Top 10 Magazine Covers

In 2005, the former American Society of Magazine Editors ranked the most important magazine covers published from 1965 to 2005. Below are the group’s top 10.

  • #1 Rolling Stone (January 22, 1981). Rolling Stones cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono was named the top magazine cover to appear since 1965. The image was photographed by renowned celebrity portraitist Annie Leibovitz mere hours before Lennon was shot on December 8, 1980. The photo was eventually used on the cover of Rolling Stones tribute issue to Lennon on January 22, 1981.
  • Vanity Fair magazine cover #2 Vanity Fair (August 1991). Vanity Fairs provocative magazine cover shot of the naked and hugely pregnant Demi Moore (also shot by Annie Leibovitz) projected the actress to even greater heights after the huge success of the movie Ghost the previous year. The cover helped firmly establish Moore as a member of Hollywoods A-List at the time.
  • Esquire magazine cover #3 Esquire (April 1968). The controversial April 1968 magazine cover depicting Muhammad Ali impaled by six arrows appeared on the heels of his refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army because of his religious beliefs. (Ali, convicted violating the Selective Service Act, was barred from the ring and stripped of his title.) The cover, the second of three Esquire covers defending Ali, shows the boxer martyred as St. Sebastian, a patron saint of athletes and one who was shot with arrows for his steadfast religious beliefs. This was one of the covers designed by George Lois, Esquires Art Director during the 1960s.
  • The New Yorker magazine cover #4 The New Yorker (March 29, 1976). Saul Steinbergs March 29, 1976 The New Yorker magazine cover, View of the World from 9th Avenue, has come to represent Manhattans telescoped perception of the country beyond the Hudson River. The cartoon showed the supposed limited mental geography of Manhattanites.
  • Esquire magazine cover #5 Esquire (May 1969). One of the most iconic of Art Director George Loiss creations, the May 1969 magazine cover of Esquire juxtaposed the celebration of pop culture while deconstructing celebrity. The image of a drowning Andy Warhol was a friendly spoof of the artists famous Campbell Soup artwork, a pervading symbol of the Pop Art movement.
  • The New Yorker magazine cover #6 The New Yorker (September 24, 2001). New Yorker Covers Editor Franoise Mouly repositioned Art Spiegelmans silhouettes, inspired by Ad Reinhardt’s black-on-black paintings, so that the north tower’s antenna breaks the “W” of the magazine’s logo. Spiegelman wanted to see the emptiness, and find the awful/awe-filled image of all that disappeared the on 9/11. The silhouetted Twin Towers were printed in a fifth, black ink, on a field of black made up of the standard four color printing inks. An overprinted clear varnish helps create the ghost images that linger, insisting on their presence through the blackness.
  • National Lampoon magazine cover #7 National Lampoon (January 1973). National Lampoon quickly grew in both popularity in 1970s, when it regularly skewered pop culture, counterculture and politics with recklessness and gleeful bad taste. The notorious January 1973 shot of a human hand holding a revolver to the head of a docile-looking dog, who suspiciously eyes the firearm with a sideways glance, was photographed by Ronald G. Harris and is the magazines most memorable cover.
  • Esquire magazine cover #8 Esquire (October 1966). This magazine cover story by legendary writer John Sack helped change public perception of the Vietnam War and was a landmark in the history of New Journalism. Early in 1966, when America had little more than 100,000 troops in Vietnam, Sacks became Esquire’s war correspondent in Vietnam. At 33,000 words, the resulting article was and still is the longest ever published in Esquire. The all-black cover with the white inscription, “Oh My God We hit a little girl,” became the cover to reflect the story.
  • Harpers Bazaar magazine cover #9 Harpers Bazaar (September 1992). Harpers Bazaar, which debuted in 1867 as Americas first fashion magazine, celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1992, and the September 1992 issue under legendary Editor-in-Chief Liz Tilberiss direction heralded one of the most dramatic magazine reinventions in history. Tilberis helped transform the magazine from an also-ran fashion magazine into the one of the most cutting-edge and experimental of the big fashion glossiesillustrated by the creative typeface and avant-garde image of Linda Evangelista on the September magazine cover.
  • National Geographic magazine cover #10 National Geographic (June 1985). Photographer Steve McCurry immortalized the haunted eyes of a 12-year-old refugee in a camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on this magazine cover. Soviet helicopters destroyed her village and family, forcing her to make a two-week trek out of the perilous mountains of Afghanistan. The photo became a National Geographic icon after it was published on the cover in June 1985. Since then, this raw, untouched image has been used on rugs and tattoos, making it one of the most widely reproduced photos in the world.

History of magazines

Susan Hayward

The Saturday Evening Post appeared in 1821. By 1825, 100 magazines were in operation, according to Baran’s Introduction to Mass Communication.
Other details from Chapter 5 of the textbook are below:
Fueling the growth of the magazine industry were cheaper printing costs, growing literacy and the spread of such social movements as labor reform and abolition.
Some writers became specialists in their field, a new concept at the time. Magazines targeted elites.
After the Civil War, mass-circulation magazines flourished. Among them: Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping.
Magazines cost 35 cents each. In the 1870s, the cost dropped to as low as 10 cents.
Magazines were America’s first national mass medium. They helped bring about social changes.
During the so-called muckraking era, some magazines defended the poor, criticized the rich and investigated social and economic injustices. Muckraking journalists wrote about such topics as child labor, discrimination against African-Americans, unsafe food, labor violations, human rights abuses and corrupt politicians.

Marno Davidson, former home management editor for the Ladies' Home Journal

By 1945, more than 32 million families subscribed to at least one magazine. Magazines were “the television of their time,” Baran wrote.
The rise of television forever changed the magazine industry. Many mass-circulation magazines lost advertisers and went out of business.
Today, there are more than 20,000 magazines. Some 800 magazines dominate the industry, producing 75 percent of its revenues. See discount magazine subscriptions at – some magazines are selling for $5 per year.
Magazine expert Samir Husni:

Lately the pace of magazines announcing the folding of their ink on paper editions while continuing to publish on-line has increased. To those folks I have three words: YOU ARE DEAD. There is no ifs or buts about it. YOU ARE DEAD.
Any magazine, that existed in ink on paper, and cannot survive in its original medium is DEAD.

That drew this response from media consultant Bob Sacks:

Print will survive quite nicely, but it isn’t going to be the predominant way that people will read. In all likelihood print will be a coveted and expensive luxury item.
There is much life, vibrancy and tons of money to be made on the web. To suggest that it is the burial ground for print publishers is totally off base. As I have said before, it is the first inning of a double header and there is only one out.

The Onion
iPad Magazines and Apps
The Association of Magazine Media, formerly the American Society of Magazine Editors
Mr. Magazine blog
Samir Husni’s Mr. Magazine
Magazine clips:
Cuba’s Harlistas
Cuba at a Crossroads

3 thoughts on “Top 10 Magazine Covers

  1. Pingback: COM 208: Midterm review | Writing • Photography • Blogs • Journalism

  2. Pingback: Links to lecture notes: COM 208 | Writing • Photography • Blogs • Journalism

  3. Pingback: Introduction to Mass Communication: Mid-term review | Writing • Photography • Blogs • Journalism

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