Related Videos

Top 10 Iconic Magazine Covers

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by George Pacheco.

What makes a memorable magazine cover? Is it celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon or Bill Clinton? Should it be a shocking magazine cover featuring the September 11th attacks? Or is a picture of the moon landing enough? WatchMojo chooses between magazines like TIME, LIFE, National Geographic, Rolling Stone and, of course, Playboy to see which have given us the most recognizable and famous magazine covers.

Special thanks to our users Kris A, aldqbigsquare and TheAverageBloke for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

Watch on our YouTube Channel:


You must register to a corporate account to download this video. Please login

Script written by George Pacheco

Top 10 Iconic Magazine Covers

These printed moments are forever burned into our memories and the public consciousness. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 iconic magazine covers. 

For this list, we’re ranking the most memorable and timely images from the covers of magazines. These photographs and drawings served to capture our imaginations, encapsulate the times or serve as true topics of water cooler conversation. Politics, pop culture and social commentary are all considered here, as the cover images serve as enduring testaments of the day.

#10: “M” [aka “Oh my God – we hit a little girl.”] (1966)

What an important role the headline plays. White lettering adorns a stark, black background on this October 1966 issue of EsquireMagazine. Written by John Sack, the cover story within details the experiences of M Company, a troop of soldiers from New Jersey during the Vietnam War. The shocking headline represents the tale’s terrible climax, when the soldiers kill a 7-year-old with a hand grenade. “Oh my god – we hit a little girl” immediately jumps off the page, succinctly conjuring up images of war, violence and all the complications in the aftermath. This magazine cover proves that sometimes simplicity is key in presenting a story, with the words and lack of images working together to create the most intense impact possible.

#9: “View of the World from 9th Avenue” (1976)
The New Yorker

This influential American magazine has been publishing high minded cartoons, political essays, satire and more for decades, remaining a constant companion for the intellectual since its first issue back in 1925. One of their classic covers, however, is an iconic drawing depicting Manhattan’s 9th Avenue in detail, centralized as the heart of the world. The sharp illustration is said to be a comment on the narcissism of some New Yorkers, and has been the subject of numerous parodies over the years. In fact, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling was even issued in favor of the piece's creator, Saul Steinberg, against Columbia Pictures for illegally infringing upon his copyright with their promotional poster for the 1984 film “Moscow on the Hudson.”

#8: Bill Clinton (2000)

2000 was quite a year for President Bill Clinton. Nearing the end of his second term, he was captured in this December 2000 Esquire cover image by a wide-angle lens at waist level, with his hands on his knees and a grin on his face. What photographer Platon (PLAH-tawn) and the President crafted in only an eight-minute time slot took the media by storm: Clinton’s pose, especially in relation to the camera’s position, was immediately connected with the Monica Lewinsky scandal that had rocked Clinton’s presidency just two years prior. Yet at the same time, his smile almost denotes a semblance of relief – especially after a challenging eight years as Commander in Chief. It’s this dichotomy that makes Clinton’s Esquire cover an enduring image today.

#7: 9/11 (2001)

It’s a startling, stark image capturing the haunting events of September 11th, 2001. The cover of Time Magazine’s September 14th issue used a photograph taken by Lyle Owerko (oh-WARE-ko) as the World Trade Center was under attack, with smoke and flames rising into the sky, the result of planes smashing into both Twin Towers. The shot accompanied a Nancy Gibbs cover story entitled “If You Want to Humble An Empire,” which not only recounted the timeline of events on 9/11, but also praised the day’s heroism and triumphantly stated that America would rebuild. Three days after these attacks, the United States and the world was still processing their grief; somber images like these served as reminders for those left behind to continue to survive, move forward and understand.

#6: John and Yoko (1981)
Rolling Stone

This 1981 Rolling Stone cover image wasn’t the only photo of a celebrity to be published after their death, but it’s perhaps one of the most poignant. John Lennon was assassinated by gunman Mark David Chapman on December 8th, 1980; a month later, this shot from his session with famed photographer Annie Leibovitz (leeb-O-witz) hit the cover of the equally legendary music magazine in tribute to the fallen Beatle. What’s even more startling is the fact that the image of John and his wife Yoko Ono was captured but a few hours prior to his encounter with Chapman. It’s a startling yet tender picture, made even more remarkable given the context of when it was taken.

