Ironic media consumption: The Rise of Gru and the fall of Morbius

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This summer, millions of people flocked to theaters to watch Minions: The Rise of Gru, the fifth movie in the Despicable Me franchise. Despite its marketing to children, audiences were filled with teens dressed in full minion cosplay – or even formal suits. Evidently, a new era of ironic media consumption has been born for Generation Z.

Minions: The Rise of Gru was hyped up well before its release, with minions having a resurgence in TikTok culture. Users joked about attending the movie in formal wear, dubbing themselves GentleMinions. Rising sophomore Jasmyn Pillay said “I think most people decided to see it for laughs. Honestly it was a minions movie so I didn’t expect much from it. It was fun and cute but nothing astonishing.” Briana Mach, a rising junior, was more optimistic and said “I’ve watched the first three movies and I loved them, and obviously I wanted to watch the minions sequel. I thought it was pretty good, it was really cute.” Both of them participated in the GentleMinions trend, with Jasmyn sporting formal wear and Briana proudly wearing a minion-yellow shirt to watch the movie.

While such a trend seems harmless, some theaters had to resort to pulling screenings of the movie and banning teens in suits from entry after viral videos of disruptive teen audiences made headlines. The videos showed teens getting into fights during the film, throwing popcorn at the screen, and making huge messes for others to clean up. “It took away from younger audiences being able to actually enjoy the movie. After all, the movie was intended for their age group anyways, shouldn’t they be the ones to enjoy it?” Jasmyn said. 

But whereas Minions: Rise of Gru topped the charts, the mockery surrounding Morbius caused it embarrassment and rejection. These drastically different outcomes of meme marketing exemplifies how the Minions franchise capitalized on what Morbius failed to.

Ironic reactions to Morbius gained traction after extremely negative reviews and a 16% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The “It’s Morbin’ time” meme and the laughable Milo dance sequence brought the film mockery across social media. “From the trailer alone I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. And as expected it was absolutely atrocious. Especially as a Marvel fan, it hurt my heart to watch it,” Jasmyn said.

Ms. Yan’s sophomore English class took a school trip to theaters where they were supposed to watch Morbius together (due to its relevance to some of the texts their class was reading), but the online slander changed their plans. By the time the day of the trip came, the movie was already out of theaters because of low demand. “I guess they weren’t playing it in the theater anymore because we basically rented out the entire place. We chose between some other movies instead,” said Emily Kapica, a rising junior. 

Upon mistaking the online buzz for a grassroots demand, Sony re-released Morbius in theaters assuming that those making memes online would rush theaters to pay to hate-watch the film ironically with friends. But once again, few people showed up.

“I have not seen the Morbius movie but I do know that it’s really bad, and I don’t plan to see it any time soon. I saw a commentary video on how bad it was so that was my sign to never watch it,” said Briana.

The fan responses to these films highlight the sheer amount of power that audiences hold. Because of the fiercely negative attention that Morbius received, Sony has been dissuaded from releasing a sequel. The fan culture surrounding Minions: The Rise of Gru has brought the franchise massive success, with Despicable Me 4 set to release in 2024. Restaurant chains like iHop have even released minion themed meals, with teens making the drive there just to get a taste of the Ba Ba Banana pancakes. Students even shared pictures of their visits on social media.

With both of these movies, Emerald Yee, rising junior, pointed out that “people do almost everything out of irony nowadays.” And while hate-watching and ironic memes have long been a staple of internet culture, the scale of this online attention is unparalleled. “While most people watch as a joke, it’s still money in their pockets at the end of the day.” Jasmyn concluded.