Given the cinematic nature of the music video as an artistic medium, it makes sense that bands would want to create interest in their songs by having their visuals be as unforgettable as possible. And what’s more memorable than say, a giant spaceship or a dystopian future? Since MTV first killed the radio star back in 1981, artists have gone back to the sci-fi well again and again for their videos. But of the thousands of clips released over the years, which ones possess the sheer coolness that make them stand the test of time? Put on your radiation suit, grab yourself a Romulan Ale and find out in this list of the 10 most awesome science fiction-themed videos of all time.
10) Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “You Got Lucky”
The old joke goes that Tom Petty has a face made for radio. Well, that’s horseshit. He may not have pretty boy features, but the dude has consistently made amazing videos throughout his career–from his trippy reinterpretation of Alice in Wonderland in “Don’t Come Around Here No More” to the Winsor McCay-inspired animated clip for “Running Down a Dream” and beyond. Petty’s first attempt at pushing the limits of the visual format was this 1982 clip in which he and the Heartbreakers portray nomads in a Road Warrior-esque future. After arriving in the middle of nowhere via a hovercar and kit-bashed motorcycle (both of which put the ZZ Top Eliminator coupe to shame), the guys, well, get lucky by stumbling upon a hut containing such treasures as instruments, a TV that plays a brief clip of Galactica 1980 and slot machines. After rocking out for a bit, the lads bust the joint up before heading back out into the desolation that awaits them. As for Petty, he later had some asshole burn down his house and he co-starred in The Postman. So luck isn’t always on his side.
9) Duran Duran, “The Wild Boys”
Inspired by William S. Burroughs’ The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead, this video is a distillation of the stylish excess that made Duran Duran so beloved in the 1980s. Trapped in an industrial dystopia, the fellas pout and look handsome while fire-breathing robots, windmills and Cirque du Soleil mutants dance/torment them. There’s a flying Easter Bunny-looking thing too that appears three and a half minutes in as well, and I’m pretty sure that the aquatic monster that attacks Simon Le Bon was later used as the Polymorph in Red Dwarf. Director Russell Mulcahy was hoping that the completion of this video would help get a feature version of The Wild Boys novel made. While that never came to fruition, this clip’s visuals do make it one of the group’s most memorable videos, if not their oddest. And the footage from Barbarella (from which the band got their name) is a nice touch too.
8) Rick Springfield, “Human Touch”
“Ricky Springfield, he’s a buddy of mine!” Back in the 1980s, Rick Springfield–General Hospital‘s once and future Dr. Noah Drake–was a fixture on the pop charts thanks to such hits as “Jessie’s Girl” and this plea for human interaction in a technology-driven age. The captain of a space station circa 2016 (in which Commodore 64 computers are still in use), he laments about having to sit “so snug and isolated alone in the modern world.” Fortunately, his solitude is interrupted when his fellow crewmates are revived from stasis. As everybody knows, being in suspended animation makes you want to dance your ass off, so Springfield happily leads them in some intergalactic hoofing as a four-eyed alien saxophonist wails away. In the video’s tense final moments, Rick stumbles as he tries to escape from a radiation leak. But just as death’s icy nothingness is to envelop him, he is saved by the, wait for it, human touch of a co-worker.
7) The Postal Service, “We Will Become Silhouettes”
Ignoring the clich?s that plague most post-apocalyptic music videos (ex-Tupac’s “California Love”), this clip from Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess instead sees life after the end of the world as having a Logan’s Run kinda vibe. There’s no sexually ambivalent leathermen biking around blowing shit up here, just a family who is making the most of nuclear annihilation by taking bike rides and eating jarred peaches. Intentionally looking like a 1970s version of the future, the video’s visuals perfectly compliment the bouncy tune’s dark lyrical content. This one gets bonus points for the hilarity that ensues from seeing Postal Service (and Death Cab for Cutie) frontman Ben Gibbard wearing acid-washed jeans.
6) The Strokes, “12:51”
In the early ’00s, The Strokes were overhyped to the point of annoyance. So it’s okay if you wrote them off as a band who strictly appeals to stinky hipsters in Williamsburg. But despite your thoughts on their relevance, you have to admit that seeing them thrust into the world of Tron is damn cool. Director Roman Coppola (how many of them are there anyway?) approaches the proceedings as if they were a private concert for the Master Control Program, making vocalist Julian Casablancas’ emotionless performance seem right at home in the video’s cold computerized landscape.
