27 of the most-watched events in history
Since the advent of the television age, certain events have brought people together like none other. Where were you when 1/6 of the world tuned into the first moon landing or were you one of the nearly two billion people who watched the latest royal wedding in 2018? Let’s see if you were part of the most watched 29 events in history.
Prince William and Kate Middleton wedding: 350 million viewers
This won’t be the only Royal Wedding on this list, for the world loves when the monarchs of England complete the fairy tale fantasy for some lucky lady. On April 29, 2011, Kate Middleton, who was the daughter of wealthy business owners with ties to the crown, became the Catherine Duchess of Cambridge.
The wedding was so widely available because it was broadcast in 188 nations around the world via YouTube. There might have been more than 350-million people watching the event on television, but more than 26-million people in England watched it live after it was declared a bank holiday.
Apollo 11 Moon Landing: 600 million viewers
When Neil Armstrong touched the Eagle down on the surface of the moon at 8:17 p.m. UTC on July 20, 1969, the population of planet earth was 3.61-billion people. Three-and-a-half hours later, 600 million of them tuned in to watch Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, as an unprecedented 1/6 of planet earth’s human population watched the event on television.
The Apollo 11 moon landing was no picnic, as the Eagle only had 30 seconds of fuel left. Armstrong then proceeded to flub one of the greatest quotes of the 20th century (he meant to say, “One small step for a man”), but the mission still captured the imagination of the world, and that’s why so many tuned in.
‘Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite’: 1 billion viewers
Maybe you didn’t expect it, but rock concerts have been some of the most watched television events in history. On January 14, 1973, Elvis Presley performed what would become his final ‘hurrah,’ as satellites broadcasted “Aloha from Hawaii” to a billion people in 40 countries.
Elvis never toured outside of North America, because his manager, Colonel Tom Parker was an illegal immigrant and feared deportation. To make up for that, the Colonel produced what would become the most expensive television production ever, and broadcasted it around the world. The cost was $2.5 million, and despite the fact that Super Bowl VII aired at the same time, it attracted a billion viewers.
Chilean miners rescue: 1 billion viewers
On Aug. 5, 2010, 33 miners became trapped when a ramp collapsed inside the Chilean Copiapo goldmine 2,300 feet below the surface. For two-and-a-half weeks, the people of Chile and the world wondered if they were alive. Then, on Aug. 22nd, a note reached the surface, “We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us.”
Rescue efforts accelerated, but the miners remained trapped for almost two more months. Then, in October the Chilean government announced rescue efforts were underway. The 33 miners were pulled from the ground one-by-one on Oct. 13, 2010, as a billion stopped to watch coverage of the 23-hour rescue.
2018 World Cup Final, France vs. Croatia: 1 billion viewers
The most recent World Cup Final isn’t the only final on our list, nor is it the only sporting event, as international competition captivates the world like none other. On July 15, 2018, over 1 billion people tuned in to watch Croatia try to beat the juggernaut of France in their first World Cup Final appearance ever.
Luka Modric, shown above on the left, won the Golden Ball award for the most outstanding performance in the tournament, but it was France that ruled the day in the final. Kylian Mbappe, shown on the right, scored the final goal of the tournament, as France cruised to a 4-2 victory.
Muhammad Ali memorial service: 1 billion viewers
When it comes to sportsmen and their ability to draw a crowd, there was no one in the world, ever, who could match Muhammad Ali. Floyd Mayweather may call himself “Moneymaker,” but he couldn’t touch the charisma and character of the most entertaining athlete of all time. Ali will appear on this list multiple times, so get comfortable seeing his name.
Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3, 2016, and a week later on June 10, a star-studded memorial honored the former three-time Heavyweight Champion of the World. Many of his pallbearers were pictured above, which included Mike Tyson (far left) and Will Smith (far right), who played Ali in the movie, ‘Ali.’
Ali vs. Foreman, ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’: 1 billion viewers
We did say that Ali was a top draw, and his fight against George Foreman on Oct. 30, 1974, was certainly that. Foreman was a 4-1 favorite going into the fight, as not only was he the Heavyweight Champion of the World, but he was undefeated in 40 fights.
