A wartime drama, an erotic thriller, a sci-fi spectacle... and they're not even movies! Check out our favorite music videos that tell tales, from Green Day, Madonna, A-Ha, and others

By Michael Slezak
Updated October 01, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Green Day: Marina Chavez

The best music videos that tell tales

Who needs to trek to the cineplex, spend $10, and give up two whole hours of the day to see a movie when you can watch mini-dramas like Green Day’s ”Wake Me Up When September Ends” for free, from the comfort of your own home?

The latest from the California rockers (above) is just one in a long line of music videos that take an idea from the song’s lyrics and expand it into a tale with genuine theatrical impact. EW.com’s list of the 10 best movie-like videos excludes clips in which the visuals are a literal translation of the lyrics (sorry, Aerosmith’s ”Janie’s Got a Gun”), and clips that merely set a scene instead of presenting a coherent story arc (like the Beastie Boys’ ”Sabotage” or Weezer’s ”Buddy Holly”). Check out the videos that made the cut — and then let us know if we left anything out.

(Oh, and please don’t ask us to revisit R. Kelly’s ”Trapped in the Closet.” In some cases, one viewing is more than enough.)

Green Day

‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ (2005)

Cinematic music videos: Green Day’s ”Wake Me Up When September Ends”

GENRE Wartime drama

PLOT A pair of present-day lovers (top) are torn apart by the young man’s decision to join the military (bottom).

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”Summer has come and passed/The innocent can never last.”

SCENE STEALERS Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) and Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) give a heartbreaking performance as the star-crossed couple.

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT Wood’s response to Bell’s enlistment (middle) — a tearful repetition of the line ”Tell me you didn’t do it!” — packs more drama into a few seconds than some films do in two hours.

Madonna

‘Bad Girl’ (1993)

Cinematic music videos: Madonna’s ”Bad Girl”

GENRE Erotic thriller

PLOT Under the watchful eye of her guardian angel, promiscuous career gal Madonna (top) smokes, drinks, and sleeps her way around a foreboding-looking Manhattan — with tragic results (middle).

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”Smoked too many cigarettes today/I’m not happy when I act this way.”

SCENE STEALER An eerie Christopher Walken (bottom, with Madonna) as our ill-fated heroine’s voice of conscience

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT As we begin to realize Madge’s latest lover might have murderous intentions, the music fades to a menacing silence. A cat hisses, a can of breath freshener is sprayed…and Walken plants the kiss of death on Madonna’s lips.

A-Ha

‘Take On Me’ (1985)

Cinematic music videos: A-Ha’s ”Take On Me”

GENRE Science fiction

PLOT A woman reading a comic in a diner gets invited into the strip by bouffant-sporting A-Ha lead singer Morten Harket (top and middle). The fetching couple’s date doesn’t last long, though, before a pair of bike-racing baddies menace them.

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”Oh, things that you say/Is it life or just a play?”

SCENE STEALER The real star here is the ”rotoscope” technology, which allows an artist to trace over live-action footage and turn it to animation.

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT With the bikers on his tail, Harket shows up at the heroine’s house, violently slamming himself against walls until he exorcises his animated self (bottom).

Mariah Carey

‘Heartbreaker’ (1999)

Cinematic music videos: Mariah Carey’s ”Heartbreaker”

GENRE Romantic comedy

PLOT ”Good Mariah” and pals (top) head to the movie theater to catch her cheating beau canoodling with ”Evil Mariah” (middle). And the feature presentation? It’s a cartoon starring ”Animated Mariah,” natch.

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”I should have known right from the start/You’d go and break my heart.”

SCENE STEALER Jerry O’Connell, appropriately goofy as the titular two-timer

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT Our leggy heroine swings from the top of a bathroom stall and kicks her nemesis in the gut (bottom).

Guns N’ Roses

‘November Rain’ (1992)

Cinematic music videos: Guns N’ Roses’ ”November Rain”

GENRE Drama

PLOT In GN’R’s nine-minute opus (based on the short story ”Without You,” by Del James), distraught lead singer Axl Rose pops some pills, then dreams fitfully about his rockin’ wedding celebration (top and middle) — and the tragic day he buried his young bride (bottom).

