It has been eight days since Minions: The Rise of Gru premiered, and American movie theaters have not yet recovered. Gru-goers have arrived by the thousands, many wearing formal suits, cheering loudly, and occasionally pelting the screen with bananas in celebration of the year’s unlikeliest box office smash. The only thing watched more than the film itself in the past week may be the hundreds of TikToks and tweets made about it.
Rise of Gru is the fifth movie in the Minions franchise, which began with Despicable Me in 2010. The plot focuses on Gru, an 11-year-old with a vaguely Russian accent, who employs a team of minions in his quest to become a supervillain. Gru is the main character, but really, the movie is about the minions—a species of squishy yellow blobs, whose origin was explored in 2015’s Minions, the franchise’s third installment. They speak in bubbly gibberish (a random mix of French, English, Spanish, and Italian), dress almost exclusively in denim, and inject the movies with a sort of slapstick comedy that’s made them popular with kids for a decade.
Minions-mania, then, is nothing new. The first four movies earned more than $3.5 billion worldwide at the box office, making it the highest-grossing animated film franchise of all time. But even those movies pale in comparison to the Rise of Gru, which has catapulted the franchise’s global take past the $4 billion mark and inflated the internet with a hype so contagious that even people who had never seen Despicable Me have become part of the #minionscult.
For some, this is pure random chaos. One video explains the #minionscult as a sort of viral challenge to “take over TikTok” with banana emojis and matching profile pictures. Of course, random chaos is exactly what minions do best. In one movie, they use their vast laboratory resources to build a fart gun. Because why not! The TikToker who started the trend, who goes by @HutchBucketz, just wanted to see if Universal Pictures would invite him to the premiere of Rise of Gru if he generated enough hype. (Sadly, the studio did not.)
Others, many of them young people who grew up with the franchise, have coalesced around another trend. It involves showing up to movie theaters en masse, wearing formal attire, and greeting each other in the gentlemanly fashion of Gru. Last weekend, the presence of these #GentleMinions became so pronounced that at least one theater in the UK put up a sign warning that it wouldn’t permit suit-and-tie patrons to enter. Universal, meanwhile, posted a tweet saying “to everyone showing up to @Minions in suits: we see you and we love you.”
Ryan Broderick, who writes the Garbage Day newsletter on Substack, suggested that #GentleMinions might have emerged as a reference to an earlier meme around the 2019 film Joker, where people posted pictures of incel-like men with the caption “two tickets to Joker, please.” Young people dressed in suits and asking for “30 million tickets to Minions” feels like a riff on the old trend.
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If it is, it’s far surpassed the impact of the Joker meme. Rise of Gru grossed $125 million domestically its opening weekend, shattering previous Fourth of July box office records, the film equivalent of Redditors juicing the price of Gamestop stock. It also shows no sign of slowing down. Never underestimate the influence of the internet to jump from one screen to the next.