The evolution of the Super Bowl halftime show would truly stun most people.
For about the first 25 years the big game was played, the halftime performance was a silly, inconsequential show typically performed by marching bands and dance groups with cheesy themes like “A Salute to the Big Band Era.” Then, in the early 1990s, the shows became something that some fans looked forward to more than the football game itself.
But not all Super Bowl halftime shows have been created equally. We’ve ranked the 30 most recent performances from worst to best. Take a look to find out where your favorite halftime show stands among the rest.
Winter Magic — Super Bowl XXVI (1992)
This painfully ’90s show features the most lackluster singing and dancing of any Super Bowl in the past 30 years. It’s all so cheesy and the costumes look like something a high school show choir would wear. The rap song inspired by Frosty the Snowman, called “Frosty,” may be the low point in halftime history.
The show eventually becomes a tribute to the 1992 Winter Olympics, featuring Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano figure skating on giant ice-covered snowflakes, as well as a pointless cameo appearance from members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The show closes with a lip-synched performance by Gloria Estefan — you know, a singer who is most identified with the winter wonderland that is Miami.
New Kids On The Block — Super Bowl XXV (1991)
There’s almost too much to explain with this wacky performance. Sponsored by Walt Disney World, this halftime extravaganza was billed as the first “all-kids Super Bowl halftime show.” It starts uncomfortably with a chorus of little girls in cheerleading outfits and Minnie Mouse singing, “You’ve gotta be a football hero to get along with the beautiful girls.” Not exactly advancing gender equality.
At some point, the show switches to a tribute to the troops when a blond-haired angel of a boy in a little football uniform takes center stage to sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” while footage of American soldiers in the Gulf War is shown. Oh, and did I mention President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush also make a videotaped appearance? Eventually, New Kids On the Block close out this manic halftime show with a couple of their hits.
The Black Eyed Peas — Super Bowl XLV (2011)
The Super Bowl’s return to current artists after years of classic rockers was, unfortunately, a terrible show. The Black Eyed Peas sounded dreadful from start to finish and Fergie’s take on “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with Slash on guitar made you wish someone had called Axl Rose.
Usher’s dance moves during his guest spot stole the show and make you wonder why he’s never done the show on his own. The best part of this entire lame performance were the green, light-up outfits worn by the people dancing around the stage.
Patti Labelle & Tony Bennett — Super Bowl XXIX (1995)
Where to start with this one? Disney took over producing duties for 1995 and turned the halftime show into an advertisement for its new Indiana Jones attraction at Disneyland. The show is a tribute to the iconic character and even featured a mini “plot” where cheesy versions of Indy and Marion Ravenwood have to steal the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Along the way, Patti Labelle and Tony Bennett perform, leading to a closing sing-along number of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from Disney’s “The Lion King.” The whole thing is a terribly cheesy hype-machine for Disney. The only reason it’s not lower is because Labelle slays it with her vocals at the end — even if they were pre-recorded.
Justin Timberlake — Super Bowl LII (2018)
The third time Justin Timberlake has been involved in a Super Bowl halftime show was also the weakest by far. Following Lady Gaga is no enviable task, and this low-energy set didn’t live up to the challenge.
He played the hits and did a good job getting the crowd involved but it all just felt underwhelming and like Timberlake was trying way too hard. His inclusion of footage from Prince’s legendary halftime performance drew mixed reviews, especially in The Purple One’s home state of Minnesota.
Salute To New Orleans And ‘Peanuts’ — Super Bowl XXIV (1990)
This bizarre mashup of themes simultaneously honored both New Orleans and the 40th anniversary of Charlie Brown. An animated Woodstock randomly appears several times dancing over the live action, which mostly consists of a chorus of people singing and dancing to traditional NOLA tunes.
“Mr. New Orleans” Pete Fountain closes things down by playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” on clarinet while standing atop a massive riverboat that spans about 35 yards. All the while, terrifying “Peanuts” character costumes dance around the field.
Madonna — Super Bowl XLVI (2012)
Madonna’s long-overdue halftime performance proved that she could handle that stage alone — even though some lame guests were called in to help. Sure, her dance moves looked a little slow and she was obviously lip-synching, but the hits were still awesome and the performance was visually impressive.
