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Why Despicable Me 4 Blew Everyone Away At The Box Office

When "Despicable Me 4" hit movie theaters on July 3, 2024, its solid performance generated a slew of positive headlines around Tinseltown. "Minions take over the box office," wrote The Hollywood Reporter, while the Associated Press said that the animated movie had helped "boom times return to the box office." It was a welcome result for Universal and indeed Hollywood in general — after years of struggle thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the strikes in 2023 (not to mention ever-increasing competition from streaming), industry eyes were locked on the summer 2024 blockbuster season, hoping that it would see a return to normalcy.

With seemingly surefire hits like "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" bombing hard at the box office in the early weeks of the season, the initial signs weren't good. However, animation ultimately saved the day, with both "Inside Out 2" and "Despicable Me 4" doing huge numbers, despite the latter not going down particularly well with critics. The latest entry in the hit Illumination franchise brings back the iconic reformed supervillain Gru (once again voiced by Steve Carell) for another adventure full of explosions, outlandish gadgets, and lessons on parenthood. How did he become the hero that the domestic box office needed on the July 4 weekend? This is why "Despicable Me 4" was such a financial hit.

What did Despicable Me 4 make at the box office?

At press time, "Despicable Me 4" has posted an astounding $122 million four-day domestic box office haul, for a grand total of $230 million worldwide. It might not be the $155 million opening domestic haul that set "Inside Out 2" on its way to a billion-dollar box office run, but it's more than enough to put the Gru crew among the top 10 highest-grossing movies of the year. Both films prove that imaginative family fare is a critical piece of the box office puzzle Hollywood is desperately trying to solve.

For "Despicable Me 4" specifically, $230 million likely means that Universal has already broken even on its relatively modest production budget of $100 million. Through its Illumination division, the studio has been able to generate consistent returns with significantly smaller budgets than Disney gives to its Pixar films. "Elemental," for example, did okay with a $496 million haul, but it cost $200 million to make, the same amount allocated to both "Inside Out 2" and the 2022 box office bomb "Lightyear."

Universal and Illumination generally spend half as much as Disney and Pixar do on a movie, which is a big plus when it comes to box office success. Like "Despicable Me 4," they made "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" for just $100 million, which (admittedly, with a lot of help from brand recognition) went on to gross north of $1.3 billion. If previous films in the franchise are any indication, "Despicable Me 4" looks set to add to its already impressive box office haul.

Despicable Me has always been box office dynamite

Obviously, the fact that "Despicable Me" is a known quantity to kids and ticket-buying adults alike played a massive role in the box office success of "Despicable Me 4." Consumers — especially parents trying to fill the summer with reliably fun activities for their young ones — like to know what they're spending their money on, and were surely comforted by the franchise's track record of putting out breezy, family-appropriate 90-minute comedies.

"Despicable Me" has also quite simply owned the beginning of July since the franchise began. Pandemic hiatus notwithstanding, Illumination has produced either a mainline "Despicable Me" film or a "Minions" spin-off once every two-to-three years since 2010, each seeing strong opening weekends within the first 10 days of July. Those weekends then led to consistently impressive box office runs that have placed "Despicable Me" among the most financially successful film franchises of all time (and that's not even including the absurd amount of money that is brought in from merchandise sales).

In short, it's safe to say that "Despicable Me 4" will have strong legs in the coming weeks — but how strong, exactly? Taking into account its non-extended three-day opening domestic gross of $75 million, it could conceivably cross the $1 billion threshold, as "Despicable Me 3" did after a $72 million opening weekend.

Steve Carell was the face of the promotional campaign

Given that a good chunk of the $100 million budget was likely used to cover Steve Carell's paycheck (he banked $12.5 million for 2022's "Minions: The Rise of Gru"), Universal and Illumination were always going to make the most of the star during the film's press tour. Carell turned on the charm and helped promote the movie, even juggling these responsibilities with his packed schedule for the play "Uncle Vanya," in which he made his Broadway debut. Carell even went on the Today show to discuss the latest installment in the "Despicable Me" franchise during the play's run, turning up the morning after a performance.

