One of the things I hate the most about the internet era is the fail culture. People love to sit around and watch videos of people caught in their worst possible moments. One minute you're having a text argument with your significant other and the next you're walking smack into a telephone pole and someone has caught it on video and posted it to YouTube for the whole world to see.
Here at When It Was Cool we like to have a more optimistic outlook. Let's make the world a better place. For every instance of Milli Vanilli sinking onstage or Jamie Lynn Spears massively failing on Saturday Night Live, another pop culture star has nailed it. Hit it out of the park. Made the best of the moment. In this new The 100 Lists article from When It Was Cool we are going to celebrate those pop culture stars who struck gold.
These amazing moments aren't ranked in any particular order so feel free to pick your favorites but in every case, whether by talent, orchastration, or pure good luck, someone in popular culture hit all the right notes and exactly the right time.
1) The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (1964)
In the entertainment industry promoters know that a hot crowd can cover up a mediocre performance and make an otherwise forgettable show unforgettable. But what happens when you have a band with the incredible charisma of The Beatles in front of, perhaps, the hottest crowd ever in television history? You get magic. That happened on February 9, 1964 on the popular Ed Sullivan Show. Besides a white hot live studio audience, a record 73 million people tuned in to the see the show. Whatever it was that The Beatles had that made them so magnetic was on full display on this night. Before the band kicked into their first tune "All My Lovin'" the screams from the fans in the audience were deafening. It still stands to this day as one of the all time greatest pop culture moments.
2) Queen steals the show at Live Aid (1985)
The continent spanning mega-concert Live Aid was an enormous pop culture smash in August 1985 for a variety of reasons. Led Zeppelin reformed with Phil Collins on drums. That, in and of itself, should have stolen the show. Over a dozen major pop and rock acts of the mid-1980s stepped up and gave it their best shot but it was Queen, who were actually on somewhat of a pop culture slide at the time, stepped up and showed the world that, not only did they still have it, but they were still the champions of the world. Freddie Mercury commanded the crowd as only he could and Queen, standing in front of that giant crowd doing what they do best, will forever be a pop culture moment frozen in time.
3) Michael Jackson at Motown 25 (1983)
In the days before there was the internet and a million cable television stations, televised events like the Motown 25 celebration had a bigger impact. Everyone was anticipating this show. Everyone was anticipating the hottest act in the world on May 16, 1983, Michael Jackson, performing his smash hit (and incredibly great song) Billie Jean. Michael Jackson lived up to the hype, electrified the crowd and even introduced the world to an iconic piece of pop culture- the moonwalk. Yes, Michael Jackson not only oozed charisma on this night but he showed the world the moonwalk for the first time. There have seldom in history been a performer as charismatic and gifted as Michael Jackson circa 1983. Before all the weirdness, before all the controversy, this was peak Michael Jackson.
4) The first three seasons of LOST (2004)
LOST was an amazing television show full of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and wonderful story telling. While the show (like many) began to meander after a few seasons and the finale was divisive, there is very little to complain about over the first few seasons. LOST was just so captivating and perfectly cast. Why was John Locke in a wheelchair? What is under that hatch? And, of course, just what is the smoke monster? Some of those questions got satisfying answers and some did not but the first three seasons of LOST were one mystery after another and kept you tuning in week after week. If there ever was a perfect television season then I would argue that season one of LOST might just be it. I have probably watched the entire series through from start to finish three or four times and I catch something new each time. Just a wonderful television show and if you have never watched it before then, I implore you, to pick up season one and start watching. It will be almost impossible to put it down.
5) WWF WrestleMania III (1985)
Depending on who you believe, either 78,000 (Dave Meltzer & Wrestling Observer) or WWF / WWE (93, 173) people attended the pro wrestling super-card WrestleMania III in person on March 29, 1987 in the Pontiac Silverdome outside of Detroit, MI. Professional wrestling has a long history of popularity worldwide and in the United States since the mid-1800s. But everything came together in perfect pop culture unison on this date when a giant pro wrestling show broke records, told an amazing story, presented larger than life characters, and featured one of the best matches of the era. The crowd, no matter which of the attendance figures you believe, broke records. The main event between WWF champion Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant told a great story and featured larger than life characters. The match up between Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Ricky Steamboat is generally considered one of the best matches of the era. Add to that "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Jesse Ventura, Harley Race, Junkyard Dog, Honky Tonk Man, and others and you get a mega-pop culture success.