Guest spots from M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj gave it an air of women’s empowerment, but seeing LMFAO and Cee Lo Green sharing in Madonna’s big moment is just laughable today. Her performance of “Like a Prayer,” backed by a stadium full of cell phone lights, was a strong finale.
Disney Millennium Celebration — Super Bowl XXXIV (2000)
Disney once again used ABC’s Super Bowl year to promote its intellectual property and theme parks. This time, performers included Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton and Enrique Iglesias, making for a better show than their other halftime ads.
This show features many references to the new millennium, reminding anyone who was around back then how much time and energy we spent thinking about that before 9/11. The vocal performances here are all very strong even though the singers don’t do any dancing themselves. This one was all very serious and inspirational.
Motown Salute — Super Bowl XXXII (1998)
Arguably the greatest collection of musical icons to ever appear in a single Super Bowl halftime show happened with 1998’s Motown 40th anniversary celebration. The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Queen Latifah, Boyz II Men and Martha Reeves each got time to do some Motown hits.
The production values were very basic and the fact that the game was played on the West Coast meant the performance was held in broad daylight, which always takes away from the mood. Sadly, Motown aside, there just isn’t much that was truly memorable about this one.
Diana Ross — Super Bowl XXX (1996)
For the Super Bowl’s 30th anniversary, the halftime show was given to someone who hadn’t had a Top 10 hit in 12 years. With that said, Diana Ross is a legendary performer for a reason and the medley of hits she did would make any Motown fan crank up the TV.
Ross looked great, seemed to be having a good time and ripped through 10 stone-cold classics while also making a few wardrobe changes. But the best part of the performance comes at the end, when a helicopter swoops in, lands at midfield and Ross jumps in and flies out of the stadium to end her performance!
The Blues Brothers — Super Bowl XXXI (1997)
If The Blues Brothers had done halftime at the Super Bowl in 1980, it could have probably topped this list, but the “Blues Brothers 2000” lineup just didn’t have the same might. Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman don’t do much but Jim Belushi gave it his best, even if he had no clue how to sell lip-synching.
Paul Schaffer, James Brown and ZZ Top eventually join the performance, which culminates with everyone singing “Gimme Some Lovin'” while scantily clad women dance and bikers cruise around the stage on Harleys! The whole thing probably would’ve been better if they’d just let ZZ Top rip it up for 12 minutes.
Stevie Wonder & Gloria Estefan — Super Bowl XXXIII (1999)
Tons of energy in this one. This show was billed as a celebration of soul, salsa and swing, which are three styles of music way too rich and distinctive to jam into one 12-minute medley. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (remember them?) opened the show while a ton of couples did some swing dancing on the field, which was admittedly pretty cool.
From there, Stevie Wonder ripped through some of his greatest hits, making you wonder why he didn’t just do the show himself. Finally, Gloria Estefan kept the energy high and did a few of her songs before teaming with Stevie. I give this one extra credit for all the singers clearly performing their vocals live, which was virtually unheard of at the Super Bowl at this point.
No Doubt & Shania Twain — Super Bowl XXXVII (2003)
Another bizarre lineup of performers, this one also including Sting, gets knocked down for Shania Twain’s entire performance sounding pre-recorded, including the band. She only did two songs before No Doubt took over and Gwen Stefani proved why she has so many fans.
No Doubt immediately took the energy way up and they sounded great, performing while goth cheerleaders bounced around on stage with black pom poms. Finally, Sting joined them for The Police’s classic “Message in a Bottle” and most people had completely forgotten that Shania was part of the show at all.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers — Super Bowl XLII (2008)
One of the more understated halftime shows of recent history, Tom Petty’s 2008 performance pleased the crowd with four hits everyone knew by heart. Petty’s low-energy performing style was a stark contrast to Prince and The Rolling Stones, who had preceded him, but he and the Heartbreakers sounded great. If you wanted a halftime show you could sing along with while drinking your beer, this one was a dream.
Chubby Checker — Super Bowl XXII (1988)
This one is cheesy as can be but I’ll be damned if it isn’t fun. The performance was dubbed “Something Grand” and they weren’t lying. It featured 88 grand pianos on the field with pianists of all colors and ages playing boogie-woogie piano to open things up. Then, they are joined by a massive outfit of brass and woodwinds called the “Super Bowl Super Band.”
