Entire movies are being recorded on people’s cellphone cameras these days. Certainly, as technology improves it does get less expensive to create higher quality recordings. However, when it comes to making music videos, it’s not always just about the cameras and recording equipment. From lavish sets to expensive cameos and incredible special effects, some costs can’t be avoided. The most opulent and pricey music videos of all time might hold a few surprises for you, and we don’t just mean the price tags. There are officially 22 listings because the first six videos all cost the same amount to produce.
22. Fairyland, 2005 – $2 Million
Ayumi made the list twice for videos produced the same year. Fairyland is a tropical dance spectacular filmed entirely in Hawaii. Tied with My Name’s Women, this video is the most expensive Japanese music video of all time (so far). The gorgeous white costumes weren’t what put it over the top, but burning down an entire house in Hawaii might have done it. Having fire crews standing by to keep the island from being at risk can’t have been cheap and they didn’t CGI those flames.
21. My Name’s Women, 2005 – $ 2 million
Luxuriant costumes and magnificent surroundings make this extended female empowerment video an obvious choice. From leather gear, to about a billion sequins you can see where they spent the money. Vegas-worthy feathered skirts, gorgeous beaded curtains, and that stage are all things that scream wealth, and rightly so. Bondage overtones make this girl power video a little dark, but the lighting keeps you from losing even a single glittering bead.
20. Freeek!, 2002 – $2 million
We’re not sure if George Michael actually paid for a time machine to film Freeek in the future, but it sure looks like it. This special effects extravaganza is another leather and bondage gear packed spectacular. Fetich gear isn’t cheap, and cheap fet-gear doesn’t hold up long enough to dance in, let alone put it through the paces as they did in this video.
19. She’s a B**ch, 1999 – $2 million
While Missy Elliot is always a popular choice, this lighting based set shows a whole different side of her. The costumes here are also very bondage-esque with lots of vinyl and leather looks. We’re pretty sure that fur coat isn’t a fake either. The water stage is no illusion. They used a real stage on the water for some extra special effects. This video is credited with being genre opening as it redefined what ‘could’ be done.
18. Miami, 1998 – $2 million
Exotic beach locations and vast crowds of extras may have contributed to the value of this video. None of those cars were cheap to be sure. Will Smith is known for his high-end tastes. (Maybe he spent too much time in Bel-Air as a teenager.) Oddly though, it was the computer morphing between the scenes that put the price tag over the top on this one. Miami isn’t the cheapest place to film a video, but at that time the technology for those beautiful smooth changes that brought every shot together seamlessly was a considerable factor.
17. Remember the Time, 1992 – $2 million
Live lion cubs and ostrich feather fans aren’t exactly what you’d call inexpensive. Hiring Iman, Magic Johnson, and Eddie Murphy likely didn’t cut any corners either. Add to that the special effects and ridiculously lush Egyptian set with its gold overtones, and you have the makings of a seriously costly undertaking. Michaels Gold chest plate with its gem-encrusted wings was a truly next-level costume. Unfortunately, not everyone was treated so well. The extras were paid below average wages on that production.
16. Larger Than Life, 1999 – $2.1 million
Hyper-futuristic imagery is what puts this video into the gold. The Backstreet Boys were ridiculously popular that the height of their careers and this thank-you to their fans is more CGI than anything. The singer’s robo-warrior costumes were outstanding as well, but the shot of Brian Littrell doing a flip on a hoverboard cost $90,000.
15. Bad, 1987 – $2.3 million
Quincy Jones was a producer on this film/music video, and Martin Scorsese directed, so that puts some perspective on why Bad was such a high budget undertaking. It’s more of a short film than a mere music video production, though you could argue all the best music videos are. The novelist Richard Price created the eighteen-minute screenplay based loosely on West Side Story. It features one of the first appearances of Wesley Snipes as well, though he was relatively unknown at the time, so his salary wasn’t the tipping point.
14. It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, 1996 – $2.3 million
Palpable sorrow is the theme of this song about lost love. When you film your video in Pragues,’ Ploskovice Summer Palace which was home of the Austrian Emperors it’s not much of a stretch to guess how they spent that kind of scratch on a power ballad. We’re not sure whether the production cost is including the fees to block Meatloaf in court since he also wanted to record this Jim Steinman song. Eventually, he did record it for Bat Out of Hell 3, but he didn’t produce a $2.3 million video for it, so he only gets a brief mention here as a Celine Dion footnote.
13. What’s it Gonna Be?!, 1999 – $2.4 million
Mercury like special effects makes this video extremely memorable. Dozens of elaborate sleek costumes including Janet Jacksons purple bondage-inspired getup add to the liquid metal feeling of the piece. When you add in the incredible background stage setups with the enormous speakers, and you have an excessive budget to be sure.
