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.