6) Iron Man movie is a surprise hit (2008)
It's hard to believe now but, once upon a time, comic book movies had a reputation of being under performing stinkers. There had been exceptions to the rule but largely superhero movies were basically straight to video affairs. Then came Iron Man in 2008. Make no mistake about it, nobody believed this movie was going to prove as popular and critically successful as it did. At the time, Iron Man wasn't even a top shelf character. Iron Man was certainly recognizable and a major part of the Marvel Comics universe but if you asked the kid on the street to name their top five superheroes, few would have gotten to Iron Man. But everything clicked for this movie. Robert Downey, Jr., who was considered a washed up actor at the time, nailed his performance of Tony Stark, the man behind Iron Man. The special effects were tremendous. The story was good. Everything just worked with Iron Man and paved the road for the mega popular Marvel movies that followed.
7) Austin 3:16 and the birth of the Attitude Era of wrestling (1996)
On June 23, 1996 all the stars aligned in pro wrestling for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Austin was a rising star in the WWE and his ascension was set to kick into high gear at the WWF King of the Ring 1996 but circumstances and Steve Austin's incredible charisma took it to a level no one expected. It all began in Steve Austin's first round match against Marc Mero where Austin received a busted lip. Following the match, he went to the doctors to have it stitched up and missed the interview given by his next match opponent, Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Roberts, at the time, was portraying a cleaned up, born again, Christian character who was getting a second chance at success following a rough road. Roberts' promo made reference to his past drinking problems and recovery. When Steve Austin returned to the arena to do his interview he asked staff member Michael Hayes what Jake Roberts had said so he could tailor his promo to match. Partly ad libbed and party fueled by sheer testosterone and adrenaline, Steve Austin cut the famous "Austin 3:16" promo telling Jake Roberts, "You can talk about your Psalms and your John 3:16. Well, Austin 3:16 says, 'I just whipped your ass'." The promo went viral and fans began bringing Austin 3:16 signs to the arena and the catch phrase spawned the largest selling t-shirt in pro wrestling history and furthered Steve Austin's ascension to mega-stardom and one of the most financially prosperous periods of pro wrestling history. It should also be mentioned that our own Eric Darsie of the Wrestling With the Dawg Podcast points out that boxing legend Mike Tyson also played a huge role in launching this movement with his show down with Steve Austin which cemented him into the wider pop arena with their famous confrontation.
8) Neil Young rocks SNL in the Free World (1989)
On September 30, 1989 Neil Young once again turned the music world on it's head. In one performance on Saturday Night Live, Neil Young blew away a music scene bogged down in hair metal and bubble gum pop by taking rock and roll back to it's roots and, in many ways, ushering in what would become grunge rock. And if you don't think this is Neil Young doing grunge rock first then watch Nirvana's Smell Like Teen Spirit video then watch this and ask yourself if this wasn't the original of grunge rock with an extra helping of rock. Neil Young was amazing in reinventing himself yet again. This might be one of the best musical performances in the history of Saturday Night Live.
9) Essentially unknown actor Hugh Jackman cast as Wolverine (2000)
Everybody knows who Hugh Jackman is right? Well, back in the year 2000 he wasn't the highest profile actor in the business. Hugh Jackman had several things working against him. First, he wasn't that well known. Next, he was being cast as one of the most popular comic book characters of the last thirty years. Finally, in the year 2000, comic book movies were a far cry from being an automatic success. In fact, they were more often than not, straight to video affairs. Yet, Hugh Jackman put in an amazing performance as Wolverine and the X-Men movie was a success. In fact, it was a major success which spawned a movie franchise and even multiple spin-off Wolverine solo movies. If that's not hitting a home run in your first big game I don't know what is!
10) Prince makes his guitar gently weep (2004)
It was the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions All-Star jam with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood and others performing George Harrison's iconic song While My Guitar Gently Weeps. But it was Prince who stole the performance, stole the show, heck Prince committed grand theft show on this night. It all starts innocently enough with everyone playing their parts and playing them well but when it comes time for Prince to take it home with his guitar solo he takes it home! As in home run. As in grand slam. As in all the way to the bank! Prince was amazing.
11) Javier Bardem steals the show in No Country for Old Men (2007)
First, No Country for Old Men is a massively awesome movie. Just intellectually wonderful on so many levels. Secondly, Javier Bardem wasn't necessarily an unknown actor but he wasn't on the "A" list either. But boy did he steal the show in No Country for Old Men as the menacing and terrifying Anton Chigurh. As strange as his character was, Javier Bardem made you believe everything about Chigurh. The coin flip scene in No Country for Old Men still stands out as one of the single most chilling physiologically terrifying moments ever captured on film. Javier Bardem literally walks out of nowhere to make a monumental impact. If this was your first impression of Bardem then it was quite an impression to make.
