10 Controversial Magazine Covers


10. Wired (June 1997)


I personally bought this issue of Wired, being a huge Apple fan, and still have it to this day. The graphical power of this cover is amazing and the desperation of Apple is evident. If you were a computer owner, PC or Apple, this cover was of interest. Depicting the impending death of the biggest brand on the planet, at the time, was bound to stir up trouble. The article inside, “101 Ways to Save Apple,” is great reading especially now that Apple is dominating the creative/tech landscape.

9. Entertainment Weekly (May 2, 2003)

Three Chicks in Trouble

Being naked on the cover is nothing new these days but The Dixie Chicks appear naked on this cover of Entertainment Weekly with tattoos that read “Boycott,” “Traitors,” “Dixie Sluts” and “Proud Americans” on their bodies. This was on the heels of Dixie Chick member Natalie Maines criticisms of the impending invasion of Iraq by America. Some Americans boycotted The Dixie Chicks music and concerts for months even after this issue allowed them to further speak their mind

8. TIME (April 8, 1966)

Rumors of My Death…

Any time someone questions God you are going to get controversy and this Time magazine cover from April 8, 1966 was no exception. This was the first time the magazine used an all type cover, but the question “Is God Dead?” was the bigger issue and the article inside which preached the “death of God” inflamed readers.

7. TIME (January 2, 1939)

For Better or Worse

On January 2, 1939, Time Magazine published its annual Man of the Year issue. For the year 1938, Time had chosen Adolf Hitler as the man who “for better or worse” had most influenced events of the preceding year. The cover picture featured Hitler playing “his hymn of hate in a desecrated cathedral while victims dangle on a St. Catherine’s wheel and the Nazi hierarchy looks on.”

6. Babytalk (August, 2006)

Image can be seen here.

The Breast of Ideas

Readers of the August 2006 US parenting magazine, Babytalk were up in arms over the publication’s cover depicting a woman breastfeeding, with many calling the photo offensive and disgusting. The whole point of the cover was to bring focus to the controversy surrounding breastfeeding in the United States, where a survey found that 57 percent were opposed to women breastfeeding in public.

5. Vogue (April, 2008)

Twas Beauty That Killed The Beast

One of the more recent covers to illicit controversy was the Vogue cover with basketball superstar LeBron James who shares the April cover of the magazine with supermodel Gisele Bundchen. The controversy stems from the opinion that his screaming face and cradling of a blond woman has racial overtones in its resemblance to the movie poster of King Kong and Fay Wray.

4. Art Monthly (July, 2008)

In the Eyes of the Beholder…

Art Monthly, Australia magazine sparked outrage over naked images of children by publishing an image of a six-year-old Olympia Nelson on its July cover and two shots inside. The magazine’s editors said the images were chosen as a protest against an uproar over similar pictures by artist Bill Henson. The shot of Olympia was taken in 2003 by her mother, Melbourne photographer Polixeni Papapetrou.

I have blurred portions of the photo as not to offend any readers. You can see the unedited version on the Art Monthly site.

3. Playboy (October 1971)

Image can be seen here.

Black and White

While many Playboy covers can be considered controversial, this cover makes the list for breaking the color barrier which features an African-American on the cover for the first time. Darine Stern sits in a Playboy bunny chair on this October 1971 Playboy cover.

2. Golfweek (January, 2008)

Controversy becomes Controversy

Even in today’s more enlightened age Golfweek pushed the envelope a little too far. On Jan. 19, 2008 Golfweek magazine chose the image of noose to illustrate a story about a TV anchor’s racially tinged comments, but the graphically powerful photo of a noose became a controversy all its own. The editor was fired after a public backlash of negative comments.

1. Esquire (April 1968)

Ouch, Standing Up for Beliefs Can Hurt

When it comes to controversial covers it helps to start with a controversial personality and Muhammad Ali was never one to hold his tongue or his opinions. In this April 1968 Esquire magazine cover, “The Greatest Of All Time” is depicted as the martyred Saint Sebastian, patron saint of athletes. St. Sebastian was pierced with arrows for his religious beliefs. Ali is similarly pierced by six arrows, as Esquire defended his refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army because of his own religious beliefs. He was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act and stripped of his title.

Honorable Mention

TIME (April 14, 1997)

Coming Out…Again

Yep, she is gay and this cover came out and stated as much. Time magazine featured Ellen DeGeneres with the words, “Yep, I’m Gay” in bright red bold letters as part of Ellen’s coming out party, making her television’s first openly gay star. The television character played by DeGeneres on Ellen came out later that month. Coming out twice is quite the feat, and doubly controversial.

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  1. I’m pretty sure that blurring out the photo of the child is in everyone’s best interests. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it actually would be illegal NOT to blur it out?

  2. I truly find it sad that people consider a picture of a woman breastfeeding a child “offensive and disgusting”. It’s a natural part of life and a beautiful bonding experience for a mother and child. There is nothing offensive or disgusting about loving and nurturing a child.

  3. The most controversial magazine cover of all time has to be the November, 1970, issue of Esquire featuring a closeup of a smiling Lt. William Calley surrounded by very young Vietnamese children. That image has haunted me for more than 40 years.

  4. Eyeless Dog Pawless Dog Loveless Dog on

    Where can I get the Art Monthly one? it’s so gorgeous!

  5. I’m reminded of when TV guide magazine tried to get away with photoshopping Oprah winfrey’s head onto Ann-Margaret’s body on one of their covers a few years ago.

  6. What about the photo of OJ Simpson on the cover of Time (I think) that was photoshopped to look darker..

  7. @Neil: Well, since the Art Monthly cover could be considered illegal in many countries (depending on the interpretation of child pornography legislation) there is a bit of a difference between this one and the others…

  8. So you have a list of 10 covers that caused controversy and then blur out ONE of the covers because it's controversial. Yeh, that makes sense… Oh, hang on, no it doesn't.

  9. Great list, but you can't have an article about controversial covers without some controversy, I guess, so here goes. I don't think it's accurate to say "Americans boycotted the Dixie Chicks." Some Americans boycotted, not the entire nation.

  10. That’s a bunch of great covers there Top Tenz Master! This list could easily be 100 or more. Controversial covers tend to sell more issues.

    Some other great controversial covers:

    Canadian magazine Maclean’s Oct 2007 – Bush as Saddam

    The Economist Sept 1994 – two camels mating

    Vogue May 2008 – Alien Gwyneth’s super-bad photoshop job

    Time April 2008 – Debunks corn biofuel myths

    National Lampoon Jan 1973 – Buy this or we shoot a dog

  11. Great covers, Topher. I hadn't seen the Bush as Saddam. That would have been a nice addition.

    Al, I did consider the Demi Moore cover but didn't feel it should move any of the others down the list. When you only have 10 options, some good choices won't make it unfortunately.