Both Michael Jackson and Madonna landed on the list three times each.
Since the explosion of MTV in the 1980s, music videos have been an important part of every artist's career. Not only are they often a visual representation of the meaning behind a song but they also give artists the opportunity to express themselves in a creative manner. And when these artists are given the freedom to create their own visual masterpieces, things can get a little over the top!
Musicians like Madonna and Michael Jackson have easily spent millions of dollars on music videos throughout their careers, earning them multiple spots on the list of most expensive vids ever made. Whether it was thanks to appearances from A-list stars, massive sets, or groundbreaking CGI technology, these videos all have budgets in the millions — and when you take inflation into account, the number is even more staggering.
10. Limp Bizkit "Rollin' (Air Raid Vehicle)" - $4.8 million
Back in 2000, Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst directed a high budget video for "Rollin' (Air Raid Vehicle)" which was partially filmed on top of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It featured cameos from Ben Stiller and Stephen Dorff, who were starring in "Zoolander" that year. The video cost a whopping $3 million at the time, which, thanks to inflation, would now be about $4.8 million.
MC Hammer went over the top for his 1991 music video for "2 Legit 2 Quit." The nearly 15 minute clip was practically a short film, with a storyline revolving around Michael Jackson's legendary glove. The video featured plenty of celebrity appearances too, including Tony Danza, Jim Belushi, and James Brown. At the time, the video cost $2.5 million but in today's economy that would be a whopping $5 million.
Michael Jackson didn't shy away from big budget videos during his career, including his 18 minute long video for "Bad," which was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by novelist Richard Price. It took over a month to film on location in Brooklyn and took major inspiration from "West Side Story," including a dance-off in a subway station.
"It sounded like a great idea. Martin Scorsese came to me and said Quincy Jones came to him on behalf of Michael Jackson to do a music video. This was when music videos were just becoming a big thing. So Jackson wanted to show people that he's 'down.' Think about it: Richard Price, Scorsese, Michael Jackson, who the hell is going to say no? Of course I was going do it...Jackson is not a bad actor, and Scorsese, well, he's great. I wrote a really good eight-page script...I think it's cool I did it," Richard told Vulture of the video.
7. Aqua "Cartoon Heroes" - $5.6 million
There's a lot of mystery surrounding Aqua's music video for "Cartoon Heroes." The group, who are best known for their hit "Barbie Girl," spent over $3 million on the video, which adds up to $5.6 million with inflation. Over the course of the four minutes and nineteen second video, a one-eyed sea monster attempts to take over the world. While there's plenty of green screen usage and unique sets, it's still unclear how the video cost so much. Unfortunately, the band has kept their lips sealed about the video.
6. Guns N' Roses "Estranged" - $7.6 million
Guns N' Roses' "Estranged" music video was the final part to a trilogy that also included "Don't Cry" and "November Rain." The over the top 10 minute video was written by frontman Axl Rose and directed by Andy Morahan. The story follows a despondent Axl as he moves through a series of expensive set pieces that concludes with him jumping off of an oil tanker into the ocean, only to be saved by a group of dolphins. The video used high-end CGI visual effects that were unique for the time and helped drive the price to $4 million, or $7.6 million in today's economy.
Some argue that the video actually cost even more than this, with director Mark Romanek claiming that he believes production required "$9 or $10 million" at the time, which is more than the video ranked most expensive of all time!
Michael Jackson's second most expensive music video was for his 1991 hit "Black Or White." An estimated 500 million people tuned in when the 11 minute video premiered, breaking television records and becoming the highest-rated Fox special up to that point. The video features appearances from a young Macaulay Culkin and Tyra Banks as well as plenty of special effects that includes a moment where a black panther transforms into Michael. Overall, the video cost $4 million and, accounting for inflation, its budget today would be $8.1 million.
Madonna has made some of the most expensive videos of all time and in 1995, she dropped $5 million in order to create a video for “Bedtime Story.” Today, that grand total would be over $9 million. During the production process, director Mark Romanek aimed to bring to life the song's hook, "Let's get unconscious," with surrealist imagery. The video took six days to film as well as weeks of post-production to perfect the digital effects. When it was finally completed, its release was treated like a movie premiere and was screened at theaters in LA, Chicago, and New York.
Madonna's second most expensive video was filmed for the James Bond theme song that she recorded in 2002. Inspired by action sequences from the film of the same name, Swedish directing team Traktor spent $6.1 million on the video, which would easily be over $9.4 million today. The video features realistic fighting between a good and evil Madonna, which reportedly required advanced special effects in almost every shot.
Madonna's video for "Express Yourself" was her most expensive ever, coming in at $5 million which, thanks to inflation, would now be over $11 million. The video, which was inspired by Fritz Lang's dystopian film 'Metropolis,' was directed by David Fincher but included a lot of input from Madonna herself.
"This one I had the most amount of input. I oversaw everything—the building of the sets, everyone's costumes, I had meetings with make-up and hair and the cinematographer, everybody. Casting, finding the right cat—just every aspect. Kind of like making a little movie. We basically sat down and just threw out every idea we could possibly conceive of and of all the things we wanted. All the imagery we wanted—and I had a few set ideas, for instance the cat and the idea of Metropolis. I definitely wanted to have that influence, that look on all the men—the workers, diligently, methodically working away," Madonna said in 'Madonna: In Her Own Words.'
Michael Jackson teamed up with his sister Janet to create the most expensive video of all time. Back in 1995, "Scream" cost a whopping $7 million to create, which today would be over $12 million. The video, directed by Mark Romanek, follows the siblings as they escape earth in a spaceship and includes 13 set pieces which took weeks to create. Mark says the main reason the video cost so much to make was the extremely tight deadlines and quick turnaround time required by the label.
"The reason that video cost such an obscene amount of money was that the record label came to me too late with a hard release date...And Michael's crazy. Everything's got to be the biggest, biggest, biggest, biggest, best, best ever in all of history. And they gave me something like five weeks from the day they came to me to this hard premiere date...So we had to build all huge sets and do all these huge effects...It takes two weeks minimum to figure, write it down, prep it and budget it. Then it took 10 days to shoot it. That left us two and a half weeks to edit it and do the visual effects. So they, not me, had to throw money at it to get it done. And two million dollars of that was Michael and Janet's perks and security and campers and trailers and assistants...So two million of that didn't even go on the screen," Mark told SlashFilm.