Michael Jackson's Thriller is a 13-minute music video for the song of the same name released on December 2, 1983 and directed by John Landis who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jackson. The mini-film music video was broadcast on MTV three weeks before Christmas 1983. It was the most expensive video of its time, costing US$500,000, and the Guinness World Records in 2006 list it as the "most successful music video", selling over 9 million units.
"Thriller" was less a conventional video and more a full-fledged short subject or mini-film; a horror film spoof featuring choreographed zombies performing with Jackson. The music was re-edited to match the video, with the verses being sung one after the other followed by the ending rap, then the main dance sequence (filmed on Union Pacific Avenue, Los Angeles) to an instrumental loop, and finally the memorable finish: the choruses in a "big dance number" climactic scene. During the video, Jackson transforms into both a zombie and a werecat (although makeup artist Rick Baker referred to it as a "cat monster" in the "Making of Thriller" documentary); familiar territory for Landis, who had directed An American Werewolf in London two years earlier. Co-starring with Jackson was former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray. The video was choreographed by Michael Peters (who had worked with the singer on his prior hit "Beat It"), with significant contributions by Jackson. The video also contains incidental music by film music composer Elmer Bernstein, who had previously also worked with Landis on An American Werewolf in London. The video (like the song) contains a spoken word performance by horror film veteran Vincent Price. Rick Baker assisted in prosthetics and makeup for the production.
Jackson, at the time a Jehovah's Witness, added a disclaimer to the start of the video, saying:
Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.
To qualify for an Academy Award, "Thriller" debuted at a special theatrical screening, along with the 1940 animated motion picture Fantasia.
Michael and his date run out of gas in a dark, wooded area. They walk off into the forest, and Michael asks her if she would like to go steady
. She accepts and he gives her a ring. He warns her, however, that he is "not like other guys". A full moon
appears, and Michael begins convulsing - transforming into a horrifying werecat. His date shrieks and runs away, but the werecat catches up, knocking her down and begins lunging at her with its claws.
The scene cuts away to a movie theater (the Palace Theatre in Hollywood) where Michael and his date - along with a repulsed audience - are actually watching this scene unfold in a movie called Thriller (starring Vincent Price). Michael smiles but his date is frightened, and tells him she's leaving. Michael catches up to her, exclaiming "It's only a movie!" Some debate follows over whether or not she was scared by the scene; she denies it, but Michael disagrees.
Michael and his date then walk down a foggy street, and he teases her with the opening verses of "Thriller". They pass a possessed graveyard, where corpses suddenly begin to rise from their graves, as Vincent Price performs his rap. Michael and his date then find themselves surrounded by the zombies, and suddenly, Michael becomes a zombie himself. Michael and the undead perform an elaborate song and dance number together, followed by the chorus of 'Thriller' (in which Michael is changed back into human form), frightening his girlfriend to the point where she runs for cover.
The girl is chased into an abandoned house, where the zombies and Michael slowly approach her. Right before they reach her, she wakes up and realizes that it was all a dream. As Michael asks "What's the problem?", he offers to take her home, but as the video ends Michael glances back at the camera, grins, and reveals his yellow monster eyes (accompanied by Vincent Price offering one last haunting laugh).
After the credits, when they concurrently show the zombies dancing again, the disclaimer humorously states, "Any similarity to actual events or persons living, dead, (or undead) is purely coincidental." Landis' An American Werewolf in London likewise offered this disclaimer.
|| Notes |
|| Best Video, Long Form
|| "Thriller" |
|| Best Video Album
|| "Making Michael Jackson's Thriller" |
|| Notes |
|| 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made
|| #1 |
|| Best Overall Performance in a Video
|| Winner |
|| Best Choreography
|| Michael Peters, choreographer |
|| Viewer's Choice
|| Winner |
Making Michael Jackson's Thriller
Released in tandem with the video was an hour-long documentary providing candid glimpses behind the scenes of the production. Called Making Michael Jackson's Thriller
, it, too, was shown heavily on MTV for a time and was the top-selling home-video release of all time at one point, with more than 9 million copies sold.
