In June 2018, 55.1% of the world’s population had internet access. So when a photograph grows in popularity and attracts attention on a large scale, it doesn’t take long for it to go “viral” – and before long, people all around the world are familiar with it.
The majority of the photographs featured on this list will, in all likelihood, be recognizable to most people. We’ve scoured the internet to find the most viral photographs of all time and explained the fascinating stories behind them.
McKayla Maroney’s Not Impressed
McKayla Maroney, an American gymnast, became well-known after her performance in the 2012 London Olympic Games, during which she won a gold medal in the team event and a silver medal in the vault. However, this was not her only claim to fame that year.
When Maroney was on the podium having just received her silver medal, a photograph of her with a distinctive “not impressed” expression was taken that transformed her into a social media sensation overnight.
The Curse of the Disaster Girl
This hilarious – although slightly creepy – meme has been dubbed as “disaster girl” and first went viral all the way back in early 2004. It looks like the little girl is almost evil, as she appears to be reveling in the disaster unfolding in front of her.
In reality, however, the picture was taken while the local fire department was running live drill training in Mebane, North Carolina. Dave Roth caught his daughter, Zoe, smiling amid the whole event.
The Superhero Window Cleaners
This example of one of the most viral photographs of all time will melt your heart. Hundreds of children are admitted daily to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, with some having to make the hospital their home for some time while they receive treatment.
One team of window cleaners have made it their mission to cheer these children up as much as possible. How? They dress up in superhero costumes, which mesmerizes the children when they see the characters “flying” outside their windows!
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Blooper
Beyoncé Knowles is one of the most famous singers in the world and is also considered to be extremely beautiful by both men and women alike. This, however, is not the most flattering picture of her.
Taken in 2013 during her performance at the Super Bowl, it went viral soon after. Beyoncé, however, wasn’t phased – she apparently just laughed when she saw it. At least she saw the funny side!
Flying Like a Bear
This incredible photograph was snapped at the University of Colorado in the United States back in 2012 after a large black bear wandered onto the campus, climbed a tree, and decided to settle down for a while.
Wildlife officers were called in and tranquilized the 200-pound male before stepping back and waiting for him to fall from his branch onto a mattress that had been placed there especially. Initially, this photo was thought to be fake, but there’s no doubt it really happened!
A Symbol of the Government Shutdown
This photograph of a small child in a monkey costume outside a closed Washington Zoo quickly became one of the unofficial symbols of the American Government shutdown, with Time magazine calling it “the absolute saddest #shutdown photo you will ever see.”
Some critics suggested that it was staged to make a political statement, but many believe the photograph of the unnamed child is genuine. Either way, the image of the child holding onto the locked gates and peering through is pretty powerful.
A Heart-Warming Airport Reunion
This heart-warming photograph shows Major Terri Gurrola returning home to the United States from Iraq, where she had been deployed to perform her military services a year before. This was the reaction when she saw her daughter, Gaby, at the airport.
The emotional reunion caught the eye of everyone else in the arrival hall, and it wasn’t long before this adorable photograph went viral. Heart-breakingly, Terri knew she only had two weeks back with her family before she would have to fly away again.
Tardar Sauce a.k.a. Grumpy Cat
Most people have, by now, seen “Grumpy Cat” – a cat with an extremely grumpy facial expression that has been used in numerous memes that have gone viral.
Grumpy Cat is, in fact, named Tardar Sauce in real life and has her distinctive expression as a result of an underbite and feline dwarfism. Born in April 2012, she shot to fame in October of the same year when her owner posted a picture of her on Reddit.
The Birthday Photograph Formula
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics. His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science.
On Einstein’s 72nd birthday, when the photographer asked him to smile for yet another photo, he decided to stick his tongue out in a playful gesture. It later went on to become the most famous picture of the scientist.
The President’s Final Photograph
On 22 November 1932, John F. Kennedy, the then President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, while he was in a car next to his wife, Jackie Kennedy Onassis. This photograph was shot a few minutes literally beforehand.