Throw in 44 leg-kicking members of The Rockettes and a crowd of big-haired women dressed as cheerleaders before Chubby Checker blows the lid off the joint in a silver sequined top at midfield singing “The Super Bowl Twist.” It’s a marvel and a halftime show that’s totally underrated.
The Rolling Stones — Super Bowl XL (2006)
In the mid-2000s wave of classic-rock halftime shows, the Stones showed why they could still sell out stadiums across the world that late into their career. Performing on a stage shaped like their iconic mouth logo, Mick Jagger pranced across the stage like it was 1966.
The band only performed three songs, opting to perform them entirely, rather than going for the medley treatment. This show rocked but the inclusion of 2005’s “Rough Justice,” and the audience’s silent reaction when Jagger announced it, hurt the replay value today.
Country Artists — Super Bowl XXVIII (1994)
The year after Michael Jackson forever changed the halftime show, the game was held in Atlanta and an all-star ’90s country jam was put together. The energy of this show is high from the start, with Clint Black and Tanya Tucker kicking things off with a pair of great songs.
Eventually, Travis Tritt and The Judds round out the show and the crowd goes wild. The fact that the game was in a dome this year helped make the performance look more like an actual concert. When it comes to country music, you either love it or hate it — and if you love it, this show was fantastic. Oddly, it’s the only time country has been the sole music offered at the halftime show.
Coldplay — Super Bowl 50 (2016)
Coldplay brought back a couple of the greatest halftime performers ever to help with their show at Super Bowl 50. This feel-good show managed to jam eight tunes and three top performers into 13 minutes, without a moment of downtime.
Coldplay did some of their most beloved tracks but were immediately upstaged by Bruno Mars and Beyoncé, who came onstage for “Uptown Funk” and “Formation,” each dressed in all-black outfits. Honestly, when Coldplay returned to the stage, the crowd had to be a little disappointed.
Paul McCartney — Super Bowl XXXIX (2005)
After the FCC went crazy over the “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004’s halftime show, classic rockers handled the next six performances. Paul McCartney was first and he did not disappoint in a show definitely aimed at older fans.
Macca and his tight touring band ripped through four fan favorites, including three Beatles numbers. The live audience was hyped the whole time, the stage looked awesome, the band sounded great and McCartney looked like he was having a blast. You can’t ask for much more from a halftime show.
Katy Perry — Super Bowl XLIX (2015)
There’s arguably never been a more visually stunning halftime performance than Katy Perry’s. She kicked it off riding a massive metal lion, performed on a state-of-the-art digital stage, wore multiple outfits and managed to throw a colorful beach party in Arizona. Perry also sounded great, kept the crowd hyped and did her greatest hits. Plus, this performance marked the return of Missy Elliott, who managed to upstage Perry on her own night! This one was a pure feast for the eyes and a ton of fun.
Michael Jackson — Super Bowl XXVII (1993)
Without question, this was the most influential halftime performance ever done. This was what turned the show into a must-see event headlined by a major star. The crowd goes nuts for every move Michael Jackson makes, especially when he launches into “Billie Jean.” The only knock against it is that Jackson’s set list is pretty weak. There’s no “Thriller,” no “Beat It” and no “Bad.” But this performance is still more electric than most others that followed it and forever changed the way the show was produced.
The Who — Super Bowl XLIV (2010)
Despite Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend being in their mid-60s when they played the Super Bowl, no halftime show has ever rocked harder. The band sounded incredible and the stage, loaded with laser-lighting and fog effects, was rock at its most overblown.
The fact that this halftime show aired on CBS and three of the songs performed were used as theme songs for the network’s various “CSI” shows may be suspect but it doesn’t take away from the power of the performance. Just try not to bang your head during “Baba O’Riley”!
Aerosmith & ‘N Sync — Super Bowl XXXV (2001)
When MTV produced the 2001 halftime show, the network came through with a star-studded, crowd-pleasing show that definitely keeps your attention from start to finish. ’N Sync opened it up and got the crowd pumped with “Bye, Bye, Bye” before Aerosmith slowed things down with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” From there, the two acts went back and forth doing then-recent hits.