12) Fleetwood Mac produces magic with Silver Springs (1997)
Fleetwood Mac reunited in the late 1990s and captured the reunion on video with the special The Dance in for VH1. They played most of their major hits and several deep cuts including the much under rated Silver Springs. But this performance developed a magic all it's own. The tumultuous relationship between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham was the catalyst for many of Fleetwood Mac's hit songs and occasionally fans would get a glimpse of the real life emotion behind the public songs. This is one of those instances. Late in the song Stevie Nicks gives side eye to Lindsey and literally begins singing the song to him. Lindsey soon takes notice and an emotional stare-down and performance begins. Literally speaking, a dance of emotions, which takes an otherwise good performance to a whole new level. Lindsey channels his emotion into his masterful guitar work as Stevie Nicks tells him, "You'll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you." An incredible moment captured in time while Christine McVie's beautiful piano work and Mick Fleetwood's perfect timing provide the backdrop.
13) Rush perform YYZ in Rio (2002)
Rush is my favorite band ever. You can check that fact by viewing the numerous Rush articles at When It Was Cool. I love Rush and I will always love Rush. There are many moments which I thought Rush hit perfection. Basically anything they ever did was perfection, in my totally biased opinion. But this night in 2002 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in front of 40,000 Rush knocked it out of the park with the instrumental from Moving Pictures - YYZ. 40,000 people are singing along with an INSTRUMENTAL! An amazing moment and you can clearly see it's not lost on the band. Rush has always had a fun vibe to it but the fun was freely flowing during this performance. I think you can describe a concert performance as perfect if everyone in the crowd is having fun. This was certainly the case here. This is music mastery.
14) David Gilmour performs Comfortably Numb in Pompeii (2016)
The arena in Pompeii, Italy hadn't seen a live performance in over 1,900 years. Let that sink in for a minute. Yes, David Gilmour reopened an ancient Roman amphitheater to the modern world. So, that's a pretty lofty situation right there. Also, the band you are most famous for playing in, Pink Floyd, is no more. There were a lot of cards in the deck and they were seemingly stacked against an aging David Gilmour in 2016. Was he up to the task? The answer was a resounding "YES!" and them some! Maybe the vocals would have been more iconic if they also included Roger Waters but the band was tight and doing a marvelous job. Then came David Gilmour's first solo. The band was loving it. The crowd was loving it. Gilmour nailed it. But wait, there's more. While the first guitar solo in Comfortably Numb is great but the second one is epic. Perhaps the most atmospheric and emotive guitar solo in rock and roll. David Gilmour again hits a home run. It's one of the most incredible guitar performances you will ever see without being over the top. It is emotional. It is brilliant. It is the guitar god David Gilmour.
15) Chicago performs If You Leave Me Now (1977)
I'm not certain exactly what television station this originally aired on nor where it was recorded. It appears to have been broadcast in Germany but the year is 1977 and the song is If You Leave Me Now which is the only song the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Chicago ever won a Grammy for. Many Chicago fans dislike the Peter Cetera era but putting all biases aside, Chicago knocked it out of the park on this one. Chicago has had their ups and downs over the years but everything was hitting on all cylinders during this performance and Cetera sounds literally flawless.
16) S-Town podcast is a smash hit (2017)
As the owner operator of a podcast network myself, I can only dream of the success that Brian Reed stumbled upon with his mega podcast hit S-Town. Of course, I have neither the power nor exposure of Serial nor This American Life behind me nor the luxury of a large staff to produce, edit, schedule, and polish our shows. But still... S-Town was a massive hit any way you cut it and one of the best podcast docu-series I have ever heard. It starts unassuming enough with an obviously mentally ill small town conspiracy theorist who contacts an obviously industrious big town journalist. But what happens next spins the story from a murder mystery into an exploration of the human condition. Just a wonderful podcast and an absolute home run.
17) Jimi Hendrix plays the National Anthem at Woodstock (1969)
Today, protests of the United States National Anthem the Star Spangled Banner are all over the news but in 1969, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, perhaps making a statement and perhaps not, played an unforgettable electric guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Jimi Hendrix would pass away about a year later but at this moment in time in 1969 it seemed as though the guitar legend could do no wrong. There were several things working against this performance. First, this was a temporary band that was basically cobbled together and they had trouble adapting to each other. Legend has it that their practices leading up to this day left a lot to be desired. But Jimi Hendrix did what Jimi Hendrix did best and launched into a guitar medley that last nearly half an hour and the in the course of that musical assault he brought down the house with the National Anthem.
