The 100 Greatest Memes Ever, Ranked
They've filled your social feeds for years. Now we're counting them down.
We live in an era defined by memes. True, meme-ifying images and videos is a practice as old as humanity itself, but the advent of the internet has made that process much... danker. Whether repurposed from YouTube videos, movie screengrabs, or viral catchphrases, these golden nuggets shape how we consume, criticize, and communicate through cultural touchstones.
But which ones have achieved lasting greatness? To answer that, we looked for memes with universality and malleability; a dank meme exists in many permutations, and can cross cultural and linguistic barriers. We confined ourselves to the internet, so only symbols and phrases that crossed from traditional media to the web qualify. (Sorry, Kilroy.) We also considered the ubiquity and persistence of a meme in determining its position on this list, which means more recent memes tend to wind up lower in the ranking, but may rise or fall in future update. As you'll soon see, though, this ranking is perfect and indisputable.
ALSO READ: The Best Memes of 2021
(Not so) long ago, there existed a Discovery Channel program titled American Chopper, about the Teutul family, a tough bunch of guys who built custom motorcycles. Today, this heated scene from said show, in which Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. argue with words and then chairs, is back from the dead as a template for staging new arguments. Regardless of the stakes, the intensity always remains the same, which is very, very good.
What single image better defines the early experience of the modern internet than the Trollface?
This OG meme goes all the way back to 1939, when World War II broke out and the British had to get their propaganda machine in gear. Did the War Ministry know it was creating a bona fide proto-meme? No, obviously, but when originals of these posters were unearthed in 2000, they quickly spread around the internet thanks to their simple design (already looks like a macro!) and the irony of the ask. Yes, when the Germans are bombing London back to King Arthur's court, just go about your business! Everything is normal, folks! Like all great memes, this one has reached an annoying super-saturation point, but its influence must be acknowledged.
97. Dat Boi
Though the meme-stream media was charged with killing Dat Boi, the polarizing green frog that briefly invaded Tumblr and Twitter via unicycle, that doesn't mean you have to completely forget about the unexplainable joys he and his brothers gave the world.
Right before the end of 2017, British hotelier David Morgan-Hewitt inspired what some call the successor to the reckless "large adult son" phenomenon, which itself had found a second wind thanks to the exploits of Donald Trump's progeny. "Where the large son is unchecked energy, an absolute unit is the picture of poise," wrote MEL Magazine's Miles Klee, "proof that the seemingly uncontainable aggression of mammoth males can button itself up; that men may break with patrilineal pressure, becoming something other than bumbling junior apprentice. Unlike large adult sons, the unit isn’t bound by the inconvenience of gender. Properly speaking, the absolute unit needn’t be masculine, or even human—just absolute." Behold, marvel away.
95. The Honey Badger
It sounds a bit quaint now, but many (OK, maybe 10?) years ago, absurdist voiceovers could rule the internet. The Honey Badger video is a particularly well-crafted example of this phenomenon, with memorable catchphrases—"the honey badger doesn't give a shit," "honey badger takes what it wants"—becoming so popular that fans coined it as a nickname for then-Heisman Trophy candidate Tyrann Mathieu, who now plays in the NFL. See, Mom? Memes DO last!
On the left is Taylor Armstrong, a real housewife of Beverly Hills, and on your right is Smudge the cat. Simply put side by side, as Twitter user @missingegirl offhandedly did in May 2019, the Taylor and Smudge screenshots form our new favorite representation of the troll's war.
The early-to-mid-2000s were the internet's awkward, adolescent phase, with a sense of humor and casual use of words like "bitch" to match. The Juggernaut video—an overdub of an old X-Men cartoon—presaged many of the facts we take for granted now, like absurdist, non sequitur one-liners that exploited the rabid fandom of the comic-book crowd, to the point that "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" made its way into X-Men: The Last Stand.
92. Sad Keanu
Keanu Reeves, never change. If you want to sit on a bench looking sad, sit on a bench looking sad. Be who you are on the inside. Be a meme if you want to be a meme. The internet loves you just the way you are.
91. "retire bitch"
In March 2013, actor Danny DeVito tweeted "Antonin Scalia retire bitch." His reasons for doing so are still unclear. But four years later, the concise demand has bloomed into a popular refrain, a call for controversial men, especially politicians, to cut their bullshit and pack it in.
ALSO READ: The Best Memes of the '00s
90. Old Town Road
The yee haw agenda. Yee yee juice. Months as the country's number-one song. A star-studded music video. Near-universal recognition in the elementary school market. Lil Nas X has completely taken over pop culture since his country-trap song became a TikTok sensation in late 2018 to early 2019, quickly jumping across platforms and age groups to achieve ubiquity. Just when you think the steam is running out on the "Old Town Road" train, it just keeps going, proving that Lil Nas X—and this meme—will stay true to the message of the song by riding until they can't no more, proven by massive hit ("Montero") after hit ("Industry Baby").
