The 15 Greatest Devoted Fandoms of All Time, Ranked
It takes more than great slash fic and fan art.
What makes a fandom so iconic that it will stand the test of time? Hint: It’s not just how intense the fans are, and it’s not just by size. In fact, some of the biggest fandoms in the world didn’t make this list at all, because the qualities that make a fandom great are wide-ranging. We’ve put together a list of fifteen fandoms that pass muster based on the following criteria:
Longevity: How long has this fandom been around?
Creativity: Do these fans create transformative works inspired by the original source material? Bonus points if these creations stand on their own as iconic.
Reach: How well-known is this fandom?
Social Impact: Do these fans engage in fan activism or charitable work together?
A caveat: We limited this to film, television, literature, and music. No sports, sorry. Yankees vs. Red Sox is for another editor.
Did your fandom make the list? Find out:
Everyone knows Shrek, but not everyone knows the Shrek fandom. But if you know, you know. Like an onion or an ogre, many layers of irony have allowed this fandom to endure. Popular theme park journalist and host of the podcast, “Very Amusing,” Carlye Wisel, has made celebrating Shrekcember akin to an official holiday. From countless Internet memes to the Shrek Rave that sells out wherever it tours, the real ones know one universal truth: Shrek is Love. Shrek is Life.
14. SpongeBob Squarepants
Much like Shrek, SpongeBob Squarepants may not seem like a fandom. It’s the air we breathe; it’s the water all around us (if you live in Bikini Bottom, that is). Born at the dawn of Internet culture, SpongeBob has come to be the defining touchstone of meme culture, so much so that Nickelodeon produced a series of SpongeBob toys based on the world’s favorite memes. It’s not so much a community as it is a form of communication, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the transformative works that all came from a pineapple under the sea.
From the late 60s till today, the music never stopped for fans of the Grateful Dead. Passionate fans would regularly follow the band across the country on monthslong tours, recording each night’s improvisational jams for posterity; this devoted fan culture gave rise to a host of other “jam bands” and their respective fandoms, an ecosystem that thrives to this day. Decades after the Dead’s breakup following the death of chief songwriter Jerry Garcia in 1995, celebrities like LeBron James are regularly spotted in high-end fashion sporting the band’s signature designs, and the demand for tickets as the Dead gear up for their last tour as Dead & Company alongside John Mayer speaks to the enduring popularity of the band’s songbook.
12. BTS Army
Though this fandom has only been around for the last decade, the truly Internet savvy know you don’t f*** with BTS. Boy band fandoms don’t typically seem that deep at first glance, but K-pop stans have shown power in numbers. The BTS Army raised $1 million for Black Lives Matter (matching the band’s donation), hijacked white supremacist hashtags, and formed collectives like One In An Army, which coordinates fundraising and volunteers on everything from disaster relief to academic support for at-risk youth. Plus, this fandom has done wonders for growing up Asian in America; it’s no longer just the Justin Timberlakes and Nick Carters who reign supreme among teen heartthrobs. (For more on the effects of K-pop on Asian representation, check out my recent interview with Scrubs actor and Korean-American cartoonist Lela Lee.)
11. Sherlock Holmes
Arguably the first instance of modern fandom, Sherlock Holmes fans have been shaking things up for over a century. When Sherlock was killed off in 1893 (no spoiler alert, you’ve had 130 years to catch up), fans publicly mourned, wrote letters, and generally complained so loudly that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought him back. They also wrote and circulated fan fiction, hosted book clubs, and collected memorabilia, all before the era of the Internet, smartphone, air travel, or any of the modern creature comforts that make fandom so easy today. It’s no wonder that modern adaptations, especially BBC’s Sherlock, have continued to inspire fan art, fan fiction, and general fan excitement today.
Like a fine wine, Taylor Swift only seems to get better with time, and her fandom has evolved alongside her. They’ve grown up with her music, becoming adults right along with her. Swifties are both seemingly ubiquitous and powerful; the Eras Tour has become the bane of every teacher (and exasperated parent) but also a foil for exorbitant ticket pricing schemes. Robert Smith may be “The Cure” for Ticketmaster, but Swifties were the masses that got the ball rolling. Taylor Swift fans have long been in touch with the woman herself via her Tumblr account, where she spoke candidly and directly to her fans for years. In the past, she hand-picked fans for secret sessions at her home to listen to new albums–while petting her cats and snacking on cookies she baked herself–before they were released to the public. And her every move is tracked by Swifties who look for clues to support their own fan theories, which she is well aware of and has admitted playing into. Swift is known for her fierce loyalty to her fans, which is essential for maintaining this level of fandom.
The fandom that created so much slash fic, it made Destiel canon. Even if you never watched Supernatural in its 15-year run, you may have heard of this fandom and its many creations, most notably the infamous “SuperWhoLock” crossover. Cast members themselves even got in on the action; actor Misha Collins founded a charitable annual event, the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen (known colloquially as GISH). GISH was a “transmedia experience” that “played with the power, erotics, and emotional excess present in Collins’ fandom,” according to Professor Louisa Ellen Stein at Middlebury College. The fact that this CW drama ran as long as it did is a testament to the Supernatural fandom’s dedication. It’s as eternal as damnation.