18) Thrilla in Manila lives up to expectations (1975)
In the world of boxing, it doesn't get much bigger or better than this. Muhammad Ali verses Joe Frazier in the third fight of their epic trilogy. This fight was no blow out and while Muhammad Ali ultimately won the fight by TKO in 14th round, Joe Frazier had nothing to be ashamed of. The fight took place in Manila in the Philippines, thus the origin of the name. Muhammad Ali entered the fight with a 48-2 record while Joe Frazier stepped in with a 32-2 record. It was monumental. It's hard for people in the 2000s to understand just how big heavyweight boxing was in the 1970s. Muhammad Ali transcended the sport of boxing and was himself a pop culture mega-star. This fight is consistently rated as one of the greatest boxing matches of all time and, ultimately, Muhammad Ali won the trilogy of fights with Frazier 2-1. It is estimated that globally as many as one BILLION people viewed this fight.
19) Amazing Fantasy Issue 15 launches Spider-Man to iconic status (1962)
There was nothing special about the Amazing Fantasy comic book published by Marvel Comics that made it that much different from any of the other myriad of monster comics floating around at the time. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko took a chance on a story about a teenager bitten by a radioactive spider who then gained many spider-like powers of his own. The teen was picked on in school, was being raised by his aunt and uncle. He was indirectly responsible for the death of his uncle. This was all very complex storytelling for the early 1960s and the silver age of comics. Kids wouldn't possibly bite on this would they? They did so and in groves. To such a degree that the otherwise unremarkable Amazing Fantasy was cancelled and the Amazing Spider-Man comic book was launched. Spider-Man became one of the most beloved pop culture icons of the 1960s-2000s due to his incredible design by Steve Ditko and his complex back story that many kids and teenagers could related to. Spider-Man is still a star and it all started here in what might well have been a throw away story.
20) Nirvana on MTV Unplugged (1993)
In November of 1993 as part of the acclaimed MTV Unplugged series, Nirvana took part in the show. It would be one of lead singer Kurt Cobain's last televised appearances before his untimely death from suicide. What is so special about this appearance is the near perfection of playing and singing with a band whose biggest claim to fame was their lack of perfection. One listen to All Apologies or Something in the Way makes it abundantly clear that behind all the distorted guitars and sometimes nonsensical lyrics there was real true talent. If you have ever heard someone dismiss Nirvana as a mechanized mess then just direct them to this performance because, as it turns out, there was a method to the madness.
21) Heath Ledger plays The Joker in Batman The Dark Knight (2008)
Talk about home runs. The Batman villain The Joker is a hard character to nail down. Since his debut in the 1940s his portrayal in the comics has been wildly inconsistent and virtually impossible to capture on film. Sure, Cesar Romero did a great job in the 1960s playing a comedic version of the character. Jack Nicholson even played an interesting version of The Joker in 1989 but nobody had yet captured a truly fearsome and unsettling version of the character until Heath Ledger got the role for the 2008 Batman The Dark Knight movie. Ledger's portrayal of The Joker was incredibly unnerving, captivating, and downright terrifying. Clearly unhinged yet simultaneously brilliant. The Joker twice telling his origin story (yet differently) and introducing a mobsters face to a pen remain two of the best Batman moments ever. Heath Ledger not only played The Joker, he defined the character for a generation.
22) Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys throws a Hail Mary (1975)
Great sports moments don't always translate into pop culture but in 1975 Roger Staubach launched a football down the field and into pop culture history. Every school kid in the late 1970s and the 1980s then knew exactly what a "Hail Mary" pass was. You're down to the wire, time has run out, there is nothing left to lose. Everybody runs down the field and the quarterback launches the ball as far as he can and hopes (or I suppose in this case prays) that someone on his team catches it. The "Hail Mary" is the epitome of a last ditch effort. Roger Staubach was the standout quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys back in the 1970s when it seemed like the Cowboys could do no wrong. Heck, they were even called "America's Team" but they were about to lose this 1975 divisional game to the Minnesota Vikings but thanks to a lot of skill and a lot of luck and one infamous "Hail Mary" pass, the Dallas Cowboys ended up in another Super Bowl (but ultimately lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers).
