Top 40 Magazine Covers of the Last 40 Years

The power of the still photograph makes not only a powerful  image caught in time, it’s often a captured moment that makes history. Here are 40 incredible moments, people and situations immortalized on magazine covers that became a part of American history.

Rolling Stone magazine cover #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.
LIFE magazine cover #11 LIFE (April 30, 1965)
The fetus became widely recognized after LIFE published Linnart Nilssons photograph of an 18-week-old fetus inside the womb on its April 30, 1965 cover. Swedish photographer Nilsson used an endoscope with an electronic flash to capture both the cover picture and pictures appearing inside the magazine to chronicle the beginning of human life. These pictures are part of Nilssons book, A Child is Born, which sold eight million copies in the first four days after publication.
TIME magazine cover #12 TIME (April 8, 1966)
The question Is God Dead? appeared on the cover of TIME in red letters against a black backdrop, and this was the first time the magazine used a type only cover. The article, written by the editors and entitled Toward a Hidden God, included the opinions of Christian theologians Gabriel Vahanian, Paul van Buren, William Hamilton, Thomas J. Altizer, and the Rabbi Richard Rubenstein. They believed the death of God had come since God was no longer visible in public life and religion was dead. This article received much backlash from readers, but the radical movement died out by the end of the decade. This is one of two type only magazine covers in the Top 40.
LIFE magazine cover #13 LIFE Special Edition (1969)
This LIFE special edition To the Moon and Back chronicles the first moon landing, brought about by the courage of the Apollo 11 astronauts and the thousands of people who supported their mission. On the magazine cover is a picture of Buzz Aldrin, taken by fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong. Along with color photographs of this historic walk on the moon, there are biographical sketches of Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins. There is also a history of manned space exploration from the first single orbit around the earth orbit to the launch of Apollo 11.
The New Yorker magazine cover #14 The New Yorker (December 10, 2001)
This New Yorker magazine cover by Maira Kalman and Rich Meyerowitz features a map of New Yorkistan where the city is divided into Middle Eastern names. The pastel map pastel map showed a flat, bird’s-eye view of New York City drawn in pen and wash. It echoed Saul Steinbergs map View of the World from 9th Avenue, published on the cover of The New Yorker on March 29, 1976 (ranking no. 4 on this Top 40 list).
Harpers Bazaar magazine cover #15 Harpers Bazaar (April 1965)
This magazine cover of Harpers Bazaar is a photograph of model Jean Shrimpton by photographer Richard Avedon. The cover of Shrimpton peering from behind a bright pink Day-Glo space helmet was designed by Art Directors Ruth Ansel and Bea Feitler. This photograph, with the Harpers Bazaar logo vibrating against it in acid green has been often reproduced as an emblem of the sixties.
The Economist magazine cover #16 The Economist (September 10-16, 1994)
This controversial magazine cover of The Economist portrays The Trouble with Mergers by showing an illustration of two camels mating. The London-based magazine published the cover in the North American edition, but not in the European edition. Reaction to this cover was mixed, with some readers disgusted and others highly amused.
TIME magazine cover # 17 TIME (June 21, 1968)
Roy Lichtensteins drawing of The Gun in America was the magazine cover of the June 21, 1968 issue of TIME. Soon after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, pop artist Lichtenstein aimed a smoking gun at readers to emphasize the urgency for gun legislation. Before the end of the year, Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968 that banned most interstate sales, licensed most gun dealers and barred felons, minors and the mentally ill from owning guns.
ESPN magazine cover #18 ESPN the Magazine (June 29, 1998)
This ESPN the Magazine cover portrays Michael Jordan jumping against an all-white background in his Chicago Bulls uniform. Two weeks after winning his sixth title with the Bulls, the corresponding article speculates whether or not Jordan will retire from basketball. Jordan retired on January 13, 1999, but two years later signed a deal to play for the Washington Wizards. On April 16, 2003, Jordan played his last game and announced his final retirement.
Esquire magazine cover #19 Esquire (December 2000)
Bill Clintons appearance on Esquires magazine cover at the tail end of his administration provoked ire from both sides of the political spectrum. Accompanying an extensive profile of the President in his waning weeks in office, Platons cover shot (the result of an 8-minute session in a cramped hotel bedroom in Princeton, NJ) was intended to evoke the Lincoln Memorial. Instead it came to be seen as fraught with sexual significance following the scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Blue magazine cover #20 Blue (October 1997)
A man diving appears on the premiere October 1997 issue of Blue. Art Director David Carson, known for his innovative typography and photography designed the magazine cover. Editor Amy Schrier launched the first adventure lifestyle magazine, covering outdoor recreation, action sport and adventure travel for men and women. The magazine also explored the diverse cultures of the world and took a look at their political, economic and social concerns.
