Top 20 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

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Top 20 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Between this and the commercials, whose got time for football? For this list, we'll be looking at the best halftime shows throughout Super Bowl history and ranking them based on their entertainment factor, theatricality, and the performance's legacy. Our countdown includes U2, Prince, Beyonce, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Rolling Stones, and more!
Transcript

Top 20 Super Bowl Halftime Shows


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Super Bowl Halftime Shows.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the best halftime shows throughout Super Bowl history and ranking them based on their entertainment factor, theatricality, and the performance’s legacy.

Which Halftime Show had YOU forgetting about the game and commercials? Let us know in the comments!

#20: The Who

Super Bowl XLIV” (2010)

What better group to have perform at the Super Bowl halftime show than one of the best classic rock bands of all time? The Who’s performance consisted of a medley of hits, including Pinball Wizard, Baba O’Riley, and Who Are You, and each song was accompanied by a beautiful synchronized light show. The crowd went wild and sang along, complete with a particularly rousing “WE WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN!” It really doesn’t get much better than enjoying a few beers, eating some chicken wings and pizza, and rocking out to these classic tunes.

#19: The Black Eyed Peas, Slash & Usher

“Super Bowl XLV” (2011)

Sure, The Black Eyed Peas might have seemed a little overwhelmed at Super Bowl XLV. They were missing their characteristic energy, and they’ve definitely sounded better. But their appearance was something of a historical turning point for the halftime show, with dance-pop and extravagant production taking centrestage. And man, what a lineup of hits. Slash and Usher were also there to add some classic rock and R&B flavors to the proceedings. It was a performance that changed the direction of halftime shows from the dad rock of The Who and the Rolling Stones to the more wide-reaching, bombastic productions of the 2010s.

#18: A Tribute to Motown’s 40thAnniversary

“Super Bowl XXXII” (1998)

The halftime of Super Bowl XXXII was a tribute to classic Motown artists and featured notable R&B performers like Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, and The Temptations. And what you think of it depends largely on your appreciation for R&B. Yes, it contained the usual production shenanigans like synchronized dancers, giant records, and fireworks, but the music itself was relatively subdued. No deafening guitars, no weird auto tuned vocals and stadium-rousing choruses – just people on stage singing their hearts out. The show celebrated music history while being entertaining in its own right. Although, yes, Martha Reeves did not sound her best. Just ignore that part.

#17: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

“Super Bowl XLII” (2008)

Aaand we’re back to the classic rock. The Super Bowl really goes through stages, doesn’t it? Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed at Super Bowl XLII and played through all their big hits, including “American Girl”, “Free Fallin’”, and “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. There’s nothing fancy about the gig – no extravagant light show, and not a single dancer. Can you believe that? Not one dancer! It’s just an iconic American band doing what they do best and giving the audience the time of their lives. It was great in its time, and it’s even better looking back. We miss you, Tom!

#16: Tapestry of Nations

“Super Bowl XXXIV” (2000)

Ladies and gentlemen, for the Super Bowl XXXIV halftime show, we proudly present …a Disney-produced show narrated by Edward James Olmos? Uhhh, what? It sounds like an utter disaster, but it was an experiment that we believe paid off handsomely. The show consisted of a full orchestra, an 80-person choir, and various singers like Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, and Toni Braxton. It looked and sounded like a live action Disney movie, a symphony hall, and a modern Super Bowl production all rolled into one, and the results were certainly unique. It was something daring and new, and we have to give the entertainment planners props for trying it out.

#15: Diana Ross

“Super Bowl XXX” (1996)

The 90s were a transitional time for halftime shows. Case in point, Super Bowl XXX, which blended the music of Diana Ross with modern spectacle. And you know what? It worked! We got the spectacular image of Ross singing Stop! In the Name of Love atop a sparkling platform, and then the visual wonder of performers fanning out across the field in a stunning, colorful kaleidoscope. Diana Ross, pyrotechnics, and stadium card stunts might have been
an unexpected combo, but she sure put on one heck of a show.