89. Scumbag Steve
You know Steve. He's the dude who appropriated hip-hop culture in high school, even though he lived in a suburban McMansion. He brought 11 uninvited creepy bros to your friend's party. He smokes all the weed. He's Scumbag Steve, one of the most persistent, durable macro-memes the internet has produced; it won't surprise you to learn that the image first appeared on the cover of an album by a group called Beantown Mafia, which is just as bad as it sounds.
Shot by Antonio Guillem, the stock photo "Disloyal Man Walking With His Girlfriend and Looking Amazed at Another Seductive Girl" depicts... just that. The Meme Documentation Tumblr traces its birth as an image-macro meme back to as early as January 2017, but it didn't explode until it hit Twitter during summer of the same year, functioning as a metaphor for pretty much anything involving competing desires, getting remixed with other memes, and folding in on itself in that inevitably meta way. "I do not really have the time to follow these things," the guy in the pic told SelectAll, "but for what I have seen, I can say that it's crazy what people can imagine."
It's actually pretty surprising that Michael Jackson didn't produce MORE meme-able moments, considering he's the King of Pop and once dangled his baby from a balcony. That his sole entry on this list is a reaction GIF people share when they see a public beef percolating online is a testament to his lawyers and PR reps.
86. Wife guys
Here at Thrillist, like everywhere else, we love a wife guy. A wife guy is a dude who posts very dramatic and/or very extra things online about his wife, pretty much JUST to get some of that sweet, sweet attention from millions of strangers. Patient zero, as we remember fondly, was Curvy Wife Guy, also known as Robbie Tripp, who hit send (and keeps hitting send to this day) on a number of photos with lengthy captions about how he's such a great guy for marrying a woman who's not skinny. More recently, the wife guy crown has gone to Cliff Wife Guy, whose video of his wife falling into a ditch preceded by a clip of them both crying about how traumatic the experience was and how your life really can change in an instant warmed the hearts of all of us who were just glad he was there, not to catch his wife by the arm or break her fall, but to film the whole thing and upload it to YouTube. There are so many wife guys out there; please, never stop posting about your wives.
What song should I listen to? The answer is always Darude's "Sandstorm," the internet's anthem. If you have to ask, you'll never know. Grab the lyrics here so you can sing along.
No. Though this anime still—from the '90s series The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird—has been making the rounds on the internet for years, it's been revived, like a sassy Lazarus, for remixes and Distracted Boyfriend-esque object-labeling. Read more about its legitimately fascinating origins here.
82. Grumpy Cat (RIP)
Grumpy Cat was a sweet cat that became a viral cat that became a movie cat voiced by Aubrey Plaza. If digital archaeologists of the future uncover nothing but that sole line of code, it'll be all they need to know about why our society collapsed. We can't stop looking at Grumpy Cat's frown.
Originally, the song behind this video was the story of "a man, Johnny, riding his horse across the American prairie to his sweetheart Mary, who knits socks as she waits his return." Then it lost its lyrics, and now you can send it to anyone you'd like to shut up and/or troll. RIP, Eduard Khil.
In a vacuum, "The Ice Bucket Challenge" would pass without a second look. But since nature abhors a vacuum, it became one of the few examples of a charitable cause using a meme for the power of good. Who would've thought, first of all, that a viral challenge could lead to actual research discoveries. What's more, the challenge succeeded in sloughing off the name "Lou Gehrig's disease" from ALS. Credit where credit is due.
Remember "Friday"?! Gotta get down on Friday?! The vanity project of a poorly advised but decently well-funded teen created a viral furor on the internet which led to the creation of remixes, gifs, and lasting infamy for Black. Without conferring any of the benefits of fame. Well... actually. We'll see about that.
Ah, THE DRESS. The great equalizer. You thought you were above THE DRESS. You thought you could ignore THE DRESS. You thought you could casually observe without repercussions that THE DRESS is obviously blue and black, only to find yourself embroiled in a three-hour-long argument with your significant other, who thought the dress white and gold, that precipitated the end of your relationship. THE DRESS exhibited no mercy in its overwhelming, brutal dankness.
77. "Chocolate Rain"
Before Rebecca Black, there was Tay Zonday, whose "Chocolate Rain" lyrics became the embodiment of late-W.-era resignation. The song earned itself a feature on South Park as the epitome of the internet's functionality in a capitalist society. What does one do with fame no one's willing to pay for? Like the song says, "Some stay dry and others feel the pain."
