Published annually by Sports Illustrated magazine, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has become a cultural phenomenon since it was first published in 1964. Not content to contain itself to the world of print magazines, beginning in the 1980s Sports Illustrated began allowing television specials focused on the famous annual issue. 1989 yielded an HBO documentary The Making of the Sports Illustrated 25th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue, 1992 saw Sports Illustrated Behind the Scenes:Official Swimsuit Video, and ever since 1995 Sports Illustrated has produced a yearly television special to accompany each annual issue. It even spawned a reality television show in 2005 entitled the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search.
It’s also viewed as somewhat of a career changer for the models who are selected to grace the cover. Looking back at all the beautiful women who can claim a Swimsuit Issue cover to their name (or, in the case of a few on this list, can claim several covers to their name) nearly all of them are household names. Particularly in an age where models are not as well known outside of the fashion world as they perhaps used to be, being a household name as a fashion model is quite an accomplishment. Once these women get the cover, they get a lot of recognition out of it and are catapulted to superstar status.
The formula is fairly foolproof – swimsuit, gorgeous woman, and beautiful exotic locale. How can you go wrong? The issue has been going strong for over fifty years and shows no signs of slowing down. The following list names just fifteen of the many bombshells who have graced the cover of the issue. From 1960s beach babes to modern man magnets, here are fifteen of the hottest Sports Illustrated cover models of all time.
15 Veronica Varekova (2004,2006)
Czech-born Veronika Varekova has graced the cover of the Swimsuit Issue twice. The first time, she got a solo cover in 2004. The second time, she was part of an All-Stars cover featuring models like Elle Macpherson and Rebecca Romjin. Additionally, apart from her covers, she has been in the Swimsuit Issue a staggering eight times between 1999 and 2007. Having moved to New York City at only nineteen years old, Varekova quickly inked a modeling contract. Aside from the Swimsuit Issue, she’s also been on the covers of Vogue, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan. This bombshell is also quite the adventurer – she has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and has a passion for wildlife.
14 Paulina Porizkova (1984, 1985)
Another Czech-born stunner, Porizkova got the cover of the Swimsuit Issue when she was a mere eighteen years old. She became the first woman from Central Europe to snag the cover. The staff at Sports Illustrated seemed to subscribe to the camp of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”: after the success of her 1984 cover, where she was clad in a bright pink one piece, she appeared again one year later, this time in a tiny blue bikini. Porizkova was a magazine cover staple in the 1980s and 1990s, and appeared on titles including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Self. However, though she rocks a swimsuit, her stunning face is an integral factor behind her modeling fame as she won a six million dollar contract with Estee Lauder in 1988 (the highest paying contract ever, at that time).
13 Cheryl Tiegs (1970, 1975, 1983)
Tiegs, often described as one of America’s first supermodels, got three covers of the Swimsuit edition. The photographer of her 1970 cover kept things tame, posing Tiegs in swimsuit bottoms and a sweater. In her subsequent editions, they turned the heat up with a tiny green and yellow bikini as well as a stunning white one piece. She also goes down in Swimsuit Issue history for being the first model to appear on the cover twice (then once more after that, in her case). It’s extra impressive when you note the dates – she kept herself in swimsuit-ready shape for issues more than thirteen years apart. Tiegs was inducted into the “Hall of Fame” of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue’s 40th Anniversary Edition.
12 Irina Shayk (2011)
The Russian beauty has become a Swimsuit Issue staple, appearing in every issue from 2007 to now. In 2011 she finally received the cover, posing in a teeny pink and yellow bikini. Shayk is also the face of and official ambassador for lingerie brand Intimissi. She has been on more ‘hottest’ lists than you could count, and a glance at her cover definitely offers proof of why. Shayk has recently tried her hand at acting and can be seen in 2014’s Hercules.
11 Beyonce (2007)
You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know who Beyonce was, but a non-model landing the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is still a big deal. In fact, she was the first non-model and non-athlete to get a spot on the cover. They selected her in 2007 after the success of her movie Dreamgirls. Any subscriber likely fell crazy in love with the sight of the bronzed beauty in a cheery yellow swimsuit. Not counting her many accomplishments with girl group Destiny’s Child, as a solo artist Beyonce has had five hit records and shows no sign of stopping. The cover of the Swimsuit Issue is merely another stop on Queen B’s success train.
10 Marisa Miller (2008)
This blonde bombshell with the trademark beachy hair got her cover in 2008, wearing strings and strings of blue beads. Her cover sold in record-setting numbers and Sports Illustrated responded to fans by releasing a “Best of Marisa Miller” swimsuit calendar the following year. Though 2008 was her only cover, she was in every swimsuit issue from 2002 to 2008. Miller also played up her sex appeal as a Victoria’s Secret Angel for several years. She has also appeared in several other publications, from GQ and Maxim to Marie Claire, Elle, and Vanity Fair.
