Top 20 Most Iconic News Headlines of All Time



Top 20 Most Iconic News Headlines of All Time

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
These news headlines shocked the world! For this list, we'll be looking at the most famous, shocking, and creatively-written news headlines throughout modern history. Our countdown includes “King Elvis Dead”, “Beatle John Lennon Slain”, “Nixon Resigns”, “Mandela Goes Free Today”, “War on America”, and more!

Top 20 Iconic News Headlines of All Time

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 iconic news headlines of all time.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most famous, shocking, and creatively-written news headlines throughout modern history.

Got a favorite here? Tell us in the comments!

#20: “King Elvis Dead”

On Wednesday August 17, 1977, the front page of British tabloid The Sun bore the headline - “King Elvis Dead.” It also included some uncalled-for additions, like the subtitle “He was 42 and alone” and a photo with the insulting caption “Fat and forty...his overeating made him a tragic sight.” But the headline itself both informs, and pays respect to the legendary singer, who’d been dubbed the King of Rock and Roll. And while the subtitle was unnecessarily blunt, it was true. Elvis did indeed die alone, passing away from heart disease in his bathroom.

#19: “Greatest Crash In Wall Street’s History”

The greatest financial disaster of the century, the Wall Street crash signalled the end of the roaring twenties and the beginning of the Great Depression. Beginning on September 4, 1929 and lasting to mid-November, the Wall Street crash devastated the world economy. On Friday October 25, 1929, the Daily Mail ran a headline that read “Greatest Crash in Wall Street’s History.” It hauntingly depicted the massive extent of the damage, not to mention the historic nature of the crash itself. It came just one day after Black Thursday, which is generally considered the true start of the crash owing to the large amount of panic selling. With this headline, people knew the world was spiraling into chaos.

#18: “Young Elected City’s 1st Black Mayor”

The 60s and early 70s were a turbulent time in American history, marked by protests and boycotts as the civil rights movement fought against racial discrimination. The city of Detroit was particularly polarized, which is why the mayorship of Coleman Young is so historic. In November of 1973, Young defeated white Police Commissioner John Nichols to become the first African American mayor of the city. The victory came despite Nichols’ attempts to generate fear about black crime in Detroit. On Wednesday November 7, 1973, the Detroit Free Press ran a headline reading “Young Elected City’s 1st Black Mayor,” complete with an image of Young flashing the peace sign. It’s a perfect representation of the civil rights movement’s positive impact.

#17: “Dewey Defeats Truman”

The Chicago Daily Tribune ran a succinct but efficient headline on November 3, 1948. It read simply “Dewey Defeats Truman,” referring to the 1948 election between Republican Thomas Dewey and Democrat Harry Truman. There was just one problem - the headline was wrong. In fact, Truman had defeated Dewey in an upset victory. The Tribune went to press before the results were read, relying on a political analyst to predict the winner. About 150,000 papers were printed with the incorrect headline, one of which made its way into the hands of Truman himself. He then triumphantly displayed the paper in St. Louis Union Station, which of course made it even more notable than it already was.

#16: “So What the Hell Happens Now?”

On Saturday June 25, 2016, the Daily Mirror’s front page featured Samantha Cameron staring anxiously at her husband, Prime Minister David Cameron. That’s because Cameron was resigning. Two days before the headline was published, Cameron’s government had held a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union. Disappointing Cameron, 52% voted to leave. This headache is dramatically summarized in the Daily Mirror’s headline. The question it poses is still relevant today as the consequences of Brexit continue to unfold. No one knows what’s going to happen, but we’re all watching with bated breath.

#15: “Heir to Austria’s Throne Is Slain with His Wife by a Bosnian Youth to Avenge Seizure of His Country”

Well, one thing's for sure. Headline writing has gotten a lot better over the years. On June 29, 1914, the New York Times ran this rather bloated headline that heralded horrible things for the world to come. Those not following European politics may have found it uninteresting. The “heir” in question is Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was killed by “Bosnian youth” Gavrilo Princip. While this event caused great consternation among European royals, everyday citizens found it little more than an exciting and tragic story. Little did they know that it would result in the most destructive war the world had ever seen. Just one month later, World War I officially began.

