Bill Hirst knows people may get confused seeing young moviegoers walking around in suits to see “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”
But the teenager behind the “Gentleminions,” which has become the latest viral social media trend on TikTok, said the act was not meant to offend or confuse people. It was just something fun that he and his friends decided to do that unexpectedly blew up.
“I think the trend would’ve happened with or without me, but I think our TikTok made it more viral than it would’ve been,” Hirst, 18, said in an interview. “I think it was a really great promotion for the minions.”
Once thought of as the cringiest content on the internet, the Minions from the “Despicable Me” franchise have been reclaimed by Gen Z after videos like Hirst’s have spread across TikTok. As of Wednesday afternoon, his TikTok, which features him attending the film in suits with his friends, had amassed more than 36.6 million views and more than 8.7 million likes.
Now, around the globe, people have been spotting “Gentleminions” at theaters. As in Hirst’s video, many of the “Gentleminions” TikTok videos showcase groups wearing suits flocking to the movies, with the song “Rich Minion” by the rapper Yeat, which appears on the film’s soundtrack, playing in the background. Some videos also show the groups posing with steeple hands, the gesture made by Felonius Gru, the protagonist of the “Despicable Me” franchise (voiced by Steve Carell).
Even Universal Pictures has taken notice, tweeting on July 1: “to everyone showing up to @Minions in suits: We see you and we love you.” (Universal Pictures and NBC News are units of NBCUniversal). A spokesperson declined to comment further on the trend.
Hirst, who was about 6 years old when “Despicable Me” came out in 2010, said he thinks the trend is likely to have resonated with others because it tapped into the nostalgia Gen Z has for the franchise, which they grew up with.
“I think one of the reasons” it has done so well “is the nostalgia,” he said. “I grew up watching all the ‘Despicable Me’ movies. I didn’t mind having to go and watch the 1½ hours to do the TikTok. It’s a good movie, and it brought back the memories of watching the ‘Despicable Me’ movies with my family.”
The story behind the video
Hirst got the idea to go to the theater in suits from TikTokers, who suggested pulling off the stunt but had not posted videos actually doing it at the time.
He and a group of his friends decided to make the video after their end-of-year formal at their school in Sydney, Australia.
The group of 15 said they had their suits handy after they attended the formal. The “Minions” movie was out, so they figured it would be fun to go to the theaters all dressed up. In addition, they wanted to celebrate the nostalgia of the film franchise they “gru” up with.
On June 27, the group attended a screening of the film. The next day, Hirst posted a video. In it, they wear suits, run up an escalator to the theater, cheer while watching the film and rate the movie a “banana” out of 10.
“Three hours before the movie, we said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Hirst said. “We had to walk through the bottom of this mall. … We kept our serious faces on, acting very businesslike.”
He was among the first to post a video of him and his group of friends carrying out the “Gentleminions” trend. Sander Mendelsohn, Hirst’s manager, said the reaction was “overwhelming” and “incredible.”
Now, on TikTok, the “Gentleminions” hashtag has 30.6 million views, and audio of “Rich Minion” had been featured in about 15,500 videos as of Wednesday.
Trend sparks backlash from some theaters
Some who have participated in the trend are reported to have been disruptive — a handful of theaters in the U.K. even banned suited guests from attending screenings. Some decided not to screen the film altogether following disruptions.
“The sheer numbers and behavior aren’t manageable,” Daniel Phillips-Smith, the manager of Mallard Cinema in Guernsey, told the BBC. He said the theater had to stop showing the film because of vandalism and “stunningly bad behavior” by large groups. The theater did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
Representatives for U.S.-based theater chains — AMC, Regal and Cinemark — also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Another person online shared a screenshot of a video showing a movie theater’s floor littered with popcorn and garbage after a screening of “The Rise of Gru.” The Twitter user wrote, “this is not very gentlemanly.”
In a TikTok video uploaded over the weekend, a user shared video of a movie theater staff member saying: “You will not scream, you will not clap at the beginning of this movie. If you do, you will be out without a refund. If you refuse to leave, we will call the cops to have you removed. Also, it’s against the law to record any part of the movie, even the beginning.”
The staff member goes on to say: “There are people, families, here to watch the movie. And if you want to disrupt the movie, you can pay for their ticket.”
Another video circulating online showed a mosh pit of “Gentleminions” breaking out in the front of a theater. One showed a group of “Gentleminions” getting kicked out of a theater for being too rowdy.
Hirst shunned those who have taken the trend too far.
“There’s a way to have your fun and also be respectful,” he said. “Being polite throughout the film is probably the best way to go about it. … Obviously, turning the cinema into a mosh pit is not the right thing to do.”
Can a meme help a film flourish in theaters?
The “Despicable Me” franchise was widely popular long before the “Gentleminions” trend took off.
The latest installment is no different — “The Rise of Gru” smashed box office records for the highest film opening over Independence Day, according to Variety, collecting $125.1 million in its opening weekend in North American theaters.
But some experts say the trend has certainly given the film more exposure, especially among younger audiences.
Julia Alexander, the director of strategy for Parrot Analytics, an entertainment research company, said Universal Pictures’ supporting the meme while not trying to co-opt it has allowed it to flourish as an actionable trend that helps sell tickets.
“Passive activity on the internet is really hard to turn into actionable effort,” Alexander said. “But if the trend is, in and of itself, based in an actionable thing that people are going to do, like buying a ticket, that’s going to really help a studio’s bottom line.”
Some film studios have learned the language of certain platforms, like TikTok, Alexander said. She pointed to Lionsgate’s TikTok account, which has built brand loyalty by making content that feels native to the platform, such as funny “Twilight” videos or “thirst trap” videos of actor Pedro Pascal to promote its recent film “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” On the flip side, Alexander said, some studios have missed the mark when it comes to capitalizing on viral trends, such as Sony Pictures with “Morbius.”
After the critically panned “Morbius” became a social media meme, Sony Pictures re-released it in theaters, only for it to bomb again. Some suggested that the studio’s decision to re-release the film signified its lack of understanding of meme culture.
The best-case scenario for a studio is to endorse an organic, harmless social media trend rather than try to generate a trend or forcefully try to turn a trend into a financial boon, Alexander said.
Hirst said he plans to return for the next “Minions” movie in a suit regardless of whether it is a box office hit.
“You will see us at the cinema,” he said. “Maybe in suits and maybe in larger numbers than before.”