Before Marvel ruled the world, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman ushered in the first great era of superhero fandom. This trinity, plus the countless others that came after them, has inspired numerous parodies, charitable campaigns, and pieces of fan art that have stood the test of time. As in a great sports rivalry, the DC fandom has tended towards the role of underdog in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) era. And like an underdog, too many wins make them a little insufferable. Still, where would we be without them?
Pokémon as a fandom has always been less about the characters themselves and more about the world they inhabited. Like Ash Ketchum, you can be 10 forever as long as you remain in Johto and Kanto. From elaborate cosplays to traveling tournaments to the Pokémon Go craze, the Pokémon fandom has no plans of slowing down any time soon. This is easily one of the fandoms most likely to be passed down from millennial and Gen Z parents to future generations.
No matter who they are, you’ll never forget your First Doctor. The Whovians, or formally “The Doctor Who Appreciation Society” in many countries, have kept the beloved BBC Doctor Who in the zeitgeist for half a century. Though the show went on hiatus in 1989, the mid-2000s revival in the digital era ushered in a wave of Whovian blogs, cosplays, fan theories, and even a genre of music called “Time Lord rock.” While casual fans may only pop in whenever David Tennant shows up, die-hard Whovians are an international, intergenerational force to be reckoned with.
Pretty much everyone seems to be a Marvel fan these days (unless they’re Martin Scorsese), so it’s hard to separate dyed-in-the-wool Marvel fans from everyone else. As Harvard Law Professor Alan Jenkins said in a recent interview, “If anybody had told 16-year-old me that there would be so many Marvel movies that I wouldn't have time to see them all, I would not have believed it and would have lost my mind.” But before the Marvel Cinematic Universe ruled the box office, Marvel-inspired avid collectors, fan writers, and even budding social activists and theorists with its many parallels to real-life stories of injustice. Whether or not the world tires of tentpole superhero blockbusters, the Marvel fandom will likely continue its long-held traditions of interpretation and geekery.
Setting aside Marvel, Star Wars, and numerous other media properties as their own fandoms, Disney fandom is practically a lifestyle. From DisneyBounding (color-themed cosplays that don’t violate the “no adult guests in costume” rule at Disney Parks) to Disney Weddings to scattering your ashes at Space Mountain (please don’t), Disney fans incorporate their love into their lives every way you can imagine. You can even live in a Disney residential community. And hey, someday, you may even get to have a Disney funeral. Just as Disney itself is one of the largest, most enduring media brands in the world, the Disney fandom lives on to extend our childhood magic (or help us pass it down to our kids).
3. Star Wars
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away known as 1977, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was a groundbreaking hit. Fans clamored to enjoy repeat viewings, sketching Rebel Alliance costumes before the Internet and Spirit Halloween made everything easy, and waiting with bated breath for some steamy Luke/Leia romance (back before, well, you know). The party that started with a disco-era space opera kept going even through the dark years; fans bought tickets to the completely unrelated film Meet Joe Black simply to show up, watch an exclusive trailer for The Phantom Menace, and bounce (sorry, Brad Pitt). As with Marvel, Disney has made it so that the Star Wars fandom will live on forever, never to be hungry for more stories and fan experiences.
2. Harry Potter
Like the famous wizard boy who lived under the staircase at 4 Privet Drive, many children dream of being whisked away for magical adventures with kindred spirits. The worldbuilding of Harry Potter and fans’ ability to identify with a particular Hogwarts house has led millions of fans to do some worldbuilding of their own. Many fan creations have gone on to be iconic in their own right, including the Potter Puppet Pals, A Very Potter Musical (and its sequels), and of course, “My Immortal,” widely considered to be the worst fanfic ever written. The Harry Potter fandom is also a cornerstone of the fan activist movement; since 2005, The Harry Potter Alliance (now Fandom Forward) has been developing civic action campaigns through the lens of this and other fan stories. (Full disclosure: I am on the Board of Directors of this organization.) While J.K. Rowling’s commentary on trans rights may have affected the future and legacy of this fandom, this fan community continues to be a force for change and justice (often in favor of LGBTQ+ rights). The willingness to act independently of a brand, be creative, and make meaning in communion with other fans makes this a notable and enduring fandom.
1. Star Trek
When you think of fandom, chances are, you think of things that were pioneered by Trekkies (or Trekkers). I mean, let’s be serious. Was there ever another fandom that could be #1 on this or any list? The Star Trek fandom has been studied by academics, in numerous books, a documentary, and even parodied on SNL by William Shatner. Before fandom was mainstream and cool, Trek fans bore the brunt of the criticism. Some went so far as to compare their practices to religious fanaticism, though really, what’s so wrong about rewriting Dickens in the Klingon language and performing it in major U.S. cities from time to time? That’s right. Nothing. Star Trek is one of the earliest examples of fan campaigning in the television era; without a concerted fan letter-writing campaign led by Bjo Trimble, the show would have been scrapped altogether after only three years on the air. Plus, Kirk/Spock slash fic predates Destiel, Drarry, and pretty much every other popular queer pairing by several decades. Is Star Trek considered the biggest fandom in the world in 2023? Probably not, but it’s certainly the greatest vanguard. We have no choice but to stan.
Do you agree with our list of Greatest Devoted Fandoms? Have we missed one of your fandoms? Let us know what you love, and connect with others who love the same content, on our Discord. At Remarkist, we invite you to speak your fandom!
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