Dabbing is newish, but it has some famous exponents, for better and for worse. Cam Newton, for one, sunk his teeth into it. Migos popularized it. And Squidward turned it into the ultimate surprise. But then there were Bill Gates and this sociopath. The jury's still out, but the simplicity of the original could place it in the pantheon of celebrations.
Have you ever loved someone like these two loved each other in the midst of a 2011 riot, Canada's largest display of violence since Vice Admiral Cantwell made a rude remark about Queen Victoria's corset? No, you haven't. To love like this would mean ignoring the realities of the real world and also having a heart. Photoshoppers agreed, highlighting the effect by placing them in historic situations about which they couldn't care less.
74. Ancient Aliens
The History Channel anticipated the internet's brazen race for eyeballs at all costs, thanks to a comedically liberal interpretation of the word “history.” Eventually, things got so bad that this dude became an "expert" on historic events that, contrary to what you learned in school, were carried out by ALIENS. So, whenever you need an explanation for a difficult question, use this macro and all will be revealed.
For Tom Cruise's career, there is Before the Couch-Jumping, when no one questioned the biggest movie star in Hollywood, and After the Couch-Jumping, when his mere presence raises an eyebrow. The profession of love for his then-wife Katie Holmes raised the scrutiny over the Church of Scientology and, well, the rest is history. Meanwhile, over 15 years later, the internet is still meme-ing this brazen display of love.
Swaggy P's career as a basketball player befuddles those who know him as a shoot-first, overconfident ball hog. And yet he possesses a strange charisma encapsulated in this meme, which serves as a macro AND a reaction to anything as befuddling as Young himself—to make things even more meta, the meme has come full circle.
71. Ceiling Cat
An OG cat meme that has taken on new macro-meaning in the age of constant government surveillance. Ceiling Cat is watching you illegally download NSA documents you acquired through your private contracting gig! Dang.
Hate when your MacBook Pro restarts for no reason? Bored of all your video games? Sick of the ads on Hulu? Go cry about it, Jared Kushners of the world.
Hillary Clinton ended this meme when she tweeted it at Donald Trump during her 2016 presidential campaign. But its origins as a Myspace insult that migrated to Tumblr that migrated to all social media as the ultimate shut-down retort indicate it has a long, long, long shelf life. "Delete your account" somehow manages to be both nicer and crueler than its wicked cousin, "Kill yourself."
Those of us who lived through the planking craze will tell our grandkids tales about the glory days of 2010 and 2011, when anything seemed possible, any situation ripe for a good ol' plank. Or at least we'll tell our mom's friends when she has them over for dinner, and we decide to come up from the basement to have some wine. This meme stands as the quintessential example of spontaneous brilliance subsequently ruined by others who tried too hard to replicate it. Remember "owling" and "Tebowing"? Yeah, those sucked so hard.
ALSO READ: The Best Memes of 2020
It says a lot about John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign that this is the most memorable Kerry moment, and it happened in 2007. Overzealous police officers attempted to remove a man who interrupted Senator Kerry's speech at the University of Florida; knowing what would happen next, the protester offered one final, futile plea: Don't tase me, bro! The line has become a response to any unpleasant experience, and its close relative, "Don't tease me, bro," has become an antidote for anxious anticipation the world over.
Future generations, take note: This is right up there with "Playing at St. George." It just means "fucking."
64. "More cowbell!"
Before he was a mainstream movie star, Will Ferrell was the off-kilter backbone of Saturday Night Live, with an eye for the hilariously mundane. The 2000 sketch that generated this now-famous line focuses on the fictional percussionist of the Blue Oyster Cult who rocked the cowbell during recording sessions for their hit song, "Don't Fear the Reaper." In the years following this sketch, as two foreign wars raged and cultural hegemony hit an all-time high, "More cowbell!" became a rallying cry for something—anything—different.
For those who think memes don't matter: Consider James Van Der Beek, who parlayed his horrendous cry-face in the teen show Dawson's Creek into a universally recognized expression of low-stakes bereavement, and a second, self-parodying act. Well done, Van Der Beek. Well done.
Bill, we're going to remember you for a number of reasons. None of them good, but some more meme-able than others.
Remember Antoine Dodson? This is him like you've never heard him. Way before Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was doing it, other people (with The Gregory Brothers leading the charge) were Auto-Tuning the fuck out of the news and making gloriously awful masterpieces.
It really doesn't matter what Baby Goose does, shit will not stick to him. The man played Robert Durst, for God's sake! "Hey Girl" cemented Gosling's legacy as a dream catch for women, who was simultaneously (and somewhat confusingly) sensitive to the modern woman's needs, yet also ready to... be a husband? The Gossiping Gosling moment only added to the actor's meme legend status.
