The 35 Best Magazine Covers Without Celebrities

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The New York Times recently reported that movie stars aren’t selling magazines anymore. The article describes how covers featuring pop stars like Lady Gaga sell more issues than covers with famous actresses, but magazines with Taylor Swift have a terrible track record of sales. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s responsible for the shift, but it could be that magazines in general aren’t selling like they used to. But this could also be a case for better design in magazines — it’s very easy to just slap a celebrity on a magazine cover and assume the issue will sell, but some of the most iconic covers didn’t need a famous face to get attention. We’ve collected some of our favorite magazine covers that didn’t feature celebrities, all testaments to the power of great design.

Via Think Progress

For a lot of the best magazine covers, language trumps all. After the destructive floods of Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg Businessweek finally said what so many of us were thinking.

Via ASME

Esquire makes another case for the impact of a good headline with this snippet from John Sack’s legendary 33,000-word story on the Vietnam War.

Via Business Insider

This stunning aerial photograph of New York City after Hurricane Sandy is a masterpiece of subtlety. The headline looms quietly over the dark metropolis, knowing fully that readers don’t need to see it to get the point.

Via ASME

A lot of magazines use a famous face to draw attention to themselves, but on this iconic cover, it’s the magazine that draws attention to a face. Fantastic photography made this 12-year-old refugee instantly recognizable and drew important attention to unrest in the Middle East.

Via Business Insider

For their last issue, media giants Newsweek subtly questioned readers about the future of print. While the hashtag may have become a nuisance in recent years, it’s necessary to communicate the distressing truth: the world is moving on.

Via ASME

A 1976 New Yorker cover captures the solipsism of New York City with an illustration that’s as apt today as it was almost 40 years ago.

Via LIFE

After John Filo took his Pulitzer-winning photos of the 1970 shooting at Kent State, it was clear LIFE had no other choice for their cover.

Via ASME

The ’70s were clearly an exciting time to be a journalist, and this cover of Newsweek captures the volatility of DC during Watergate. It’s not only a clever representation of the White House under Nixon, but a timeless reference to government surveillance.

Via Google Books

Moments before the AIDS epidemic, this June 1979 issue of New York Magazine intelligently implores readers to reevaluate their definition of homosexuality.

Via The New Yorker

The New Yorker ushers in the ’70s with an optimistic cover that makes readers think it’ll at least be an interesting year, if not a good one. Its headlines add a philosophical delight to not just the year ahead, but every new year: never before seen.

Via ASME

After the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the legendary Roy Lichtenstein helped TIME address the growth of gun violence in late 1960s America…

Via Business Insider

… and 44 years later, the issue is just as pressing. This cover encapsulated one of the most violent years in recent history, and the sentiment behind it demanded repeating after the Sandy Hook shootings.

Via Vogue

Vogue broke from their usual cover-girl format and chose style over fashion for their sophisticated 60th anniversary issue.

Via ASME

The Vietnam War made for some of the 20th century’s most harrowing journalism, and this controversial cover forced readers to pay attention to the violence overseas. The photo’s meaning became even darker after photographer Paul Schutzer was killed during his coverage of 1967’s Six-Day War.

Via Telegraph

To “celebrate” Winston Churchill’s centennial, Time Out London used one of his favorite gestures against him for an article that deconstructed his legacy.

Via Telegraph

In the time of the women’s liberation, short-lived UK women’s magazine Nova made feminist commentary worthy of Barbara Kruger.

Via ASME

A controversial photo of camels mating proved economic commentators have a sense of humor, too. The cover pictured above hit American newsstands in 1994, but the European edition did not feature it.

Via Business Insider

Computer magazine MacUser tweaks one of the 21st century’s most famous logos to call attention to the corruption behind modern technology’s #1 empire.

Via ASME

Another cover that required nothing more than text to sell a story, this one a bleak collection of writings from various theologians. This image featured the kind of stark nihilism we’d later see in Chip Kidd’s designs with a question that begs us to open the magazine.

Via Esquire

Esquire has also proven to be a master of the cover, and as sensationalist as this one from 1976 may be, it’s the kind that sells magazines.

Via Business Insider

At first glance, this photo is an idyllic landscape of lush, rolling hills, and its vibrant detail makes you want to be in that little blue car. But the headline at the bottom imbues the beautiful image with a sense of precariousness.

Via ASME

This cover of Glamour is not particularly notable for the photo itself, but for the bravery behind it. In the midst of Civil Rights tension, the women’s magazine made the progressive choice to put a black student on the cover of their college issue.

Via Esquire

Esquire turns the hippie optimism of The Byrds on its head for a poignant cover story on death row inmates.

Via LIFE

LIFE proved that the genius of their art was not solely based on taking the right photo at the perfect moment. The print magazine was also a triumph of design, and this cover turns a stock market crisis into graphic gold.

Via Esquire

As the famously nostalgic baby boomers came of age, the previous generation reminisced about a simpler time with all the sexual decadence of Fragonard.

Via ASME

Koko the gorilla became famous for her intelligence during her time with developmental psychologist Francine Patterson in the ’70s. This National Geographic picture of Koko photographing her reflection was poignant evidence of her self-awareness.

Via Telegraph

Satiric British magazine Private Eye makes its own celebrity cover with a Tony Blair portrait made of food. Though this issue came out in 1999, the global food crisis makes this photo just as topical today.

Via Complex

This cover called attention to the divide in American youth during the Vietnam War. Its juxtaposition of soldiers and college students asked which mission was more important: free love or nationalism?

Via Complex

In his work for New York magazine, Milton Glaser made some of the most eye-catching covers in journalism history. This 1975 issue uses design to a powerful effect as it illustrates conflict within the black Muslim community.

Via Esquire

Because a ripped flag will always get your attention — and for a story by Gore Vidal, no less.

Via LIFE

This 1971 issue of LIFE is an image of fear in urban settings that still resonates.

Via Complex

Milton Glaser nails it again with a haunting response to the sexual revolution, complete with a Tommy reference. It’s not its sexuality that makes this cover so arresting, but the slight terror of those disembodied hands.

Via LIFE

A photo taken on the moon by none other than Neil Armstrong. Once again, LIFE had no other choice for their cover.

Via Complex

This cover doesn’t hide the intentions of its story at all, but it still invites you to peek inside. Another progressive design from Milton Glaser.

Via Creative Bloq

This is a picture of someone you should recognize, as this seemingly innocuous subject is currently inescapable. As student debt reaches record numbers, Bloomberg Businessweek calls attention to the cross the Millennial Generation must bear for the sake of education.