The inclusion of Britney Spears, Nelly and Mary J. Blige on “Walk This Way” make this one of the most stacked shows ever done. There was nothing self-serious in this last Super Bowl halftime show of the pre-9/11 world, which is exactly how it should’ve been.
Janet Jackson & P. Diddy — Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)
The most infamous halftime show ever performed kicked off with Jessica Simpson yelling at the crowd and finished with the nipple seen ‘round the world. Before Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” this one was actually a very good halftime show, even if almost the whole thing sounded pre-recorded.
All of Jackson’s performances were great and the inclusion of Nelly and P. Diddy marked the first — and arguably only — time hip-hop was truly incorporated into the show. Kid Rock was also pretty great, slipping a few risque lyrics past the censors and keeping the energy sky high. With or without the nudity, this was a pretty great halftime show.
Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band — Super Bowl XLIII (2009)
If any American band was born to play a halftime show, it was the E Streeters. From the start, Springsteen commands the entire global audience, telling the viewers to “step back from the guacamole dip” and “turn the television all the way up!” After that, they turned a Tampa football stadium into a New Jersey seaside bar.
The four-song set was nonstop energy and the band sounded incredible as ever. The live crowd could be heard singing along to every lyric of “Born to Run,” and the fact that E Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici would be dead within four years makes it a lasting time capsule for fans.
Lady Gaga — Super Bowl LI (2017)
Opening with a powerhouse performance of “God Bless America” before being lowered from the top of the stadium on wires is the type of move only Lady Gaga could have pulled off. The dynamic performer then proceeded to rip through six career-spanning hits without a single guest artist joining her on stage.
She sounded amazing, she looked fantastic and she proved that she knows how to keep a crowd entertained. Gaga absolutely slayed her shot at the halftime show, proving why she’s one of the most beloved entertainers of her generation.
Bruno Mars — Super Bowl XLVIII (2014)
About the only person on Earth who could follow Beyoncé’s 2013 halftime performance was Bruno Mars. He showed his unmatched energy and started the performance playing a legit drum solo before jumping right into “Locked Out of Heaven.” The sound was booming and his whole band looked like a million bucks in matching gold jackets and black ties.
The inclusion of the Red Hot Chili Peppers sounds like a terrible idea on paper, but it actually proved to be a great collaboration. The energy was jacked up from start to finish and Mars sounded flawless. This one belongs right near the top of the list.
Prince — Super Bowl XLI (2007)
Prince’s halftime performance has taken on mythical status, and for good reason. He stood on a massive stage shaped like his infamous name symbol and absolutely owned the night, keeping the energy sky-high and shredding on his guitar. He looked like he was born to play this stage.
It could be argued he leaned too heavily on other artists’ songs, with half of the songs in his performance being covers. However, his closing performance of “Purple Rain,” in the middle of the rain that was falling on the stage, is as legendary as anything that’s ever happened at a Super Bowl — during the game or at halftime.
Beyonce — Super Bowl XLVII (2013)
From the pyro-filled intro that featured a Vince Lombardi speech playing over Beyoncé being shown on a platform in silhouette, it was clear this was going to be an epic performance. Bey’s electric dance moves, her powerhouse live vocals and her female guitarist who had sparks shooting out of her instrument were just some of the things that made this one of the all-time greats.
The energy was cranked to the hilt from the open and the reunion of Destiny’s Child made fans lose it even more. Beyoncé owned the stage better than anyone since Prince and the moment when she blows a kiss to the camera after “Crazy in Love” is one of the Super Bowl’s best moments. A combination of spectacle, surprise and pure performing muscle, you can make a strong case that Beyoncé had the greatest halftime performance ever — but we rank one a bit higher.
U2 — Super Bowl XXXVI (2002)
Halftime simply never got better than this. For the first Super Bowl halftime performance after 9/11, U2 was chosen and it turned out to be a perfect call. The atmosphere and direction of the performance looks more like an actual concert than a halftime show and the band elected to do just three songs, each loaded with passion: “Beautiful Day,” “MLK” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
During the performance, a massive screen behind the band showed the names of everyone who had died in the attacks, making for arguably the most touching moment in Super Bowl history. If you don’t get chills during the intro to “Where the Streets Have No Name,” you might want to check your pulse. This was an incredible tribute and a powerhouse performance when we all needed it most. There’s never been a better halftime performance than U2’s.