Wikipedia has now been around for over 20 years, and we continue to be thankful for the billions of people who use the largest encyclopedia of all time to enrich their lives and expand their knowledge.
When we opened our vaults to examine the most in-demand English Wikipedia articles of 2021, one thing was very clear: pop culture is back in 2021 after the past two years spent in varying degrees of COVID-19 quarantine.
In fact, Wikipedia’s article about the pandemic went from being the most-read article of 2020 to not even making the top 25.*
Instead, English Wikipedia readers turned to the site to learn more about the British monarchy, this year’s film and sporting events, and Elon Musk.
Let’s dive into the top 25 most popular Wikipedia articles of 2021 and why people were so interested in them.
Last April, Commonwealth countries around the world heard the news that Prince Philip, the longest-serving royal consort in history, died just two months before his 100th birthday.
People understandably took to Wikipedia to learn more about what this meant for the British monarchy. Their interest carried the articles about Philip and Queen Elizabeth II to eighth and second on this list, respectively, and readers didn’t stop there: Prince Charles and his former wife Diana, killed in a tragic accident in 1997, also took places in our most popular articles. (In addition, historic royals Princess Margaret and King George VI narrowly missed the cut.)
This is not the first time the British monarchy has appeared on these annual lists of most-popular English Wikipedia articles. Queen Elizabeth has been a persistent fixture on these since 2016, the year that Netflix’s The Crown was released, and people’s enduring fascination with the House of Windsor was particularly apparent in 2017 when nearly a quarter of the list was devoted to royalty.
While many of the top spots in this year’s list of most-popular Wikipedia articles were taken by royalty and sports, the bulk of it is made up of the media we consumed at home and in newly reopened theaters.
One particular highlight was the Netflix show Squid Game, a fictional tale about people risking their lives in children’s games for the chance to win a massive cash prize. The program’s rise to popularity through positive word of mouth is clear from our data — its pageviews did not crest until 3 October, over two weeks after the season was made available for viewing.
Another highlight was the Marvel superhero universe. Now in its 13th year, having started with Iron Man in 2008, people from around the world read Wikipedia’s lists of Marvel Cinematic Universe films and characters to refresh their memories and catch up on what they have missed. They also flooded Wikipedia for each of WandaVision’s nine episodes, with spikes occurring on the days after each was released, and decided whether they should watch the new films Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.
For sports fans around the world, 2021 was special in that it featured two major sports tournaments that were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19: the Tokyo Olympics and Euro 2020, both of which made this list. That said, both were eclipsed in our rankings by international superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored five goals in Euro 2020 but ultimately failed in his quest to make Portugal a repeat champion.
Then there’s Elon Musk, the subject of the third most-popular Wikipedia article of the year. The electric entrepreneur and business magnate saw two spikes in attention this year on Wikipedia. The first came in January, after he briefly became the most wealthy person in the world based primarily on his large holdings of stock in the electric car company Tesla.
The second (and larger) spike came in May when he hosted the live comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live, which aired on NBC and was available live on YouTube in over one hundred countries. This spike largely came on the day after the show aired; as our data runs on the UTC time zone, it suggests that the majority of people looked him up while watching the show or after hearing about it afterwards.
Finally, “Deaths in 2021” took the top spot as the most-read article. It has ranked first, second, or third in every annual list of popular Wikipedia articles we have published since 2015.
Here are the twenty-five most popular Wikipedia articles of 2021, sorted by pageviews.
- Deaths in 2021, 44,937,556 (see notes below)
- Elizabeth II, 26,680,332
- Elon Musk, 25,569,324
- Squid Game, 23,156,832
- Spider-Man: No Way Home, 20,730,883
- Characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 19,804,702
- Cristiano Ronaldo, 19,563,673
- Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, 18,985,364
- United States, 18,086,963
- UEFA Euro 2020, 18,077,325
- Joe Biden, 17,677,393
- Donald Trump, 17,069,058
- WandaVision, 16,738,895
- 2020 Summer Olympics, 15,012,232
- Dune (2021 film), 13,968,158
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, 13,478,214
- Lionel Messi, 13,528,664
- List of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, 13,457,662
- Eternals (film), 13,292,272
- No Time to Die, 13,014,321
- India, 12,675,518
- Tom Brady, 12,634,826
- Godzilla vs. Kong, 12,103,168
- Charles, Prince of Wales, 12,005,184
- Taliban, 11,449,096
- This list was originally published with data pulled on 17 December 2021. It has since been updated with pageview data from the last two weeks of the year, and includes views from redirects.
- The annual list of deaths, a perennial fixture on these lists, is unfortunately a page that gets very long, very fast. Because of that, each month Wikipedia’s editors split it into month-by-month lists. As of publishing time, that covers December 2021 — but if you’re reading it next month, the page will be redirected to Wikipedia’s “Lists of deaths by year.”
- As with every year we’ve done this list, the top articles have been screened using the percentage of mobile views. Any article with less than 10% or more than 90% mobile views was removed, as that correlates strongly with spam, botnets, or other errors. New for this year, we’ve also screened the data for referrers. Any article where more than 50% of its pageviews came from no referrer was removed, which impacted articles like YouTube and Google. We speculatively believe that a large number of these are mistakes that occur when viewers are trying to access other websites.
- Previous most-popular Wikipedia articles by year data is available for 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.
- *Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t gone away (in real life or in our data). It was the within the top 50 most-read English Wikipedia articles of 2021.
Ed Erhart is a Content Strategist at the Wikimedia Foundation.
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