Ali completely changed his tactics for the fight, and beat Foreman with what became known as the “rope-a-dope.” He taunted and begged Foreman to hit him, and as Ali absorbed the punches Foreman slowly tired out. In the eighth round, Ali landed a devastating five-punch combination that resulted in Foreman being knocked out.
2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, India vs. Pakistan: 1 billion
It’s not important that you know the quasi-crazy rules of cricket to understand that Pakistan and India have a rivalry that’s on par with the Israelis and the Palestinians. When they met on Feb. 15, 2015, in the Cricket World Cup the entire cricket world, tuned in to watch the rivalry play out in the semi-final match.
Pakistan holds the edge in all-time wins, but India won the day this time. With things like a “hundred,” and “supporting hands,” whatever the hell that means, India won by 76 runs. War has broken out between the countries multiple times, but the bloody rivalry was best resolved on the cricket grounds rather than the battlefield.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer wedding: 1 billion viewers
The “fairytale” wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana on July 29, 1981, was considered the “wedding of the century” at the time. On that day Lady Di went from nursery teacher’s assistant to the Princes of Wales and became the mother of the future King of England. The photograph above shows the couple sharing a loving kiss while Queen Elizabeth II tries very hard not to stare.
The love would not last as the two cheated on each other habitually throughout their 13-year marriage. The TV audience was greater than for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, but because there was no holiday only 600,000 people came out for Charles and Diana.
2006 World Cup Final, France vs. Italy: 1 billion
It doesn’t matter if you’re a soccer fan or not, as the Zinedine Zidane headbutt into the chest of Marco Materazzi in the World Cup Final on June 30, 2006. Was this a soccer match or a fight? Either way, the move may have knocked down Materazzi, but Zidane received a red card and was kicked out of the match.
Much speculation has ensued as to what Materazzi said to Zidane to make him lose his head. It was originally suggested that Materazzi insulted Zidane’s mother, but since Materazzi lost his at age 15, he wouldn’t have insulted her. Instead, in only a slightly more tactful manner, he insulted Zidane’s sister.
‘The Wall: Live in Berlin’: 1 billion viewers
That crazy looking structure in the background is actually the stage for a Pink Floyd concert. On July 21, 1990, just 8 months after the Berlin Wall allowed East and West Germans to pass freely to each other’s side, Pink Floyd put on a rock concert for the ages. This was an arguably better alternative than David Hasselhoff performing again.
Previously, Pink Floyd released an album called The Wall in 1980, and constructed a wall and tore it down for the show. The only time they recreated the show came in Berlin, where 450,000 people watched live, as the wall you see constructed above was torn down during the concert.
Ali vs. Frazier III, ‘Thrilla in Manila’: 1 billion viewers
“It will be a killa and a thrilla and a chilla when I get the Gorilla in Manila,” boasted Ali prior to the Thrilla in Manilla on Oct. 1, 1975. Joe Frazier and Ali had actually fought two times before this fight, and the series stood tied at 1-1.
Ali attempted to put away Frazier early, but when that didn’t work he employed the rope-a-dope strategy, which actually worked in Frazier’s favor. For 14 brutal rounds, the two duked it out in 120-degree heat, until Frazier, unable to see because of facial swelling, capitulated. Ali later claimed he was close to dying and was only seconds away from quitting himself.
2010 World Cup Final, Spain vs. Netherlands: 1 billion viewers
The 2010 World Cup Final was the first in 32 years to not feature either Brazil or Germany, thus it attracted a huge audience of soccer fans. It was considered the dirtiest game of the tournament, as the Netherlands managed to rack up nine yellow cards and a red card to Spain’s five yellow cards.
The game was pretty even as overtime started with the score 0-0. Then, in the 109th minute, a Netherland’s player was red carded and sent off. Seven minutes later Andre Iniesta hammered home the winning goal with a right-footed half volley. The game ended four minutes later, as Spain won their first and only World Cup.
