1. Dancing Baby (1996)
One of the absolute oldest video memes of all time, Dancing Baby (Baby Cha-Cha) is a 1996 3D animation of, well, a baby dancing. The baby even appeared in the popular law drama Ally McBeal.
And remember, there was no Twitter, Facebook, or even Google to spread this video – it was almost all via email. Retro, no?
2. All Your Base (2001)
All Your Base was a flash animation that parodied the horrible english translation of the Japanese game Zero Wing. With great phrases like “All your base are belong to us,” “You have no chance to survive make your time,” and “Take off every ZIG,” it’s no wonder it got so popular.
3. Dancing Banana/Peanut Butter Jelly Time (2001)
The popular emoticon became even more iconic when it was synced to lyrics from the Buckwheat Boyz. Featured everywhere from Family Guy to Tampa Bay Rays baseball games, you have to wonder why we care so much about dancing fruit. The iconic video was made by Ryan Etrata of AlbinoBlackSheep.
4. Star Wars Kid (2002/2003)
It’s just a strange and awkward kid flailing around with a metal pole. Yet this teenager’s video was spread around the web, mostly via peer-to-peer technology. The star of the video filed a lawsuit against the schoolmates that distributed the video, stating that they had essentially ruined his life.
5. Badger Badger Badger (2003)
In 2003, Jonti Picking created Badger Badger Badger, a flash video with a silly but catchy tune and weird dancing badgers. The video loops indefinitely and almost seamlessly, just like some of his other well-known animations (i.e. Magical Trevor).
6. Numa Numa (2004)
Lip syncing + weird dancing + Moldovan pop music = instant viral hit. At least, that was the case for Gary Brolsma, the star of the famous Numa Numa video, where he entertains audiences with his moves to the song Dragostea din tei.
For a long time, Brolsma tried to hide from the attention, but eventually returned to the spotlight with a second, more professional video, New Numa, which is embedded below:
7. Charlie the Unicorn (2005/2006)
Charlie the Unicorn and its two sequels have garnered tens of millions of pageviews for the strange and psychedelic antics of two unicorns taking Charlie to Candy Mountain and…well, you’ll have to watch the video to know what happens.
The video became popular on YouTube in 2006, although the flash version was first posted on Newgrounds in 2005.
8. Leeroy Jenkins (2006)
This video, a clip from World of Warcraft, depicts a team trying to plan for battle with a group of enemies when suddenly, out of nowhere, you hear the rallying cry “Leeeeeeeeeeroy Jeeeeeeeeenkins!” About a minute later, everybody is dead, and nobody is happy with Leeroy.
The video became so popular that Leeroy was even part of a clue on Jeopardy!, which nobody got correct.
9. Evolution of Dance (2006)
The most popular YouTube video of all time, this video by Judson Laipply shows him dancing to dozens of songs across multiple eras in skillful fashion. Seriously, this is some unique talent. As the video aptly states, it’s “the funniest 6 minutes you will ever see.”
10. lonelygirl15 (2006)
A teenage girl, Bree aka lonelygirl15, captured the attention of lusting teenage boys and audiences everywhere with her short video blog posts. Eventually the show was unearthed as fiction by The New York Times. Bree was killed off in 2007 and the show continued until 2008.
The show’s star, Jessica Lee Rose, is now involved with video projects across the web.
11. Laughing Baby (2006)
I don’t even think I need to explain this one, but I will. A Swedish man posted a video of his baby laughing to funny sounds like “bing!” It’s adorable, so why wouldn’t the public love it?
12. Charlie bit my finger (2007)
The combination of the British accent and the baby that just doesn’t care propelled this video to nearly 100 million views. I still don’t get why it’s that popular, but this is just what happens sometimes with online video.
13. Chocolate Rain (2007)
Tay Zonday’s surprisingly deep voice, his breathing away from the mic, and the funky lyrics helped propel Chocolate Rain to the level of web sensation. It has received over 37 million views and led to a musical career for Tay.
14. Leave Britney Alone! (2007)
Chris Crocker’s reaction to negative Britney Spears coverage received 2 million views in 24 hours. I’m going to stop explaining it there.
15. The Mysterious Ticking Noise (2007)
Master flash animator and musician Neil Cicierega is responsible for some of the greatest viral videos in social media history. In the early 2000s, he created the surreal animations Hyakugojyuuichi and Irrational Exuberance, an animation based off the even stranger Yatta! Japanese pop group.
Puppet Pals was actually created in 2003 for the popular Newgrounds flash portal, but the iconic Mysterious Ticking Noise was not released until 2007. It features an addictive 2 minute Potter-themed harmony that has propelled it to over 60 million views.
Cicierega is also the creator of the extremely popular Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny video, a flash video and song featuring a plethora of fictional characters locked in battle royale:
16. Obama Girl/Crush on Obama (2007)
During the heat of the primary election campaign, this video from Barely Political was released, featuring Amber Lee Ettinger and vocals by Leah Kaufman. The result was a video with over 14 million views and a string of further successes; Amber even appeared in a video with Ralph Nader.
17. Don’t Tase Me, Bro! (2007)
When Andrew Meyer, a University of Florida student, protested at a town hall forum featuring John Kerry, University police used a taser in attempts to bring him under arrest. His response, “Don’t Tase Me, Bro!”, was spread across social and traditional media. It was soon remixed and repeated nearly everywhere.
18. Rickroll (2008)
Based off the duckrolled meme once popular on the 4chan web forum, the Rickroll is simply tricking someone into watching a video of Never Gonna Give You Up, a hit 1987 song from Rick Astley. Some would link secretly to the video, while others would place the video about 30 seconds into a seemingly normal video.
The above video is an example of someone being RickRoll’D, but if you just want the original music video with 20 million+ views, well, here it is:
19. Jizz In My Pants (2008)
Saturday Night Live has been the source of multiple viral videos. While several of them could make this list, the one that seems to have the most views is Jizz in My Pants, featuring Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone. Interestingly enough, it’s one of the few SNL videos that are available legally on YouTube, due to it being published by The Lonely Island, the comedy group headed by Sandberg, Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer.
Jizz in my Pants is part of a long tradition of SNL viral videos. Some of the biggest hits include Lazy Sunday (Chronicles of Narnia Rap), Natalie Portman Rap, D*ck in a Box and Mother Lover (the sequel to D*ck in a Box).
20. Susan Boyle (2009)
The most powerful viral phenomenon of 2009, Susan Boyle’s unassuming appearance and killer voice wowed audiences in the auditions of Britain’s Got Talent!. Its spread is even more impressive when you consider that embedding is unavailable for the original video via YouTube.