References and parodies in pop culture
- In a brief scene from the 1984 film Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy's character, Axel Foley, is seen walking past two grown men, each dressed in imitation versions of Jackson's "Thriller" video outfit. His response, used in trailers for the film, was his trademark laugh.
- In a scene from Poison Ivy, Jerry Disbro, played by Joe Wright, is seen wearing a single glove and shiny red vest.
- The spoof film The Silence of the Hams features an image-by-image parody of the video. However, in this film, the Michael Jackson impersonator is carried away by the zombies.
- The impromptu dance sequence in the director's cut of Shaolin Soccer features dance steps and similar camera angles reminiscent the Thriller music video.
- German comedian Otto Waalkes spoofed the video in his first motion picture Otto - Der Film. However, in place of zombies, he used multiple actors resembling the German folk singer Heino, and used a variation of Heino's song Schwarzbraun ist die Haselnuß ("Black-Brown is the Hazel Nut") in place of the original lyrics.
- In the 1998 film The Wedding Singer, a scene features the character Sammy dressed as Michael Jackson in "Thriller." This scene is also used in the musical adaptation of the movie. During the song "Single", which appears in the same scene, Sammy makes several references to Jackson in general, like when he says that "no chick will ever moonwalk on your heart."
- In the 2004 film 13 Going on 30, Jennifer Garner's character Jenna Rink starts an impromptu dance to Thriller following the zombies' movements.
- The movie Return of the Living Dead Part II briefly shows a zombie dressed up like Jackson's character. This zombie spins around when electrocuted in a manner similar to the pop star's signature dancing style.
- The 1990s Tamil Movie Valli, directed by Superstar Rajnikanth (his only directorial venture), features the audio of "Thriller" as a gang of baddies dance in a disco.
- A parody of the video is an Easter egg on the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within DVD, starring the computer-generated cast of the film.
- The dance of the Axe Gang near the beginning of the movie Kung Fu Hustle loosely resembles the choreography of "Thriller."
- An extended animated dance scene reenacting Thriller is found in the second half of Disney sequel Kronk's New Groove.
- The 1984 Hindi film Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki has a synchronized dance sequence in a graveyard with actor/dancer Mithun Chakraborty in a red suit, earning the title of "The Bollywood Thriller."
- The 2007 musical horror parody Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead features chicken zombies doing their version of the dance, complete with a lead dancer donning a red leather jacket. The segment occurs during the closing credits of the film, though the song played is "Poultrygeist" by Calamari Safari.
- There is a Halloween episode of South Park ("Pink Eye") in which Chef turns into a zombie while wearing Jackson's Thriller outfit, singing a sexually provocative parody of the song entitled "I'm Gonna Make Love... Even When I'm Dead" while other zombies perform the famous dance found in the music video.
- In another episode of South Park entitled "The Jeffersons", Michael Jackson (going by the alias Michael Jefferson) is wearing his red Thriller outfit as his plastic surgeries begin to break down, causing him to resemble his zombie form seen in the video.
- In an episode of the original series of The Lenny Henry Show, Lenny Henry parodied the music video with a song titled "Thinner". The clip was a parody of Jackson's battle with anorexia nervosa at the time.
- In the episode of Family Guy "Meet the Quagmires", Cleveland's outfit looks like Michael Jackson's outfit even though the scene, which takes place in a bar, is a reference to the film Beverly Hills Cop.
- In the The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror III", Bart and Lisa try to resurrect their dead cat Snowball, but by mistake resurrect hundreds of human corpses who subsequently crawl from their graves. Bart uses a magic spell to raise these zombies and wears Michael Jackson's Thriller album on his head.
- In the first episode of season three of ReBoot, Enzo is rebooted into a zombie. As an undead, he wears the iconic red jacket, a direct reference to Jackson. Also, he performs some of Michael Jackson's stylized dance moves, such as moonwalking to dodge laser shots.
- In the TV cartoon series Animaniacs, Buttons the dog is chasing after young Mindy when he suddenly ends up in a graveyard where zombies roam. Buttons wears the outfit similar to Jackson's character and even dances, almost in the same manner, to lure the zombies away from Mindy.
- In the "6teen" episode "Dude of the Living Dead", one of the zombies is wearing Jackson's thrilling getup.
