Owls have long been of interest to humans. In fact, they can even be found in Egyptian heiroglyphics. Poets have for ages loved to write of the owl - including Shakespeare, Keats, Browning, Tennyson, and of course, Lear's Owl and the Pussycat. Thoreau wrote in Walden "I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men."
Honestly, I think owls are just popular because they're such cool birds. While popular myth has it that they can rotate their head 180*, technically it's 135*. In either direction. And they also have binocular vision. Hello, how handy would that be while they're trying to watch after their fighting little owlets?
Some species of owls actually have special feathers that enable them to fly silently. That makes them like the James Bond of birds. In addition, the dull color of their feathers can make them virtually invisible a lot of the time. Imagine the stealth!