10 Most Popular Internet Memes (In History)

Posted under: Blog, Funny and Internet

Who doesn't love a good meme? Funny memes are one of the things that the internet gave us, and while many make us roll our eyes and wonder if we're misusing one of the most innovative pieces of technology, many make us smile, and some make us smile and burst into laughter.

With so many popular memes, it can sometimes feel like these simple yet brilliant forms of instant communication are being watered down. However, for every five thousand memes, only a few become a cultural phenomenon.

Unfortunately, identifying the most popular memes of all time is nearly impossible because there are few reliable statistics to measure how many times a particular meme has been viewed or shared online. As a result, we need to think about a meme's staying power and impact on society to come up with our list.

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Fun Facts About Memes

Before going into our list of the ten most popular memes, we thought you would enjoy the following fun facts about it:

  • Even though there are a lot of internet statistics available, it's physically impossible to count the number of memes on the internet. So many are already out there, and so many more are made each day that it would take you more than a lifetime to count those that currently exist, meaning you can never really know the actual number. If that's too confusing, we'll simplify things: there are an infinite amount of memes on the internet.
  • The term "meme" was first used in Richard Dawkins' book, The Selfish Gene, to describe any "cultural artifact that spreads quickly and uncontrollably within and across cultures." He was one of the first to compare cultural phenomena to viral diseases, helping give birth to the idea of "going viral."
  • The word "meme" is now a more popular search term than Jesus.
  • Nearly 60 percent of all memes are political in nature.

What Are Memes?

For those who don't know what a meme is, first, welcome to the 21st century, and second, a meme today is defined as "an amusing or interesting item, such as a captioned picture or video, that is spread widely online usually through social media."

They come in many different formats, but many of them look like this:

You Understand Now Meme

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Over the years, memes have become so popular that there are now different apps available to download that allow you to make your own in just a matter of seconds. This is another reason why it's so hard to count precisely how many memes are out there.

The Ten Most Popular Memes of All Time

Our list is not precisely based on our limited capability of measuring a meme's popularity. That said, you will probably recognize every meme on this list, which helps to show how popular they are and how much impact they have on our culture.

Here's our list, in no particular order, of the ten most popular memes of all time:

Harambe

Harambe was a gorilla who lived in the Cincinnati zoo from around 2000 to 2016. However, his life ended abruptly when a three-year-old boy climbed into Harambe's cage, and the large primate grabbed him and began dragging him about. A zoo worker reacted quickly by shooting and killing the gorilla. This decision may have spared the boy's life, but it sparked a good deal of controversy.

Many people protested that the situation could have been handled without killing the animal, with some claiming the gorilla was trying to protect and care for the boy. Supporters of the zookeeper dismiss this claim, hence the controversy.

However, no matter on which side of the debate you fall, there's no denying that Harambe became very popular after his death. Images of the gorilla began popping up on the internet as a way for people to comment on the absurdity that is present in our modern lives.

Before long, Harambe became an internet sensation, and memes about him are now some of the most popular and easily recognizable.

Harambe Meme

Condescending Wonka

Willy Wonka, played by the late Gene Wilder, first burst into the scene in 1971 with the release of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. However, his childlike love for chocolate, quirky personality, and strong moral sense helped him stay relevant for many generations. The film has since been redone, starring Johnny Depp, but Wilder will forever be known as the original Willy Wonka.

However, Willy Wonka became even more relevant in 2011 when Redditors took a screengrab of him and began creating memes known as "Condescending Wonka." The screenshot in question was taken during a point in the film where Wonka was trying to incite wonder in the children visiting his factory by asking them, "Would you like to see it?" But his wide eyes and slight smile, frozen in time, sends a different message, and this gave birth to the sarcastic, often insulting humor that helped make Condescending Wonka such a popular internet meme.