- In Chappelle's Show, Dave Chappelle played in a sketch where he was a prospective juror in the Michael Jackson trials. When he was asked if he believes Jackson is guilty, he says no, simply reasoning that Jackson is innocent because "he made Thriller," though this could be citing the album rather than the single or music video.
- In the Disney Channel TV show The Replacements, Riley Daring is shown doing dance steps to "Thriller", with a bassline similar to that of the song. The character named Buzz also pops up and vilely laughs during the closing credits, a homage to the conclusion of the video.
- In the Cartoon Network cartoon The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, a brain-hungry meteor tells Billy to get people's brains, he gets an outfit like Jackson's and everyone except Grim & Mandy do steps from the "Thriller" video.
- In the The WB (now The CW) show Blue Collar TV in an episode where the "Fat Family" flashes back to where the husband is in a dance-off with a man who wants his girlfriend (who is his wife later in the flashback) and they use the dance from the "Thriller" video.
- In "American Duos", the season premiere episode for the second season of the Psych TV series, series star Dulé Hill is dressed as Jackson and performs choreography from the "Thriller" video along with series star James Roday, dressed as Roland Orzabal from 1980s music group, Tears for Fears, despite the fact they're actually singing "Shout". The episode was coincidentally directed by "Thriller" video director, John Landis.
- In an episode of Robot Chicken, the cast and crew, who had been killed in the previous season, returned as zombies and chased after their killer, one of the shows producers Matthew Senreich. His cell phone rang and his ringtone was Thriller, causing all of the Zombies, including Seth Green, the "600,000,000 Peso Man", and the recurring nerd to do the dance moves from the video, only to stop and continue the chase when the ring stopped.
- In an episode of My Wife and Kids, Jay realizes her make up is cadaver makeup, and her face becomes temporarily deformed. When Michael runs to her aid, he notes her appropriateness for inclusion in the "Thriller" video. He continues performs a few dance moves from the video for a humorous effect.
- In an episode of Total Drama Island, the chef leads the kids in a rigorous version of the "Thriller" dance, going non-stop for multiple hours.
- In the Karaoke episode of Kappa Mikey, When the cast of Lilymu is filming an episode, they get into a dance battle and start performing thriller moves and making Michael Jackson's noises. Gonard then comes out with white face paint and continues with the Thriller Moves.
- In the Halloween special of Australian quiz show Spicks and Specks, the final question/challenge during the Final Countdown round is: "A point (to be given) to anyone who can do the Thriller dance." Panelist Dave Hughes immediately stood and jigged his own version of the dance.
- In a Sobe Life Water commercial titled "Thrillicious," which first aired in the United States during Super Bowl XLII, supermodel Naomi Campbell performs the "Thriller" dance with 30 CGI-animated lizards and one computer animated grasshopper which gets consumed halfway through the number by a heftier reptile.
- In the episode "Stinkmeaner Strikes Back" of the show Boondocks, Riley is told to get Grandad's outfit, and one of the ones he brings back is Jackson's from the "Thriller" video.
- Andy Samberg created an SNL Digital Short called "Punched Before Eating" that ends in a zombie dance sequence, somewhat reminiscent of Thriller.
- The cast of British soap opera EastEnders made their own version of the video for the charity Children in Need.
- In the King of Queens episode "Sight Gag," Doug comments that his wife Carrie should have gotten cat-eye contact lenses like those of Jackson's transformation in the "Thriller" video. He proceeds to do a catlike clawing action.
- During the UK series of Big Brother 9, housemates had to learn and perform the "Thriller" dance as one of their weekly shopping tasks. They passed to Big Brother's satisfaction.
- The Telegu film Donga contains a scene with a song called "Golimar", which contains choreography and elements that are very similar to the "Thriller" video (leading to its common title of "Indian Thriller"). A mondegreened version of the video has also become popular as a viral video.
Other music videos
- In the music video for the Gorillaz' song "Clint Eastwood", zombie gorillas rise up to chase Murdoc, and can be seen performing moves from the "Thriller" video.
