Minions vs Morbius: A tale of two memes

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As Minions: The Rise of Gru cashes in on the Gentleminions trend, Sony is still reeling from its mocked-across-the-board re-release of Morbius. Why did Minions mint millions but Jared Leto’s Marvel film flop?

The cinema is an intense place, even before the film begins. The nauseously steep escalators, the Pearl & Dean intro that nearly leaves you with at least one perforated eardrum, that first sip of a Tango Ice-Blast that toboggans past your blood-brain barrier. Now, there’s a new sensory overload to contend with: a gaggle of rowdy teenage boys dressed in suits swaggering into a screening of Minions: The Rise of Gru.

Meet the Gentleminions, a new overnight subculture that’s inspired thousands of boys to assemble a batch of mates, put on suits and sit through Minions: The Rise of Gru, a Despicable Me prequel. Usually they honour the occasion with some sort of mock-formal ovation at the end and come armed with the Minions’ favourite snack: bananas. Coming to a theatre near you – sorry, Gru.

Why? Myriad Minions meme theories exist, but it’s partly down to the titular supervillain Felonious Gru’s signature all-black outfit, accessorised with a striped scarf. According to infallible internet information source Know Your Meme, it’s also connected to the Tickets To X, Please trend, which comically imagines the outfits of a certain movie’s typical audience, and the Fernanfloo Dresses Up meme, which is all very confusing but essentially made suits look silly.

As niche as this might sound, it’s really not. The film was only released last week, but thousands of TikToks of suited-up cinema goers are already out there. UK cinemas have even started to ban teens in suits due to boisterous behaviour and Guernsey’s only cinema has had to pull all screenings. And now, there’s a mega MumsNet dissection, the real litmus test of cultural impact.

The king Gentleminion is Bill Hirst, with his video attracting 35.2m pairs of strained eyeballs in under a week. My friend Marlon saw a new video [of people going to screenings] on TikTok and thought it looked like a great time, so a group of about 15 of us spontaneously decided to get ready and go to the showing. Luckily, we just recently had a formal so we were all prepared,” Bill tells THE FACE over his freshly-set up business email.

Due to the ease of having the suits on standby and most of us being free on the night, most of the boys decided to get around it,” Bill says. We originally didn’t plan on filming, but as we saw another group in suits and some dressed up as Minions, we decided it was too rare of an experience not to film.”

Carl Gebhard, a bodybuilder and fellow Gentleminion, also weighs in. It was a bit of everyone’s idea, I’d say. One of my friends even had a (Minions) yellow tie. At the cinema there were three other guys in suits too.” His own TikTok is edging towards the million views mark.

Of course, movies and memes go hand-in-hand like a Rollover hot dog and Coke. While no film is safe when it comes to internet creatives, animations and superhero films are common targets. Both genres usually don’t take themselves too seriously, feature bonkers characters, lean into the kitscher side of kino and can be edited easily.

The most major examples don’t just spawn memes, but become memes themselves. We’re so swamped with redonkulous Shrek clips that it’s hard to remember what the real films were even like and – wait a second – did Tobey Maguire really, actually play Spider Man?

The majority of these movie-memes come way after the initial release. Take The Bee Movie: it existed solely as a middle-of-the-road DreamWorks movie for close to ten years before it started to gain an ironic following for its outrageous honey-trap plot. It wasn’t until 2016 that the internet’s hive mind decided to make every Bee Movie edit imaginable by quantum mechanics, quietly leading to three more runs of DVDs.

These days, though, meme culture moves so madly and rapidly that it can even outpace advance screenings. TikTokers and YouTubers encouraged people to suit up for Minions: The Rise of Gru weeks before its actual release, enabling it and the film’s popularity to grow together exponentially for a perfect shitstorm of weirdness.

While Minions: The Rise of Gru is the first example of a meme-before-the-movie, another recent release came close. Morbius – that Marvel vampire film with 16 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, starring Jared Leto and aptly released on 1st April – started to be memed from its opening night, when Twitter user @ericszyszka posted an empty preview screening and joked that Morbius fever had gripped the nation.”