Ali vs. Antonio Inoki: 1.4 billion viewers
This fight is definitely the oddest one Ali ever took on, but it’s infamous because it’s considered the birth of mixed martial arts fights on the international stage. Antonio Inoki was a Japanese wrestling champion fixed on defeating champions of other fighting disciplines to promote his style of fighting.
Ali thought he was fighting a choreographed match until days before the fight he found out he had to lose. When he refused, the fake fight became a real fight. Some weird rules saw Inoki on his back on the ground kicking Ali’s shins for the most of the fight, which ended in a draw after 15 rounds.
1984 L.A. Olympics opening ceremony: 1.5 billion viewers
The opening ceremony that took place on July 28, 1984, in Los Angeles featured one of the most expensive productions in Olympic history. Nearly 100,000 packed into the L.A. Coliseum and watched as President Ronald Reagan welcomed the world and ushered in the start of the games.
The event, which featured music and artistic representations of US culture, was highlighted by the flight of Bill Suitor with a Bell Aerosystems rocket pack, or more commonly known as a Jet Pack. That was serious technology over 35 years ago, as he flew it perfectly from the peristyle to the track at the opposite end of the stadium.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wedding: 1.9 billion viewers
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle broke a number of royal precedents when they were wed on May 19, 2018. They wed on a weekend, which made sure brother William would miss the FA Cup Final, but also ensured that there would be no bank holiday granted to the people of England.
As for the world, one-in-four people tuned in to watch the most recent Royal Wedding to date. As is tradition, Prince Harry was given his official peerages, or titles, prior to the wedding. It appears that marriage is dangled in front of princes like carrots, as only afterward did he become the Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton, and Baron Kilkeel.
Live Aid: 1.9 billion viewers
If anyone saw Bohemian Rhapsody recently (spoiler alert!), then they’ll remember the Live Aid concert that Freddie Mercury absolutely rocked at the end of the movie. On July 13, 1985, the Live Aid concert drew in nearly 2-billion people as dual concerts in Wembley Stadium in London, and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia rocked the world for a good cause.
The concerts also inspired simultaneous concerts in other nations and brought in viewers from 150 countries around the world. The cause: Raise funds for food to fight famine in Ethiopia. Not only did Queen perform for the first time in years, but the concert also featured Bob Dylan playing with the Rolling Stones.
Ali vs. Larry Holmes, ‘The Last Hurrah’: 2 billion viewers
By the time Ali took the to the ring against WBC Heavyweight Champion Larry Holmes on Oct. 2, 1980, he was well past his prime and already starting to deteriorate physically and mentally. He stood toe-to-toe against Holmes for ten rounds at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas before his manager ended the fight.
After the fight, it was revealed that Ali had been ordered to undergo an examination at the Mayo Clinic prior to the match. Ali reported tingling in his hands, decreased motor function, and slurred speech, yet the fight proceeded anyway. Complications such as this would only get worse for the champ, as a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease followed shortly after.
Michael Jackson Memorial Service: 2 billion viewers
The King of Pop managed to beat the King of Rock in terms of a television audience, but we’re sure that Michael Jackson would’ve preferred to beat Elvis with a rock concert, not his memorial. On July 7, 2009, twelve days after the music legend died, an audience of two billion people tuned in to watch the memorial for Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Jackson’s funeral was an incredibly star-studded event, as not only were members of the famous family present, but the memorial also featured performances from: Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Jermaine Jackson, and Shaheen Jafargholi sang Jackson’s songs, while John Mayer played guitar.
Live 8: 2 billion viewers
Live 8 was a benefit concert that was held on the 20th anniversary of Live Aid and was very much a sequel to the first concert. On July 2, 2005, all the countries in the G8, and South Africa held simultaneous concerts to help raise money to eradicate poverty worldwide.
That’s George Michael and Paul McCartney at the top there, rocking out in front of a crowd in London, England. The “Make Poverty History” campaign had high hopes of raising $50 billion for aid to impoverished nations, with half going to Africa, but the G8 nations’ pledge has mostly fallen short.
