You never know what you’re going to get when you hop onto the internet. Pictures of cats? Probably. Cooking tips? Those aren’t hard to find either. Funny stories about kids? Parents love sharing those, and readers just eat them right up. But on the slightly darker side of the internet, you might come across pics that fall under the umbrella of ‘cursed images’.
A cursed image refers to a photo that is mysterious, perplexing, or disturbing due to the nature of its content, being poor quality, or a combination of both. These images are intended to “make a person question the reason for the image’s existence in the first place” and can include anything from people dressed in creepy costumes to animals being somewhere they shouldn’t be. The photos usually ask more questions than they answer, so to get your brain working hard, we’ve gathered some of our favorite posts from the Cursed_Images subreddit for you down below. Keep reading to also find an interview with one of the moderators of the group, Hangryhufflepuff1 on Reddit, to gain a bit more insight into the crazy world of cursed images.
Be sure to upvote the photos that you find particularly bizarre and captivating, and then let us know in the comments if you have any cursed images of your own to share. While many of these photos can’t really be explained, we hope you can appreciate them for their unique cursed nature. And if you’re looking for even more cursed images that have been featured on Bored Panda before, check out this story next. But I’ll warn you to proceed with caution, some of these cursed images may haunt your dreams tonight…
The Cursed_Images subreddit was created in March 2018, and has amassed over 535k members since then. And although a wide variety of photos fall under the umbrella of ‘cursed’, the group does have some specific rules of what members are allowed to share. Aside from the requirement that all images must be cursed, they must also be photographs. Memes are not welcome in the group, and there cannot be any captions or text on the images. Wacky food items have also been banned from the group, perhaps because there was an influx of them at some point. “No, a picture of a banana with ketchup is not a cursed image,” the moderators write.
Drawn or obviously photoshopped pics also don’t count as cursed images, and screenshots are not allowed to be shared either. Don’t try to post any pictures of yourself, your friends or family or your pets with filters and edits, as they will be removed. Face swaps, reposts, chain posts and gorey images are not welcomed either. Thankfully, no hate speech is allowed in the group, and finally, no ‘blursed images’, or photos that are simultaneously blessed and cursed.
To learn a bit more about how this subreddit is run, we reached out to one of the community’s moderators, Hangryhufflepuff1 on Reddit. They explained that they were not one of the original moderators of the group, but that doesn’t stop them from loving the subreddit. “I personally moderate here because I love the more jokey, less serious sides of cursed images. Our sister sub r/CursedImages is a lot stricter and serious, while our sub is a tiny bit more carefree.”
“Seeing the subreddit grow has been like watching a flower you planted bloom, I’m proud of where we’ve come as a community and how we’ve grown,” Hangryhufflepuff1 told Bored Panda. “When I first became a moderator, I was offering the current head mod help, as the subreddit’s membership was declining and so was our content quality. Our mod team has worked hard to improve everything about the subreddit, and I’m very proud of what they’ve done. Seeing our membership double during my time here as made me excited for what’s to come and where our community will go in the future.”
We also wanted to know how this moderator personally defines cursed images. “My definition of a cursed image is similar to the subreddit definition – any image that invokes 2 or more of the Big Ws,” they shared. “I think that any question that makes you ask “what the [hell]” and “why the [hell]” counts as cursed, but I don’t like gore and extreme violence – I find that sickening not cursed.”
And when it comes to what makes these photos so intriguing, Hangryhufflepuff1 told Bored Panda, “I think we find cursed images captivating because they make us ask questions, like why did someone think this was a good idea? How did this happen? Who in their right mind would do this? My own personal favorites have layers, or are just downright stupid, completely random things that if you saw in real life you’d write off as a dream.” They shared a couple links of some of their current favorite posts here and here. “They aren’t deep images with layers (like the top posts of all time), but they make me chuckle and I find that a photo memorializing the moment a guy’s [crotch] got mangled is pretty cursed.”
Hangryhufflepuff1 was able to give us some great insight about the subreddit, but we wanted to learn a bit more about how the phrase “cursed images” came about in the first place. The term was coined on Tumblr in 2015, originally in reference to an image of an elderly farmer surrounded by countless tomatoes, but has since been popularized all around the internet. In fact, Bored Panda has covered a Twitter page and an Instagram account sharing similar photos as well. In 2019, the creator of the Cursed Images Tumblr blog that gained traction sat down with Paper magazine to explain how it got started.