#14: Coldplay, Beyoncé & Bruno Mars

“Super Bowl 50” (2016)

When you think of the modern Super Bowl halftime show, this is probably the one that comes to mind. This 50th halftime was both a celebration of the year’s popular artists and a tribute to the halftime shows of old, and it’s one of the most spectacular things you will ever see on TV. Coldplay performed their hits in a beautiful array of colors, Bruno Mars slayed Uptown Funk, and Beyoncé and her personal army of dancers entered through a haze of fireworks and sparkles. Everything was magnificent, from the production design to the music to the theatricality - which of course included a lot of fantastic dancing from both Bruno and Beyoncé. They don’t get much more sensational than this.

#13: Katy Perry

“Super Bowl XLIX” (2015)

We say they don’t get MUCH more sensational, but one could certainly argue that Katy Perry put on the more visually spectacular show. She rode in on a twenty-foot tall mechanical lion and left on a floating star for crying out loud! But the whole thing wasn’t just breathtaking theatrics, as Katy Perry proved to be a magnificent and confident performer. She totally commanded both the stage and the audience, and performed through a dazzling production that must have cost a small fortune. Plus, it gave us left shark, which is probably the most memed thing to ever come from a Super Bowl. This halftime show really did have it all.

#12: Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan & Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

“Super Bowl XXXIII” (1999)

The halftime show of Super Bowl XXXIII was titled A Celebration of Soul, Salsa and Swing - a promise that it more than delivered on. It started with a fun swing sequence, complete with suited performers and dozens of synchronized dancers, before transitioning into the soulful sounds of Stevie Wonder. Gloria Estefan closed the show with an energetic and colorful performance that left the audience reeling. The whole thing came across as more of a wild party than a produced show, and it’s clear that both the performers and the audience were having a fantastic time. Few halftime shows were as fun as this one.

#11: Paul McCartney

“Super Bowl XXXIX” (2005)

Paul McCartney may seem like a safe bet for a halftime show, and that is entirely by design. Just one year earlier was the infamous Janet Jackson fiasco, and wishing to avoid another potential controversy, the producers decided on the always-safe and consistently delightful Paul McCartney. Paul dazzled with fan favorites Get Back and Live and Let Die, but it was the stadium-rousing Hey Jude that predictably had all 78,000 in attendance singing and humming along. The whole thing was a brilliant blend of old fashioned rock and feel-good music, and there’s nothing quite like hearing that many people come together in song.

#10: Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Super Bowl XLVIII” (2014)

Dayum, Bruno Mars knows how to put on a show. He rocked New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, complete with a kickass drum solo on a moving stage and some amazing dance moves which almost rivalled Michael Jackson. He was a ball of energy, exuding fun-loving confidence and mad skillz. The only reason this show isn’t higher is because of the random appearance of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their music clashed with Bruno’s, and it was extremely odd seeing Bruno’s classy R&B-styled band hopping around with shirtless, headbanging men. Regardless, it was energetic, and the overall performance was a fantastic example of an entertaining halftime show.

#9: Lady Gaga

“Super Bowl LI” (2017)

See this right here? This is why the Super Bowl halftime show is so revered. Lady Gaga has always been a theatrical performer, and her dramatic personality is on full display throughout her mesmerizing performance at Super Bowl LI. Gaga’s show was grand entertainment, including her descending from the roof and performing acrobatics, not to mention the colored drones forming the shape of the American flag. There was also time for emotion, as Gaga performed “Million Reasons,” complete with a touching hello to her mom and dad. Critics immediately called it one of the best halftime shows ever, and we agree that it is certainly a contender.

#8: Aerosmith & NSYNC feat. Britney Spears, Nelly & Mary J. Blige

“Super Bowl XXXV” (2001)

Well…this was . .. interesting. For one thing, it seems as if the event planners simply pulled the performers’ names out of a hat, because they certainly do not mix well on paper. Luckily, it worked out surprisingly well in practice. It all began with a scripted segment involving Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock before NSYNC ran to the stage and performed a meticulously choreographed dance number. What followed was a hella odd medley of NSYNC and Aerosmith songs before everyone came together for Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” It was obviously meant to pander to different demographics, but damn if it wasn’t entertaining and energetic to the max.


#7: Madonna feat. LMFAO, M.I.A., Nicki Minaj & Cee Lo Green

“Super Bowl XLVI” (2012)

While many people thought that Madonna was past her prime and irrelevant for the Super Bowl halftime show, she certainly showed them all up, delivering one of the most spectacular performances in Bowl history. This show was pure theater – it had Roman soldiers, Madonna riding in on a golden throne, a marching band, a choir, and M.I.A. flipping off the camera (which landed her in a lot of hot water). However, it wasn’t just the spectacle that was on point – Madonna energetically performed some of her most well-known songs and proved to everyone that she can still put on a heck of a show.