LIFE magazine cover #21 LIFE (November 26, 1965)
The Blunt Reality of War in Vietnam appears on the November 26, 1965 magazine cover of LIFE. Paul Schutzers photograph of a Vietcong prisoner with his eyes and mouth taped shut captured the tumultuous war. Schutzer was one of LIFEs best photographers, but was killed on assignment while covering the Six-Day War in 1967.
George magazine cover #22 George (Oct/Nov 1995)
The premiere issue of George featured supermodel Cindy Crawford on the cover dressed as George Washington. George was founded by John F. Kennedy Jr. and covered politics, current events, pop culture and celebrity news. In 1999, Kennedy was killed in a plane crash and consequently, George folded in March 2001.
The Nation magazine cover #23 The Nation (November 13, 2000)
This magazine cover of The Nation features artwork by Brian Stauffer that depicts George Bush as Alfred E. Neuman. The Nation compared Bush to Alfred E. Neuman, the fictional mascot of the magazine Mad, complete with a button that reads, What, me worry? The U.S. presidential election was held on November 7, 2000, and when this issue of the magazine was released, the winner of the election was still unclear. The issue discusses what would happen to the country and the world if Bush became president, and in fact Bush was declared the winner of the election the next month.
Interview magazine cover#24 Interview (December 1972)
This magazine cover of Interview was designed by Richard Bernstein and features Andy Warhol photographing model Grace Jones for the December 1972 issue. Warhol founded the magazine in 1969 and featured unedited interviews with celebrities along with photographs and striking ads.
TIME magazine cover #25 TIME (September 14, 2001)
The magazine cover of the September 14, 2001 special edition of TIME features a photograph of the two hijacked airliners ripping through the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, taken by photographer Lyle Owerkoof. The issue included testimonies from survivors, more photographs of the Twin Towers after the bombings, and a salute to all those who perished in the tragedy.
People magazine cover #26 People (March 4, 1974)
This premiere issue of People featured Mia Farrow on the cover biting a strand of pearls. Farrow was starring in the movie The Great Gatsby as Daisy Buchanan and the magazine cover dubbed Gatsby the years next big movie. Since this issue, People has become a popular magazine of celebrity and pop culture news and is best known for yearly special issues naming The 50 Most Beautiful People, The Best and Worst Dressed and The Sexiest Man Alive.
Entertainment Weekly magazine cover #27 Entertainment Weekly (May 2, 2003)
The Dixie Chicks appear naked on this magazine cover of Entertainment Weekly with slogans such as Boycott, Traitors, Hero and Proud Americans printed on their bodies. Two months before, member Natalie Maines criticized the impending invasion of Iraq by President George Bush at a concert in London. This remark sparked intense criticism from many Americans who subsequently boycotted The Dixie Chicks music and concerts. In their interview with Entertainment Weekly, the group discussed their reaction to the criticism and what lies ahead for them in the country music industry.
LIFE magazine cover #28 LIFE (April 16, 1965)
This black and white photograph on the magazine cover of LIFE by Larry Burrows shows the Vietcong zeroing in on vulnerable United States helicopters. The LIFE photographer had covered the war in Vietnam since 1962 and reported this article from Da Nang. On this day, Burrows accompanied a helicopter squadron on a mission where the pilot was killed and other members of the squadron were wounded. Burrows himself was killed in 1971 while on assignment in Laos when his helicopter was shot down by enemy fire.
Playboy magazine cover #29 (tie) Playboy (October 1971)
Photographer Richard Fegley took this photo of model Darine Stern sitting on a Playboy bunny chair for the October 1971 cover of the magazine. The idea came about when art designer Len Willis decided to create a chair using the famous rabbit head. Stern became the first African-American model to grace the cover of Playboy and the cover has become a classic for the magazine.
Fortune magazine cover #29 (tie) Fortune (October 1, 2001)
This special edition of Fortune, entitled Up from the Ashes, shows a man covered in ashes after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Published less than a month after the attacks, the issue discussed the economic ramifications of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the world.
Newsweek magazine cover #31 Newsweek (November 20, 2000)
This magazine cover of the November 20, 2000 issue of Newsweek is entitled The Winner Is with a photo of half George W. Bush and half Al Gore. The presidential election had taken place earlier that month, but there was still no clear winner declared because of the close ballot count in the state of Florida. In this issue, Newsweek chronicled the lawsuits, court challenges and endless counting of ballots. The following month, George W. Bush was declared the winner of the closest presidential election in United States history.