#5: “More Demi Moore” (1991)
Vanity Fair

Demi Moore was seven months pregnant when she posed for this controversial Vanity Fair shoot with photographer Annie Leibovitz, creating an image that served as one of the magazine’s most recognizable covers. The actress, carrying her daughter with Bruce Willis Scout LaRue, was snapped multiple times, clad in various dresses and lingerie. It was Leibovitz’s shot of Moore totally nude, with her hand covering her chest, that was chosen for the August cover. Though it was criticized by some as morally objectionable, others felt the cover captured the ideas of femininity, motherhood and sexuality, while simultaneously challenging preconceived notions of how Hollywood stars could appear in the magazine medium, spawning a trend of displaying pregnancy proudly in the public eye. 

#4: Marilyn Monroe (1953)

Throughout its long history, Playboy Magazine has had a bevy of classic covers, featuring some of the most famous pop culture icons of the day. But there are arguably few pop culture figures more iconic for their beauty than Marilyn Monroe. That’s why it’s fitting that the blonde bombshell graced the inaugural issue of Playboy back in December 1953 as both its cover model and the first ever centerfold. Fans of the pin-up era snatched this issue up upon its original release, and even today surviving copies sometimes fetch fetching extraordinarily high prices – even ten thousand times what the magazine originally cost. And why not? It’s an enduring cover image of an enduring celebrity, and it launched an iconic brand.

#3: “An American Tragedy” (1994)

The murder trial of former football star and actor O.J. Simpson made national headlines back in 1994, but this cover image from TimeMagazine garnered almost as much controversy, albeit for a very different reason. The image of Simpson’s LAPD mug shot had been altered by illustrator Matt Mahurin for color-correction purposes. The publication faced sharp criticism at the time for what some perceived as racism, however, for this move – especially when compared with Newsweek’s untouched use of the same shot. The result? Time released a statement saying, in part, that the magazine did not intend for any racial implications to be made, and that the modification had “lifted a common police mug shot to the level of art.”

#2: “To the Moon and Back” (1969)
LIFE Magazine

It may be difficult to imagine the level of excitement back in 1969 after the Apollo 11 managed its successful manned mission to the moon. The event was televised for the world to see, occupying the airwaves, and then the August 1969 special edition issue of LifeMagazine was released, with an instantly classic image on its cover, titled “To the Moon and Back.” Showing a photograph is of astronaut Buzz Aldrin taken by his fellow crewmate Neil Armstrong, this cover encapsulates the mission that effectively ended the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1960s. Today, it endures as an image of scientific success, stretching into the vast reaches of the unknown.

Before we reveal our most iconic magazine cover, here are a few honorable mentions
- The Dixie Chicks Come Clean (2003)
Entertainment Weekly

- View of the World from 9th Avenue (1976)
The New Yorker

- Tribute to Diana (1997)

- Winston Churchill (1945)
LIFE Magazine

#1: “Afghan Girl” (1985)
National Geographic

It’s at once striking, beautiful and haunting. Without knowing his subject’s identity, in 1984 journalist Steve McCurry shot a photograph of a green-eyed Afghan girl staring deeply into the camera lens, to go along with a story entitled “Along Afghanistan’s War-torn Frontier.” Compared to da Vinci’s mysterious Mona Lisa, the young refugee became the literal poster child for this battle-scarred region. In 2002, National Geographic filmed a documentary as they searched for the girl. Eventually, they found her: Sharbat Gula (shar-bot ghoola) was an Afghan refugee who, at the time of the photo, had been living in Pakistan during her country’s occupation by the Soviet Union. With that, McCurry finally had a chance not only to learn about the girl’s history, but also to reunite with the face seen by so many around the world.

Do you agree with our list? Which iconic magazine moment do you think deserves to be remembered? For more poignant top ten lists published daily, please subscribe to!

Sign in to access this feature

Related Blogs