It seems that new memes come and go every week on the internet. What’s everywhere today will be old news next month. With so many memes, how can you decide which are the best?
We’ve set out to do just that. Let’s look at 10 of the best memes to ever grace the internet. We chose these based on their longevity, cultural impact, or widespread appeal.
In case you’re not familiar with memes, let’s first quickly summarize them. Essentially, a meme is any piece of content, typically something funny, that spreads virally across the internet.
Often these are image macros, which are simply images paired with some text. But a meme can be a certain phrase, exploitable trend, idea, or similar. Have a look at our introduction to memes for more background and some examples.
Of course, there are many more than 10 amazing memes, but the following are some of our favorites (in no particular order).
Originated in: 2007
Everyone who uses the internet has probably been Rickrolled at some point. This classic bait-and-switch meme tempts people to click on a link, promising a trailer for an upcoming movie or something similarly enticing. In actuality, they link to the music video for Rick Astley’s 1987 song “Never Gonna Give You Up”.
The song was widely popular before the meme and has become a household name since. It’s an internet classic that puts a smile on your face as soon as you hear those first few notes.
2. Press F to Pay Respects
Originated in: 2014
Early in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s campaign, your player attends the funeral of his best friend. During this cutscene, the game prompts you to “Press F to Pay Respects.” This was widely mocked due to its awkward placement during a somber time of memorial; many saw it as a ham-fisted way to make the player “feel emotion” instead of building it through tone and gameplay.
But since the meme’s inception, it’s actually become even more popular. In fact, you’ll often see people type a simple “F” to pay respects to someone’s death on forums like Reddit. We include it here as a great example of a gaming meme that didn’t fade out over time, and even evolved to stay relevant.
3. Distracted Boyfriend
Originated in: 2017
This is a stock image depicting a guy walking with his girlfriend, but looking back at another girl suggestively. His girlfriend understandably has an upset look on her face, which led to labeling each person based on the setup.
Typically the girl in red represents something enticing, while the girlfriend shows the “responsible” or traditional choice.
While it’s one of the newest memes on this list, this one is notable for inspiring dozens of other object-labeling memes well into 2017 and beyond. The meme enjoyed a fair bit of longevity, too, since people discovered that there were more stock images featuring the same models in similar situations.
4. Arthur’s Fist
Originated in: 2016
Arthur is a kid’s TV series that started in the 1990s and is still running today. It’s produced several memes, but the best is undoubtedly Arthur’s fist.
This image comes from an episode where Arthur gets mad at his sister for breaking his model airplane and punches her. Before he does, we see Arthur’s clenched fist ready to strike. People commented that the fist held a lot of emotions, and it became a meme.
You can use the picture of Arthur’s fist alongside anything that makes you rage with anger.
5. Futurama Fry / Not Sure If
Originated in: 2011
This is one of the most popular image macro memes. It comes from the cartoon series Futurama, and shows the protagonist Philip J. Fry squinting his eyes. The top text starts with “Not sure if”, while the bottom starts with “Or…”. It compares two possible interpretations of a scenario that someone is evaluating.
You could use this meme to explain that you’re not sure if you’re rooting for one team, or just against the other, for example. It’s useful for a variety of internal monologues, leading to its popularity.
6. Conspiracy Keanu
Originated in: 2011
Many of the most popular memes from long ago fall into the Advice Animals category. These are images of an animal or person that each revolve around some character stereotype.
One of the best is Conspiracy Keanu. It’s a shot of Keanu Reeves from the 1989 movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure where he has a frightened look on his face. This is paired with text about some ridiculous conspiracy theory or silly philosophical question.
The look on Keanu’s face, combined with the ludicrous theories people came up with for this meme, make it a winner among Advice Animals.
7. Expanding Brain
Originated in: 2017
Expanding Brain is an exploitable meme template, meaning that it’s easy to modify and fill in your own value as you see fit. While large brains usually represent higher intelligence, this meme is typically used ironically.
A normal event or idea is paired with the smallest brain, while increasingly ridiculous versions of that event appear with larger brains. It’s a fun way to expand everyday scenarios to absurd heights, and you can add levels of the brain as needed.
8. What People Think I Do
Originated in: 2012
Another customizable meme, this one takes an occupation or hobby and uses multiple images to depict how different people see that position. These usually end with an image showing the mundane reality of “What I really do.”
You can use this to depict pretty much any job, and the exact images you use are up to you. While this is an older meme, its broad appeal makes it a favorite.
9. Nyan Cat
Originated in: 2011
This internet classic has a cute 8-bit cat and a catchy song, so it’s no surprise it became so popular.
An animator named Chris Torres combined a cat and a cherry Pop-Tart in the original GIF. A few days later, a YouTuber combined it with a Japanese song. This repeats “nya,” a Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound a cat makes, over and over.
This match proved a hit, as it spread across the internet quickly. Some people even created games based on the character. Even years later, it’s not a rarity to see Nyan Cat floating around the web.
10. Steamed Hams
Originated in: 2018
We conclude with one of 2018’s top memes. Steamed Hams is the name of a skit in The Simpsons where Principal Skinner has his boss, Superintendent Chalmers, over for dinner. It’s a play on a common sitcom trope where everything goes wrong.
The scene is enjoyable on its own, but it turned into a meme when many people remixed it with different animation styles, added in elements from various video games, and more.
Unlike many memes that are simple variations on the same image, Steamed Hams is notable because people use it as a base to remix in so many ways. It’s a meme that really lets creativity shine.
The Best Memes Live On
With memes changing regularly, not all of them can rise to superstar status. But we think all these memes are special because they lasted a long time, inspired other memes, had endless variations, or similar reasons.
Nobody knows what memes will rise to prominence in the coming years. Some old favorites might even make a comeback. Until then, you can relive more nostalgia by rewatching some classic YouTube videos.