Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ At 35

It's been thirty-five years since one of the best music videos of all-time was released.

It was thirty-five years ago today that the video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the title track from what remains one of the most iconic and best-selling albums in the history of American popular music was released, and there’s still nothing quite like it:

Sunday (Dec. 2) marks 35 years since the debut of Michael Jackson’s ground-breaking “Thriller” music video, which premiered on MTV and launched a dance craze, a red-jacket fashion favorite, and more pricey and ambitious videos by other top-tier artists.

The 14-minute “short film,” as the late singer preferred to call it, was shot on 35mm in downtown Los Angeles in the middle of the night. It was directed John Landis (National Lampoon’s Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London), and written by Landis and Jackson.

The title-track from Jackson’s 1982 album was written by Rod Temperton and produced by Quincy Jones, and became the seventh single after such hits as “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” The landmark film went on to win three MTV Awards, two American Music Awards and a Grammy, and is the first and only music video to be inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

The 3D version of the music video and restored documentary Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller, directed by Jerry Kramer, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2017. This September, it became the first music video released in IMAX 3D. The song re-entered the Hot 100 on Nov. 10, 2018 at No. 31, the highest it has been since April 7, 1984.

While music videos had been around for some time before December 1983, the Thriller video was truly ground breaking. Not only is it longer than most videos of the time, before or since, but it really does live up to the singer’s definition of it as a “short film” rather than a mere music video. In addition to featuring the music but it also told a story, something most music videos neglected to do. As I recall it, there was also a shorter version that generally ran on MTV instead of the original, which runs nearly fifteen minutes from beginning to end. In reality, though, the full video is worth watching and remains, as it has been called, among the best “music videos” ever made.

Here it is:

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Trivia: Thriller is the only music video preserved in the National Film Registry

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    35 years…half my life ago. I was 35 when it came out.

    Was that some sort of reading comprehension test?

  3. Kylopod says:

    In the ’80s Jackson released a number of long, elaborate music videos, often directed by famous movie directors. (“Short movie” wasn’t just spin; several of these were actually released in theaters.) But he could be annoyingly preachy at times. What I especially like about “Thriller” is that it shows what Jackson could do when he wasn’t distracted by some attempted social message. It’s little more than an homage to horror movies and an exercise in pure, raw experience, with its mix of elaborate special effects, great dancing, and Vincent Price’s spoken-word segment (which the video’s credits weirdly refer to as a “rap”–quotation marks included).

    (Knowing what we know about Jackson now, I confess it’s hard to look at that early scene where he tells his girlfriend he’s “not like other guys,” just before his werewolf transformation.)

    I’ve long felt that music videos are one of the most dreamlike of all art forms, and it’s not surprising that dreaming is a common subject in videos. (That’s also true of another video often cited as one of the best: the Spike Jonze-directed “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim.) Not only does “Thriller” use the dream-within-a-dream structure, it tells a story without a clear beginning and end, and it exists heavily in the moment as a series of evocative images. I personally think the best videos usually have that quality.

  4. Slugger says:

    I liked the Jackson Five Michael Jackson who sang ABC. The MJ of that subsequent era was creepy in some way, but he was a genius. I once told a black friend that I liked MJ when he was still black and got a long look in return. He defined the 80s. And, yes, Thriller is the second best song of that time. Beat It is the best.

  5. Hal_10000 says:

    I wrote about this over at OT. It’s hard to explain to young people what a big deal this was.

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    This is actually the first time I’ve ever watched the video. Michael Jackson was a talented entertainer/singer/dancer, but even by this point in his career, he had started to become… well, creepy.