr. (from Ghostbusters, 1984)
Ghostbusters became a massive franchise and phenomenon, thanks in part to Ray Parker Jr.’s titular Huey Lewis-lite shout-along song. The movie’s director, Ivan Reitman, also made the video for the track and used well-chosen clips from the film. But the real fun is in the new material, which concerns a young blonde woman entering a matte painted house that is revealed to be nothing but neon furniture, black screen walls, and a bed. Oh, and which is also haunted by Parker Jr. and several kids. On top of that, Reitman recruits a murderer’s row of comedy and music talent to chant the movie’s title, and ends the clip with the leads of the film and the singer dancing in Times Square, complete with Bill Murray’s failed attempt at breakdancing. What more could you want in a video?
7. “Derezzed” by Daft Punk (from Tron Legacy, 2010)
Some detractors of Tron Legacy say that it’s a glorified Daft Punk music video; some defenders of the film say the same, only more positively. Whether you love or hate it, it’s hard to deny that Daft Punk’s music and Tron’s glowy electronica aesthetic blend together extremely well, and the music video for one of the cuts from the soundtrack is no exception. The French duo turn up in their trademark robot outfits to Flynn’s Arcade, where they play a fictional vintage game that is cleverly intended to evoke Tron’s iconic light cycles but is revealed to be something totally different. The clip also acts as a sort of prequel to Legacy, thanks to Olivia Wilde’s surprise cameo at the intriguingly ambiguous ending. If any Tron fans have theories or fan fiction about how Quorra found herself in a game called “Derezzed,” please message me on Facebook.
6. “The World Is Not Enough” by Garbage (from The World Is Not Enough, 1999)
The James Bond franchise has been synonymous with pop songs since the second film in the series (From Russia With Love, 1963), and even embraced the advent of MTV by putting singer Sheena Easton in the main titles of For Your Eyes Only (1981). While the title sequences remained as lavish as ever, the actual music videos produced during the ‘80s and mid-‘90s for Bond themes were a little lackluster. Enter alt-rock group Garbage with a video that, in a lot of ways, is more successful than the Bond film it’s supporting. Rather than being clips of the film playing behind the band, the clip features singer Shirley Manson playing both a famous chanteuse and a deadly android assassin created in a clandestine lab (set in 1964, the year of Goldfinger as well as Bond’s heyday). The song, intended to be written from the perspective of Sophie Marceau’s villain in the film, becomes android Manson’s theme before she blows up a performance hall. Why? Who knows, but just like Bond, it’s effortlessly cool.
5. “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio (from Dangerous Minds, 1995)
Dangerous Minds was a “teachers in the inner city” melodrama, a sub-genre that contains numerous entries. Why the film deserves to be remembered is completely and utterly due to this song and this video. The clip was directed by music video prodigy and future big budget filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, and its moody, shadowy imagery is iconic (enough that Weird Al could easily parody it for his “Amish Paradise” video). It even renders the film superfluous by summing up the arc for Michelle Pfeiffer’s character: she arrives in a dilapidated housing project to ask Coolio “what this is all about,” and Coolio proceeds to rap verse after verse about what life is really like trapped in the world of crime. The final scene of Coolio removing a pair of shades from a young boy, the shades representing the crime-ridden future the boy will likely have, says it all.
4. “Dream Warriors” by Dokken (from A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, 1987)
Horror was huge in the late ‘80s, the slasher boom at the beginning of the decade having wrought numerous franchises from which embarrassed studios could collect a payday year after year. In 1987, the razor-glove-and-sweatshirt-wearing killer Freddy Krueger became a phenomenon, in large part thanks to this, one of the coolest rock videos ever made. Not convinced? Consider this: Dream Warriors star Patricia Arquette reprises her role as Kristen from the film in seamlessly integrated footage from the movie, along with newly shot scenes of her teaming up with Dokken. Guitarist George Lynch literally breaks through a wall using the power of his rippin’ riffs. Don Dokken defeats Freddy with the power of his mighty voice. The entire video is revealed to have been Freddy’s nightmare. If the power of rock can’t save the world, it can at least save us from pizza-faced demons.
3. “Across The Universe” by Fiona Apple (from Pleasantville, 1998)
One of the best Beatles cover songs deserves a great video to match it, and no less than director Paul Thomas Anderson delivers. Supporting the Gary Ross film Pleasantville, the clip distills the movie’s themes of a sanitized black-and-white ‘50s sitcom town giving way to a world of color and knowledge. During a slow-motion study of a diner being looted and destroyed, Apple performs the song. Anderson’s camera glides through the riot, with Apple its serene center, looking constantly joyful. It’s a clever way of enhancing the song’s message of spiritual enlightenment by tying it to the movie’s visual representation of such. As a bonus, watch for Anderson cohort John C. Reilly near the end of the clip, right before a falling neon sign cheekily spells out “the end.”
2. “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith feat. Dru Hill & Kool Moe Dee (from Wild Wild West, 1999)
A dubious tradition of the movie soundtrack is the rap over the end credits, a category filled with more unfortunate examples than not (looking at you, Dragnet). In the late ‘90s, Will Smith became the undisputed king of the “movie rap,” thanks to his hit “Men In Black” from the movie of the same name. Sure, that song and that video are iconic in their own way, as Smith raps what is essentially a recruitment ad for the MiB while dancing with a CGI alien. But “Wild Wild West” takes that song and that video and goes far, far bigger and more ridiculous. Just look at everything here: lavish dance choreography, sets exploding and/or on fire, long stretches of time where the song flat-out stops (once to use not a movie clip but an entire action sequence made just for the video), Sisqo in chaps, Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Enrique Iglesias, and Stevie Wonder! Add to that the fact that the song actually summarizes the movie’s plot, and you’ve got yourself an apotheosis of the form.
1. “Batdance” by Prince (from Batman, 1989)
Prince was an electric artist, intensely watchable no matter how insane his performances got. “Batdance” is arguably Prince at his most insane, a six-minute freak out of a nearly instrumental hodgepodge of songs from his Batman soundtrack album. As if to double down on the ridiculousness of releasing that as the album’s first single, Prince enlisted Purple Rain director Albert Magnoli to helm the video, and he made a bold choice: to take each and every snippet of dialogue and music and represent it visually. Thus we get a chorus of Batpeople chanting the “Batman!” refrain every time it occurs, a dance troupe of menacing Jokers, and a catwalk’s worth of Vicki Vales. The movie is represented not through visual clips, but through snatches of dialogue that appear in the song itself. All the while, Prince plays both himself (at a control console, watching the proceedings and playing some face melting guitar) and “Gemini,” an original character dressed as half Batman and half Joker. The video is far from subtle, but it perfectly sums up the underlying theme of not only Tim Burton’s film but decades of the Batman mythos. Being a visual tour de force inexorably tied to the movie it supports, “Batdance” is the ultimate movie music video. Keep bustin’.
Bill Bria busts in New York City.