Gentleminions: Are memes dictating the fate of new movies?

·6-min read
Minions: The Rise of Gru. (Universal Pictures)
Minions: The Rise of Gru. (Universal Pictures)

Back in the day, you’d learn a film was a hit when the queue curled around your favourite cinema. These days, all you have to do is look at your phone.

Since its release on 1 July, Minions: Rise of Gru — a seemingly innocent and uneventful continuation of the lucrative Despicable Me franchise — has become a huge hit, taking £10.4m in the UK on opening weekend, and setting a box office record in the US. However its core fanbase extends further than the primary schoolers that you might expect would love such a film.

Instead, the bulk of its viewers are considerably older — and far better dressed.

Read more: The viral Minions trend explained

To get a better look at this new breed of Minion obsessives, just open TikTok. Trending under the hashtag #GentlemanMinions, hordes of teens are getting suited and booted and attending screenings of Minions: Rise of Gru, treating the whole experience as if it were a glitzy Hollywood premiere.

It's a riff on the popular 'Tickets to X, please' meme which rose to fame with 2019's Joker. It pokes fun at the stereotypes of people who might be buying tickets to a particular movie: in this case, sophisticated 'gentlemen' buying tickets for the pre-teen aimed Minions sequel.

Watch: Cinemas ban teens due to rowdy Minions screenings

Swapping joggers and trainers for suits and slick shades, throngs of high schoolers can be seen entering cinemas single-file with their hands set conspiratorially in front of them, mimicking Gru: the evil mastermind and leader of these yellow, dungaree-loving creatures, voiced by Steve Carell.

While it all seems innocent enough, these dapper kids have caused chaos. Videos posted on social media show excessive cheering and disruptive behaviour, with one featuring a crowd booing those who dare attend a screening of the movie in regular clothes.

Cinema staff haven’t been too happy either. In addition to having to tell crowds to calm down and stop throwing things during the movie, they’ve reportedly had to dish out a fair few refunds, with some Odeon multiplexes posting signs advising that those in 'formal attire will be refused entry'.

Many are suggesting the trend could ruin what could very well be some young viewers’ first ever trip to the cinema. Meanwhile, Guernsey's only movie house, the Mallard Cinema, has had such a problem with the #GentlemanMinions crew, it’s had to cancel all future screenings of Minions: Rise of Gru, spoiling the fun for everyone.

Read more: Why are there no female Minions?

While undoubtedly appreciated by the box office team at Universal Studios (the company even tweeted their support of the trend), the sarcastic nature in which #GentlemanMinions has risen through TikTok has unquestionably hijacked the film’s release, changing its narrative from innocent kids’ movie, to social media punchline.

Take a quick scroll through the many videos to this effect and you’ll see the phrase ‘The five year wait is over’, a troll-like jibe at a faux-feverish anticipation for this new Minions instalment following its 2017 predecessor.

This isn’t the first time this has happened either. Just a few months ago, Sony’s would-be anti-hero blockbuster Morbius suffered a similar fate, with false-fans hyperbolically screaming its praises — tongue firmly in cheek — as they ripped it apart online.

Read more: Morbius suffers massive box office drop

Posting under the mocking moniker ‘It’s Morbin’ time’, fans would share the film’s apparent flaws presented as the greatest moments in cinematic history, ultimately leading its star, Jared Leto, to admit defeat and get in on the action himself. In fact, the meme-ability of Morbius was so strong, it eventually convinced Sony Pictures to re-released the movie — only for it to flop all over again.

Jared Leto stars in Morbius. (Sony Pictures)
Jared Leto stars in Morbius. (Sony Pictures)

It’s an issue that’s existed long before Morbius but one that feels like it’s growing steadily out of control.

Before #GentlemanMinions, it was movie fans’ near-constant use of the #ReleaseTheSnyder cut hashtag; a form of social media pressure that actually led DC and Warner Bros to re-cut and re-release Zack Snyder’s Justice League, one of the biggest movies on their roster.

This web-obsession even took over The Academy Awards’ recent fan voted category, with trolls and bots joining forces to bump Snyder’s rejigged superhero epic and his 2021 actioner Army of the Dead to the top spot and Academy gold.

Batman (Ben Affleck), Jim Gordon (JK Simmons), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) facing Cyborg (Ray Fisher) in Zack Snyder's Justice League (Warner Bros)
Batman (Ben Affleck), Jim Gordon (JK Simmons), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) facing Cyborg (Ray Fisher) in Zack Snyder's Justice League. (Warner Bros)

Next came #ReleaseTheAyerCut, with fans now determined to get a re-do of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Meanwhile, it could certainly be argued that the outpouring of toxic Star Wars fandom surrounding The Last Jedi led to audiences getting a safer, completely realigned take on the franchise’s closing chapter, The Rise of Skywalker, a film that seemingly did its best to rewrite any creative leaps made by Episode 8 filmmaker Rian Johnson.

While these examples illustrate a somewhat passive form of online ribbing or commenting on a bad movie, this week’s Minions’ headlines seemingly mark a watershed moment where viral memes have taken a stark, real-world leap.

When internet humour becomes a tangible reality, how will studios differentiate between a real hit and just another irresistibly terrible flop that’s sparked the internet’s interest?

Minions: The Rise of Gru. (Universal Pictures)
Minions: The Rise of Gru. (Universal Pictures)

Will stars become reluctant to take risks with characters that are too ‘out there’ in the fear that they’ll become the next social media in-joke? What happens if online criticism gets so loud, it stops studios from taking chances on brave original stories?

Will people seeing a film ‘ironically’ deter genuine fans from going to the cinema altogether out of fear of a raucous experience or simply being shamed for honestly wanting to watch something that’s become a meme? What’s more, if these response-baiting actions lead to increased box office revenue and ticket sales, will the powers-that-be even care?

While the future of this new form of movie appreciation, or lack thereof, remains unclear, it’s a safe bet that the #GentlemanMinions crowd certainly won’t be the last time we see it outside of our phones.

Gone are the days where a snarky tweet fired off from the comfort of your sofa sufficed as an adequate take-down of a movie you felt was perhaps a little too silly. These days, film criticism has taken a much more proactive and insincere approach at disapproving eye-rolling, and just like the ever-popular Minions that signalled its in-real-life arrival, movie fans are sure to see lots more of it in the future — whether we want to or not.

Minions: The Rise of Gru is in cinemas now.

Watch: Steve Carell talks to Yahoo about playing Gru

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