Minions: The Rise of Gru has a surprising demo to thank for setting off fireworks at the July Fourth box office with one of the best animated tentpole openings in history: male teenagers and younger male adults.
The TikTok meme #GentleMinions has been gaining strength throughout the long holiday weekend as male Generation Z’ers showed up at cinemas in dress suits and scarves — the go-to uniform for the supervillain Gru — to watch the latest entry in the Despicable Me franchise. Some of the videos posted on social media even show the crowd bowing to Minion standees situated in the lobby.
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“This is what happens when a generation grows up with a franchise,” says one insider close to the movie. Universal president of domestic distribution Jim Orr added, “The movie is playing to a very broad audience, as well to families and the very young.”
According to PostTrak, 34 percent of the opening weekend audience was between ages 13 and 17, an unusually large showing among teenagers for an animated movie. That compares to 8 percent for the last title in the series, Despicable Me 3, which debuted in 2017.
As further evidence of the #GentleMinions craze, the newest film was almost even in terms of gender, with 51 percent female and 49 percent male. In comparison, Despicable Me 3 skewed more female (55 percent).
So far, nearly 90 percent of the audience for Illumination and Universal’s The Rise of Gru is 25 and under, with 25 percent of attendees being younger than 12 years old.
The movie is making pandemic-era history with a domestic debut of $125 million or more for the long Friday-Monday holiday weekend, including an estimated $107 million for the three days. That’s, by far, the biggest showing for a family title since COVID-19 struck and is one of the top 10 openings of all time for a Hollywood animated film.
“The audience was more than eager to come out and see this movie,” Orr says. “It is so gratifying to see this sort of box office.”
The Minions official TikTok account — which has endorsed the #GentleMinions movement — says it all when it comes to the explosion of the meme in recent days. The account has attracted 3 million followers since launching 10 months ago, with 1 million coming from the last week.
Universal marketers were intent on making the brand cool and relevant and giving those who grew up on the franchise ownership. It seemed to have worked, judging by the hordes of younger males who organically began dressing up as Gru and showing up at their local cinemas.
One Odeon theater in the U.K. went so far as to post a sign warning that it would refuse entry to anyone taking part in the meme and wearing the signature suit after other patrons complained about raucous behavior — including unconfirmed reports of #GentleMinions throwing bananas at the screen and lighting up cigars. Neither Universal nor Illumination seem particularly concerned.
“[Universal] was able to infiltrate this group,” says one marketing source of the film that voice stars Steve Carell, Taraji P. Henson and Pierre Coffin, among others. “The brand was cool enough to grab their attention and become a meme.”
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