Willem Dafoe is one of the most well-known names in acting today. Since his film debut in 1980, the star has become one of Hollywood's go-to guys when a movie needs a good villain thanks to his long face, strong brow, pointed facial features and, not to mention his unique voice and acting skills. Dafoe stands out as a memorable force in just about every role he takes on, whether it's an insane lighthouse keeper in The Lighthouse to Spider-Man's number one nemesis The Green Goblin.
It's exactly because of these roles and reasons that Dafoe became an unstoppable force in memes. For over a decade, the actor has been inspiring image macros, photoshops and countless other meme formats, including some of the most classic formats in our database. Now, following the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home and the rise of the sickly skinny white man as a sex and meme symbol, Dafoe is experiencing a massive boost in meme-ability. The web is finally appreciating Dafoe's impact on memes in the way he deserves with increasingly ironic formats that go beyond his villainous roles and look to the man behind the camera, with all his good guy tendencies and immaculate drip. Truly, we are entering the golden age of Dafoe memes day by day.
In celebration of Dafoe, we took a look back at the history and evolution of the actor in memes to see how he went from a simple memorable face to 2022's face of drip.
Insane Willem Dafoe (2010)
One of the earliest memes inspired by Dafoe comes from his 1997 film Speed 2: Cruise Control where he plays – shocker – the villain, a character named Geiger with an insane orange tan and flippy hair. A screenshot of Dafoe smiling with wide eyes and disheveled hair became a meme as early as 2010, particularly when someone added the caption "now this I can fap to." Even in 2010, this meme represents exactly what makes Dafoe so memeable. Nobody else could strike a face quite like that.
Willem Dafriend (2011)
Willem Dafriend is another early Dafoe meme, going back to at least 2012. This one is based around a simple pun on Dafoe's name, replacing "foe," meaning "enemy," with "friend," often showing an image of a villainous Dafoe character on left compared to a friendly one on the right. Word and name puns are always a well-mined ore for memers, but this one has a little more impact than most thanks to the way it plays off of Dafoe's tendency to play foes, offering memers a lot of options for associated imagery. It also hints that there's a good guy behind the villainous roles, which we'll see return to Dafoe memes in full force 10 years later (more on that to come).
You Know How Much I Sacrificed (2012)
You Know How Much I Sacrificed marks the true start of Dafoe memes based on Sam Raimi's Spider-Man franchise. This one is based on a scene from the first film where Dafoe's character, Norman Osbourne (aka the Green Goblin, aka the villain), gets fired from Oscorp. In response, he yells at a member of the Oscrop board, "you know how much I sacrificed!?" with fiery aggression that reminds us what makes Dafoe so great.
The clip was uploaded to YouTube in 2012 and became the increasing subject of memes over the following years, often through the use of a captioned image macro perfectly capturing the character's rage. The meme is used as a reaction in jokes about losing something of value or making big sacrifices for no payoff, like losing a saved game state or not losing weight despite dieting for a week.
I'm Something Of A Scientist Myself (2016)
I'm Something Of A Scientist Myself is arguably one of the most well-known, frequently-used memes of all time. Whether you're a Spider-Man, Dafoe fan or not, the format is extremely malleable. It's mostly used ironically in memes where people self-diagnose themselves as geniuses for doing something simple. The phrase is also edited at times, altering "scientist" to read something else entirely. It was first used on 4chan in 2016 and inspired countless variations throughout 2017.
This one offers a bit of a shakeup from the Dafoe memes that precede it. The meme isn't rooted in Dafoe's tendency to play villains (despite playing one in the film) but instead is rooted in a memorable line of dialogue and fueled by previous Spider-Man and Dafoe memes. By 2016, Dafoe was already an established character in memes and Spider-Man was one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Combine that with the explosion of Raimiposting around the same time and this meme had too much power behind it to fail. If anything, the success of this meme speaks to the absolute star power that Dafoe carries on his shoulder and the flexibility of the phrase itself.
You Can't Do This To Me (2018)
"You Can't Do This To Me" is a line of dialogue that comes from the same scene of Spider-Man as "You Know How Much I Sacrificed," happening only seconds before the outburst. In 2018 the scene was screen-capped, subtitled and slapped onto /r/raimimemes with a joke about Gamestop canceling your PS4 order. From there it blew up on the subreddit, used as a reaction to (usually ironically) devastating news.