Thanks to this kid's talent show performance, this other kid's incredible Halloween costume, bottle flipping reached new heights in 2016. The only thing better than watching everybody's daring attempts to pull off plastic acrobatics were the heavily edited fakes that emerged as part of the "haters gonna say it's fake" meme, one that exists well outside bottle flipping.
It's sad this is dead. For a while—including before this trend hopped from real-life frat stars to the internet—one of the great joys in life was watching a bitchin' bro top off a Smirnoff Ice in earnest, then get up and plaster a super-cool look on his face—you know, the kind of smirk that said, "Fuck, man, I'm tragically uncool, aren't I?" Damn. RIP.
57. Arthur fist
Arthur, the PBS educational TV series based on the Arthur the Aardvark books that just ended its 25-year run, has generated some of the best memes. In particular: One Twitter user's insightful take on an Arthur freeze frame led to 2016's greatest representation of inner frustration. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
When Kanye West crashed Taylor Swift's speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, he probably knew he was doing something that would never be forgotten. But surely he didn't realize the moment would later turn into one of the most enduring memes of all time. It functions almost like the simple setup of a knock-knock joke. You know what's coming next. And it ain't good.
The Occupy Wall Street movement spawned dozens of social media campaigns, images, political action, and protests. Summing up the confusing melange was an overzealous, dickish campus cop at UC Davis who decided it would be a good idea to stroll up and down a group of peacefully protesting students and pepper spray them directly in the face. Almost immediately, the cop found himself ruining the rest of history.
Just a few months after the launch of YouTube, commercial editor Robert Ryang inadvertently kicked off a movement by recutting Stanley Kubrick's The Shining into a lighthearted family comedy. Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" clearly worked its beaming, inspirational magic; the viral success of The Shining trailer spawned countless recuts, with a few—see: Brokeback to the Future—catapulting the practice to legendary status.
53. Slender Man
The Slender Man—sometimes spelled as one word and occasionally referred to as "Slender"—is a towering, faceless humanoid who dresses in a suit and stalks lonely children. Entirely fictional, he was created in 2009, when a user of the internet forum Something Awful submitted a doctored photo for a paranormal image contest. The character quickly exploded in popularity and became a fixture of horror sites (namely Creepypasta), inspiring countless videos, photos, and pieces of fan fiction. He is the horror meme.
Casual stereotyping has fueled the internet for a long, long time. Before we had the starter packs you see today on Instagram and Facebook, we had the slightly related YouTube videos that poked fun at what certain types of people used to say.
Finding out you or one of your beloved Oregon Trail wagon-mates perished via unrelenting diarrhea was the grade-school equivalent of being audited by the IRS. Still, it’s better to die of dysentery alone than kill your whole family fording a river. Right? OK, maybe not.
As much as we love this guy, and his incredible feats, we hate to break this to him: He's basically the mall version of Chuck Norris Facts (more on that below). We still love you, and you were undeniably huge, my man. Just not quite the real deal.
This turn-of-the-millennium hit found second life in the irony-soaked hands of a new generation, who find that relentlessly mocking the song is much more pleasing than listening to it. Peak "All Star" is owned by the lovable, neck-bearded Jon Sudano, who poignantly squeezes Smash Mouth lyrics into other popular songs. Smash Mouth, who performed at a COVID superspreader event in Sturgis, North Dakota, had this to say about the meme: "It's funny because a large percentage of our fans don't even know what a meme is—heck, we didn't really know either at first." Yeah. Not the sharpest tools in the shed.
The phrase may date as far back as Saturday Night Live's "Wayne's World," but it's still riotously funny to 13-year-olds the world over (and Michael Scott from The Office). Anything can become sexual, and these four words are the proof.
It wasn't that long ago that former Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen took the word "winning" out of the sports realm and applied it to life in general. Unsurprisingly, his antics quickly spread to bros the world over and Donald Trump.
46. Star Wars kid
Parodied by such comedy stalwarts as Stephen Colbert and Arrested Development, this 2002 video of a kid wielding a ball fetcher like a lightsaber exploded onto the pre-YouTube internet, repurposed by any and every internet user with video-editing skillz. The bittersweet twist is that viral fame took its toll; after suffering emotional damage, Star Wars kid slapped the cyberbullies who leaked the video with harassment lawsuits.
Shepard Fairey's reproduction of an Obama portrait quickly became one of the most iconic images of the 2008 presidential election. It wasn't long before several parodies, imitating the style and minimalist message, spawned.