- The intro to Avid Merrion's "Proper Crimbo" spoofs that of "Thriller". Jackson is played by comedian Leigh Francis, and his girlfriend is played, in attempted bizarreness, by TV presenter Matthew Wright. Instead of turning into a werecat, Francis' head turns successively into a cat, pig, elephant, and rabbit. He then turns into John Leslie, terrifying Wright and the rest of the country.
- Alien Ant Farm's video for "Smooth Criminal", itself a parody of virtually every Michael Jackson video ever, features men parodying some dance moves from "Thriller" as well as another man turning around to reveal "cat eyes."
- In 2006, Beatfreakz released a parody of the video for their re-release of the song "Somebody's Watching Me" by Rockwell, guest sung by Michael and Jermaine Jackson. The homage included a little person dressed as Jackson dancing with the undead.
- The final shot of "Weird Al" Yankovic's video "Eat It" (a parody of Jackson's prior hit, "Beat It") has the comedian turning his head around to reveal he has cat eyes.
- The 2001 music video for I Hear You Calling by Gob features the zombie cheerleaders performing parts of the "Thriller" dance, causing an onlooker to give a condescending eye-roll in their direction. The video ends by pausing on that character's cat eyes.
- In Telemundo, a music video called "Informal's Raro Malo" was a Spanish parody of the "Thriller" video, but ends 6 minutes and 31 seconds sooner. Only white Spanish actors can be found in this version.
- In 2006, Bob Sinclar and Cutee B's music video for the hit single "Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now)" featured a parody of "Thriller," danced by children. This is just one of several parodies of famous pop and rock acts featured in this music video.
- Another 2006 music video which parodied "Thriller" was Gnarls Barkley's music video for "Smiley Faces". In the video, it is suggested Gnarls Barkley was present in 1983 as four zombies in Jackson's "Thriller" music video.
- In the music video for "Dance, Dance" by Fall Out Boy, Pete Wentz can be seen doing moves from the "Thriller" music video during his dance.
- The 2001 Fatboy Slim music video for "Weapon of Choice" features Christopher Walken dancing while using some of the zombie moves from Thriller.
- The Aquabats' video for "Fashion Zombies" parodies the zombie dancers as well as the spoken poem found in the middle of "Thriller."
- In the music video for the Misfits' song "Scream", the ending features a similar twist in that the zombie stalking the nurse turns out to be the singer from the band, who turns back into a zombie in the final seconds. This parallels Jackson reverting to normal after the climax, then appearing again with flashing yellow eyes as the video concludes.
- The German band Wise Guys performed a "Thriller" parody on German television in 2007. They did the song in their a cappella style with German lyrics. Instead of the original lyrics, they sung about the German poet Schiller.
- A remake of "Thriller" by Philippine prison inmates become a popular viral video in 2007.
- In the video game Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, at one point in the first level (a graveyard) there is a dance floor on which a vampire dressed in a red outfit similar to Jackson's appears. Suddenly, some zombies rise from the ground and begin to dance along with the vampire before attacking the player. The music in this phase sounds like a short sample from the song.
- In The Sims 2 Nightlife, the Smustle dance is similar to Thriller's choreography.
- In Space Channel 5: Part 2, there is a dance off in the middle of the 4th stage where you are trying to rescue, oddly enough, Space Michael (Jackson), and the onscreen characters mimic part of the "Thriller" dance.
- In Michael Jackson's own video game, Moonwalker, one of the levels is when Michael has to defeat zombies in order to get to the next level similar to the video of "Thriller," the song uses in the area is actually "Another Part of Me".
- Many of the games in THQ's WWE Smackdown! feature steps from "Thriller" as optional taunts for created characters.
- In the MMORPG World of Warcraft, female Undead characters using the "/dance" command were formerly able to do several "Thriller" dance moves. The reason for its removal remains unknown.
- In the MMORPG Guild Wars, female Necromancers using the "/dance" command copy exact moves from Jackson from his times as a zombie. Male Paragons perform the dance from Jackson.
- In the MMORPG RuneScape, players can earn an emote called "Zombie Dance" from a random event. This dance uses some of the moves from this video. Players can also earn parts of a zombie costume, and examination of the costume's boots results in the description reading "Thrilling."
- In Rayman Raving Rabbids, Rayman and the Rabbids can be seen doing a dance similar to "Thriller" after some of the music games.
