Yulia Potapova
Yulia Potapova
Jan 16
5 min read

Top 5 Viral Videos Of All Time

The period for innovators and early adopters is from April 23, 2005 to Jan 15, 2024.
Top 5 Viral Videos Of All Time

Some YouTube experts say a video becomes "viral" with over 1 million views. Other experts argue that this number should be raised to 5 million views. This applies to videos uploaded after 2011.

In my article "How to make a video go viral," I mentioned that there is no agreed-upon definition for a "viral video."

I made a list from 2.6 million videos. These videos were created by 624,000 accounts. All of these accounts have more than 5 million views and 100,000 engagements. I used all the available data.

Based on the data I used, I estimate that the chances of a video going viral are 3,192 to one.

This list can inspire you and teach you practical lessons. You can use these lessons when you create a video that is worth watching and content that is worth sharing.

Top 5 Viral Videos Of All Time

The period for innovators and early adopters is from April 23, 2005 to Jan 15, 2024.

When did innovators and early adopters start creating viral videos?

1. “Me At The Zoo”

me at the zoo


The first video uploaded to YouTube was published on April 23, 2005.

Jawed Karim, a co-founder of YouTube, appears in a 19-second video. He is standing in front of two elephants at the San Diego Zoo. Karim says that the elephants have long trunks.

According to Wikipedia,

Greg Jarboe says that the video shows something normal but is actually amazing for its time. The video also shows what Jawed Karim thought YouTube would become.

Jarboe said that "Me at the zoo" proved that YouTube is not just about recording special moments on video. Instead, it aims to give YouTube users the power to be tomorrow's broadcasters. This led to YouTube becoming the most popular online video-sharing community in the world.

This short clip of an "ordinary moment" has gained 271 million views and 25.1 million engagements in the past 18 years. This is considered "extraordinary."

2. “Lazy Sunday”

Lazy Sunday


In December 2005, a bootleg copy of the Saturday Night Live skit, "The Chronicles of Narnia Rap," was uploaded on YouTube. This video helped to make YouTube more popular.

How many people watched this video? David Itzkoff, a writer for The New York Times, said at the time that "Lazy Sunday" got 1.2 million views in the first 10 days.

In December 2005, LeeAnn Prescott of Hitwise reported that visits to YouTube had increased by 83% since the video was uploaded. Additionally, visits to YouTube surpassed those to Google Video. (And the rest is history.)

By the end of January 2006, Prescott reported, "Since my post last month on YouTube and the SNL Chronicles of Narnia rap, YouTube has gained more market share than other video search sites."" It has surpassed Google Video and Yahoo! Video Search.”

Then, “Lazy Sunday” was removed from the video sharing site in February 2006. In a blog post, YouTube staff explained that NBC recently contacted YouTube. They asked us to remove Saturday Night Live’s ‘Lazy Sunday: Chronicles of Narnia’ video. We know how popular that video is, but YouTube respects the rights of copyright holders. You can still watch SNL’s ‘Lazy Sunday’ video for free on NBC’s website.”

Saturday Night Live uploaded "Lazy Sunday" to its YouTube channel again on Aug. 17, 2013. It had been removed 7.5 years earlier.

Why did SNL do that? What lesson can you learn?

Copyright owners can make money by putting their videos on YouTube. They have to share the ad revenue with YouTube. NBC realized that SNL could make more money by allowing ads on "Lazy Sunday" on YouTube and NBC's website. This is better than keeping the video only on their own site, which doesn't get as much traffic.

The re-uploaded version of "Lazy Sunday" has 4.3 million views and 48,400 engagements.

3.  “Evolution Of Dance.”

A third video went viral in YouTube's early days.

Judson Laipply uploaded it on April 6, 2006. It has 312 million views and 1.6 million engagements.

This video was blocked in the U.S. for several years because it contains content from Warner Music Group (WMG). It should have more views and engagements now.

Why did they do that? What lesson can you learn from this?

YouTube's Content ID system allows copyright owners to monetize videos and share revenue with the uploader. They can also block a video from being viewed. WMG did not want to share anything with Laipply for many years.

The multinational entertainment and record label conglomerate either realized that some revenue was better than no revenue. Or, they suddenly started to care about what I had written several years ago. I discovered that "Evolution of Dance" had been blocked.

In either case, do not assume that you can freely sample a song under the “fair use” principle.

If you want to add music or sound effects to your videos, use the YouTube Audio Library. The audio tracks are high-quality and royalty-free. This means you don't have to negotiate licenses with each copyright owner.

Google bought YouTube on October 9, 2006, and the deal was finished on November 13, 2006. Google used stock worth $1.65 billion to purchase YouTube. This showed that Google approved of YouTube. It made people less unsure about the new concept of viral videos.

4. “Chocolate Rain Original Song By Tay Zonday”

Chocolate Rain Original Song By Tay Zonday


Another viral video from the early days was uploaded on April 23, 2007. It now has 136 million views and 1.9 million engagements.

The video was first posted on 4chan.org. People made fun of Zonday's breathe-away-from-the-mic move and created parody videos in response.

The song "Chocolate Rain" became popular in July 2007. YouTube featured parody and response videos on its home page. What can we learn from this viral video with its unusual lyrics and performance? Even if people make fun of you (the people who think they set trends), you can still have the final victory. You can be invited to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Then, you can make a lot of money if your video is used in a promotional campaign for Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr. Pepper.

5.  “Potter Puppet Pals: The Mysterious Ticking Noise.”

Neil Cicierega uploaded Another Example From The Early Days on Mar. 24, 2007. It has 202 million views and 2 million engagements.

Cicierega uploaded this as the third video on his YouTube channel. The video uses live-action puppetry to make fun of the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling.

When Severus Snape hears a ticking noise, he sings to it. Other characters join in. They all find out that the ticking is coming from a pipe bomb. The pipe bomb explodes afterwards. The video won by a lot in the Comedy category at the 2008 YouTube Awards.

MTV interviewed Alan Rickman at the New York premiere of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2". He said, "Potter Puppet Pals is very well made. Can you get rich from that? I hope they did."