5) Eels, “Last Stop: This Town”
Before he cinematically killed puppies with his film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Garth Jennings was one half of the Hammer & Tongs video production company with partner Nick Goldsmith. Along with Blur’s “Coffee & TV” video (which starred a lovable milk carton), their most memorable work was this clip for the lead single from Eels’ 1998 Electro-Shock Blues album that was inspired by the suicide of Eels vocalist E’s sister. Injecting his DNA into a carrot, E creates a clone of himself that he places in the body of a toy robot. Scientific inaccuracy aside, the knowledge that E is the son of physicist Hugh Everett III (who created the concept of parallel universes) adds an added layer of enjoyment to the video.
4) Altered Images, “See Those Eyes”
Arguably the most intelligent sci-fi show ever to hit the airwaves, The Prisoner has influenced musical acts ranging from Iron Maiden to Michael Penn. The show’s legacy can also be felt in several videos, most notably this one from Scottish new wave outfit Altered Images. Essentially a homage to the show’s opening credits sequence, the clip has singer Clare Grogan (better known to genre fans as the original Kristine Kochanski on Red Dwarf) awakening in a mysterious village after resigning from her job. When her bandmates follow her lead, they are all forced to perform for Number 1. Filmed at the same Welsh resort that was used as the Village throughout the run of The Prisoner, the clip–helmed by Steve Barron of “Billie Jean” and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie fame–is a valentine to the series from a group who knows a thing or two about cult success themselves.
3) Bjork, “All Is Full of Love”
If you are reading this site hoping to see some actual topless robots, it’s (finally) your lucky day! Bjork, that enigmatic pixie with the penchant for beating the piss out of journalists, collaborated with visionary director Chris Cunningham for this haunting video that predated I Robot by years. Sure, the clip is beautiful and makes an important statement on how the need for physical and emotional connection is universal, but most of you probably just want to watch it for the Bjork-on-Bjork robotic lesbian action. We here at Topless Robot are totally cool with that.
2) Styx, “Mr. Roboto”
Originally created for Styx’s 1983 rock opera Kilroy Was Here, this song quickly took a life of its own and created a split amongst longtime fans who weren’t exactly thrilled with the band’s overly theatrical new direction. They weren’t alone either, group members Tommy Shaw and James Young’s hatred of performing the Kilroy material live is the stuff of Behind the Music legend. But from a purely nerdy point of view, the “Mr. Roboto” video is sci-fi bliss highlighted by decent production values. (Not to mention legitimate genre cred–Stan Winston designed Mr. Roboto’s mask). A true pop culture phenomenon, “Mr. Roboto” is the best known of all science fiction-themed videos. But it isn’t the greatest. That distinction goes to the visual mindfuck listed just below.
1) Billy Ocean, “Lover Boy”
No offense to you “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” aficionados out there, but Billy Ocean is hardly known for being an innovative artist. So it’s extra confusing that this video is as amazing as it is. Here’s the premise: an alien goes into a creature cantina, cruises some chicks, gets into a laser fight then abducts one of the girls and rides away on his space horse. Intercut with all this action is footage of Ocean singing his heart out while doing his best Lando Calrissian impression. Sounds pretty simple right? But there’s so much more to it than that. Despite not even being five minutes long, the video features more interesting characters than the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy–with better prosthetics and production values as well. (The psuedo-Jawas even trump those featured in Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps tour film). The cost of the various aliens aside–Barbot being a personal favorite–the clip also showcases location shooting at the Durdle Door limestone arch in Dorset, England that utilizes cinematography seemingly ripped from the lens of Peter Suschitzky. Most of the songs on this list have a strong link between the lyrics and the visuals, but the relationship here is tenuous at best. It’s almost as if the record company called Ocean and said “hey, we have this sci-fi footage featuring this chick who looks like an refugee from The Dark Crystal lying about, what say we film some shots of you dancing around and make a video of it?” The disconnect between the imagery and the vocals just add to the sheer WTF value of “Lover Boy.” Why this clip doesn’t have an action figure line, or at the very least, a cult fan base is one of the world’s last mysteries. Do yourself a favor, watch it repeatedly and then spread the word.