That #Gentleminions Meme Helped Double the Gen Z Audience for ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’

·4 min read

That #Gentleminions TikTok meme featuring suit-wearing teens arriving en masse to movie theaters gave a big boost to Universal’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” helping to lift the animated sequel to a record-breaking $125 million in ticket sales over the four-day July 4th weekend.

The share of audience members aged 13 to 17 ballooned to 30% for the film, according to Universal’s demographic data that was shared with TheWrap. That’s more than double the percentage of teen audiences for past films in the Illumination animated franchise. According to the studio, 2015’s “Minions” had 11% teen turnout on its $115 million opening weekend, while “Despicable Me 3” drew 13% of its audience from teens two years later (on its way to a $72.4 million debut).

“It’s heartening to see how younger generations now see the multiplex as a hub of influence building and as a source of inspiration for their own mini movies via TikTok and other social media platforms,” Comscore’s Paul Dergarabedian said. “The power of a movie theater release and its singular ability to resonate within the culture is once again on full display.”

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It should be noted that “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is part of what is, globally, the most successful animated film franchise of all time (not adjusted for inflation). Universal blew out its marketing for the film, pulling every lever across the Comcast multiverse and lining up a seemingly endless series of promotional partners.

But the success of “The Rise of Gru” was far from a foregone conclusion going into its opening weekend, especially after multiple release date delays due to COVID and the underperformance of a similar high-profile animated spin-off from rival studio, Disney/Pixar’s “Lightyear.” Even though the “Toy Story” spinoff just passed the $100 million mark, many view the pricey film as a disappointment.

And the power of social media cannot be overstated. If you search the #Minions hashtag on TikTok, you can see that it has racked up more than 8.2 billion views on the platform. And as Tommy Clark, head of social for Triple Whale, told TheWrap, “Minions” has cross-platform appeal: The memes began on YouTube (thanks to an official Lyrical Lemonade video with 3.7 million views as of Friday morning) before moving to TikTok (where the song scored many videos, including the initial Gentleminions video by Bill Hirst), Instagram and Twitter.

TikTok has found success with not just original content, but by also leveraging “organic” trends like #Gentleminions, creating an echo chamber for popular memes. After the hashtag started gaining traction, the official Minions TikTok account created its own video encouraging viewers to hop on the trend that garnered more than 2.5 million views. A spokesperson for TikTok also pointed us to the value of direct engagement with users, as one of the comments on the Minions account received 826,700 likes.

The platform attributes the recent successes of campaigns like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “The Rise of Gru” to a “think like marketers, but act like creators” mindset. “The TikTok community is uniquely engaged, and we’re seeing that brands find success when they’re creating alongside the community rather than just talking to them,” the spokesperson told TheWrap.

“Creating content that feels native and natural to the TikTok community is the best way to make authentic connections with a brand’s audience,” the rep continued, “and tapping into trends is one of the easiest ways for brands to place themselves in the community’s most current conversations.”

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Not that every meme-able movie translates into actual box office. “Snakes on a Plane,” the giddily titled 2006 New Line thriller, opened amid a wave of online fascination and prerelease media coverage but only managed to eke out a $15.2 million opening weekend. A surge in online memes tied to April’s “Morbius” persuaded Sony to re-release the Jared Leto vampire movie in theaters two months later — but the film earned only $311,000 from 1,037 screens.

But in this instance, the meme-ification of “Minions” seems to have paid off, big time.

Only time will tell whether #Gentleminions is a one-time phenomenon where dank memes turn into box office riches, but if it becomes a trend where marketing campaigns and organic word-of-mouth on TikTok drives Gen Z turnout to theaters, it would be a curious twist of fate considering how online platforms like TikTok, Twitch and YouTube have been considered competitors among the younger crowd for theaters and other traditional forms of entertainment.

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