In interviews, Carell has rather cleverly pressed home the fact that "Despicable Me 4" is a movie that will be very relatable for parents — the new film sees Gru struggling to bond with Gru Jr., who much prefers his mother to his father. "Immediately after you become parents you want a bond with your children," Carell told Yahoo! UK. "Obviously you want them to think that you are the best and the only thing in the world, and, if they don't do that, instantly you feel like, 'oh, what's wrong?' And to see the character of Gru filled with self doubt and angst about bonding with his kid and the way they animate it too is so funny." The fact that the film appealed to parents as much as kids likely contributed to the film's profitable opening weeked.

The supporting cast are well-known stars

Steve Carell isn't the only heavy hitter helping "Despicable Me 4" crush it at the box office. Kristen Wiig returns for the third time as Agent Lucy Wilde, a superstar agent and Gru's enemy-turned-wife who first debuted back in "Despicable Me 2." Like Carell, she's been doing the rounds to promote the fourth film, including an appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Miranda Cosgrove also returned as Gru's adopted daughter Margot, and she has been one of film's primary promotional faces. Actor participation in promotional work is a vital part of any film's box office success, as studios learned the hard way during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.

Big-name actors can also help attract audience members from their individual followings who might not otherwise show up for a movie like "Despicable Me 4." Will Ferrell and "Modern Family" star Sofia Vergara joined the cast as the two true villains of the flick, playing Maxime Le Mal and Valentina, respectively. Joey King of "The Kissing Booth" and "Bullet Train" fame also makes an appearance as Poppy Prescott, an admirer of Gru's, while late-night veteran Stephen Colbert plays her tennis-loving father, Perry. The fact that the film has a cast that spans generations likely gave "Despicable Me 4" a helping hand at the box office.

It avoided going head to head with Inside Out 2

Speaking of animated films with stacked comedic casts, it hasn't been that long since Disney and Pixar's "Inside Out 2" smashed into theaters with its own even more staggering box office debut (it made $154 million, the biggest ever opening for an animated movie). Its immediate success represented a much-needed win for Pixar, which, in the minds of many, was no longer the pinnacle of Hollywood animation. As recently as summer 2023, the New York Post said that Pixar was now "an animation afterthought that can't compete with Universal's DreamWorks Animation or Sony Pictures Animation anymore."

Or course, a year later, Pixar bounced back in style with "Inside Out 2," though had the film dropped the same weekend as "Despicable Me 4," its haul probably wouldn't have been quite as impressive. The two films were in danger of eating into each other's potential hauls if they didn't maintain a respectable distance. The Minions may have a built-in fan base at this point, but could they have carried the movie this far in direct competition with a sequel to one of Pixar's most beloved films? Fortunately, they didn't have to, as "Inside Out 2" hit theaters in mid-June, giving parents enough time to justify a second trip out to the cinema with the kids.

There was no real competition from other new releases

"Despicable Me 4" films usually hit cineplexes in the days around the Fourth of July weekend, a competitive time frame in the U.S., as studios anticipate moviegoers looking for entertainment during the Independence Day holiday. Yet — perhaps as a consequence of "Despicable Me" so consistently and successfully staking its claim to the start of July — there weren't any other features released at the same time that were capable of siphoning off Minion-loving children and their parents from "Despicable Me 4."

Perhaps the only film that could have potentially lured families away from "Despicable Me 4" on the holiday weekend was "Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot." This Christian-themed film dropped the day after "Despicable Me 4," with Angel Studios attempting to repeat the success it had with the Jim Caviezel-led "Sound of Freedom" in 2023. That film didn't have to lock horns with Gru, however. "Despicable Me 4" was seemingly unaffected by "Sound of Hope" arriving hot on its heels: According to Angel Studios, it made $4.7 million in its first two days.

The Minions now have cross-generational appeal

In this day and age, it's almost as hard for studios to discount the power of grassroots meme movements as it is for them to anticipate when they'll happen. The Barbenheimer meme famously helped tonally disparate competitors "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" become two of the highest-grossing and most culturally relevant films of 2023. However, when entertainment outlets and marketing companies tried to sell a "Saw X" and "Paw Patrol" double billing in a similar fashion, the term "Saw Patrol" failed to take off in the same way. Luckily for the "Despicable Me" franchise, Minion memes have apparently come full circle.