The meme itself is simple, but the way memers use it marks a key moment in the evolution of Dafoe from a basic subject of memes to the subject of increasingly ironic memes. Many of the memes paint absurd scenarios, like using the image to represent the reaction of a geologist when the "rock market" crashes. A lot of the memes also make jokes implying the reaction as villainous. The meme combines the web's pre-established notion of what makes Dafoe memes popular with the rising popularity of absurdist humor that had all but taken over in 2018, paving the way for the ironic era of Dafoe memes.
Fresh Willem Dafoe vs. Lighthouse Willem Dafoe (2020)
In 2019, Robert Eggers' artsy horror film The Lighthouse was released, starring Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The film features a standout performance from Dafoe that places him in a somewhat villainous but mostly erratic role as an insane lighthouse-keeper with a dark secret. It also gave Dafoe the chance to drip himself out in sea-captain attire, which gave the Internet the chance to remind themselves that Dafoe is kind of a drip icon. In July 2020, a Twitter user compared an image of Dafoe in seaworthy drip from the 2003 film The Life Aquatic to his new seaworthy drip, creating a comparison meme format with real legs.
The format, known as Fresh Willem Dafoe vs. Lighthouse Willem Dafoe, is one of the actor's first non-Spider-Man related memes in a long time. Not only does it represent a further descent into ironic Dafoe memes, but it also represents the power of Dafoe outside of Spider-Man memes thanks almost exclusively to his unforgettable appearance. Each image contrasts the other in a stark way. The popping colors and positive vibes of the Life Aquatic image give us a view of Dafoe we don't often see anymore, while The Lighthouse image offers a bleak, black-and-white, tired-eyed stare that just screams "I'm completely insane." Most importantly, Dafoe's drip is just too powerful in these images, which seared themselves into the minds of memers, forever making that association between Dafoe and drip.
Willem Dafoe Smoking Cigarette With Two Oranges One of Them Moldy (2021)
Willem Dafoe Smoking Cigarette With Two Oranges One of Them Moldy is one of the latest and greatest Dafoe memes. In June 2021, artist Alvaro Urbano posted the photo of Dafoe smoking a cigarette and holding two oranges to Instagram, saying the items are part of an installation for the film Inside, where Dafoe plays an art thief. In June, the image blew up on the Russian side of the web as users started photoshopping everything around it to fit Dafoe into new contexts.
The image has become one of the more creative Dafoe memes of all time, inspiring detailed photoshops across the web making the cool image even cooler. The secret to this meme, again, lies in Dafoe's memorable appearance and the straight-up swagger radiating off of the photo. He looks tired, he looks disheveled, he looks confused and most importantly, there's very little context to what he's doing. This image fits perfectly into our post-ironic meme landscape and nearly completes the transition of Dafoe from starring in memes about his villainous roles to starring in ironic meme gold and acting as the internet's representation of the cool-dude-of-the-moment, in a similar vein to someone like Pete Davidson.
Willem Dafoe Drip Check (2021)
Finally, we arrive at Willem Dafoe Drip Check, a viral video of Dafoe giving a fit check on the streets of New York captured by YouTuber The Unknown Vlogs last December. Running into Dafoe on the streets of New York is one thing, but convincing him to do a fit check is another, making this a truly special video. Dafoe seems happy to oblige the YouTuber as he goes over each piece of his outfit, including FRAME blue jeans, shoes he "picked up in Mexico," a "maybe Prada" sweater and "some sport thing" underneath.
The video exploded on YouTube in January 2022 as memers made variations of it, adding thumping, distorted drill music, visual effects, emojis and memes overtop to ironically (and unironically) hype up the actor's drip as he presents it. More than even the previous two Dafoe memes, Dafoe Drip Check makes a meme out of the actor for his appearance and swagger alone. All the previous meme roots focusing on his villainous roles and memorable dialogue and face are uprooted in favor of an ultimately ironic reaction to his drip and cool-guy stature alone, plus the fact that Dafoe comes off as such an unproblematic, friendly king in the video. Dafoe isn't really on social media. He's a notoriously private guy and has never had a known controversy. For someone who plays the villain so well, it's fascinating to see that there's a good guy behind the facade, making content like this that shows it off the perfect subject for memes. Plus, just look at this man's drip.
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