As a result, it made the front page of thousands of newspapers from all around the world the following day and has, therefore, become one of the most viral pictures of all time.
The Weasel and the Woodpecker
Amateur photographer Martin Le-May from Essex, England, took this astonishing photograph of a weasel riding on the back of a green woodpecker as it flies through the air. It was taken at Hornchurch Country Park in east London back in 2015.
Although some critics dubbed this photograph as fake, wildlife presenter Steve Backshall agrees that, while highly unusual, it is not entirely implausible and, therefore, “he has “no reason to doubt” the photo.
Banff’s Crasher Squirrel Ambassador
This hilarious photograph of Melissa and Jackson Brandts – and a squirrel – was taken while they were visiting Lake Minnewanka at Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, in May 2009. Since then, the squirrel has been nicknamed “Crasher Squirrel” and appeared in many viral memes.
The has since been used by the Banff Tourism Board to attract visitors to the area, with “Banff National Park Squirrel” Twitter and Facebook pages being set up using the Columbian ground squirrel as an “ambassador” to the park.
Hanging on by the Fingernails
This hilarious photograph was submitted to Reddit and went viral in November 2012. It’s of a girl who has gone traveling – much to her mother’s dismay, by the sound of it!
Instead of trying to relieve her mother’s worries, she’s decided to wind her up during her trip to Arizona in the United States. Posing for a photograph looking like she’s falling into the canyon, the caption reads: “Mom was worried about my trip to the Grand Canyon, I sent her this picture.”
The Anonymous Chubby Bubbles Girl
To date, the identity of this little girl and the photographer is unknown, but the photograph of her first appeared on the internet in August 2009. Due to her expressive facial features, she quickly became a meme sensation, with many different variants to be found.
Chubby Bubbles Girl – who is also sometimes referred to as “Chubbles” – is usually photoshopped into scenes of disasters or chase-and-run scenarios, much like Disaster Girl, which is also featured on this list.
The Fall of the Wall
In November 1989, as the Cold War began to end, the East Berlin Communist Party announced a change in the city’s relations with the West. Starting at midnight, citizens were free to cross the border. The Berlin Wall officially came down in November 1991.
This iconic photograph was taken during the demolition of the wall. Graffiti of the word “freedom” can be seen on the wall, which is extremely appropriate, as the fall of the wall gave way to a reunited city and its citizens’ freedom.
The Sad Story of a Hollywood Star
There are many “Sad Keanu” memes on the internet these days, so it’s likely you would have seen at least one already. Each one shows Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves on his own looking mainly down and depressed.
Sadly, the story behind these memes is Keanu’s troubled life – his parents died when he was very young and, later, his marriage came to a bitter end due to the death of his unborn child.
The World’s Largest Tortoise
Social media claimed that this photograph depicted the world’s largest tortoise, found in the Amazon River, being transported along a roadway strapped to the bed of a large truck. There were even claims that it was a mutant caused by radiation leaked from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
Although this picture went viral, it was, in fact, proved to be untrue – it was a hoax. In reality, it was a scene from the 2006 Japanese movie “Gamera the Brave,” which features a giant turtle creature.
The World’s First Heart Transplant
Incredibly, this is a photograph of the first heart transplant that was performed in the world. The operation took Zbigniew Religa, a prominent Polish cardiac surgeon, a staggering 23 hours to perform back in 1987.
In this photograph, Religa is monitoring his patient’s vitals while his assistant is sleeping in the corner. Amazingly, the patient not only survived the surgery but also outlived his doctor. This is a perfect depiction of the hard work and dedication of medical professionals.
A Princess’s Death in Paris
Diana, Princess of Wales, was the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, and the mother of Prince William and Prince Harry. Not only did her beauty captivate people around the world but also her philanthropic and charitable efforts.
When she died in a car crash on 31 August 1997 in Paris as a result of being chased by paparazzi, people around the globe mourned. This shocking photograph of the wrecked car was on the front page of newspapers the following day.