This so-called Morbius fever soon became epidemic, leading to a trend of mock glowing reviews that hailed the critically panned film as flawless. A fitting example returns to our much-parodied green ogre in a neat bit of internetextuality: My absolute favourite part of this film was when the Dracula from Hotel Transylvania showed up and helped Morbius defeat Shrek,” reads one take.

A hellspawn of batshit memes have since followed. Mock-positive reviews led to the Morbius Sweep​trend of calling for the film to receive every award going and edits of the film’s Jekyll-and-Hyde style poster to include two merged celebrities and the catchphrase: It’s Morbin’ Time”.

Although the initial release cluster-bombed at the box office, Sony niavely sensed that a second screening could piggyback on these gags. Rushing a re-release out last month, Morbiuss second lap made just an extra $280,000 domestically, forcing it to be quickly pulled from cinemas (again) and spawning loads more BS Morbius memes about bringing it back for a third time.

So why did one meme mint millions for Minions and the other have a performance equivalent to an unpopped kernel of popcorn?

Well, first up, compared to Minions, the Morbius franchise has the cultural currency of an Allen key. Since Despicable Me the series started back in 2010, those pesky little yellow mascots have found themselves on everything, from Crocs to eccies. Morbius, on the other hand, has none of this kitsch charm. It took itself all a little too seriously, from Jared Leto’s just-fuck-off-will-you method acting to its morbid art direction.

Plus, Minions: The Rise of Gru is actually a half-decent movie – and that counts for a lot. With ticket prices at an all-time-high and the cost-of-living crisis leaving less legroom for cinema trips, it’s not that good craic to spend a packet on a packet of Revels and a shit film. No matter how good the memes for Morbius might be, nothing is gained by paying to endure it.

I think Morbius was formed into a meme based on the fact that it was rated so poorly and so, while amusing to the millions that formed the trend, they still wouldn’t spend any money to go see it,” Bill explains. However, the Minions franchise has a solid track record. It’s a kids movie that was a significant part of our childhood.” Gentleminions aren’t laughing at the film, but along with it.

And here’s a plot twist we’ve saved until the end: Gentleminions” wasn’t coined by a TikTok kid but by the franchise via its own video, which saw Bob the Minion stare out of a skyrise elevator to swathes of suited boys at screenings. The Minions TikTok account did a great job at being a passive supporter of the trend, encouraging viewers further to partake,” Bill says. Carl agrees: It worked because the Tiktok community did their marketing for free because the Minions became such cult figures. Minions then supported the memes.”

The official account even commented on Bill’s video and Universal snaked scared cinema chains by tweeting, To everyone showing up to @Minions in suits: we see you and we love you.” Compare this effortless in-the-know encouragement to the Morbius team’s best attempts – making diabolically cringe cutdowns featuring captions like When The Bass Drops” and Jared Leto selling a Blood Stain Removal Kit – and you’ll see they’re a multiverse apart. Despicable memes indeed.

Both will undoubtedly become case studies for the social media teams promoting future flicks. The memes of today have more layers than Shrek’s onions and it requires a savvy response like that of Minions to steer them in the right direction.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the Gentleminions trend offers an actual, physical experience. As we’ve seen with Gen Z through previous trends and challenges, our generation loves jumping on a good fun, lighthearted and harmless joke,” Bill says. Gen‑Z kids want something tangible: they’re not using wired headphones and cash because it’s practical, but purely because the physical element is a novelty.

In the same way that Binley Mega Chippy became a pilgrimage for bored TikTok scrollers, Gentleminions offers a made-up mission with pointless means and ends, an off-screen quest and silly little task that is entirely self-fulfilling. It’s a playground game for those who lived much of their childhoods online, an actual nostalgia trip to the cinema for ninety minutes of naive fun.

And if you’re not on board with that, well, suit yourself.

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