Benedict Cumberbatch is a damn good actor. He's got a range that took him from Sherlock to Star Trek Into Darkness to 12 Years A Slave in one year. It's these things, in part, that landed him on this year's list of TIME's 100 Most Influential People. But let's not fool ourselves here: Benedict Cumberbatch is on the TIME 100 because of his influence over the Internet.
It's long been fact: Cumberbatch is one of the flagship wonderboys of Tumblr. When he started hitting it big through venues other than the BBC, more and more people outside of those enclaves started taking notice of this British thespian type and the cult of fannish fascination that he seemed to come packaged with. As Vulture's Amanda Dobbins wrote this past October in an article about the disconnect between Internet fame and mass fame:
Ten years ago, Benedict Cumberbatch would have been “that guy” — the random British character actor who shows up in every single prestige movie and whom maybe you read about once, in an end-of-the-year magazine sidebar on best performances. Now your initial interest can lead you to IMDb and a community of other like-minded likers; next thing you know, you're spending three hours watching GIFs. The upside of the Internet’s bewildering ability to turn small oddities into viral sensations is that fan favorites — like Gosling, Cumberbatch, and golden boy Channing Tatum — have more opportunities for exposure. It may not always translate into legitimate fame, but then, neither did old, analog cult fandom. At least this gives them more of a running start.
Cumberbatch has taken that start and, well, run with it: He is both a bashful Fandom God and that prestige actor who gets to photobomb U2 at the Oscars before heading to the stage himself as a presenter and part of the cast of the Best Picture winner. Cumberbatch isn't just a Tumblr gif to the world anymore.
And it's no wonder the Internet's fallen so deeply in love with the Cumberbatch persona; in fact, it's all spelled out in what Colin Firth said about Cumberbatch in his TIME write-up:
It’s rare to the point of outlandish to find so many variables in one actor, including features which ought to be incompatible: vulnerability, a sense of danger, a clear intellect, honesty, courage — and a rather alarming energy. I take no pleasure in feeling humbled, but there’s no getting around it.
He must be stopped.
There's clearly something about Cumberbatch. Something that's drawn audiences worldwide to his talent and his signature brand of charisma. His talent should not be underestimated, and he's definitely worked to get where he is, but let's not forget: This particular crossover fairytale was pushed forth by Tumblr.
And he still makes a damn good gif.