#14: “War! Oahu Bombed by Japanese Planes”

Any headline that starts with the word “war” does not signal great things for the foreseeable future. This rather horrifying headline was plastered on the front page of the Honolulu Star Bulletin on the morning of Sunday December 7, 1941. Those reading it must have felt an unbearable feeling of dread, so nightmarish were its connotations. On the morning of that same day, the American naval base at Pearl Harbor had been bombed by Japanese planes, resulting in thousands of casualties. The very next day, the otherwise neutral United States declared war on Japan and officially entered World War II.

#13: “Time to Face the Past”

On Thursday April 26, 2018, the Montgomery Advertiser released a rather eye-catching paper. Its front page consisted of a black square with names inside its borders. Also within the square was the headline “Time to face the past: Legacy of lynchings. America’s shameful history of racial terror and justice.” The paper was meant to honor those who were killed by violent, racist mobs. The paper itself was also apologizing for its role in promulgating said tensions since its founding in 1829. The striking headline coincided with the opening of a Montgomery memorial detailing the area’s checkered history with racial violence.

#12: “Beatle John Lennon Slain”

On the night of December 8, 1980, John Lennon became the first member of The Beatles to pass, having been assassinated by Mark David Chapman outside his Manhattan apartment. He was just 40 years old. On the opposite side of the country, the Los Angeles Times ran the headline “Beatle John Lennon Slain: Shot Down Outside New York Apartment.” It was succinct and impersonal, but it got the message across. Lennon’s death was frontpage news across the country, and millions of people from around the world mourned in their own special way. Celebrity deaths always have a certain cultural impact, but Lennon’s was unlike any other. The public outpouring of grief was unprecedented.

#11: “Martin King Shot to Death”

The face of the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. was the recipient of much public attention and accolades, including the Nobel Peace Prize. But on the evening of April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot at Memphis’s Lorraine Motel by racist fugitive James Earl Ray. The New York Daily News subsequently ran the headline, “Martin King Shot to Death: Gunned Down in Memphis.” It’s another impersonal headline, but one that brutally signals the turbulent social and political landscape of late ‘60s America. The event resulted in widespread public grieving of King, not to mention a significant boost for the civil rights movement.

#10: “Hitler Dead”

It’s the simplicity of this one that really sells it. After six horrible years, World War II and the fight with Germany finally came to an end after Hitler took his own life on April 30, 1945. Rather than running some extravagant headlines rejoicing the end of the war, many newspapers simply ran a variation of “Hitler Dead.” These headlines appeared in the likes of The Daily Mail, the Daily News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and the New York World Telegram. The simplicity is striking, almost as if the world was too exhausted and downtrodden to celebrate. It’s amazing how much emotion and world-altering information can be conveyed in just two simple words.

#9: “Nixon Resigns”

Two word headlines have an undeniable power that cannot be matched. They not only convey monumental importance, but allow an enormous story to speak for itself. In this case, “Nixon Resigns” tells a reader all they need to know about the biggest news story of the generation. This is the headline found on the front page of The Washington Post, dated Friday August 9, 1974. Nixon had resigned that very same day in the midst of the Watergate scandal, becoming the first American President to voluntarily leave office. It was a historic moment captured in just two short but effective words.

#8: “Kennedy Is Killed By Sniper As He Rides In Car In Dallas; Johnson Sworn In On Plane”

The death of a President will always make for national news, but the assassination of a President is something else entirely. The New York Times ran this foreboding headline on Saturday November 23, 1963, the same day that Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. It’s the type of loud headline that immediately catches the attention - not only due to the size of the text, but also due to the amount of information that’s packed within. Readers not only learn that Kennedy was killed, but also how and where. It also answers the immediate question of who will be succeeding him. This is more of a mini-article than a headline, but such a monumental event raises a lot of questions.