44. Dick Butt
This one doesn't require that much unpacking. Dick Butt is a drawing of a penis with a mouth, nose, and eyes who also happens to have another penis emerging from its rear end. (This second penis does not have facial features.) It's a dick with a butt. Hence, Dick Butt. It came from a webcomic by artist K.C. Green and was popular on 4chan, YouTube, Reddit, and other places that you might assume would find Dick Butt hilarious. Either you think Dick Butt is funny or you're probably not reading this explanation anymore.
43. Shirtless Putin
Vladimir Putin has been the subject of countless memes over his seemingly eternal reign heading the Russian oligarchy. While "Shirtless Putin" memes—featuring him riding eagles, shootin' guns, and engaging in other real-life and photoshopped badassery—have been Westernized riffs on his over-the-top and well-staged acts of masculinity, the people of Russia have used an image of Putin as a gay clown to protest the regime's harsh stance on LGBTQ rights. This meme (and all memes of Putin, really) were promptly banned by the Kremlin—meaning they clearly got under his skin, proving not all memes have to be vessels for Dick Butt jokes.
Animals make excellent internet fodder, and "Philosoraptor," a popular image meme where a quizzical dinosaur thinks deeply absurd thoughts, is the perfect example of what even an extinct creature can accomplish. Where did this Jurassic meme hatch from? While you'd think this particular joke was cooked up on a web forum, Philosoraptor actually debuted as a T-shirt sold on the website Lonely Planet by a designer named Sam Smith. Yep, that's right: Novelty clothing can still be funny.
WIlliam Shatner's entire existence has morphed into a meme, from the vocal modulation to appearing on Shit My Dad Says, and you can't argue with the results. He's continued to make bank as a octogenarian actor, with this angry Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scream echoing through the annals of history.
40. Hitler reacts
Not long after the release of Oliver Hirschbiegel's 2004 film, Downfall—about Adolf Hitler's final days in his Berlin bunker—YouTubers turned the climax into a subtitled burst of absurdist comedy. In the real version, actor Bruno Ganz fumes with German fury over a failed assault. But in many of the viral parodies that followed, he kvetches about trivial pop-culture matters, everything from late-night show politics to Taylor Swift. "The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality," Hirschbiegel told Vulture in 2010, noting that his favorites were the Michael Jackson and Billy Elliot ones. "It's only fair if now it's taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like."
39. Double rainbow
"Oh my God, it's so bright and vivid. Oh! Oh! OHHHH!" That's how Paul "Bear" Vasquez described the double rainbow he spotted and recorded near Yosemite in 2010. A beautiful experience to behold, one complemented nicely by Bear, whose commentary made him sound like he was scared, happy, and on the verge of an orgasm. The video was a meme creator's dream, immediately spawning songs and catchphrases, and changing the world forever.
38. Numa Numa
It's fun to watch other people have fun. That's the driving philosophy behind many of the memes, especially the ones that popped up online in the early '00s like "Numa Numa," which emerged from a video of New Jersey resident Gary Brolsma dancing like a mad man to "Dragostea Din Tei" by Moldovan pop trio O-Zone (i.e., the song sampled on T.I. and Rihanna's "Live Your Life"). Brolsma's joyful lip sync inspired countless tributes, parodies, and sequels, but nothing beats the original for pure, unhinged joy.
37. "Bye, Felicia"
It's hard to think that when Ice Cube was shooting Friday, his classic 1995 stoner comedy, he had any idea that a throwaway line like "Bye, Felicia" would go on to become a popular dismissive catchphrase—much less the source for countless GIFs, Twitter put-downs, and even the title of a VH1 show. But that's how the internet works. Once people latch onto a piece of culture, it takes on a life of its own. This particular phrase went from the movies to the internet and then back to the big screen: Friday director F. Gary Gray incorporated the line into his N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, where Cube's actual son O'Shea Jackson Jr. delivered the line while playing his father. Whoa.
36. Success Kid
Remember how fun it was to watch Kip Dynamite score a huge win? This meme was like that, but on steroids. The cuteness mixed with the often idiotic quips made this macro one of the most-used of its kind. And for good cause—whenever you needed a dose of optimism, Success Kid was there to remind you about how good (or dumb) life could be.
35. Duck face
Whether you saw it first on Myspace, in Zoolander, or on the cover of Little Feat's Down on the Farm, you know damn well what this pose is. Heck, you might've even duck-faced a few times yourself. Never forget.
34. Ate my balls
While this meme has faded into obscurity, it deserves a slot on this list for being one of the first memes to thrive on the internet. The archived (and delightfully '90s) website started by University of Illinois student Nehal Patel as a simple joke, featured Mr T. making various comments, via crudely drawn speech bubbles, about eating his balls, your balls… pretty much everyone's balls by the end. It was an early demonstration in remixing memes, as evidenced by such varieties as Chewbacca Ate My Balls and the still-relevant Bill Gates Bought My Balls. It just goes to show you, the internet has always had an affinity for well-placed genital humor. Hopefully, it always will.