Here are some examples of the most well-known version of this meme:

Condescending Wonka Meme

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LOLCats

It's tough to provide more explanation for the popularity of LOLCats, but they're hilarious. There's just something about a cute, cuddly cat photoshopped in a totally random scene complaining about something equally random that makes us all laugh. Maybe it's the idea we all share that cats really do have minds of their own, or perhaps it's the z-laden text used to describe feline thoughts, or maybe it's something we can't understand. In the end, it doesn't matter. They're just funny.

LOLCats became such a phenomenon that a whole LOLCats universe emerged shortly after these furry friends burst onto the scene. This universe consisted of several LOLCats characters who all play different roles in our lives. The two most recognizable characters are Ceiling Cat, who is supposedly watching you when you think you're alone, and Basement Cat, who became known as the devil of the LOLCats universe over time.

Ceiling Cat Meme

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Basement Cat Meme

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Squinting Fry

Although Futurama only ran for seven seasons between 1999-2003, reruns still air to this day, and the animated show has become a cult classic enjoyed by all different types of people. Its main character, Fry, is a dim-witted slacker from the 21st century who is cryogenically frozen and awoken 1,000 years in the future.

His diminished intellect and the confusing situations he often finds himself in mean he is frequently confused or frustrated. A screengrab from the episode "The Lesser of Two Evils" captures this emotion perfectly. Since then, thousands of different captions have been added to the image to create memes that poke fun at some of the more humorous conundrums we face daily.

Squinting Fry Meme

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Success Kid

Snagging a photo of a little kid expressing genuine emotion makes a priceless picture, and in the case of Sammy Grimer, also known as "Success Kid" or "I hate sandcastles," a timely picture led to instant fame.

Because of the look on Grimer's face and the fact that he was a toddler when the photo was taken, most of the memes made using this picture were designed to celebrate smaller yet significant victories we experience daily, reminding us to smile more and not take life so seriously. Here are a few great examples:

Success Kid Meme

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Success Kid Meme

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Interestingly, the story of this meme goes a bit deeper. In 2016, Grimer's father needed a kidney transplant, and he was able to pay for it using the money made from this meme. So, in the end, all those free smiles and chuckles went towards helping save someone's life. What could be better than that?

The Most Interesting Man

What initially began as an advertising campaign for Dos Equis beer, "The Most Interesting Man in the World" meme took off quickly and became one of the most popular memes of all time. The ad star, Johnathon Goldsmith, depicts a cool and collected look like no one else. However, the internet took this disposition and juxtaposed it with some of the more menial aspects of life, allowing us to smile at ourselves and remember that life is often a joke.

There are many variations of this meme, but they all follow the same format of the ad, which said, "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis."

Most Interesting Man Meme

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Trump Signs an Executive Order

The current U.S. president's love for social media, particularly Twitter, and some of his less than convention speech mannerisms, have made him quite the target for meme-makers worldwide. Several have become quite famous, but perhaps one of the most popular to come out has been the meme of Trump showing off his first signed executive order.

People took to Photoshop to erase the actual text of the document and replace it with something 1000 times funnier, the most common image choice being, of course, cats.

In a time of political stress and turmoil, images like these are an excellent way to remind ourselves that the world isn't going to end tomorrow, even if sometimes it feels that way. If you want to make your own Trump meme, check out the app DonaldDraws.

Trump Executive Order Meme

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Scumbag Steve

Although the guy who became known as Scumbag Steve is not named Steve, and we have no idea if he's really a scumbag or not, the picture of this guy standing in a doorway with a goofy look on his face and a baseball cap sideways on his head has become synonymous with all the behaviors we associate with a first-class jerk.

The man in the photo is Blake Boston, a rapper from Boston, Massachusetts. His mom took the photos used for the meme, and the hat he is wearing was also a gift from his mother.

Boston acknowledges he did things as a kid that he isn't proud to have done, but he denies doing the things associated with him in the meme. This is one of the clear downsides of internet fame. No matter how hard Boston protests, he will always be "that guy" in the eyes of internet users around the world.

Scumbag Steve Meme

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Evil Kermit

Kermit the Frog is a cultural icon that has and will continue to stand the test of time. Unsurprisingly, memes about him have become some of the most popular memes of all time.

