There aren't many events that can lay claim to having had both Prince and Carol Channing as their main attraction. But over the past 42 years, the Super Bowl Halftime Show has seen it all, from conventional marching band fare to Britney Spears trading verses with the only woman more haggard-looking than she is -- Aerosmith's Steven Tyler -- to some middle-aged lady's breast falling out of her "Hellraiser" costume.
Quantifying which ones were the most spectacular successes and phenomenal failures is all relative to whether you like your entertainment predictable and wholesome or epically absurd. We generally lean toward the latter, but taking all criteria into consideration, the following list ranks which halftime shows scored a touchdown with a two-point conversion, and which fumbled the ball after getting tackled by the kicker.
TOP FIVE BEST SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOWS
5. Super Bowl I, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers -- University of Arizona and University of Michigan Marching Bands The very first Super Bowl halftime show was quite modest, but trust me, you'd take two marching bands over some of the crap that followed every time. Plus, this is still the only time an organized unit from the Grand Canyon State has ever taken the field at the Big Game.
4. Super Bowl XXV, New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills -- "A Small World Salute to 25 Years of the Super Bowl" with New Kids On The Block, Disney Characters, Warren Moon, 2,000 Local Children and an Audience Card Stunt A landmark show, it actually wasn't aired until post-game as a result of Persian Gulf War coverage interrupting halftime. Unfortunately immediately after the show, the 2,000 local children were sent to Iraq. Well, maybe it was their older siblings, but these kids would get a chance of their own to visit the Middle East just a few years later.
3. Super Bowl XXXVIII, New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers -- Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Simpson, Nelly, P. Diddy, Kid Rock Best known as the moment a naked breast was broadcast into the nation's, nay the world's, living rooms. Armageddon was only narrowly averted thanks to the FCC's subsequent crackdown on broadcasters. What's weird is the way Nipplegate has completely obscured our memory of the remaining performers. Well, that and the fact that they sucked.
2. Super Bowl XXXVI, New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams -- U2's Tribute To 9/11 Victims In a surreal display of America's ethical duality, U2 brought the most macho football fans to tears with a mini-set that was flanked by the names of 9/11 victims. Meanwhile, competing network NBC tried to lure viewers away with Playboy Playmates eating maggots on "Fear Factor." Fortunately, most viewers kept their eyes glued to Fox for one of sports broadcasting's most cathartic moments ever.
1. Super Bowl XXLI, Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears -- Prince They finally got it right. Keep it simple. Recruit one dynamic, virtuosic, mind-bogglingly talented showman and take the leash off him amidst a torrential rainstorm. But watching the one and only Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson blast through wind gusts with his guitar as if it were dictating their path and take an entire stadium -- not to mention a worldwide TV audience -- into his hand like a grain of sand wasn't just good entertainment by the Super Bowl's standards. It was one of the best televised live performances of the year.
TOP TEN WORST SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOWS (uh, yeah, the bad has far outweighed the good)
10. Super Bowl XXVIII, Dallas Cowboys vs. Buffalo Bills -- "Rockin' Country Sunday" with Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker and the Judds Wynona Judd may have been the only person that day drinking more beer than the average male viewer.
9. Super Bowl VIII, Minnesota Vikings vs. Miami Dolphins -- "A Musical America" with University of Texas Band featuring Miss Texas on fiddle Slightly tweaked from the original idea of "America: The Musical" about Native Americans getting scalped while Miss Texas skewered buffalo over a propane grill. 8. Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks -- The Rolling Stones There was something a bit sad about Mick Jagger reinforcing the Stones' calculated return to badassitude by singing his naughty "Satisfaction" and "Start Me Up" lyrics while having previously agreed to the network's censoring of them by making his microphone go briefly dead.
7. Super Bowl XXX, Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers -- "Take Me Higher: A Celebration of 30 Years of The Super Bowl" with Diana Ross At the end of the performance Miss Ross was taken away in a helicopter. Granted, it was a med-evac one, but people seemed to think it fit the theme nicely.
6. Super Bowl XXXIX, New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles -- Paul McCartney Hearing the former Mr. Heather Mills rip through "Live and Let Die" as he actually inches closer to his own demise supplanted its rebellious clamor with creepy prophecy. And isn't it a tad precious that he still plays his Hofner bass from his Beatles days?
5. Super Bowl XXXIII, Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons -- "Celebration of Soul, Salsa and Swing" with Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Savion Glover A blatant attempt to cash in on the soulless reemergence of a retro fad (swing) by lumping it incongruously with Latin music (Estefan) and a legacy artist (Wonder). Meanwhile, there's nothing a stadium of people and a global TV audience want to see more than tap dancing (Glover)!
4. Super Bowl XXXV, Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants -- "The Kings of Rock and Pop" with Aerosmith, N*Sync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly Eschewing an appearance by Michael Jackson -- despite the title teasing at his presence -- MTV threw its hat in the Halftime ring and Britney Spears vomited in it.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
3. Super Bowl XXVI, Washington Redskins vs. Buffalo Bills -- "Winter Magic" with Gloria Estefan, Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill Viewers finally realized they weren't mandated by law to endure the entirety of the game's programming, as an enormous chunk of them opted to switch channels to the then hot sketch comedy show "In Living Color" instead of seeing figure skating. Homophobes!
2. Super Bowl XXVII, Dallas Cowboys vs. Buffalo Bills -- "Michael Jackson Halftime Show" with 3,500 Local Children Who needs to worry about a writer's strike when the jokes just script themselves?
1. Super Bowl XXXI, Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots -- "Blues Brothers Bash" with Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, James Belushi, ZZ Top and James Brown Nothing gets eyeballs glued to the tube like a poor-man's celebrity sibling (Belushi) promoting what should have been a straight-to-trash-can movie -- "Blues Brothers 2000" -- and a domestically abusive soul icon (Brown). Pity poor ZZ Top who had to share the stage.