Many people love a good meme, and they can be found everywhere. But a classic meme is something the whole world becomes familiar with and will be heralded for decades. Memes are an excellent way to spread messages, humor, opinions, and more. However, with more than two decades worth of memes out there, which are the most popular ones?
Below are some of the classic memes most people who use the internet can identify. While some might be even older than some readers of this article, they still might know them.
What Is a Meme?
While the word “meme” was first coined by Richard Dawkins to describe transmitted ideas, the word’s current meaning isn’t too far from what Dawkins intended. People create and spread memes to pass concepts on in the form of text, images, and videos.
This list of classic memes comes in all those forms. Memes don’t have to be funny to make an impact, as some memes are used ironically or to convey an emotion. Technically, catchphrases are considered a meme too.
With that brief explanation out of the way, let’s begin with the list. Don’t worry, all the memes here are safe for work (or at least safe enough).
The Trollface is the quintessential rage comic character, part of a family of reaction images that has been popular since 2008. As a representation of internet trolls or people who intentionally frustrate or anger others online, Trollface has never truly gone away.
Carlos Ramirez, or Whynne as he was known on DeviantART, drew Trollface using Microsoft Paint. He uploaded the comic on September 19, 2008. From then on, 4chan users decided Trollface was an appropriate representation of the internet troll, leading to the universal adoption of this character.
Trollface himself is the basis of even more memes. From inspiring Trolololol (various spellings) to being combined with Doge and others, it’s impossible to deny how much this image has shaped the humor of many generations.
The Dat Boi meme originated as an edited image of a young boy, but around 2016 it evolved into the low-quality green frog riding a unicycle. It would be accompanied by captions like “Here come dat boi!” and “Oh s*** waddup!” It may not be the most popular meme, but its usage is still present in 2022.
Dat Boi is most often found as images with additional effects added, but the most famous example of the meme is a music video. Despite being poorly made, its charm would capture the hearts of internet users who later spawned even more videos. VANTAGE would release a vaporwave remix of Dat Boi, which was strangely calming.
Today, Dat Boi memes occasionally surface on the internet, and a single mention is enough to bring back memories of this classic.
Keanu Reeves Memes
Keanu Reeves made his name acting in “The Matrix” and “John Wick.” However, he has been the source of at least five separate memes. We’ll touch on some of them here.
You may have seen the Conspiracy Keanu memes many years ago, which were used in conjunction with insane theories and strange ideas. This meme used a very young Reeves as the image.
A screenshot of Reeves reloading a handgun as John Wick is also a surprising meme. It often accompanied scenarios where violence was perceived to be the next course of action.
Reeves would appear in the video game Cyberpunk 2077 as Johnny Silverhand, and many images from the game would end up as memes. These were used more as references than hilarious images, but they were quite a phenomenon.
An offshoot of the Cyberpunk 2077 meme was the Mini Keanu Reeves meme. A Twitter user with the handle @JT_0907 edited a standing image of Reeves so he appeared to be a short person. This meme was quite comical and gained widespread acceptance immediately.
While the actor receives praise for his down-to-earth personality and wholesome acts, his movie personas are quite often meme potential. It’s not surprising to see new memes made of him today.
YouTube videos often incorporate background music to avoid being perceived as boring. However, not every creator would list out the music they used in the video. This has prompted other users to make comments asking about the song’s name.
A typical comment thread would start with “Song name?” and end with multiple people saying “Darude Sandstorm” mixed with the actual song name.
Trolls would reply to these users with “Sandstorm” by Darude, the Finnish electronic musician. Others started playing the song on flutes and trumpets, slowly propelling the meme to fame.
Darude himself embraced the meme and has even played it in gamer conferences. Even younger internet users will know about the meme today.
Tardar Sauce, known by most as Grumpy Cat, was the source of many reaction images of this naturally grumpy-looking feline. She was the subject of millions of edits and macros, conveying the idea that she wasn’t amused and sometimes pleased by the “bad karma” of others.
Grumpy Cat would be used to complain about those having fun or displeased about something mundane. Eventually, her owners would post more images and videos of the feline to satisfy the masses.