23) Donnie Iris plays Ah Leah on a random morning show and schools the world in the ways of rock and roll (2002)
Donnie Iris hit song Ah Leah is a fine little tune but Donnie Iris and his band are probably the most none rock and roll looking thing ever. On some random PBS morning show in 2002, Donnie Iris shows up to play his hit with, what appears to be, a few musicians who have to go into their day jobs after the show at the local Piggly Wiggly or First Farmers bank or something. I mean, this crew looks like any praise group you would see in your hometown church. But... looks can be deceiving. Donnie Iris and his band nail this performance that only gets better as the song goes along and by the end Donnie is hitting notes that would make Rob Halford of Judas Priest green with envy. This isn't a list of the most famous moments in pop culture, this is a list of the BEST moments in pop culture and if you want to see what a pop culture home run looks like, then watch this video.
24) Mickey Thomas sings lead for Elvin Bishop on Fooled Around and Fell in Love (1976)
In case you haven't noticed, I'm a sucker for completely average looking people with extraordinary talent. Nowhere is that better summed up than when Elvin Bishop appeared on the Midnight Special in 1976 to perform their hit song Fooled Around and Fell and in Love. Holy moley, what an average looking bunch of geeks this is. First off, Mickey Thomas just got finished changing the oil in someones car, the back up singer is doing some kind of awkward dance in an utterly regrettable 1970s jump suit, and what can you say about Elvin Bishop that Charlie Daniels didn't already say in The South's Gonna do it Again- "Elvin Bishop sittin' on a bale of hay. He ain't good lookin' but he sure can play." By the way, that's Elvin Bishop wearing a sheriff badge for some reason. This handsome crew might well be the actors on some sort of 1970s music parody until Mickey Thomas opens his mouth and nails this song. Mickey Thomas is such an under rated and under appreciated vocalist. You might also know him from Jefferson Starship/Starship for such hits as Jane, Sara, and Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now. Yes, he is amazing. Stylish? Maybe not so much. Talented? On the top shelf of all time greats. And, oh yeah, Elvin Bishop ain't good lookin' but he sure can play.
25) Prince overcomes nature to perform at NFL Super Bowl XLI (2007)
So, yeah, here's Prince again. Prince had several things working against him. First, he was to be the main attraction at the NFL Super Bowl half time show in Miami, FL and Super Bowl half time shows are notoriously lack luster under the best of circumstances. The performances are always rushed, often vastly overly choreographed, and sometimes ridiculous. Second, the weather was horrible. It rained all day and just kept raining. At times the downpour was torrential. Half time show organizers called Prince and suggested a cancellation but to his credit, Prince said, "No. Let there be rain." He proceeded to use the poor weather to his advantage and put on a fabulous and unforgettable half time show.
26) Kenner revolutionizes boys action figures with Star Wars (1977)
Prior to the mid-1970's, boys action figures were modeled largely off of Barbie. Kids had the old large posable G.I. Joe, Six Million Dollar Man, and Big Jim. Mego came along and gave kids superheroes in a smaller scale but still similar in style and sculpting to the larger figures. It wasn't until Kenner obtained the Star Wars license in 1977 that action figures became widely popular in the 3.75 inch scale. Yes, there had been action figures in that scale before but not with the degree of detail and certainly not as popular as Star Wars. The advantage this gave Kenner was that the smaller action figures fit inside affordable vehicles and space ships. This opened up a whole new world of playability for kids and would become the gold standard for action figures for years to come including the transition of G.I. Joe from 12 inch to 3.75 inch as well.
27) G.I. Joe transitions from 12 inch to 3.75 inch and adds personality (1982)
First off, God bless Larry Hama. He is a national treasure. I wonder if he truly understands just how influential his biographies and backgrounds written onto children's toys really were? Between that and the Marvel Comics G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic book, Larry Hama brought to life a property that had been around since the 1960s and gave it real personality. Charlton Hero on Twitter said this about the differences between the old large scale G.I. Joe action figures and the 3.75 inch figures which came out in 1982, "The difference between the original Joes vs 80s Joes is that the 80s class made characters out of the toys making them "feel" more organic and alive. The originals were great.. their counterparts were "real people".
28) The Walking Dead takes comic books to television and is a pop culture smash hit (2010)
Zombies. If you've even remotely paid attention to pop culture for the last ten years then you have certainly been aware that zombies are a huge thing in movies and television. Nowhere has that been more successful than with the mega successful comic book series turned television ratings giant The Walking Dead. Once again, this is a property that had several things working against it and still managed to break out of the pack. The Walking Dead comic book by Robert Kirkman wasn't even published by one of the "big two" comic book companies- Marvel and DC Comics, it was published by Image Comics. Worse yet, it wasn't even in color! Somehow or other, The Walking Dead struck gold and captured the imagination of viewers in huge numbers. Comic book properties have had a spotty history on television but The Walking Dead has shown that with the right property they can become a huge television hit.