- In the video game, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse, when the zombies stand still long enough, they simulate a part of the dance from "Thriller" because they are, in fact, zombies.
- In the game Final Fantasy VIII, during Edea's Parade, the masked dancers are performing the dance moves from "Thriller".
- In the game The Typing of the Dead, during the credits sequence, the player can type out the developers' names as they scroll down. Doing so will cause zombies to break out of containers and start to dance, a la "Thriller."
- An issue of the Marvel comic book Dazzler was devoted to an homage/parody of the making of Jackson's video. The plot centered on the title character, a dancer by trade, winning an audition to work on a horror-themed music video starring an entertainer obviously patterned after the pop singer.
- Former WWE superstar Brian Christopher would often use "Thriller" choreography while walking to the ring as apart of his hip-hop gimmick while with the tag-team Too Cool.
- Johnny and the Dead, a book by Terry Pratchett, plus its television and stage adaptations, make occasional references to the music video.
- A shortened version lasting only a minute two minutes and fifty-three seconds was included in DTV Monster Hits.
- In the off-off Broadway musical Evil Dead: The Musical, the cast does a take off of the zombie dance in the "Do the Necronomicon" number.
- A story development in the webcomic The Adventures of Dr. McNinja parodies the video, featuring Benjamin Franklin as Michael Jackson and McNinja as his date
- In the webcomic Order of the Stick there is a reference to Jackson's video, specifically speaking of the zombies.
- Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had paid homage to "Thriller" and the moonwalk with his touchdown celebrations in 2003 and 2004.
- At Disney theme parks, cast members (Disney speak for "park employees") who have dressed as Pluto have been known to do the "Thriller" zombie dance in costume to the song, for whatever reason.
- An entire story arc in One Piece focuses on an island called Thriller Bark, which is filled with zombies. The author of One Piece, Eiichiro Oda, is known to be a Michel Jackson fan.
- The graduating class of 2008 of St. Louis University High School used "Thriller" in a skit in Senior Follies featuring teachers who no longer teach at SLUH and Mr. Schulte as zombies, and members of the Prep News Staff as humans. The skit was written by Michael Finocchiaro, known to be overly obsessed with Michael Jackson.
- In Lazarus Rising, Episode 1 of Season 4 of Supernatural, Dean Winchester comments on how he should look "like a thriller video reject.'
- Since 2007, Canadian dancer Ines Markeljevic has organized "Thrill the World," an annual worldwide simultaneous dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" with specially arranged choreography from the music video. The event takes place in October each year (just before Halloween), and features dancers in cities all over the world performing the dance at the exact same moment.
- Right before Jackson and the girl leave the theater, the announcer on the screen utters the line "See you next Wednesday", a line featured in most John Landis films. A poster for Landis' early film Schlock can be seen in the lobby.
- Forrest J. Ackerman can be seen sitting in the row behind Michael and his date. In the row in front of them, longtime Jackson bodyguard Miko Brando can be seen. Makeup FX wizard Rick Baker appears as the eye-rolling zombie seen exiting a crypt and other makeup FX artists who worked on the film also make cameo appearances.
- When Michael sings the chorus with the zombies, his face appears completely normal as if he wasn't a zombie yet, which he said on the making of the video was because the mask was so uncomfortable to wear.
- Grape jelly was used for the gory effects.
- Thriller is widely considered the greatest music video off all time. It occasionally tops video list or it comes in around the top 3.
- The dancers almost went on strike because they wanted to be paid more; dancing in the shoes they were given on the cement was causing all of them leg pain.
- The music video was released theatrically in 1983, in order to qualify for an Oscar in the Short Film category. However, there was some controversy amongst independent film-makers as the film was directed with a well known director and had a higher budget than the shorts which are usually nominated in that category. The film received "Two Thumbs Down" on the TV show At The Movies with Siskel & Ebert. Siskel felt the film was not special and was simply Michael Jackson dancing around, with zombie and werewolf effects. Ebert felt the film recycled ideas from earlier films (notably An American Werewolf in London) and the musical sequences were too long.
- At the end of the video, the wall the zombies broke through during the "dream", the hole is still there in the lit up, non-abandoned building.