Tardar Sauce the actual cat passed away on May 17, 2019, due to a urinary tract infection. She was with her family until the end.
Though the inspiration for Grumpy Cat departed from the realm of the living, art, and memes of her continue to be made and spread. It might be fitting to proclaim Grumpy Cat really isn’t dead and is, in fact, still spawning new memes.
Ice Bucket Challenge
The Ice Bucket Challenge may sound silly initially, but the meme came about due to ALS, the disease known in the U.S as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and that afflicted Dr. Stephen Hawking. The rules varied slightly, but the main idea was a person would either pour or have someone pour a bucket of ice water over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Foundation. Claims of slacktivism aside, it was quite popular.
Celebrities like Rachel Maddow, Jack Black, and many more would follow suit. The meme raised awareness for ALS and increased donations to the ALS Foundation. The organization announced that it received more than $31 million in 2014, 30 times the amount received in 2013.
The Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t popular now. Even so, anyone old enough to remember it will have a laugh reminiscing about the sometimes-startled reactions of some of the participants.
What was supposed to be an innocent question asking Tumblr users the color of a particular dress became a strange meme. Many people insisted that it was white and gold, but others swore it was black and blue. A war on Twitter and other social media platforms began.
This article of clothing spawned a hashtag, debates, and scientific experiments. The original color, however, was black and blue. The reason was due to lighting effects which changed users’ perception.
Occasionally, The Dress makes an appearance on the internet, particularly on Twitter. The Dress itself was the subject of other memes and reaction images.
The History Channel has aired informative documentaries and shows over the years, but one documentary has been immortalized as a meme. The show “Ancient Aliens” had Giorgio A. Tsoukalos try to convince viewers of the ancient astronaut theory. In other words, ancient humans met aliens and learned from them.
A particular screenshot and the footage of Tsoukalos making a gesture is now the best way to call something a conspiracy theory. The original caption was “I don’t know, therefore aliens.”
As one of the most popular image macros, the meme would go down in history and continue to appear sporadically.
People who were old enough to use the internet during 2011 may have encountered the Nyan Cat. This 8-bit cat with the body of a Pop-Tart and a rainbow trail was drawn by Chris Torres. He did so during a charity event, but the meme only came into the spotlight after a video combining the GIF of the cat and a song called “Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya! “ was uploaded.
Performed by the Utauloid artist Momo Momone, this programmed song combined with the adorable feline gained more than 200 million views as of writing time. Meanwhile, other users drew other cats to latch onto this new meme.
Nyan Cat itself has been incorporated into many works by content creators and even commercials. It would also appear in fan-made games and websites.
The internet is obsessed with cute animals, whether fictional, real, or a combination of both. The Nyan Cat meme still lives today, though not as popular as before.
Also called “I Hate Sandcastles,” the Success Kid is an old image taken by Laney Griner of her son Sammy. He is on the beach making a fist pump, which would often have the caption “Success,” “I Hate Sandcastles,” or “Ima F*** You Up.”
The Success Kid image would later expand to have more captions. Many of them involved the boy being at a disadvantage or just strolling by, but things would turn out well. For example, in one meme he saw a nickel on the ground, but it was actually a dollar.
Though Sammy Griner is now all grown up, the old picture dating from 2007 still makes its rounds on the internet today.
The Advice Animals are a group of image macros that contain one or more animals plus a caption. They sometimes have humans, rage comic characters, or even other fictional characters. You can find examples of cats, velociraptors, and more.
Success Kid is part of the Advice Animals family but also enjoys a different level of fame than most of his brethren. Advice Animal memes tend to be slightly educational, but this isn’t a necessity. Some are entirely nonsensical, attempting to sound profound but intentionally not achieving that goal.
Advice Animals frequently appear on the internet, and more creatures join the family as time passes.
Fast food chain McDonald’s is found in practically every country of the world, including Japan. In the early 2000s, there were a series of Japanese commercials called Ronald Rumors, which featured the fast-food mascot asking questions about himself. While they were aimed at children, the world was about to discover how quirky Japanese meme creators were.