Sept. 11 terror attacks: 2 billion viewers
This is certainly a morning we all wish we could forget, but for the survivors, the victims, and the many heroic actions undertaken by so many people, we all remember Sept. 11, 2001. Most also remember where we were that Tuesday morning when the first bits of news came through, and couldn’t stop watching.
Coverage started at 8:46 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and within about an hour-and-fifteen-minutes another three planes crashed in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. Two-billion people tuned in to watch the deadliest terrorist attack in human history.
1998 World Cup Final, France vs. Brazil: 2 billion viewers
Zinedine Zidane will want to remember this World Cup Final over the one where he got sent off, and basically cost his country the Cup. But almost eight years to the day before the famous headbutt, on July 12, 1998, Zidane was nothing short of magnificent, scoring two goals to propel France to a 3-0 victory, and its first World Cup title.
The game was not without controversy, as Brazil’s star player, Ronaldo, seemed to be a shell of himself. Something happened in the Brazil locker room before the game, but we can only speculate what transpired, as every single player on the Brazil team refuses to speak about details of the incident to this day.
Funeral of Lady Diana: 2 billion viewers
Muhammad Ali, Zinedine Zidane, and Lady Diana are the only people to be featured multiple times for the most-watched television events in history. Unfortunately for Diana, her second event was her memorial, which took place on Sept. 6, 1997. Diana died a week earlier when her intoxicated driver smashed her limo in a French tunnel.
They were trying to outrun the paparazzi, prompting Diana’s brother Charles to say at her funeral, “It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this – a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.”
Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks II: 2 billion viewers
Yes, we’re back to Muhammad Ali, and yes, this is the last fight of his fights that earned a top spot in the most watched television events in history. Sept. 15, 1978, marked the second time Ali and Leon Spinks met in the ring, after Spinks shocked the world and defeated Ali by split decision.
Spinks is the only man to have beaten Ali while he held the title. Though Ali was aged and had very little of skills left, he dominated the fight and defeated Spinks by unanimous decision. Ali seemed to go the distance, the full 15 rounds, often in punishing fights, leading to health problems later in life.
2002 World Cup Final, Brazil vs. Germany: 2 billion viewers
The last of our World Cup Finals on this list was the matchup between the two titans in soccer, Brazil and Germany. Since WWII all but five of 18 Finals have featured at least one of these teams, yet oddly enough it was the first time they met in the Finals.
Germany has been to the Finals eight times, and the Brazilians seven times, while the Germans have won four, and on June 30, 2002, the Brazilians won their fifth. Two second-half goals by the original Ronaldo (not that sorry excuse for a human being who plays for Portugal) led to a 2-0 victory.
2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony: 3 billion viewers
The number “8” is kind of a big deal in China, and it’s no accident that the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony took place on Aug. 8, 2008 (8/8/08). On that day, 15,000 performers put on a show that seemed to defy belief.
Not only did gymnast Li Ning seem like he was walking on a cloud to light the torch, but the Chinese actually made the clouds outside the Beijing National Stadium disappear. They modified the weather so it wouldn’t rain during the ceremony, and the sky was filled with dazzling fireworks and lights. The choreography was creative and flawless, leading many to say it’s the best Olympics Opening Ceremony ever.
1996 Atlanta Olympics Opening Ceremony: 3.6 billion viewers
We said there were no more Ali fights, but perhaps the greatest showman ever, Muhammad Ali, was the star of the show for the Opening Ceremony of the Atlanta Summer Olympics on July 19, 1996. On that day, an aged and nearly disabled Ali appeared on the main stage at the Centennial Olympic Stadium to light the Olympic torch that started the games.
An Olympic gold medal winner himself (1960), and despite having Parkinson’s disease stemming from years of vicious pounding to his head, the lighting of the cauldron by Ali was the most memorable moment of the Atlanta Games, as the dramatic scene was felt half the world, making it the most watched event in television history.