Minions: Rise of Gru has been breaking box office records following its 1 July release. It was the highest grossing film of the weekend and the third highest opening of an animation film ever (after the original Minions and Toy Story 3). But why are we talking about an animation spin-off and what’s behind this despicably brilliant success? None other than TikTok.
You will have seen by now the reports of teenagers, the so-called ‘Gentleminions’, in the UK being banned from attending showings of the film in their suits. Rowdy behaviour by some adolescents – bananas being lobbed at screens and crowd surfing in Stevenage – have meant that the rise of the Gentleminions has been curtailed. Shame, because for one moment there was a glorious global cohesion of fun that shows why TikTok is no longer the player, it is the game.
Let’s rewind. Dressing up to go to the cinema has long been the realm of cosplayers and the Disney princesses – think of all the Spidermen or cosplayers such as Dayna Sauble who have turned up to premieres and events in full costume. The power of cosplay was also instrumental in the early TikTok days of make-up artists like Abby Roberts and her sister Charlotte, whose recreation and re-imagination of movie looks made them famous.
One of TikTok’s superpowers is the way it harnesses fandom, subculture and niche genres, and propels them into the mainstream. Take the way fashion aesthetics have proliferated – starting with cottagecore, which originated on Tumblr in 2018, celebrating an idealised rural life. By 2020, it was firmly in the fashion lexicon, thanks to the way trends spread like wildfire on the platform.
Last year, TikToks about Alabama’s sororities rush week became part of the trend agenda, prompting one linguistics professor, Nicole Holliday, to explore the TikTok language rabbit hole, and how much the platform was accelerating language change: “TikTok puts us in touch with people we have never been in touch with before. For example, I’ve been following #BamaRush. I can’t imagine being a 33-year-old professor in Philadelphia 20 years ago and hearing college students from Alabama talk in a casual way. It just would not have happened for me. All of these girls in Alabama share a community, and they talk to each other, and there’s a lexicon and a style within their community because that’s how language works.”
Elsewhere, BookTok and its power over publishing has been much dissected – in a recent interview with the Evening Standard, novelist Jessie Burton was asked if she hoped her new novel would be adopted by BookTok. She demurred, but in the same vein, young singers like Halsey, Charli XCX and FKA Twigs are complaining about their songs not getting released by record labels unless they create viral moments on TikTok.
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TikTok has a firm hold on culture right now and the film industry is no different – and the way that the creators on the platform respond to film content, new or old, is directing people to the box office and to the streaming services. From Film Tok and critics like David Ma and Hunter Clark, to TikTok being the official partner of the Cannes Film Festival, there are countless ways in which the film industry is tied to this new media.
According to a GoodQues TikTok Entertainment Study in 2021, 69% of users have co-created content related to a show or movie. This led the platform’s director of entertainment, Nikao Yang, to declare in an interview with Deadline: “A year or a year-and-a-half ago, we were a must-try platform. Now we’re really a must-have. Before, we were part of the conversation. Now, we’re driving the conversation.”
Just take a look at Bridgerton and the subsequent #regencycore roar, or Stranger Things 4 putting Kate Bush’s track Running Up That Hill back on the charts (TikTok launched it into the stratosphere and reports estimate that Kate Bush has earned $2.3 million in streaming revenue since the release of Stranger Things 4 in May). Or of course, Encanto, which had a modest cinema release before its popularity exploded when the soundtrack became a TikTok favourite.
The #Gentleminions trend
Which brings us to the #Gentleminions trend – where groups of Gen Z fans have been filming themselves attending screenings and the opening weekend in suits, and making main character Gru gestures with their hands; Bill Hirst’s was one of the first viral videos in the US, there’s user Mitch Tidy’s boys pulling up post, Isaac Sada and Sev Lidder with his 60 tickets please, and Lyndon’s Rise of Gru with the gentlemen in Columbia.
There are countless videos from India, Austria, Germany and Bahrain, across the US and in the UK. On Twitter, confused Millennials were bemused but ultimately impressed with their dedication to the bit.
Most were amazed by two things – the commitment of Gen Z teens, and the fact that these events were being played out simultaneously across the world. Although it has become disruptive rather than a disruptor, what a moment for the Minions, their fans and digital culture as a whole.
Reporting on the box office spike has caused some frustration in analytical circles however, with many media outlets deeming it a post-pandemic bounce rather than a result of TikTok’s impact. Jules Terpak, a digital culture analyst, discussed legacy media’s refusal to acknowledge new media’s dominance, and asserted that “TikTok runs culture.”
It’s no surprise to hear that Chris Hemsworth has just joined the platform in advance of the 8 July opening of his film Thor: Love and Thunder. But will fans turn up in their helmets and capes? No pressure, Chris.
By Emilie McMeekan, features director of CORQ. Picture credit: Minions via Instagram