33. Squinting Fry
Who would've thought that a random screengrab from Futurama's "The Lesser of Two Evils" would become so meme-orable (ahem)? Probably not Fry, but here he is anyway, still being used as a macro stand-in for suspicious moments and confusion.
32. "Gangnam Style"
Earwormy passages? Easy dance moves? Absurd imagery? Carefully crafted satire of something loosely analogous to South Korea's 1%? All of the above? We've already tried, and failed, to figure out exactly why Psy's "Gangnam Style" is so popular and immortal. But having surpassed 4 billion views, Cho Soo-hyun's cheesy horse trot-filled music video has proven it will live on in internet history books for the rest of time. Just accept it.
31. ??? --> Profit!
South Park has given the world its fair share of iconic moments, but nothing sums up the internet era of late capitalism better than this gem, taken from an episode in which underpants gnomes steal underwear in order to turn a profit. How do they make a profit? Through a simple three-phase plan, the second phase of which is simply "?". In time, some form of the punchline "Profit" became a golden response to any example of poor planning or a dumb idea destined for failure.
30. "Thanks, Obama"
No president inspired more online invective and praise than Barack Obama, largely because he was America's first true president of the internet age. "Thanks, Obama" took off as sarcastic right-wing retort to the perceived problems with Obama's health-care bill, but it soon became an even more sarcastic way to blame the president for anything that went wrong in life—no matter how minor. A meme for all political leanings, "Thanks, Obama" has defied constitutionally mandated term limits and continues to govern the meme-verse.
Queen of the Macros, the Ermahgerd meme emerged from an immediate collective understanding that "ermahgerd gersbermps" is exactly how the subject of this macro would pronounce, "Oh my God, Goosebumps." This meme actually influenced the way people speak, turning "ermahgerd" into a stock nerdy response to any object of enthusiasm. Say it out loud and try not to laugh. We can't do this meme more justice than Vanity Fair has already done in its profile of the woman in the photo, so read that.
28. "It's a trap!"
When Admiral Ackbar casually dropped this line in Star Wars: Episode VI–Return of the Jedi, the galaxy quaked. Not because of the ambush. But because fans the universe over were stoked for another everlasting catchphrase, one they'd be able to use years later, as a reaction to pretty much anything remotely sketchy, on one of those crazy, crazy dot com things. (N.B.: Not a tarp.)
27. Roll Safe
In 2016, while playing the character R.S. (aka Roll Safe) in the BBC Three's #HoodDocumentary series, actor Kayode Ewumi made a coded oral sex quip. The screengrab of that moment is now, and forever, your best-worst source of advice.
What time is it? It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time. Before this was a goofy Family Guy gag, this delightfully silly meme started on forums as a piece of Flash animation where a chipper banana dances around as "Peanut Butter Jelly Time," a track from the Buckwheat Boyz, blares in the background. Don't question it. Submit to the banana.
It might surprise you where "derp" came from. It shouldn't. Matt Stone first yelled the word after he was caught licking a mother's vibrating dildo in BASEketball. DERP! The term, which has come to represent palpable moments of failure and stupidity, has since found its way into a number of South Park episodes (remember Mr. Derp?) and, more importantly, mainstream internet vernacular. Thank you, Matt, Trey, and Mr. Zucker.
On May 28, 2016, a toddler climbed into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. An employee who feared for the child's life shot and killed the gorilla. The months that followed resurrected Harambe in ways no one could have predicted. In a different era, the incident would have been nothing more than a story in the local newspaper. But we live in the Meme Age, and Harambe became a rallying symbol for a slice of internet entrenched in irony. Harambe got his own Change.org petition. Twitter users placed him alongside the other celebrities so publicly and crudely mourned. Then the nonsensical "Dicks out for Harambe" rallying cry took hold. Then 11,000 people supposedly voted for Harambe in the US presidential election (or was it 15,000? Or was it fake news?!). A Harambe Cheeto sold for $99,900 on eBay. What does it mean? It's only a mirror.
Whether he's sipping tea or talking to an evil doppelgänger, this Muppet has earned a decidedly different identity online. Warm and fuzzy? Nah. Friendly and caring? Not quite. When you see him from behind the keyboard, no longer is he Sesame Street's most famous protagonist. He's a devil for your shoulder, the king of minding his own business—the kind who has the same longevity and malleability as a SpongeBob. Long may he reign.
