Believe it or not, there were videos that went viral before YouTube, and social media in general, guaranteed practically anything remotely funny enough, and caught on film, had a shot at going viral.
Though there is debate about what actually constitutes a viral video, some social media experts have said that years ago a video would be considered viral if it hit 1 million views. Today, in the multi-platform, multi-share social media age, a video might be considered viral if it hits upwards of 5 million views, in no more than a week.
Clearly the times of sharing videos online have changed, but back in the non-smartphone, non-social media days there were still many internet videos that are classified as having gone viral; here’s some you may remember.
10 Bambi Meets Godzilla
Not only does "Bambi Meets Godzilla" predate YouTube, it predates the Internet entirely. A minute and a half long animated short film illustrated by Marv Newland, famous for the many animated sequences and promos he produced for clients like MTV, "Bambi Meets Godzilla" is a sweet little black and white tale showing the deer grazing in a meadow while credits roll across the screen. Of course, all but one of the credits are credited to Marv Newland, from direction to Bambi’s wardrobe. His parents are credited for producing him. Once the tongue in check credits finish rolling, Godzilla’s foot comes and crushes Bambi, and a further acknowledgment (to the city of Tokyo for providing Godzilla for the film) rolls. The short used to play on air to fill times between programming in the early days of cable television, and it was actually even bootlegged to VHS so many times it classifies as a viral video. It’s also hilarious, and clear inspiration for another video on this list.
9 Reefer Madness
An educational film released in 1936, "Reefer Madness" was shown across the United states on the heels of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the bill responsible for criminalizing and enforcing imprisonment for possession of marijuana. "Reefer Madness" was supposed to teach children of the perils of weed, and maybe it did in pre-World War II America, but when the footage was rediscovered, by a leading pot activist of all things, in the early 1970s, "Reefer Madness" instead became a cult classic, and highly bootlegged viral video that was shown on liberal college campuses and at parties everywhere.
The first studio to actually distribute the VHS copies if "Reefer Madness," propelling the film to go viral, was none other than New Line Cinema, who had enough success with the film that they began producing their own films by the 1980s. "Reefer Madness" ultimately gave new life to New Line and a right of passage for young people everywhere, who, to this day get high and watch the absurdity that is "Reefer Madness."
8 We Like the Moon
Possibly one of the strangest things to go viral back in the early 2000s courtesy of RatherGood.com, "We Like the Moon" is a sloppily animated cartoon by Joel Veitch that showcases a couple of squirrel-like characters warbling on about liking the moon. It is better than a spoon, you know. The video is almost unsettling in a bad acid kind of way, but it was good enough for sub giant Quizno’s who acquired the short film and based some of their promos on it for a while.
Before there was the infamous Honey Badger, there was just the badger, and a snake. Oh, and some mushrooms, of an unidentified variety. A flash cartoon, the badger viral video is just a bunch of badgers dancing and singing badger over and over again, throwing in the word mushroom sporadically, and then “it’s a snake” as a lonely snake slithers across the desert. This video went viral via email mostly, and was one of the first loop-based videos to get a remix treatment, and even a few parodies. I’m sure many readers got the badger video in their inbox at the office at some point in the early 2000s. Now badger has over 20 million views on YouTube.
6 The End of the World
A pretty brilliant little minute and a half short cartoon uploaded originally to Albino Blacksheep in the early 2000s, "The End of the World" essentially describes exactly that, the end of the world due to nuclear war. Narrated by a German (?) sounding guy, he spells out what each country would do if someone fired a nuclear missile, and in the process proceeds to nail some cultural sterotypes on the head and coin a few catch phrases along the way. Ever wonder why anyone would ever say I am "le tired?" Thank "The End of the World" for that, and "WTF, mate" as well. Silly, but relevant, this video went viral fast, spreading to other humor sites as well, and has millions of views on YouTube.
5 All Your Base Are Belongs to Us
Dating back as far as 1998, "All Your Base Are Belongs to Us" is a video that ultimately went viral early in 2000-2001 on sites like Something Awful and a multitude of Internet forums. A crude mix of Contra-styled 1980s Nintendo animation and photo stills, the video is set to a really cheesy techno soundtrack and basically, after a little intro, a monotone robot voice repeats the horrifically formed sentence "all your base are belong to us." I’m not sure exactly why this video caught on like it did, it’s kind of like Sunny D and Rum, a train wreck you can’t avoid looking at, but with nowhere near this level of (unintentional) humor.
4 Dancing Baby
Another proud moment in viral video history, the Dancing Baby became a cultural phenomenon for a time after it was released in 1996. An animated 3D version of a baby literally dances around in circles for thirty odd seconds, while Blue Swede’s version of “Hooked on a Feeling” plays along. How this video caught on may just have been a sign of the times; the animation was quite good for 1996, and the song was featured in Reservoir Dogs in 1994. Or perhaps I’m just grasping at straws and the phenomenon of the Dancing Baby will never be understood. But it was a phenomenon, being spread across email chains from office to office for years. The video was so popular that the Dancing Baby, song and all, made a guest appearance on Ally McBeal and was talked about for weeks. Scary.
3 Jesus vs. Frosty
Based upon an early version entitled "The Spirit of Christmas," "Jesus vs. Frosty" is a short film created by a pair of University of Colorado students, about a group of friends who bring a maniacal snowman to life and need to call upon heaven to save themselves. Created by none other than South Park’s own Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the four-minute film made its rounds through their college until it landed in the laps of Fox executives. The film ultimately became one of the first viral videos on the newly developed Internet. It'ss crude, and relatively rudimentary, but it displays Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s subversive sense of humor, the one that has made South Park so popular for so long. And really, you can’t go wrong with Jesus battling a snowman with his halo.
2 Star Wars Kid
Now, this is the definition of a truly viral video, over a billion, yep, a billion, views do not lie. The origins of how the "Star Wars Kid" video came to be, however, are a lot more unfortunate. Filmed by a high school student in Quebec, Canada in 2002, the video shows the overweight teen wielding a golf ball retriever and mimicking, to the best of his abilities, the movements of Darth Maul. It’s awkward, kinda funny, and kinda sad, but what’s most unfortunate is the teenager had no intention of anyone seeing the clip. He filmed it at his school, and forgot the tape there. A schoolmate had a bright idea and transferred the tape onto the Internet, making the "Star Wars Kid" video an instant hit among schoolmates, and then subsequently, the online community as a whole.
There have been remixes of the video and even numerous parodies featured in television shows and songs as well. Problem was, the subject of the video was being harassed constantly because of it, and received death threats and calls for him to commit suicide because of the "Star Wars Kid" video. Ultimately, an out of court harassment settlement was reached with the boys who posted the video, and its creator has finally openly acknowledged his involvement in hopes of raising awareness of bullying.
1 Rejected Cartoons
Both reviled and revered, Don Hertzfeldt’s "Rejected Cartoons" are utterly ludicrous, and, at least to me, in a good way. Back in 2000, animator Hertzfeldt put together nearly a ten minute piece of art under the guise that he was commissioned by a few notable companies to create advertisements for them. Now, none of this was true, but 14 years ago some actually questioned the authenticity of the claims that these were indeed rejected ads. In fact, "Rejected" was a surrealist romp through absurdity, one stick figure, banana, oversized spoon and bleeding anus at a time. Nominated for the best short animated film at the Academy Awards that year, and also winning nearly 30 other awards, "Rejected" remains a cult classic, and much of the way the general public had initially viewed the video, causing it to go viral, was through humor sites, file sharing and message boards. Today, there are numerous compilation DVDs containing the cartoons, and they are readily available on YouTube.