29) Arnel Pineda joins Journey and fills some big shoes
There are few vocalists in the history of rock music as talented as Steve Perry. Steve Perry left Journey many years ago and despite the yearning from fans doesn't seem at all interested in returning. There have been multiple vocalists to step into Steve Perry's role since then with varying degrees of success. But none have been more successful, inspirational, and accepted as a karaoke singer found on YouTube by guitarist Neal Schon by the name of Arnel Pineda. Arnel's story is inspirational to be sure but Arnel is also very talented and has earned his very positive reputation. At this point in their career Journey could be struggling to sell small arenas but they aren't. Journey is still doing big business even without Steve Perry fronting the band. Arnel took an opportunity and not only hit a home run, he hit a grand slam to a standing ovation.
30) Daredevil is a hit on Netflix and makes comic book heroes on streaming legit (2015)
It would have been easy for people to have dismissed the first season of Daredevil on Netflix as "second rate" compared to the mega-successful Marvel movies. It could have been perceived as the modern era equivalent of straight to video. Instead, Daredevil season one on Netflix was a giant success and showed that streaming services had quality, legit content. Since then, there have been several Marvel series produced at Netflix including Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders and they have been a mixed bag. However, Daredevil has consistently been great. The fight scenes are amazing and the episodes never seem to drag by. Straight to video? No, it's far superior to that.
31) O Brother Where Art Thou takes a bunch of random things and turns them into a modern classic (2000)
So, let me pitch this movie concept to a modern audience. Let’s make a modern adaptation of Homer’s epic The Odyssey (snicker) but remake it in 1930’s rural Mississippi (snicker) with old time country and gospel music (snort)… and… and… (bite’s lip) BLUEGRASS (uncontrolled laughter). Yeah, it sounds like an art house recipe for stupidity. Yet, O Brother Where Art Thou was, not only a box office success, but has become a rare modern classic. Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson as three hapless escapees from a Mississippi prison work detail who become the rural 1930’s equivalent of a pop culture sensation the Soggy Bottom Boys. The trio have an adventure, rather, an Odyssey, that remains a favorite to this day. O Brother Where Art Thou is a movie you can watch annually and still enjoy every time. In constant sorrow all through his days.
32) Forrest Gump… enough said (1994)
Tom Hanks is a mega-star, make no mistake about it. But Forrest Gump was a home run even for the accomplished actor. Forrest Gump is an amazing movie on many levels. Following the life of a simple minded Alabamian who manages to stumble (or Gump) his way through many history changing events in his lifetime. From accidentally teaching Elvis how to dance, to being a star football player at the University of Alabama, to becoming a war hero, to giving a speech on the National Mall, to… well… dozens of other moments in Americana where Forrest Gump just happens to be there. Forrest Gump is just about the perfect movie in every way and can easily be watched again and again. Based on a 1986 novel by Winston Groom and directed by Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump has earned numerous awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks), multiple Golden Globes, and inclusion in a plethora of American Film Institutes lists.
33) American Idol becomes the iconic talent show and launches multiple careers (2002)
American Idol has had it’s ups and downs to be sure but at it’s peak it was the hottest show on television and it’s overall success can’t be denied. There have been many popular and influential talent shows on television over the years, anyone remember Star Search? But American Idol took it to a higher level and, for a time, was a true pop culture phenomenon in and of itself. American Idol also launched the careers of several modern era pop culture stars including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Phillip Phillips, Chris Daughtry, and Adam Lambert. The show, at the time this article was penned in the fall of 2018, had once again been brought back for a seventeenth season.
34) Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is the genesis for a whole genre of popular culture (1897)
Yes, I know, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein came first but we will get to that. Have you ever thought about just how much popular culture has spun off of Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror classic Dracula? The vampire existed before the novel but Stoker gave a name to the dark lord and from the elements in his book have spun off hundreds of movies, books, comics, plays, television shows, and even songs, many of which have became classics of their own. The horror genre would not be the same without Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Yes, we have other archetype monsters such as Frankenstein, the werewolf, the mummy, and others but would modern pop culture horror be what it became without the lord of the vampires? I dare say it wouldn’t.
35) The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is the biggest selling record in history
If this isn’t a home run I don’t know what is. The Eagles have had dozens of hit songs and records during their lengthy career. No matter whether you like them or don’t you can not deny their success. At the top of that stack is their “best of” album- The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) which, at the time of writing this article, had went platinum 38 times. The album contains such classic rock staples as Take It Easy, Witchy Woman, Lyin’ Eyes, Desperado, Take It To the Limit, and Best of My Love. That’s right, Hotel California isn’t even on this record. That’s how big The Eagles are. Mega-big. Mega, 38 times platinum and our biggest hit song isn’t even on this record, big. Pop culture home run right there.