Ronald would make a pose and say “Ran Ru” in these advertisements. Users of the Japanese video sharing site Nico Douga would remix Ronald McDonald with various media. However, the one that won the popularity contest was a mash-up of Ronald McDonald and the song “U.N. Owen Was Her.”
This song from the Touhou games mixed with the strange Ronald McDonald voices would soon gain traction. Since its creation in 2007, the video has accumulated millions of views. The original NND video is gone, but the YouTube reupload still exists.
Many viewers considered the video entertaining, but a minority found it unsettling. The Touhou community embraced it wholeheartedly, and the meme still occupies an essential spot in viral video lore.
Dave Roth wasn’t prepared for what his daughter Zoe’s smiling face would inspire when he took a photo of her with a burning house in the background. He uploaded the image onto Zooomr on January 2, 2007, but the picture would achieve meme status in November of the same year.
Zoe’s smile comes across as evil, though she likely didn’t intend for it to be that way. The internet thought that she appeared to be the one behind the fire, and the memes began spreading. Users edited her face onto various disasters, natural or artificial. The result was legendary.
Though Zoe Roth is now a young woman, her face from more than 15 years ago can still be found on social media across the world.
Moldovan pop group O-Zone released a song called “Dragostea din tei” in 2003. It became fairly popular in Europe and Japan. The song did enjoy popularity before the “Numa Numa” meme existed, but what came later was one of the first viral videos.
Gary Brolsma from New Jersey performed and recorded a lip sync of the song that included him dancing in his chair. He uploaded it to Newgrounds in 2004, a website known for user-made flash animation content. Others later uploaded the video to YouTube.
The “Numa Numa” video garnered more than a billion views, so if you mentioned the words “Numa Numa” to anyone born before the 1990s, they would probably know what you were referring to.
The Nokia 3310 phone was released in 2000 as an everyday mobile device. Before that, cell phones were built like mini tanks. The devices were so big they could remain functional even if you dropped them on the floor or hit something with them.
The internet decided to take it to the extreme, bestowing impossible qualities to the Nokia 3310. People would claim Nokia used a fictional element called Nokium to make these phones. There were also memes showing the Nokia 3310 destroying the floor when dropped, rather than the phone itself breaking.
Japanese Shiba Inu female dog Kabosu is the adorable companion of Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Sato. In 2010, when Sato took a picture of Kabosu and uploaded it to her blog, it quickly became the meme known as ”Doge.” While Kabosu isn’t the only Doge, she’s the first one.
Doge is a misspelling of the word “dog,” and the Doge memes are usually the famous image of Kabosu and her unusual leer. The text for Doge memes is usually in Comic Sans font, and meme purists typically insist on using it and no other.
The original Doge memes may not be as popular in 2022 as they once were, but the derivatives certainly are. Kabosu’s likeness has spawned the likes of Ironic Doge Memes and Buff Doge. Nevertheless, Doge led to the rise of Cheems in 2019.
Cheems is a Shiba Inu as well and is usually quoted saying things that he likes “cheemsburgers,” a misspelling of cheeseburgers. It’s crucial to note that the Shiba Inu behind Cheems is named Balltze, who lives in Hong Kong with his owner Kathy.
Star Wars Kid
Canadian teenager Ghyslain Raza was holding a golf ball retriever and decided to mimic Darth Maul from Star Wars, spinning the club like a lightsaber. While he recorded the 8mm movie in 2002, he forgot to bring the tape home. His friends eventually uploaded it to Kazaa in 2003. Since then, people have added lightsaber sounds and special effects to the video. The Star Wars Kid video remains a true classic even to this day.
DNA of the Soul
As Monsoon from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance puts it, memes are the DNA of the soul. He was referring to the classic Dawkins example of a meme but soon became one himself. The quote is often used when people encounter an exquisite meme that entertains them.
Memes are among the most widespread forms of communication today and have infiltrated many aspects of daily life. You can find them in politics, the office, or simply by surfing the internet. While there are many great ones, some rise above the rest to become classics.
What are your favorite memes of all time? What other memes deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments section below.