12. Doesn’t Really Matter, 2000 – $2.5 million
Flawless costume and scene changes and a fantastic light stage for dancers are only two of the deluxe features in this video. Janet and her background dancers shimmy through a plethora of digital scenery that put the CGI effects at the top of the budget in spite of the robotic dog and other expenses. Just the cost of shoes in this video must have been more than some people make in a year.
11. Heartbreaker, 1999 – $2.5 million
Luxury car rental is costly, but the set for the movie theater was incredible in this video. With the crazy dance numbers including movie theater staff in uniforms and Mariah’s friends involved a number of extras. An additional animated sequence that bears a strong resemblance to the old Bewitched and I Dream of Genie openings adds depth to this fun video.
10. 2 Legit 2 Quit, 1991 – $2.5 million
Without a doubt, the 2 Legit 2 Quit video spent its budget on the incredible star-studded list of cameos. Danny Glover, Both Wahlberg brothers, Queen Latifah, and Wayne Gretzky are just a few examples.
9. Victory, 1998 – $2.7 million
Sepia toned splendor opens this video. Part of the scenery was apparently built in a chunk of an airplane. Danny DeVito does a fantastic cameo as well, but what probably took the cake on this production was all the helicopters and explosions, not to mention the rain. Building sets that drain properly and have rain effects is no small feat.
8. Cartoon Heroes, 2000 – $3.5 million
We tried to figure out how they did the zero gravity effect in this bizarre and beautiful, futuristic video. Unfortunately, any information about that is buried in the 50th page of google search results or possibly in some super secret Norweigan vault somewhere. Our best guess, and this is pure speculation, is that they built a space ship, or at least rented the Space Plan for several days. It probably didn’t help the budget when they added in the stunning special effects making it look as though they really were in suspended animation and awoke in space.
7. Make Me Like You, 2016 – $4 million
This video’s production cost has an extraordinary story behind it. The whole thing was filmed and broadcast during a commercial break for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. The unique concept and the need to so rapidly complete the entire project along with the placement during a major broadcast event all added up to make this one of the top ten most expensive videos of all time.
6. Black Or White, 1991 – $4 million
This incredible globe-spanning, stereotype-defying video got the highest Nielsen rating of all time and made it onto the most controversial videos of all time list, in addition to being one of the most expensive productions of all time. The Ernie Ball Music Man Eddie Van Halen signature model guitar used by Macauley Culkin in the extended opening is just a taste of things to come as far as accounting goes. Obviously, the morphs switching between the human faces cost a pretty penny as you no doubt guessed based on the several videos that got their names on the list using the same technology.
5. Estranged, 1993 – $5 million
Part of the massive expense of this visually arresting video is the fact that they rented out the Olympiastadion in Munich, Germany to film all the live scenes. At nine minutes long, it was a more extensive production than many music videos which average 3-5 minutes normally. Adding to this are the helicopter rental, lights shows and huge crowds in the stadium.
4. Bedtime Story, 1995 – $5 million
Written by Björk, Nellee Hooper and Marius De Vries, this song and video are certainly up to the lavish standards of the original Material girl, even though the themes are ironically Buddhist, which is entirely anti-materialism. Sumptuous settings and a singular stage built for the ‘sleeping’ scene show off the edgy beauty Madonna is known for.
3. Express Yourself, 1989 – $5 million
Inspired by the Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis, this video lives up to the muse they chose for it. The chic, sleek and sensual appeal of this video is entirely expressed through set pieces and the excellent costuming. They used gigantic industrial sets to juxtapose the softer side an create a whole futuristic world for the singer to inhabit as her personal gilded cage.
2. Die Another Day, 2002 – $6.1 million
Die Another Day, one of the more recent installations in the James Bond series shares its name and theme with this custom music video created alongside the film. Rich and mostly monotone backgrounds help to display the singer as she battles herself both verbally and metaphorically in this extravagant homage to the 007 universe.
1. Scream, 1995 – $7 million
It should come as no surprise that a Janet and Michael Jackson video is the chart-topper here. The only more likely combination of singers to produce the most expensive music video ever would be the Jacksons and Madonna working together. Sadly Michael and Madonna only ever sang together once, as a duet at the academy awards, and never made a video together. The video is a futuristic pop epic featuring both of the famous Jackson siblings and packed with excellent special effects and costumes. Pricey backdrops round out the bill on this fun black and white music video.
Bonus Fact– Though almost every Michael and/or Janet Jackson video ever made has many internet references. This particular video has no Wikipedia page. It’s not even mentioned on the page that cites the Album of the same name.
Who wouldn’t want to live in any one of these incredible worlds created just for the short time the videos were filmed. The grandeur of the backdrops and exquisite props are enticing. Many of the costumes in these videos are worth more than 2-3 years of minimum wage salary. We won’t even mention that ninety thousand dollar hoverboard stunt. Regardless off the expense, all of these videos are certainly worth watching over and over.
* All “Cost to Produce:” listings are the total at the time the videos were produced. If adjusted for inflation many of these videos would be more costly to make now.