“At the time, I had a voyeuristic hobby of searching the archives of Flickr to look at forgotten flash photography from years in the past,” explained the owner of the famous Tumblr blog, a then 19-year-old female photography and film student who requested anonymity. “Some of these forgotten photographs just had an eerie mood about them, like someone had captured a moment from a dream or another life. I was particularly interested in finding photos of dark and empty rooms, mannequins and costumes, all of which became common themes among cursed images.”
When asked about the first photo she ever shared, the image of the farmer surrounded by crates of tomatoes, she said, “It’s the perfect cursed image to me because there’s nothing inherently unsettling about any part of it. It’s a totally mundane moment transformed into something else by the camera and the new context I’ve given it.”
Seeing a farmer and his massive amount of tomatoes might not be so interesting in real life, but this photo does invoke a slightly eerie feeling. What is he planning to do with all of these tomatoes? How did he get so many? And what really stands out to me is how the crates on the right side of the photo appear to be levitating. About the images she enjoys sharing, the creator of Cursed Images told Paper, “They’re images of memories that never actually happened to you, but the moment you see them, it’s suddenly happening to you.”
While the photo of this farmer did not go incredibly viral at the time, the photography student who shared the image did launch a trend that inspired countless other cursed image accounts to pop up. There are now even pages that focus on one specific niche of cursed images, such as disturbing food photos or dysfunctional design. One theme rings true for all of these accounts though: “If it needs a caption underneath to explain what makes it funny, then it isn’t funny.” That’s what Instagram user @earlboykins4, who also shares exclusively cursed images, told Paper. But he makes a good point. These perplexing, disturbing and confusing photos do not need any explanation. We don’t have to understand them to get a kick out of them. They’re simply cursed.
But cursed images can still be enjoyed by everyone. They are not intended to be extremely disgusting, repulsive, offensive or gorey. They should not be as frightening as a horror film or scar viewers forever; they should just captivate audiences. “We are drawn to ‘cursed images’ because they somehow present us with a nagging ambiguity,” Francis McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College, told Paper. “Things that we cannot quickly make sense of trouble us and hold our attention, and we feel compelled to analyze them until we feel as if we understand them.”
When asked about the appeal of these types of images, Doug Battenhausen, an amateur archivist and the man behind Internet History on Tumblr, told New York Magazine, “It’s a lot of things. It’s the mystery of the photo, it’s the strange aesthetics of them, it’s seeing a place that you’ve never seen before, or an intimate glimpse into somebody’s life.” But he also pointed out the fact that cursed images are something real, amongst the sea of overly-edited, Photoshopped and Facetuned pics we often see on our Instagram feeds. “Everybody knows that your internet life is so curated and monitored by everyone you know, and even strangers too, that you don’t want to come off looking silly,” Battenhausen says. But cursed images cut through that; they are real, raw, and often, old.
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Apparently, our obsession with these cursed images might even be an evolutionary trait. “Humans evolved to be drawn to things that are novel,” Margee Kerr, a sociologist who studies fear, told Wired. “We’re descendants of humans who had the curiosity and motivation to go out and explore, but also the ability to quickly notice and take action when confronted with something new.” The same idea can be applied to why we love traveling and seeing photos of deep sea creatures that look like aliens as well. Anything new that we have never witnessed before is sure to pique our curiosity.
Another interesting fact that Colton Scrivner, a PhD student at the University of Chicago who studies human interest in violence and creepiness, shared with Wired is that the inexplicable feeling of being ‘creeped out’ is our body’s response to an ambiguous threat. But we aim to understand those threats and seek out more information about them. When it comes to cursed images, Scrivner says, “We know we’re not really threatened by an image, because it’s on a computer. But there’s still an ambiguity. That drives an information-gathering process, especially if we’re distanced from the potential threat.”
And sharing these bizarre images might even be a weird way of gaining social acceptance. “People who share threatening rumors are seen as more trustworthy,” Scrivner told Wired. “It’s not necessarily conscious, but sharing negative information tends to make you seem like a more informed, more reliable social partner.” So without even realizing it, you might have been deepening your friendship with anyone you send cursed images to when you find the best ones online. Perhaps you can even strengthen your bond with someone by sending them this article after you’ve finished viewing all of these captivating images!
Perhaps these cursed images need no introduction and no explanation, but it is still interesting to delve into what makes it so hard to look away from them. We hope you’re enjoying these pictures that might make your brain hurt trying to understand how they came to be. Be sure to keep upvoting the particularly disturbing or confusing pics, and then let us know in the comments below how you feel about these strange cursed photos. And if you still haven’t had enough after finishing this list, remember to check out Bored Panda’s last article featuring cursed images right here.
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Note: this post originally had 57 images. It’s been shortened to the top 50 images based on user votes.