22. Me IRL/It Me
The internet dishes out a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of ridiculous humans to mock, so self-deprecation (with some implicit mocking) can be a welcome respite. The phrase "me irl"—"in real life," if you live in a pineapple under the sea and have no idea what that means—got its start way back in 1997, but (as with most memes) blew up on Reddit much later. The closely related "It Me" meme serves the same purpose and is also useful, although it did originate from a highly problematic text exchange.
No one could have predicted that a mildly problematic line from Sean Connery's earnest drama Finding Forrester would become the emblem for repetitive internet nonsense, but hey, here we are! In 2001, Max Goldberg slapped Connery's line-reading with a tiled mosaic of the man's face and cast it off into an infinite loop. Goldberg would open the site up to user-created "YTMND" memes, both bite-size and epic, mesmerizing and irritating as hell. No other platform could support such gifts as the Master Control Program from TRON singing Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold."
A parody of leet speak? The conversion of adorableness into syntax? Who knows why 4chan users started slapping photos of cute cats with grammar-violating, Z-filled captions, but the meme took off, prompting one genius forum-dweller to start I Can Haz Cheezeburger, a hub for all things feline.
Animals are hilarious and cute! That's one of the great truths that makes the internet go 'round. Even better when they're making delightfully anthropomorphic faces or behaving in ways that make you believe they're more human (or humans are more animal) than anyone assumed. This prairie dog—erroneously called a chipmunk by many—first appeared in all his dramatic glory on the early 2000s Japanese show Hello Morning! Then YouTube came along, and in 2007 our dramatic hero became a go-to cut whenever a real-life M. Night Shyamalan twist thickened the plot.
18. Smiley face
What could endure longer, with more universality, than the simple smiley face? Of course, it's not so simple—now your everyday speech is peppered with emojis and emoticons of all kinds, but Harvey Ball's 1963 depiction of a yellow circle with two black eyes and an upward grin set the stage for everything from your cry-laugh reactions to wink emoticons... hell, we wouldn't even have an eggplant emoji without the path the yellow smiley face set in motion. It is the ur-text of contemporary communication. Without it, we cease to exist. Or we type out entire text messages, at the very least.
The cheesy motivational staples of high-school biology classrooms and corporate break rooms cried out for parody, and pretty soon, there were more than enough parodies to go around. It's not totally clear who thought that stock photography and cliches would inspire people to live their best lives, but as always, the power of memes pretty quickly rendered the originals obsolete.
16. Nyan Cat
It takes an army to generate a lasting meme. Fused together from a GIF, designed by a 25-year-old in Dallas, Texas, and a Japanese music video cover of "Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya," Nyan Cat popped up on YouTube in 2011 and changed the way internet kids saw cats with Pop-Tart bodies who fart rainbows forever. The simplicity of Nyan Cat's image made it easy to repurpose with world flags, various cat faces, and unmentionable shit we'll leave you to imagine for yourself.
15. Nigerian prince
You've heard some version of the scam before, which doesn't always involve Nigeria or a prince, but is often called a "419 scam" after its code in Nigerian law: You get an email in stilted English from a stranger telling a tale of death, political difficulties, inheritance, and your kind assistance, with a goal of making you cough up your bank account information. As a scam, it's pretty easily ignored; the modern email version dates all the way back to the Spanish prisoner scam of the late 1700s, so it certainly has durability. As a meme, it's infinitely malleable, providing a ready comeback for anyone you perceive to be gullible ("Oh, you believe politicians have the public's interest at heart? I also know a Nigerian prince you should meet.") or a reference point for clever macros. This one shows no sign of slowing down.
The rare example of a meme that made its own news in real time, Crying Michael Jordan originated from Jordan's vindictive, self-serving Hall of Fame speech. If you haven't watched the source material, please do. Of the many gifts that speech gave the world (has a father ever told his kids "I wouldn't want to be you" in front of a bigger audience?!), a red-eyed, blubbering meme is surely the greatest. You can put MJ's face on just about anything to lighten the mood, but get your meme feet wet with a Drake album, Mount Rushmore, James Harden's beard, or Donald Trump's trunk.
Thank god for Conan O'Brien, who in 2004 effectively re-catapulted Chuck Norris back into the zeitgeist with his Walker, Texas Ranger lever. Ever since, the martial artist has become the subject of an almost innumerable number of hilarious alternative facts exaggerating his strength, virility, and badassery. (Seriously, there's a database full of 'em.) Chuck's favorite? "They wanted to put Chuck Norris' face on Mount Rushmore, but the granite wasn't hard enough for his beard."