9 Christie Brinkley (1979, 1980, 1981)
Brinkley had a three year Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue reign, snagging the covers of 1979, 1980, and 1981, consecutively. Her feat made Swimsuit Issue history, as it was the first time anyone had received that many consecutive covers. She also made it into the Sports Illustrated 40th Anniversary Issue’s “Hall of Fame.” You could list the other magazine covers Brinkley’s gotten through her career, but it would take quite some time, as she’s racked up over 500 magazine covers throughout her illustrious career. She also holds the record of the longest running cosmetics contract of any model, as she was the face of CoverGirl for a staggering twenty five years.
8 Tyra Banks (1996, 1997)
Banks appeared on the cover of the Swimsuit Issue twice and broke a lot of barriers doing so. In 1996, she posed with model Valeria Mazza in leopard print swimwear, and became the first African-American cover model. Her cover was such a success that Sports Illustrated let her headline solo the following year, appearing on the cover of the 1997 issue in a red bikini and earning the spot of the first African-American solo cover model. Her bikini bod also got her a spot as one of the original Victoria’s Secret Angels, which she held from 1997 to 2005. Banks capitalized on her success by launching a production company and becoming the creator and host of popular reality television show America’s Next Top Model.
7 Sunny Bippus (1966)
Going back in the archives to the third ever cover in 1966, blonde bombshell Sunny Bippus set a high standard for all the cover models who followed. Everything from the striking red swimsuit to the waves crashing in the background to the exotic locale of the Bahamas showed readers exactly what the Swimsuit Issue was about. The cover captures Bippus sprawled out on the sand with sun-bleached blonde hair and a big smile, looking very deserving of the name Sunny indeed. While she may not have achieved the same level of notoriety as many of the other cover supermodels, Bippus owns an interior design company and makes her home in sunny Palm Beach.
6 Brooklyn Decker (2010)
Decker appeared in the Swimsuit Issue several times before getting a cover in 2010. She was featured in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and even hosted the 2007 behind-the-scenes television special. She found a lot of success modeling swimwear and modeled for the Victoria’s Secret 2010 “Swim” collection. Decker has also been featured in Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and FHM. Many movie-goers may also recognize her as the blonde emerging from the sea in Adam Sandler’s film Just Go With It.
5 Bar Refaeli (2009)
Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli first appeared in the Swimsuit Issue in 2007 and received her first cover in 2008. She has been featured in campaigns for everyone from fashion houses Escada and Chanel to automotive company Subaru and watchmakers Piaget SA. She has also graced the covers of magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, Grazia, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Esquire, Maxim, and Glamour. Rafaeli recently tried her hand at television, becoming the host of The X Factor Israel season one. She was #1 on Maxim’s Hot 100 in 2012, and apparently has business acumen to accompany her beauty. Besides modeling, she has run business development for an e-commerce venture company as well as received over 1 million financing for her start-up Mika Look.
4 Rebecca Romijn (1999, 2006)
This statuesque blonde beauty appeared in a risqué chain-mail bikini on the 1999 cover of the Swimsuit Issue. The iconic cover led her to be invited back for the 2006 All-Star issue. She has also modeled for Victoria’s Secret, bebe, and Anna Molinari. Romijn broke into the entertainment world in 2000 as Mystique in the movie X-Men, a role which she reprised in X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand. She has since been in several movies and on many television shows, including her stint as Alexis Meade on Ugly Betty. Though in her 40s now, she continues to top countless ‘hottest’ lists.
3 Heidi Klum (1998)
Germany’s sexiest export was the cover model of the 1998 Swimsuit Issue, clad in a black and white one piece. The cover, along with her role as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, catapulted her into the public eye. She was also featured in several editions of the magazine wearing Joanna Gair body paint masterpieces. Klum hosted the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2002, 2006, 2007, and 2009, and has been a spokesmodel for several international brands such as McDonalds, H&M, and Dannon. Klum is also well known for Project Runway, a reality show where she serves as a host, judge, and executive producer.
2 Kate Upton (2012, 2013)
Everyone knows Kate Upton, whose bikini body earned her two covers of the Swimsuit Issue in 2012 and 2013. While her first cover was a fairly typical bikini shot, her second cover showed her in a somewhat unusual outfit, posing in an opened white parka. She has appeared in the 2011 and 2014 issues of the magazine as well. Upton moved into the world of high fashion, appearing on the cover of several international fashion magazines such as Vogue Italia, British Vogue, and French Elle. Upton has been moving into the acting world lately, and stars as one of the mistresses in the 2014 film The Other Woman.
1 Elle Macpherson (1986, 1987, 1988, 1994, 2006)
There’s really only one thing to say – all hail the queen. Elle Macpherson broke all Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue records by gracing the cover an astounding five times over the span of twenty years. She had three solo covers, one “Dream Team” cover with two other models, and was of course one of the All-Star cover models on the 2006 issue. Looking at her various covers, it’s really no surprise that her nickname is “The Body.” Is she ready to abdicate her throne? Absolutely not. She caused quite the buzz a few weeks ago when she uploaded a shot of herself in a bikini to her social media account, proving that at age fifty she has the body that many twenty year olds dream of. Miss Macpherson, we are not worthy.