Who doesn't love a good meme? They are one of the many gifts given to us by the internet, and while many of them make us roll our eyes and wonder if we're misusing one of the most innovative pieces of technology in human history, many more of them make us smile, and a rare few make us burst into fits of laughter.
With so many memes out there, it can sometimes feel as though these simple yet brilliant forms of instant communication are being watered down. However for every five thousand memes that aren't worth the pixels on your screen, there's one that becomes a true cultural phenomenon.
Unfortunately, measuring with precision the most popular memes of all time is nearly impossible because there are almost no reliable stats to measure how many times any particular meme has been viewed or shared. As a result, to come up with our list, we need to think about a meme's staying power and impact on society. Again, this is difficult to measure, but we're going to try our best.
Fun Facts About About Memes
While memes are fun on their own, before going into our list of the ten most popular, we thought you would enjoy the following fun facts about memes:
- It's physically impossible to count the number of memes out on the internet. So many are already out there, and so many more are made each day, that it would take you more a lifetime to count those that currently exist. Then when you finish, there would be at least another lifetime's worth left to count, meaning you can never really know the true number. If that's too confusing, we'll simply 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:
Over the years, memes have become so popular that there are now apps you can 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 exactly how many memes are out there.
The Ten Most Popular Memes of All Time
Based on our limited capability of measuring the popularity of a meme based on hard numbers, our list is not exact. That said, you will probably recognize each and every meme on this list, which helps to show just how popular they are and how much of an impact they have had on our culture.
Here's our list, in no particular order, of the ten most popular memes of all time:
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 his 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 even 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 in the months and years after his death. Images of the gorilla began popping up on the internet as a way for people to comment on the absurdity sometimes present in our modern lives.
Before long, Harambe became an internet sensation, and memes made about him are now some of the most popular and easily recognizable.
Willy Wonka, as played by the late Gene Wilder, first burst onto 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 more 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?" 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:
It's tough to provide much more of an explanation for the popularity of LOLcats other than that they're hilarious. There's just something about a cute, cuddly cat Photoshopped into a totally random scene complaining about something equally as random that just 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 simply can't understand. In the end, it doesn't matter. They're just funny.
LOLCats became such a phenomenon that a whole LOLCat universe emerged shortly after these furry friends burst onto the scene. This universe consisted of several LOLCat characters who all play different roles in our lives. The two most recognizable of these characters are Ceiling Cat, who is supposedly watching you when you think you're alone, and also Basement Cat, who over time became known as the devil of the LOLCat universe.
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 plus the confusing situations he often finds himself in means he is frequently confused or frustrated, and 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 on a daily basis.
Snagging a photo of a little kid when they're expressing true emotion makes for 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 some of the smaller yet still significant victories we experience on a daily basis, reminding us to smile more and not take life so seriously. Here are a few great examples:
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 off 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 originally began as an advertising campaign for Dos Equis beer, "The Most Interesting Man in the World" meme took off rather quickly and became one of the most popular memes of all time. The star of the ad, Johnathon Goldsmith, depicts cool and collected like no one else. However, the internet took this disposition and juxtaposed it with some of the more menial aspects of life, allowing us once again to smile at ourselves and remember that life is often a joke.
There are many different 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."
Trump Signs an Executive Order
The current U.S. president's love for social media, particularly Twitter, as well as some of his less than convention speech mannerisms have made him quite the target for meme-makers around the world. 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 a nice 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.
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, you guessed it, Boston, Massachusetts. The photos used for the meme were actually taken by his mom, 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.
Kermit the Frog is a cultural icon that has and will continue to stand the test of time. It should come as no surprise, then, that memes made about him have become some of the most popular of all time.
However, memes about Kermit the Frog are not based around 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.
Another example of how the random facial expressions of cats can be turned into a way to convey human emotions in an entirely historical way, 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 going on 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 just pretend the cat is a grumpy old feline who cares about nothing at all.
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. There even exists a Grumpy Cat coffee drink for those who really 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 of 2017, but his memes will live on forever!
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 of all time, and they have brought countless smiles to many people all over the world. There's no telling what's next in the world of memes, but we can be sure that the internet won't stop, meaning there are many more laughs to be had in the years to come.