12. Bert Is Evil
While this breed of subversive fun at the expense of childhood icons seems to be a trademark of today’s internet, Bert Is Evil is a product of the '90s, making it one of the internet’s first true memes. In 1997, designer and Ernie-apologist Dino Ignacio created the parody website of the same name, putting Sesame Street's Bert into incredibly evil situations. The meme was early and influential, gaining massive mainstream media coverage after a picture from the site—featuring Bert with Osama Bin Laden—was mistakenly put on a poster at a rally in Afghanistan. Obviously, the American people were confused at the connection here (ah, the internet was so much simpler back then!). But, with the proper explanation, this might be the moment where many Americans found out what memes are in the first place. At the expense of Bert, of course.
One person's Shiba Inu is another person's meme. Case in point: When a Japanese kindergarten teacher put a picture of a good little doggo online, the internet came with Comic Sans captions, beautifully awful syntax, and a custom payment system. To know doge is to know a very special and everlasting way of life.
10. "U mad bro?"
Nothing infuriates an angry or jealous person more than trivializing his rage or jealousy, which is exactly what the always appropriate response "U mad bro?" accomplishes. The simpler "You mad" first came to prominence when Cam'ron shut down Bill O'Reilly during a segment on whether rap was harmful to children (thank God those days are over... hopefully). Eventually, "u mad?" and "u mad bro?" became go-to quips on bodybuilding forums and during video gameplay whenever anyone got a little salty. Now, it can exist in virtually any format: on political macros, on group texts, in Vines (RIP), as its very own song, on top of other memes... you name it, bro.
9. Keyboard Cat
Boo boo boo boo boo buhboooooo buh. Boo boo boo boo boo buhboooooo buh. The shirt. The eyes. The head raise. ICONIC. This video is, in a few ways, the Mozart of internet videos: playful, passionate, a crown jewel of history. Evolving from a piece of performance art to an exclamation point at the end of fail videos to a mainstream sensation, Fatso the tabby paved the way for dozens of future animal supawstars.
In 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, when actor Gene Wilder introduces Wonka's most secret machine, he strikes an incredible pose. In the moment, it's a pose of playful suspense, but when screengrabs of the scene began popping up across internet forums the world over, Wilder's pose came to indicate delicious, sarcastic condescension. Which really can apply to anyone or anything posting/posted publicly online.
Not only is this gyrating little burst of uncanny valley—by our estimation—the world's first internet meme, it's also one of the critical turning points of internet history, overall. In 1996, Michael Girard designed the baby as a demo to prove motion could be effectively programmed on a computer. When it landed in the lap of a LucasArts designer, he turned it into what was effectively the world's first GIF. From there, it slid into a thousand email inboxes (remember, this was still when snail mail wasn't called snail mail) and became the internet's first true phenomenon, culminating in a recurring role alongside confused '90s lawyer Ally McBeal. The Dancing Baby launched a million GeoCities pages, and remains the pure representation of the internet's infant (hehe) stage.
Andre the Giant is the quintessential example of an ever-evolving meme that crossed from the physical realm to the cold ones and zeroes of the internet. Andre the Giant was the gargantuan professional wrestling star whose size led to wild apocryphal claims, like the story that he drank 156 (or was it 127?) beers in a single sitting, or that he was so large as a child that he couldn't ride the bus, so Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett drove him to school. In 1989, street artist Shepard Fairey created a stencil of Andre the Giant with the added phrase "Has a Posse," and distributed them all over the East Coast, where they became popular in the skater subculture. Eventually, the stencil morphed into a stylized image of Andre the Giant with the word "OBEY" underneath, a kind of vaguely anti-authoritarian message that could be replicated ad infinitum in stickers, street art, online, and on clothing.
This former Flash video, spread primarily on forums like Something Awful at the turn of the Willennium, launched the modern meme format, the Image Macro (image with white block letters over). The phrase itself is a direct quote from a shoddily translated Japanese Sega Genesis game, Zero Wing. Like any meme worth its Salt Bae, "All Your Base" spawned countless remixes and appropriations, as it became shorthand for nerd culture, and was even [cringe] covered in local news broadcasts. Never has someone being horrible at their job been so beneficial to society.
Dang, someone disagreeing with you on the internet? Need someone to just fucking handle something for you? This years-old retort should do the trick. All you need to put them in their place, my friend, is a pair of pixelated sunglasses and these three simple words: Deal. With. It. (Dog optional, but preferable.)
Like Trololo, but English. Just kidding. Rickroll's roots go all the way back to 4chan circa 2007, when users began posting bait-and-switch links that led to Rick Astley's solo single debut instead of duckrolls. A beautifully random trolling phenomenon was born, one that continues today, one that's never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you, never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye, never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.
Primitive Sponge. Stunned Patrick. Confused Mr. Krabs. If you needed any more proof that SpongeBob SquarePants was amazing, and not just for kids, all the show's hilarious screengrabs-turned-viral reactions should do the trick. They're versatile, recognizable, and proving immortal.