#7: “Mr. President”

This headline from the New York Post is simple but oh so regal. Barack Obama made American history on Tuesday November 4, 2008, handily defeating Republican John McCain to become the first African American President. It’s the type of historic moment that headline writers would be chomping at the bit to honor. It indeed inspired tons of creative headlines across the nation, some straightforward, others extravagant. This headline from the New York Post was surprisingly simple, but the proud picture of a smiling Obama mixed with the size of the text creates a celebratory tone befitting the significant moment.

#6: “Diana Dead”

On the night of August 31, 1997, Princess Diana died in a car accident while fleeing the paparazzi in Paris. She was just 36 years old. The public outpouring of grief was immense, and newspapers competed to create the most shocking and eye-catching headline. A popular British tabloid called News of the World went with the basic but unforgettable “Diana Dead.” The simple words themselves are effective, but perhaps even more compelling is the size of the text. Those two words take up about three-quarters of the entire page, signalling the surprising nature of the death and the enormous impact it would have on the world. Colossal words for a colossal event.

#5: “Mandela Goes Free Today”

In the early 1960s, Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid and the South African government by creating uMkhonto we Sizwe, an armed wing of the African National Congress. It was labelled a terrorist organization and Mandela was thrown in prison for life. He ended up serving 27 years and was released by President F. W. de Klerk on February 11, 1990. To commemorate the event, the South African newspaper City Press ran the victorious headline “Mandela Goes Free Today.” It’s straightforward but beautiful, heralding the end of apartheid and the beginnings of Mandela’s historic political career as the 1st President of South Africa.

#4: “War on America”

9/11 is the type of moment that inspires a range of headlines, trying to come to grips with tragedy. But perhaps one of the most effective front pages was the one belonging to Britain’s The Daily Telegraph. It read simply “War on America,” with an accompanying photo that spoke louder and clearer than any words possibly could. Contrasting against a blue sky was the horrifying sight of an exploding tower and debris raining onto the ground below. This combination of headline and photo hauntingly depicted the surreal events of that fateful September morning - not to mention the foreboding questions that the future held.

#3: “The First Footstep”

History was made at 2:56 UTC on July 21, 1969. It was at that moment that American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. Even today, it’s widely considered one of the greatest scientific and engineering feats of all time - maybe even the greatest. The London newspaper Evening Standard depicted a reconstruction of the lunar module aided by the headline “The First Footstep.” It’s a gorgeously poetic headline, with three simple words encompassing the unbelievable accomplishment. It celebrates ambition, creativity, and ingenuity, and it’s everything that a great headline should be.

#2: “Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg”

On the morning of Tuesday April 16, 1912, people woke up to this horrible headline. The front page of The New York Times displayed a picture of the gigantic ship along with the haunting and protracted headline “Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg; 866 Rescued By Carpathia, Probably 1250 Perish. Ismay Safe, Mrs. Astor Maybe, Noted Names Missing.” It’s a tantalizing headline for what it represents about early 20th century America. The information was wrong, as approximately 1,500 died in the sinking, not 1,250. It also includes details about the elite, including White Star Line chairman J. Bruce Ismay and the wife of John Astor, who was the richest man on the ship.

#1: “PEACE!”

What better way to signal the end of World War II than with one simple word? The word “Peace!,” complete with an exclamation mark, was plastered across the front page of Sydney’s The Sun on the morning of August 15, 1945. This day marked Japan’s surrender, and the war officially came to an end when the surrender document was signed on September 2. It’s rare that newspaper headlines display emotion, but this world-changing event called for it. The word itself covers much of the front page, and the exclamation mark serves as a nice addition to convey the elation of the event. This exuberant headline matches the enthusiastic energy that millions were feeling at the time.