Vogue magazine cover #32 Vogue (May 2004)
Photographer Irving Penn captures Nicole Kidmans back profile dressed in a Christian Lacroix oyster satin backless dress for this cover of the May 2004 issue of Vogue. This was the first cover shoot for Vogue by Penn since 1989. The issue contains more photographs of Kidman dressed as a Grecian goddess, an Italian diva and as legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Newsweek magazine cover #33 Newsweek (July 30, 1973)
This July 30, 1973 magazine cover of Newsweek, entitled the The Nixon Tapes, gives an aerial view of the White House turned into a tape recorder. The article discusses how President Nixon had been secretly taping everything said in his offices and on his telephones for at least two years. The following year, the tapes were released and they proved Nixon was involved with the Watergate Scandal cover-up. In August 1974, Nixon announced his resignation and Gerald Ford became President. Ford later pardoned Nixon, immunizing him from prosecution for any crimes he may have committed as President.
Wired magazine cover #33 (tie) Wired (June 1997)
This June 1997 magazine cover of Wired is entitled Pray, with a picture of the Apple symbol covered in barbed wire. The article 101 Ways to Save Apple gave an assessment of what could be done to fix the once-great company. Steven Jobs and Steven Wozniak founded Apple Computer in 1976 when they introduced the Apple I. However, by 1997, Apple saw major competition from other computer companies and experienced economic troubles. Since that time, Apple has made a comeback, due in part to the tremendous success of the iPod.
New York magazine cover #35 New York (June 8, 1970)
This magazine cover of New York is entitled Free Leonard Bernstein, with a photograph of New York society women posing with fists upraised. Bernstein was an acclaimed American composer and orchestra conductor who was a presence on Broadway, in Hollywood, at Carnegie Hall and at the New York Philharmonic. He supported the Black Panthers and in 1970, held a fund-raising meeting for the organization at his apartment. The magazine cover was a jab at his association with the Black Panthers and their radical ideology.
People magazine cover #36 People (September 15, 1997)
This cover of People features a black and white photograph of Princess Diana, and the issue is a tribute to her life after she was killed in August 1997 in a car crash. Diana appeared on the cover of the magazine a record 52 times and was one of the most popular People cover subjects. In 1981, she married Prince Charles and arguably became one of the most famous women in the world. She was lauded for her high-profile involvement in AIDS issues and for an international campaign against landmines. Diana’s death was greeted with extraordinary public grief, and her funeral at Westminster Abbey drew an estimated three million mourners in London, as well as worldwide television coverage.
Details magazine cover #37(tie) Details (February 1989)
This magazine cover of Details features a photograph of Cyndi Lauper sporting a classic Hollywood look. In the issue, Lauper discusses her songwriting and recounts her trip to the U.S.S.R. with a group of American songwriters the previous year to collaborate with Soviet counterparts. They produced the song Cold Sky, which appears on the album Action Speaks Louder Than Words.
Fast Company magazine cover #37 (tie) Fast Company (Aug/Sept 1997)
This magazine cover of Fast Company is entitled The Brand Called You, against the Tide background. In the cover article, author Tom Peters discussed how people can market themselves as brands to stand out and move up in their professional life.
Glamour magazine cover #37 (tie) Glamour (August 1968)
This issue of Glamour model Katiti Kirondi II on the cover features the Best Dressed College Girls. This marked the first time an African-American woman appeared on the cover of a national womens monthly magazine. This issue featured the 10 best-dressed college girls and 100 great fall looks, which included mini-skirts and psychedelic colors.
National Geographic magazine cover #37 (tie) National Geographic (October 1978)
This cover of National Geographic magazine is entitled Conversations with a Gorilla, with Koko the gorilla snapping a photograph of her reflection in the mirror. The photo was of such high quality and significance that it was chosen to be the cover photo for the October 1978 National Geographic article featuring Koko. Developmental psychologist Francine Patterson spent six years with Koko teaching her sign language and this led Patterson and other researchers to believe Koko displayed evidence of linguistic capabilities.
TIME Magazine cover #37 (tie) TIME April 14, 1997)
This cover of TIME magazine is entitled Yep, Im Gay, with a photograph of Ellen DeGeneres by celebrity photographer Firooz Zahedi. In the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME magazine, DeGeneres spoke to writer Bruce Handy and admitted to him that she was gay and this made her televisions first openly gay star. The television character played by DeGeneres on the sitcom Ellen also came out later that month and this was one of the most watched episodes of the series.

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