However, memes about Kermit the Frog are not based on his warm, lovable personality. Instead, memes are made using a screenshot from Muppets Most Wanted in which Kermit must face his arch enemy, Constantine, who represents everything Kermit is not.

Memes using this image make fun of those moments in our lives when we must fight against the demons inside of us to do the things we must do, even when we desperately don't want to.

Evil Kermit Meme

Evil Kermit Meme

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Grumpy Cat

Another example of how the random facial expressions of cats can be turned into a way to convey human emotions Grumpy Cat is one of the most well-known and funniest memes of all time. As the name suggests, it features a chubby feline friend who looks extremely upset with what's happening around him. The internet has chosen to use this image in a wide range of ways, almost all of which will make any of us laugh. The most popular is to pretend the cat is a grumpy old feline who cares about nothing.

Grumpy Cat Meme

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The cat known as Grumpy Cat is named Tardar Sauce, and he has become such a sensation that one can now buy stuffed toys, t-shirts, books, and much more Grumpy Cat-related paraphernalia. A Grumpy Cat coffee drink exists for those who can't get enough of this internet sensation. However, the company that made this drink tried to extend their line of drinks, and the "cat" sued them and won a case for $710,000. What a world?!

Unfortunately, however, Grumpy Cat is no longer with us. He passed in May 2017, but his memes will live on forever!

Conclusion

The internet was created so that we could do so many things, but we must all be thankful for memes. These ten are some of the most popular memes of all time and have brought countless smiles to many people worldwide. There's no telling what's next in the world of funny memes, but we can be sure that the internet won't stop, meaning many more laughs will be had in the years to come.

FAQ

What was the first meme?

There is some disagreement about the first meme. Some claim memes date back as far as 1921, when a newspaper posted cartoons depicting a scenario similar to our current "expectations vs reality" meme or "when you ordered it vs when it arrived," which both illustrate the discrepancy between the way we see ourselves and reality.

Of course, this is merely a supposition, and no one can really know what the very first meme was. Some say the first "modern" or internet-based meme was a video of the cha-cha baby that went viral, but there is also a distinction between viral videos and memes. However, that is primarily considered to be the very first that fits the criteria of what we now consider an internet meme.

When did internet memes become popular?

Like their emergence, the time of their rise in popularity is also up to debate. If we consider the dancing baby the first meme, when viral content started to become a thing, then memes started getting popular around the late 90s - earlier than most people think.

If we're talking about what we now consider memes - the troll face, "Scumbag Steve," "Bad Luck Brian," and others- their popularity can be traced back to more recent times, in the early to mid-00s.

How many memes are there on the internet?

It's impossible to tell just how many memes there are on the internet. They are virtually being created at all times, so no matter when you start counting, you will never finish because more and more are being made.

In addition, memes and the definition of what is considered a meme constantly change as internet content evolves. With the emergence of every new platform, like TikTok, and the increased emphasis on UGC (user generated content), more memes are being created than ever before, and more potential for meme creation than there ever was in the past.

How to make money making memes?

Because of the unpredictable nature of viral internet memes, making money from them can be difficult. Even the most popular memes haven't necessarily made money for their creators or subjects. But occasionally, a popular meme depicting a person will launch the subject into fame. Internet notoriety can be leveraged into a media, influencer, or comedy career if one is inclined.

Otherwise, you can attempt to create funny online content that lends itself to memes on a social media page or platform where it is likely to gain a lot of visibility and traction and can also be monetized (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.). The more views and followers you get, the more likely you are to be able to make money making memes.

Which app is used for making memes?

There are several apps people use for meme creation. "Classic" memes were generally created on sites that put the meme layout at your disposal for quick meme creation. Meme generators like https://makeameme.org/ or https://www.kapwing.com/meme-maker are prevalent.

But nowadays, as people spend more and more time on social media, memes are created directly on social sites. Popular content trends that many people participate in are essentially a new incarnation of memes, so every TikTok that uses the same "layout" or sound to hop on an existing bandwagon can be considered a meme.