When film directors venture into music videos, great things can happen.
In 2013, Spike Jonze told Interview, “Obviously, movies and music videos are different because they’re different lengths… But I feel like they’re all the same really.” And he should know– Jonze has directed nearly 60 music videos in addition to his feature films. The Her director isn’t the only film director that started out in or ventured into the world of music videos. He’s joined by some of the most prominent and prolific directors of our time, including Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, and Martin Scorsese. Whether they’re just dabbling in music videos or cranking them out by the dozens, film directors bring their unique style and sensibilities within the limited confines of music videos, making for visuals that elevate their companion song. We’ve compiled 10 of the best music videos helmed by film directors to enjoy
10. “Here With Me” – The Killers (Director: Tim Burton)
Though the video takes its accompanying song’s lyrics pretty literally (a bit too literally, perhaps), its stunning visuals and star power are easy to love. In classic Tim Burton style, the video is delightfully gothic, has a troubled loner protagonist, and features Winona Ryder. Ryder, as usual, shines. In the video, Burton shows off his unique ability to blend creepiness with innocence, rendering us simultaneously uneasy and endeared. Ultimately, the video wouldn’t be complete without Burton’s signature surrealism; let’s just say, there are bald candle-people involved.
9. “Come Into My World” – Kylie Minogue (Director: Michel Gondry)
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director shows off his editing chops with this video that will leave you wondering, How did they do that? In what appears to be a single, continuous shot, Kylie Minogue struts around a block on a loop, as clones emerge to walk alongside her with every new iteration. Gondry adds immense cinematic depth to the poppy anthem; what could have easily been another tired video of choreography on a sound stage is transformed into an engrossing and visually stunning meditation on routine, time, and reality– not unlike Eternal Sunshine, which was released three years after “Come Into My World.” This one takes a few watches to fully appreciate all its detail, but it’s definitely worth it.
8. “Dancing in the Dark” – Bruce Springsteen (Director: Brian De Palma)
Only a year after the release of Scarface, De Palma shot the opening date of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA Tour. From the footage, he crafted an organic and electrifying live performance video for anthem “Dancing in the Dark.” Unhindered by his guitar, Springsteen is dynamic and powerful, a captivating portrait of all-American masculinity in his blue jeans and rolled-up t-shirt sleeves. De Palma perfectly captures his physicality, moving along with him and alternating between long shots and close-ups so that we feel both awe and intimacy with The Boss. Be sure to look out for a cameo by young Courtney Cox at the end of the video.
7. “Little of Your Love” – Haim (Director: Paul Thomas Anderson)
PTA serves up some major Boogie Nights vibes in “Little of Your Love,” one of three music videos he directed for Haim’s new album. Both Anderson and the Haim sisters hail from Los Angeles’ suburban San Fernando Valley (which is also where Boogie Nights takes place), and this video perfectly captures the quaint magic that permeates the neighborhood. The scene starts off as unremarkable: we follow frontwoman Danielle Haim from an ugly parking lot to a dingy bar. But as she hits the dance floor, the frame fills with light, energy, and movement; the colored lights, tinsel walls, and disco ball open up a new dimension of joy and celebration. As the three sisters slide into what looks like effortless, off-the-cuff choreography, their confidence–and the rest of the video–intoxicates us.
6. “Buddy Holly” – Weezer (Director: Spike Jonze)
In this amusingly anachronistic video, Spike Jonze creates an iconic visual companion to one of the most iconic songs of the ’90s. Jonze sets the video within the Happy Days universe, staging Weezer’s performance in Arnold’s Drive-In and featuring a cameo from the Fonz, among other characters. Mixing footage from Happy Days with contemporary shots of the band playing at a sock hop, the music video cleverly juxtaposes depictions of ’50s tameness with Weezer’s alternative rock sound. Upon its 1994 release, the video was a huge hit, scoring four MTV Video Music Awards and earning a spot in the Museum of Modern Art.
5. “Under the Bridge” – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Director: Gus Van Sant)
Nearly a decade after the release of Good Will Hunting, Gus Van Sant helmed the video for one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ most definitive songs. Van Sant knew Flea due to his role in Van Sant’s 1991 film My Own Private Idaho, and agreed to direct the video; Flea credits the video for “Under the Bridge” as “the thing that really made us break through the mainstream.” The music video is simple but effective. Colorful, laid back, and down-to-earth, Van Sant intercuts trippy imagery with scenes from life on the streets of Los Angeles. Some of the video’s effects definitely date it, but its energy is still palpable.
4. “Bad” – Michael Jackson (Director: Martin Scorsese)
Ever the innovator, Michael Jackson’s video for his 1987 single “Bad” was a whopping 18 minutes long, integrating its musical sequences into a larger narrative. Scorsese deftly directs the video, utilizing traditional cinematic language and black and white to shape our expectations. His tender focus on Jackson reflects his own admiration; Scorsese later remarked, “The main thing that struck me [about Jackson] was the extraordinary power of his almost shamanistic persona.” The story of “Bad” is dramatic and affecting, with Jackson’s performance anchoring it all. In the video’s iconic parking garage face-off, the choreography heavily references West Side Story, adding another dimension to an already boldly cinematic music video.
3. “Weapon of Choice” – Fatboy Slim (Director: Spike Jonze)
The conceit of Jonze’s video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” is simple: a man, unmoored by reality, dances around an empty hotel. But when that man is Christopher Walken, that concept takes on a whole new significance. The video’s dance sequence is as well-executed as it is enrapturing, and for good reason: Walken is actually trained as a dancer in musical theatre, and studied tap dance before becoming a movie star. The choreography is uninhibited, unencumbered by self-consciousness; Walken tackles the moves with no resistance, no fear. In his suit and slicked hair, Walken’s constant loose motion is a pleasing visual juxtaposition. But the video enters truly transcendent territory when Walken takes flight. “Weapon of Choice” is also the predecessor to Jonze’s excellent perfume commercial, which places a woman in Walken’s role to even greater effect.
2. “Across the Universe” – Fiona Apple (Director: Paul Thomas Anderson)
Fiona Apple’s cover of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” which she recorded for the Pleasantville soundtrack, is a pure delight. But Anderson’s video for the song elevates it further, striking a perfect balance between muted and explosive. Throughout the video, Apple looks right at us; her stare is somehow both unnerving and comforting. Anderson perfectly captures the purity and tenderness of her gaze, which anchors us amidst the choreographed chaos that fills the diner. With a pair of headphones around her neck, Apple levitates and rotates thanks to some excellent visual trickery, and the carefully staged calamity behind her makes for some incredible shots. Though this list isn’t technically a definitive ranking of music-video-making film directors, PTA should take the top spot (he’s also directed videos for Radiohead, Joanna Newsom, and Aimee Mann, all of which are stunning and impeccably crafted).
1. “Vogue” – Madonna (Director: David Fincher)
David Fincher began his illustrious career making music videos for some of the most popular artists of the ’80s and ’90s, including Paula Abdul, Aerosmith, and Billy Idol. But with his 1990 video for Madonna’s “Vogue,” Fincher contributed an essential piece of iconography to pop music that continues to resonate nearly thirty years later. The video boasts a rich Art Deco look and mimics Old Hollywood glamour, allowing it to achieve a timeless quality. The lighting, costumes, and sets mesh together to create an enveloping, sexy mood. Fincher’s video isn’t just iconic, but durable; it stands the test of time, and it’s as entertaining today as it was when it premiered. In 1999, Rolling Stone named “Vogue” the second best music video of all time, only behind Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” With Fincher at the helm, how could it not become an instant classic?