Donald Clarke: Let’s hear it for the Gentleminions

Minion lovers in suits? Screaming at Spider-Man? These are vital signs of a vibrant artform

Sorry? What? Run that past me again. “UK cinemas ban teens in suits”, a headline in this newspaper reads. You would have thought International Enormoplex would have welcomed well-dressed youngsters to screens five through 32.

It seems this is a response to some deranged craze concerning the popular spin-off characters from Despicable Me. Groups of teenage boys, self-identified as #gentleminions, have, we are told, donned suits and advanced on screens showing Minions: The Rise of Gru. The fans imitate the malign Felonius Gru and cheer along to the antics of his eponymous yellow assistants (“minions” if you will). “Due to a small number of incidents in our cinemas over the weekend we have had to restrict access in some circumstances,” a spokesman for Odeon cinemas told the Press Association.

First things first. Reports of mad things that young people get up to should always be taken with entire barrels of salt. Rare is the week we’re not warned about massed teenagers snorting gunpowder, dressing up as camels or worshipping Jack the Ripper. Society then progresses onwards in no less stable a state than it did during our grandparents’ youth. Evidence of the #gentleminions fad can be seen online, but I’m betting it has not reached, nor will ever reach, epidemic proportions. The man from the Odeon was careful to use the words “small number”.

For the sake of the incoming argument, let us, however, pretend that cinemas really are engulfed with bellowing youths in wool-mix houndstooth. It is like a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show every day. You can’t move for hordes of latter-day Reservoir Dogs hopped up on Minions catchphrases. This is terrible. This offers further evidence that cinemas have declined into levels of anarchy unseen since the Vandals last sacked Rome. Whenever conversations arise about streaming services edging theatrical exhibition into oblivion, there is always a rush to note that behaviour in cinemas is now so awful — people chattering on phones, eating entire Mexican meals from buckets and encouraging children to riot in the aisles — the decline in the old model is hardly worth regretting.


At the turn of the year footage emerged of a cinema going bonkers when Andrew Garfield emerged as an alternative version of the hero in Spider-Man: No Way Home. No World Cup final victory has been celebrated with such hysteria. More than a few news sites picked up on complaints from old codgers about this disturbing new development. “Dublin cinema goer says clapping and cheering ‘ruined’ Spider-Man: No Way Home”, DublinLive noted.

Didn’t Horace or one those fellows complain about feckless, decadent youth a few millennia ago? It is certainly the case that five generations of cinema-goers have been whinging about how younger audiences behave in the stalls. Remember, however, that in the days of continuous screenings it was common to enter the auditorium halfway through (say) The Great Escape, smoke fags until you reached that point again and then tumble towards the pub. It is obviously true that, a few decades ago, mobile phones kicked up a new menace, but there was no golden era for civilised behaviour in the movie house.

So there is a degree of creative reimagining in the current outrage. I can remember large sections of the Savoy cinema in Dublin literally screaming when Leonardo DiCaprio appeared wearing a dinner jacket in Titanic 25 years ago. No doubt Clark Gable once had the same effect. Perhaps we should be happy that enthusiasts such as the #gentleminions and the Spider-Bellowers still show genuine enthusiasm for the theatrical experience. We are told that cinema is withering, but there are still millions of mainstream fans who wouldn’t dream of seeing their favourite franchise on any screen smaller than an upended tennis court. We should perhaps embrace the populist approach across all media. The theatre and the opera may seem less forbidding if — as we’re often told was the case centuries ago — groundlings were permitted to yell at the actors, chew on boars’ trotters and murder their relatives in the “pit” below the stage. Pull out the seats in the art house cinemas, rip up the carpets and scatter straw about the bare floorboards. Bring back bear-baiting in the foyer. Stick blasphemers in the stocks and pelt them with rotten fruit. Burn anyone who seems likely to live in a gingerbread house. Declare war on the Holy Roman Empire. Eat raw turnip. Why is everyone so uptight these days? Welcome in the new Dark Ages.

Hang on. Where was I? For as long as people have been behaving badly in cinemas, other people have been making the case for breathless silence. Many of these other people are called the French and I celebrate their getting this thing (among others) right. Neither of these groups will ever properly understand the other. We puritans will continue to fume when a single sweet is opened with unnecessary degrees of rustling. But we should perhaps acknowledge that the groundlings are now keeping the medium alive. Strange times make for unlikely bedfellows.