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”Lovers always come and lovers always go/And no one’s really sure who’s lettin’ go today.”

SCENE STEALER Rose’s then real-life paramour, Stephanie Seymour, working a poufy white wedding dress complete with miniskirt and full train

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT As the song reaches its dramatic conclusion, and Seymour tosses her white wedding bouquet over her shoulder, the flowers turn an eerie shade of crimson and land on her rain-soaked black coffin.

Puff Daddy

‘It’s All About the Benjamins (Remix)’ (1998)

Cinematic music videos: Puff Daddy’s ”It’s All About the Benjamins (Remix)”

GENRE Teen comedy

PLOT After Puffy’s tour bus blows a tire outside a high school prom, he and his posse decide to take over for the house band — and all hell breaks loose (bottom).

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”Wanna be ballers? Shot-callers?/Brawlers, who be dippin’ in the Benz with the spoilers?”

SCENE STEALER Lil’ Kim, as a gawky teen in a pink ruffled dress who, inspired by Puffy’s performance, strips down to a black studded bra and leather pants (middle)

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT Puffy pulls double-duty as the lead singer of the prom’s original headline act, woefully crooning R.E.M.’s ”Everybody Hurts” (top).

Paula Abdul

‘Rush, Rush’ (1992)

Cinematic music videos: Paula Abdul’s ”Rush, Rush”

GENRE Romance

PLOT It’s a condensed version of Rebel Without a Cause, set to Paula’s chipmunk-y warble.

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”Even if you’re right next to me/You’re still too far away.”

SCENE STEALER Keanu Reeves, his glistening cocoa locks hanging in his eyes, plays James Dean to Paula’s Natalie Wood.

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT Paula: ”Have you ever been in love?” Keanu: ”No.” Paula: ”Neither have I. Isn’t that terrible?” Keanu: ”No, it just reminds us that we’re all alone.” Audience: ”Oy.”

Coldplay

‘The Scientist’ (2002)

Cinematic music videos: Coldplay’s ”The Scientist”

GENRE Mystery

PLOT Ghostly lead singer Chris Martin (top) literally travels backward through a city park, some picturesque woods, and an open field — until we reach his lifeless lover and the wreckage of their automobile.

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”Tell me you love me/ Come back to haunt me/Oh when I rush to the start…”

SCENE STEALER The setting and cinematography contribute to the somber mood just as much as Martin’s haunting vocals.

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT Martin’s girlfriend, surrounded by shattered glass, tumbles upward from the ground and lands in the passenger seat of their vehicle, while the windshield magically re-forms itself (middle and bottom).

ZZ Top

‘Legs’ (1984)

Cinematic music videos: ZZ Top’s ”Legs”

GENRE Revenge comedy

PLOT A hapless sales clerk at a shoe shop (top) gets treated to an extreme makeover — and a crash course in confidence — from three sexy mamas (middle), then exacts revenge on the skanky townies who’ve abused her (bottom).

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”She’s got legs/She knows how to use them.”

SCENE STEALER None of this video magic would be possible without…the ZZ Top car!

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT The first shot of our heroine’s pink pumps and lacy ankle socks is a moment of pure ’80s nirvana.

Michael Jackson

‘Thriller’ (1983)

Cinematic music videos: Michael Jackson’s ”Thriller”

GENRE Horror

PLOT After taking in a scary flick at the local cinema (middle), a young woman is terrorized by her ghoul boyfriend and an army of beautifully choreographed corpses (bottom). In the end, it turns out her boyfriend isn’t really a baddie. Or, then again, is he? Wah-hah-hah.

LYRICAL TIE-IN ”You close your eyes/And hope that this is just imagination/But all the while/You hear the creature creepin’ up behind/You’re out of time.”

SCENE STEALER Ola Ray as this classic video’s wide-eyed screamer

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT A tossup between Michael’s FX metamorphosis into a werewolf (top), and the body snatchers’ ferocious dance in the middle of Main Street. Alas, they just don’t get down like that in videos anymore.

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