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Turning memes into money: The Minions and Morbius hype

By Sheroog Kubur, July 22 2022

The internet is both a terrible and glorious thing. It’s every movie studio’s dream to have their new project be the hot topic on Twitter for a couple of days because generating online buzz inevitably translates to making profit, right? Recently, the new Minions movie, Minions: The Rise of Gru has been proving to do just that with the development the #gentleminions trend — a phenomenon where grown individuals will get dressed in their best attire to go see the movie. This has resulted in swaths of young adults wearing suits, flooding movie theatres just to witness the greatness that is the Despicable Me franchise. This is the ideal for movie studios — people turning a silly little meme into monetary gain, generating sales in a market that may have nothing to do with your target audience. 

However, this is a rare occurrence. To say that you were able to make money off of your movie because some Twitter users thought it would be funny to turn your movie into its new target is not common at all. In fact, it is more common that internet hype is nothing more than that — hype. A new movie could be the hot topic on social media for a couple of days, but that’s no guarantee anyone has the intention of actually watching the film. 

The Minions case is the antithesis of another recent film-to-meme phenomenon, Morbius. The title of the film is enough to elicit a slew of comments of how incredible the movie was and how it is infinitely better than any superhero movie out there right now, despite the film’s laughably low ratings and box-office numbers. In case you’re unfamiliar, Morbius is the vampire-superhero film starring Jared Leto and Matt Smith. Leto plays Dr. Michael Morbius, a scientist with a debilitating blood disease that is only able to be cured by injecting himself with vampire-bat DNA, thus turning him into a blood-sucking vampire-esque human.

The film turned into a meme the moment it was released, with floods of Twitter users talking about it nonstop. Users recounted iconic moments from the film, called themselves proud “Morbheads” and boasted about the box office opening weekend. The brilliant part of this was that it was all done from a place of irony — the moments recounted were scenes that didn’t exist, the quality of the film was so bad it became a joke to enjoy it and the alleged box office opening weekend was “one morbillion” dollars — a fictional amount combining the name and the word billion. The most iconic part of the film was widely accepted to be the part where Morbius said “It’s Morbin’ time” and “morbed” all over the bad guys. If those words mean nothing to you, don’t worry, because it has nothing to do with the actual film. 

This kind of online response was misinterpreted by the film studio and seen as people genuinely enjoying the film, thinking of Morbius as some kind of cult classic, à la The Room. This unfortunately caused the studio to re-release the film in an attempt to cash in on the meme, causing a failure worse than its original run, making a mere $85,000. So, what happened? 

The difference between the new Minions movie and Morbius is not the quality of the film itself but rather the circumstances around the film. Leto is notorious for being a menace on set due to his dedication to method acting, where he insists on embodying the roles he takes on by never breaking character. In addition to Leto being generally disliked by the general public and the premise of the movie being ridiculous, Morbius was never meant to succeed financially. When comparing the Minions and Morbius memes, it becomes clear why only one translated to monetary gain — would consumers rather give money to a harmless children’s film or a blockbuster with a silly premise starring a man nobody likes? 

If you are not familiar with internet culture or the lifestyle of memes, it is incredibly easy to misunderstand. Studio executives were, unfortunately, not in tune with social media enough to understand that nobody actually likes Morbius, they only like how funny it is to joke on behalf of movie studios. For future reference, not all internet memes translate into monetary gain. Be sure to keep watch of not only if people are talking about your movie, but what they’re saying as well.

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