#6: U2

“Super Bowl XXXVI” (2002)

This game was played only five months after 9/11, so Americans weren’t exactly in the mood for a rousing, cinematic affair. Luckily, U2 took a more subtle and emotional approach to their Super Bowl appearance. The band performed only three songs, and the names of those lost in the terrorist attacks were projected behind the band during “Where the Streets Have No Name”. To end the show, Bono revealed his American flag-lined jacket to deafening cheers from the audience. It was just what America needed at the time, and it is now rightly regarded as one of the most iconic Super Bowl halftime shows.

#5: Beyoncé

“Super Bowl XLVII” (2013)

Well, if you want the viewers and the spectacle, then there really is no going wrong with Beyoncé. Queen Bey absolutely lit up the Superdome with an energetic and confident performance, complete with a kickass stage design, and sparklers shooting from her guitarist’s axe. (Talk about a show that’s pure fire). But perhaps the best moment came when Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams shot up from the floor to join Beyoncé for “Bootylicious.” Twitter, naturally, went bananas. This one has easily solidified its place with the best of the Super Bowl halftime shows. When it comes to pure class and energy, there’s simply no beating the Queen.

#4: The Rolling Stones

“Super Bowl XL” (2006)

The Stones were going into Super Bowl XL amidst a whirlwind of controversy. Many citizens of Detroit, the host city, believed that The Stones weren’t the right group to accurately portray their musical culture. Not to mention the whole Janet Jackson wardrobe fiasco (which occurred two years earlier) was still a sore spot in general for any potential halftime performer. Luckily, the Stones are always a good pick for a dependable, kickass show. They played on a giant stage made to look like their trademark lips and tongue logo, and rocked the house with some of their most classic tunes. It wasn’t as flashy as Beyoncé or anything, but there’s no going wrong with an kick out the jams performance.

#3: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

“Super Bowl XLIII” (2009)

Springsteen and the Super Bowl seemingly go together like beer and chicken fingers, but Springsteen had continuously turned down the offer to play the halftime show. However, he finally accepted for Super Bowl XLIII, and mister, lemme tell ya, it was well worth the wait. Springsteen immediately commanded the stage by telling viewers to put the chicken fingers DOWN and to turn the volume UP, and he then proceeded to rock the stadium for this entire short set. The Boss, like the Stones, proved that you don’t necessarily need high-budget gimmicks or effects to be memorable. All you need is some timeless music, a lot of swagger, and the confidence to rock in front of hundreds of millions of people.

#2: Michael Jackson

“Super Bowl XXVII” (1993)

The Jacksons have certainly claimed their stake in Super Bowl history, (xref) although Janet’s share is probably not what she originally had in mind. Michael, on the other hand, deserves all the acclaim he has garnered over the years, for his appropriately legendary performance at Super Bowl XXVII. Jackson was brought in to revitalize waning Super Bowl ratings, and he came through in flashy glory, erupting from the stage (which was followed by almost two minutes of pure crowd pandemonium) and backed up by a choir of 3,500 children. It was an enormous success, greatly influencing future Super Bowl halftime shows. The whole tradition wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for Michael Jackson.

Before we unveil our picks, here are a few honorable mentions:

Rockin’ Country Sunday, “Super Bowl XXVIII” (1994)
Country Music Took Center Stage During This Halftime Show

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, “Super Bowl LIV” (2020)
A Celebration of Latin Culture, The Singing and Dancing During This Performance Were On A Whole Other Level

#1: Prince

“Super Bowl XLI” (2007)
Yep, this diminutive purple god set the musical standard for this biggest of jock events. Life is full of surprises. Prince took the massive stage (which was modeled after his logo) to perform various of his beloved jams. There was, fascinatingly, little overt spectacle in this show – it was just Prince absolutely shredding his guitar, and commanding the stage like no one else ever has or ever will. And, rather poetically, he ended the show with a tear-inducing rendition of “Purple Rain,” as rain cascaded around him and his gloriously funky guitar. It rocked, it was moving, and it is, we are confident to say, the best Super Bowl halftime show of all time.
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