36) Bing Crosby sings White Christmas into history
What is the answer to the question, “What is the biggest selling song in history?” If you said, “Big Crosby singing White Christmas” then you would be right. And it’s not even close. That’s right. Knocking it out of the park, Bing Crosby is responsible for singing Irving Berlin’s classic White Christmas to over 50 million copies sold. No other song even comes close. Nothing in rock and roll. Nothing in country music. Nothing in any genre approaches this home run. In fact, the second place song, Candle in the Wind 1997 by Elton John trails this classic by over 17 million copies. It is quite likely that no song will ever overtake this Christmas classic for the number one slot. In fact, only four songs have ever sold over 25 million copies: White Christmas (Bing Crosby), Candle in the Wind 1997 (Elton John), Silent Night (Bing Crosby… yes, Bing sold 30 million copies of that one), and Rock Around the Clock (Bill Haley & His Comets). Smack! Out of the park. Nobody touches Bing.
37) Hank Aaron breaks the home run record and literally hits a pop culture home run
I’m not a big baseball fan, though I respect the game, and am trying to learn more about it as I get older. But you’d have to be living under a rock not to know about one of the greatest and most important literal home runs in baseball history. In 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking the record previously held by baseball legend Babe Ruth. Fox Sports had this to say about the record breaking hit in their article about all time greatest home runs, “You can argue for other homers that had more impact on an entire team and not just one individual — this was on April 8, after all — but I have Hank here because of the historical significance of passing Ruth and the circumstances under which Aaron did it. He faced ugly racism leading up to No. 715 from an ignorant and vocal segment that, in 1974, didn’t want to turn the title of all-time home run king over to an African-American. Despite the daily death threats and backlash, Aaron persevered and passed the Babe before settling at 755. Because of Aaron’s grace, humility and brilliance in the face of all this, he is rightly remembered — and still celebrated today — as one of baseball’s greatest icons.”
38) Perhaps the biggest boxing match in history - the Fight of the Century - Muhammad Ali verses Joe Frazier (1971)
Muhammad Ali verses Joe Frazier was billed as “The Fight of the Century” and may very well have been. The boxing match between WBC/WBA heavyweight champion Joe Frazier (26–0, 23 KOs) and The Ring/lineal heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (31–0, 25 KOs) was held on Monday, March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York City and it was the first time that two undefeated boxers fought each other for the heavyweight title. Joe Frazier won in 15 rounds via unanimous decision. It was the first of a trilogy, followed by the rematch fights Super Fight II in 1974 and Thrilla in Manila in 1975, which were both won by Muhammad Ali. It also sparked one of the biggest feuds in boxing history. While some boxing historians believed that Muhammad Ali’s interviews and antics leading up to the fight and the subsequent rematches were all in the spirit of building and promoting the fight, Joe Frazier took them personally and held a grudge against Ali for the rest of his life. The rivalry is perhaps the most intense and famous in boxing history and the sports world stood still on March 8, 1971 for this fight. Had this fight took place in the modern era of pay per view it would have undoubtedly been the biggest money fight in history.
39) The Death of Superman (1993)
This event had both it’s good and bad points. First, there is no question that The Death of Superman event published by DC Comics was a pop culture home run. People in 1993 lined up for blocks to buy multiple copies of Superman Vol. 2 issue 75 and the comic book received more mainstream coverage than perhaps any comic book in history. The crossover was devised by editor Mike Carlin and the Superman writing team of Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway and Karl Kesel. The Death of Superman began in December 1992 and lasted until October 1993 and was published in Superman, Action Comics, The Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel, Justice League America, and Green Lantern. The series was largely critically well received but it did have a dark side. The Death of Superman, along with X-Men issue 1 (1991) by Marvel Comics, are largely held responsible for a collapse of the comic book industry as millions of non-fans artificially inflated the collectablity of the issues by buying multiple copies speculating that they would, over time, inflate in value. In fact, there were millions of copies of these comics pressed and there was no chance they would substantially increase in value and soon, much like the trading card market of the early 1990s, the speculators fled and the hobby suffered greatly in it’s aftermath.
40) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) over performs expectations
It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago no one was really expecting the Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy movie to be a big deal. I remember comic book podcasts at the time discussing how Marvel was really pushing the envelope after all their movie success by attempting a movie with what was really a C-list property at the time. Guardians of the Galaxy (in the Marvel Comics world) was pretty much a mid-tier comic book and that’s putting it politely. Guardians of the Galaxy was considered a minor cult favorite at best and had virtually no mainstream appeal. The movie, as it turns out, was a massive success. The roles were perfectly cast. Chris Pratt put a great comedic spin on the previously nondescript Star Lord character. Zoe Saldana was the perfect Gamora. Vin Diesel got, perhaps, his easiest payday ever as Groot. Bradley Cooper was amazing as Rocket and, in the biggest surprise of all, former WWE star Dave Batista was hilarious as Drax. The movie was a huge hit and, at time of this article, spawned a sequel and the characters have been major Marvel universe players ever since.
41) The Godfather (1972) becomes a pop culture legend
When you search up “Greatest Movies Ever” or “Best Movies of All Time” on the internet, more often than not the movie that tops the list is The Godfather (1972). It is absolutely an all time classic movie. Based on a novel by Mario Puzo, The Godfather was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by Albert S. Ruddy. It stars Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as the leaders of a New York crime family. The story, spanning 1945 to 1955, chronicles the family under Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and focuses on the journey of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) from a family outsider to a ruthless mafia boss. Everyone knows all the famous lines. You’re probably quoting them right now.
42) Talking Heads burn down the house in Los Angeles (1983)
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted the Talking Heads in 2002 and it’s no wonder why. The New Wave band was extraordinarily influential and very talented, blending a variety of musical styles into their act. But more importantly, Talking Heads were fun. At no point was this on display better than at a concert in Los Angeles, CA in 1983 where they played their hit song Burning Down the House. There is so much energy, fun, and enthusiasm on the stage during this performance. You can’t NOT have fun watching this performance and I can only imagine how much of a blast it was being there live. Very few bands can capture this level of fun. This is a pop culture moment that will make you smile. Don’t be afraid to jump up and dance.
43) Star Wars exceeds all expectations and launches a pop culture empire (pun intended) (1977)
It’s hard to imagine a world without Star Wars. The movie franchise has now spanned multiple generations and there have been (so far) three separate block buster trilogies and even a few spin-offs. Who doesn’t own some Star Wars merchandise of some sort? The Star Wars action figures by Kenner have already been named on this list. Prequel Memes anyone? Yes, Star Wars is pop culture and it all started back in 1977 when George Lucas took a chance on, essentially, a space western. Nobody knew if it would work but it not only worked but spun off a multi-billion dollar empire which is now owned by Disney. American pop culture would be a very different place without Star Wars.
44) The Fantastic Four launch the Marvel Universe and pop culture is forever changed (1961)
It’s hard to believe that one comic book is in many ways responsible for a boom not only in comic books but in popular culture and the multiple multi-million dollar movies would one day be built on the imaginative world that coming was the cornerstone of. After the success of the DC Comics Justice League of America book in the silver age of comics, Marvel Comics was tasked with creating a super team of their own. The golden age of comics had long since past and Marvel had been doing relatively tame monster anthology books for years. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby then came up with a family who gained fantastic powers through an accident and then put those powers to use as heroes. That was the simple premise of the Fantastic Four issue 1 and upon that the modern Marvel Universe was born.
45) Action Comics issue 1 introduces the world to Superman (1938)
In 1938 a pair of creators named Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster put the story of a superhuman who was faster, stronger, and could leap further than any other man into a comic book. This man was Superman. As time went on we would learn that Superman was actually an alien from the planet Krypton and over the next several decades his powers would increase as would his popular culture status. In 1938 Action Comics issue 1 sold for ten cents. In 2014 a copy sold for over three million dollars. The Superman character has spawned multiple movies, television shows, comic book series, and a myriad of copycats. A creation of escapism by two Jewish comic book creators during a very disturbing time in world history was spun into a symbol of hope for millions.
46) The Simpsons begin as a segment break and end up one of the longest running shows in TV history (1987)
It’s hard to believe that The Simpsons started off as an animated segment on the Tracy Ullman Show way back in 1987. Originally positioned as a short funny cartoon short between comedy segments on that show, the cartoon was a hit and on December 17, 1989 was given it’s own half hour television show on FOX and has been running non-stop ever since! You know all the characters and probably have a few favorites of your own- Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, and the perennial baby of the family Maggie. What started as filler ended up one of the most successful television shows in history. Now that is a home run!
If you found this article interesting consider becoming a Patreon supporter. That is how When It Was Cool keeps our website and podcasts online, plus you get lots of bonus content including extra and extended podcasts, articles, digital comics, ebooks, and much more. Check out our Patreon Page to see what's up!
If you don't want to use Patreon but still want to support When It Was Cool then how about a one time $5 PayPal donation? Thank you!