What do the videos for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” have in common? Well, aside from being the only two videos you’re likely to see occupying the top spot of any MTV countdown of the greatest music videos of all-time, there’s this: Both were nominated for Video of the Year at the VMAs, but lost to significantly less timeless clips. (The Cars’ “You Might Think” took down the former, Van Halen’s “Right Now” the latter.) And they’re certainly not alone: Similarly enduring visuals from Madonna, the Beastie Boys, Jay Z, and countless others have had to endure the honor of just being nominated, while inferior clips took home the marquee Moonman.
Just like every major award show, the VMAs have had more misses than hits when it comes to giving out their top prize. So we’ve decided to level the playing field here, with our ranked list of all 160 videos ever nominated for Video of the Year, across the soon-to-be-32-year run of the VMAs. Winners are noted with asterisks, but only nine out of the 31 winners thusfar received our highest ranking from their respective years. Read through over three decades’ of music video history below, and see if our top-ranked video from 2015’s crop of nominees wins big this Sunday night. (Spoiler: It probably won’t.)