Happy 35th birthday, Michael Jackson's 'Thriller': The 5 best music video tributes

The Reverend Shawn Amos

It’s been 35 years since Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” mini-movie first hit the airwaves, on Dec. 2, 1983, forever changing our expectations of what a music video could be.

John Landis of Animal House and Blues Brothers fame directed, and horror legend Vincent Price reprised his spooky voice mojo from the Thriller album. Despite its comic-book vibe, Jackson, then a Jehovah’s Witness, was concerned about fans thinking he was a devil worshiper. To keep his conscience clean, he prefaced the video with a disclaimer: “Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.”

“Thriller” was the first music video shot on film and cost $500,000 — a record at that time. It sold more than 9 million units (yes, people used to actually buy music videos) and won three MTV Awards, two AMAs and a Grammy. Music historian Joe Vogel declared it “the Citizen Kane of short films,” and it became the first (and only) music video to be added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Still, when “Thriller” debuted on MTV in ’83 (as the first MTV world premiere of a music video), no one knew just how lasting an impact it would have on pop culture. It has racked up 722 million YouTube views, is the first music video to be released in IMAX 3D and is arguably the most parodied, copied and mimicked video of all time. For many, it’s a way of life: All around the world every year, Jackson disciples assemble in larger and larger numbers to lay claim to the biggest and best “Thriller” homage. In August 2009, 13,597 fans set a Guinness world record for the largest flash mob in history, performing Jackson and choreographer Michael Peters’s iconic graveyard routine in Mexico City.

To celebrate the “Thriller” video’s 35th anniversary, here are some of the best viral tributes:


Who says the French are uptight? This video almost makes up for their love of Jerry Lewis.


The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center is a maximum-security prison in the Philippines. In 2007, a security consultant for the facility organized choreographed exercise for the prisoners. A camera caught them in the act, resulting in one of the most popular viral videos ever: more than 54 million views and counting. It takes the “Thrilla in Manila” to new heights.


Central Michigan University’s marching band laid down for a home game. Check the zombie moves at 1:30 in. If only the game were half as good.


The only thing scarier than zombies? Lego zombies. Oh, and the dude who spends his time making Lego zombies. I don’t want to meet him.


A particularly fine example of Indian outsourcing.

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