#21) Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983)

thriller-jpg1#21) Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983)

OR “NFR Meets MTV”

Directed by John Landis

Written by John Landis & Michael Jackson. The song “Thriller” written by Rod Temperton.

Class of 2009

Watch the entire video here.

The Plot: Michael (Michael Jackson) and his girlfriend (Ola Ray) walk home from seeing a scary movie (starring themselves?). As they pass a graveyard with its own fog machine, Vincent Price reads some scary narration as zombies rise from the graves. The couple tries to escape, but it’s too late; Michael is a zombie, and boy can he dance.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “the most famous of music videos” and acknowledges the film’s production values as far more elaborate than the standard for music videos of the time.

But Does It Really?: Well, if you’re going to put one music video on the Registry, this is the one. Here’s how big the impact of “Thriller” is; I have never actually seen the film in its entirety until now, but I somehow already knew the entire choreography. We’re still not too far removed from Jackson’s…let’s say interesting time on Earth, but where it counts, Jackson knew how to entertain, and “Thriller” is the perfect embodiment of an artist in peak form.

Shout Outs: A “House of Wax” poster appears in the movie theater lobby.

Everybody Gets One: Ola Ray is possibly the only Playboy Playmate to make it on the Registry.

Wow, That’s Dated: I mean, if you want to know what 1983 looked and sounded like, this video is a good place to start.

Seriously, Oscars?: To qualify for the 1983 Oscars, “Thriller” played a short run in a Westwood, Los Angeles theater. It didn’t help. The film did, however, win a Grammy and three MTV Awards.

Other notes

  • The film that “Thriller” played before to qualify for the Oscars? A re-release of “Fantasia”. Now THAT’S a double feature!
  • I try not to pick the viewing order for this blog too far out in advance – or with any rhyme or reason – but I was not expecting John Landis to be my first repeat director on the list. Take that, Hitchcock.
  • Speaking of Landis, I hear you, guy who says, “See You Next Wednesday”.
  • Does MJ turn into a muskrat at the beginning?
  • Shout-out to makeup legend Rick Baker for his work on this film. Gotta love a tangible monster effect without a single frame of CG.
  • How did the zombies sneak up on Michael and Ola? I feel like the undead make their presence known far in advance.
  • Vincent Price is listed in the end credits as performing the ‘Rap’. Now I know I’m as white as they come, but that ain’t rap.
  • This has got to be the only film whose “Making Of” special is longer than the film itself.


  • Well, every music video with a story since then, but let’s focus on the one where Michael Jackson turns into a car.


  • Captain EO


  • This video from a Philippines prison.


  • From the film “Donga”, “Golimar” aka “Indian Thriller” aka “Girly Man”


  • Werewolf Bar Mitzvah


  • Jackson’s jacket in this video is so damn iconic it has its own Wikipedia page.

Listen to This: The entire Thriller album was inducted into the National Recording Registry in 2007. Want more? The NRR includes an essay by MJ historian Joseph Vogel. Still craving? How about their interview with “Thriller” producer Quincy Jones? At long last will that make you happy?

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