6 of the Most Expensive Music Videos and How Much It Cost To Make Them

Michael Jackson performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, Calif.
Rusty Kennedy/AP/REX / Shutterstock.com

If you asked a bunch of random strangers to name the most expensive music video of all time, at least a few would certainly say “Thriller” — and it was when it was made in 1983. According to Rolling Stone, Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking 14-minute masterpiece was produced on a budget of $500,000. While a half-million bucks for a music video was unprecedented at the time, it pales in comparison to the big-budget productions that followed.

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Part of the reason that music videos got so expensive was “Thriller” itself. Videos had been a marketing tool used to promote artists and sell records. After “Thriller,” the video was the product, and each that followed had to be bigger, better and more expensive than the last.

Those who won the video wars dominated MTV and the music of their era. The proof? Five of the six most expensive music videos of all time were made by just two different artists.

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In honor of MTV’s 40th anniversary, here’s a look at the most expensive music videos ever made.

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6. ‘Black or White’

  • Year: 1991
  • Artists: Michael Jackson
  • Cost: $4 million 
  • Adjusted for inflation: $7.98 million

In 1991, the Associated Press reported that Michael Jackson had signaled the end of a two-year artistic hiatus with the arrival of “Black or White.” The music video debuted as an 11-minute special to 500 million people in 27 countries following “The Simpsons,” the biggest hit on Fox, in prime time. It was the No. 1 Fox special in history at that point. The budget, estimated at $4 million, paid for the star power of George Wendt from “Cheers” and none other than Macaulay Culkin, but most of it was spent on the video’s impressive digital morphing effects that made “Black or White” so memorable.

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5. ‘Bedtime Story’

  • Year: 1995
  • Artist: Madonna 
  • Cost: $5 million
  • Adjusted for inflation: $8.91 million 

When the Los Angeles Times reported on Madonna’s “Bedtime Story” in 1995, it called it a “$2 million-plus affair.” As it turned out, even that hefty price guesstimate was insufficient by more than half. Forbes reported years later that the video cost $5 million, a fact backed up by Statista. Like so many of Madonna’s biggest videos, much of the budget was spent on impressive visuals and digital effects that took weeks to perfect in post-production, according to Business Insider. Madonna didn’t skimp on PR, either. She spent big money to debut the video on the big screen in New York and L.A. before releasing it to the masses on cable.

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4. ‘Express Yourself’

  • Year: 1989
  • Artist: Madonna
  • Cost: $5 million 
  • Adjusted for inflation: $10.96 million

In reference to Madonna, Rolling Stone referred to “Express Yourself” as “her most ambitious use of the video form.” It showed in the video’s price tag. The mini-movie cost $5 million to make, thanks to a sprawling and expensive cast, an equally expensive director and a complex and highly artistic set. It was the most expensive music video ever made at the time, according to Rolling Stone, and when adjusted for inflation, it would be second only to one other music video as the most expensive in history.

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3. ‘Die Another Day’

  • Year: 2002
  • Artist: Madonna
  • Cost: $6.1 million
  • Adjusted for inflation: $9.21 million

Business Insider, Forbes, and Statista all agree that the video for Madonna’s James Bond movie song cost $6.1 million to make. There’s also an agreeance that the bulk of the budget was dedicated to the impressive Madonna vs. Madonna CGI fight sequences, which mirrored the action scenes from the “Die Another Day” movie. It remains Madonna’s most expensive video ever.

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2. ‘Work Bi**h’

  • Year: 2013
  • Artist: Britney Spears
  • Cost: $6.5 million
  • Adjusted for inflation: $7.58 million

When Britney Spears released the video for the first single on her eighth album, outlets like Business Insider and VH1 were reporting its budget to be $6.5 million, making it the No. 2 most expensive music video of all time. That fact raised eyebrows, considering the single had underperformed. VH1 estimated a few expenses for the video, albeit cheekily, including $100,000 on wardrobe and more than $300,000 on hammerhead sharks and shark-related transportation. The video’s director, Ben Mor, emphatically denied that it cost so much in published reports. But he never offered an alternative dollar amount and without an official refutation, $6.5 million has stuck.

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1. ‘Scream’

  • Year: 1995
  • Artists: Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson
  • Cost: $7 million
  • Adjusted for inflation: $12.48 million

More than a quarter-century later, “Scream” still holds the Guinness World Record for the most expensive music video ever made. According to Business Insider, “Scream” tipped the financial scales with a 13-piece set, a $65,000 CGI spaceship and $175,000 spent on lighting alone. In the end, it was worth it. Sixty-four million people tuned in to watch, according to Forbes, and the production went on to win a Grammy and an MTV Video Music Award.

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Last updated: September 10, 2021

About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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