Anything to get more eyes on your magazine right? It’s been the strategy for every magazine since the beginning of printed media. Can we blame them? the more controversial the cover, the more people will see it, which means more publicity, and as we know there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Over the course of the last 50 years there’s been  plenty of controversial magazine covers, and I am sure as you read this you are already thinking of a few that got your attention. We decided to list our top 10 most controversial magazine covers. These may not be the most shocking, or mot revealing, but for the time they were printed in they generated the highest amount of shock, controversy and backlash.


1. Breastfeeding Mom – Time Magazine


The front-cover of Time magazine showing a mother breastfeeding her grown-up child. The firestorm kicked off shortly after when people all around the U.S started debating the topic, and the cover. Time magazine has succeeded in creating once again a controversial cover that one can argue would only be a hit in America. Well played Time. Check-out the discussion here.



2. Mohammed Ali – Esquire April 1968

ali esquire

This smart rendition of Muhammad Ali was created to illustrate his martyrdom to his cause after he refused to join the US military due to his religious beliefs and was subsequently stripped of his heavyweight boxing title. The piece was done after the same manner as “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian”, a popular theme through medieval art but most recognizable in the painting by Andrea Mantegna.



3. Dixie Chicks – Entertainment Weekly May 2 2003


The Dixie Chicks set off a firestorm when they criticized then-president George W. Bush for invading Iraq on the grounds that Iraq was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. The Dixie Chicks used their “weapons of mass distraction” on this provocative cover.



4. Adolf Hitler – Time Magazine 1993


This cover featured an elaborate illustration of Hitler playing “his hymn of hate in a desecrated cathedral while victims dangle on a St. Catherine’s wheel while the Nazi hierarchy looks on. Baron Rudolph Charles von Ripper was a Catholic that fled Hitler’s Germany, and the artist of this disturbing piece. By 1938, Hitler had firmly seized power in Germany, taken over Austria and Czechoslovakia, and had been given a free hand in Eastern Europe by the English prime minister of the time, Neville Chamberlain. Time has had to defend this choice throughout history, and at the time defended it by stating that the “Man of the Year” was a title bestowed on the person who had most influenced events of the previous year.



5. Britney Spears  – Rolling Stone April 1999


Aged 17 and clutching a tellytubby (well, it was the nineties): it’s Britney, bitch. Shocking at the time because of her unclad state. These days in a Miley Cyrus world this cover would get absolutely no attention. Back then it was the beginning of the teen-queen’s break out of the innocent girl next door mold.



6. Obama – The New Yorker July 21 2008

obama cover

This cover by famous New Yorker cartoonist Barry Blitt was heavily criticized by both the McCain and Obama camps during the 2008 US election. While the piece was meant to be a satire of allegations lobbed at the couple by their detractors, its inopportune appearance during a campaign didn’t have Obama’s supporters laughing as hard as the magazine intended.



7. Demi Moore – Vanity Fair August 1991


Was it the ‘hand-bra’ pose or the exposure of Demi Moore’s naked, 7-month-pregnant belly that made this cover so controversial back in 1991? Some retailers were so appalled they would only sell the mag in brown paper bags. Subsequently, we had the era of the Spice Girls’ pregnancies, when exposed bellies were everywhere you looked. Frankly, visible pregnant-lady stretchmarks on Demi Moore would be more shocking than this.



8. John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Rolling Stone January 22 1981

yoko ono rolling stone

Annie Leibovitz took this shot just hours before John Lennon was shot outside of his apartment building, the Dakota, in New York City on December 8, 1980. Leibovitz originally wanted to take the shot of Lennon alone but he insisted that his wife be in the pictures. This cover was named the most popular magazine cover of the past 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Publishers.



9. Michael Jackson – OK Magazine

jackson cover

Fans were upset over the magazine’s decision to publish this photo. Sarah Ivens, editorial director, said that the cover decision was made since they wanted to stand out from all of the tribute covers that were dominating the stands that week. Jackson died on June 25, 2009 after being given a cocktail of drugs by his physician. While the worlds news chose photos that showed their love for Michael, OK Magazine decided to show this disturbing image of Michael.



10. Apple – Wired Magazine 1997


When this magazine went to press, Steve Jobs had just rejoined Apple through Apple’s acquisition of his NeXT Software Inc. While the cover was a bit more pessimistic
than the story it was meant to illustrate, it remains one of the top magazine covers of all time. Back then Mac fans would have done anything they could to help the ailing corporation. Luckily we know that Steve Jobs did rescue the failing company to once again become one of the tech giants in the world.

Let us know what you think in the comments below…