Once seen as a Millennial mom thing, Gen Z is now all about the Minion memes, having grown up on the first film. In 2022, young men online encouraged each other to gather in modest-to-large groups, dress in business suits and shades, and diligently watch "Minions: The Rise of Gru," sharing the hashtag #Gentleminions. The meme inarguably helped the prequel/spin-off rake in $940 million worldwide. Speaking about the craze, Francisco Schlotterbeck (chief executive of theater chain Maya Cinemas) told the Los Angeles Times: "I've been 25 to 28 years in the business. I can't remember something that created that much excitement for the audiences."

While there's been nothing to suggest that another #Gentleminions craze is upon us (at least, not yet), it's clear that Minions have a cross generational appeal nowadays, and this undoubtedly helped "Despicable Me 4" make a big splash when it opened.

The Minions are universally funny

Looking at the highest-grossing 2024 movie releases worldwide, it's clear how important overseas success is to a film raking in the sort of money that makes studios greenlight sequels. Pretty much every film currently in the top ten that has a genuine shot at remaining there through the end of the year can attribute well over 50% of its gross to international ticket sales. As of this writing, "Despicable Me 4" is rapidly approaching that mark already, with about $108 million of its $230 million gross coming from foreign territories.

While captioning and audio dubbing play a large role in helping American movies find audiences outside the U.S., films that rely less on dialogue get a unique advantage by having a certain level of universality built into the storytelling. The "Despicable Me" movies have a secret weapon in that the Minions have their own made-up language. These slapstick characters need neither dub nor sub for their highly physical antics, removing any sort of barrier to children from any country finding them amusing. International audiences are widely aware of this from the previous films in the franchise, all of which enjoyed global success. You know what you're getting with the Minions, and many overseas viewers clearly raced to theaters to see them in action in  "Despicable Me 4" during its opening week.

Despicable Me 4 jumped on the superhero bandwagon

When the first "Despicable Me" came out in 2010, the cinema landscape was very different. Though the Marvel Cinematic Universe had yet to cement superheroes as the defining genre of the decade, it was curious that Illumination chose to mine their supervillain not from the traditions of Marvel and DC characters like Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom, but from the more adult super-spy tropes of the James Bond franchise. There were no alter-egos, iconic costumes, or superpowers — just evil lairs and delightfully obnoxious gadgets.

As the years went on and superheroes became more dominant, the "Despicable Me" franchise stuck to its guns, but it finally dipped into comic book territory with its latest installment. With the franchise's original audience continuing to age and "No Time To Die" officially writing 007 off as a current cultural touch point, it was more important now than ever for "Despicable Me" to pivot slightly. So how did the people behind the "Despicable Me" franchise finally jump on the superhero bandwagon? Well, basically, they gave the Minions superpowers.

Using a secret serum, Silas Ramsbottom of the Anti-Villain League turns a group of regular Minions into the Megaminions, who are loosely based on Marvel's Fantastic Four. "Their powers aren't exactly the Fantastic Four, but one thing that I like as a comparison to that group is the Fantastic Four powers are slightly goofy," co-director Chris Renaud told Entertainment Weekly. "The Invisible Woman, the fire guy, the rock guy, there's something about it. It works great as a comic, but the visual and graphic sensibility of those powers really lent themselves to the Minions."

The studio pulled some genius marketing stunts

The first two trailers for "Despicable Me 4" seem like they could be for two different movies. The initial trailer focuses almost exclusively on Steve Carell's Gru, re-introducing the audience to his three children, his wife Lucy, and revealing the presence of Gru Jr., the newborn child who isn't exactly fond of his father. In the second trailer, Gru only shows up in brief pictures or flashes of "archival" footage. Instead, the heroes of this trailer are the Minions: We see the Megaminions receive their superpowers so that they can protect Gru and his family from Will Ferrell's Maxime.

Some may see this lack of consistency as confusing, but it was likely an intentional maneuver by the studio to sell "Despicable Me 4" both as a continuation to the mothership series and a spiritual sequel to the "Minions" movies. These dual storylines so clearly communicated in the marketing helped Universal and Illumination attract fans of both series without seeming as though the new film would be going back through old territory.

Of course, we also have to mention the genius decision to team up with Sphere in Las Vegas: The face of Mega Jerry was projected on it, towering over Sin City like a gigantic grinning moon. For better or worse, it got people's attention. "This Minions MSG Sphere ad is an Orwellian nightmare," said Creative Bloq, but Twitter was loving it. "The sphere was made for Minions advertising lol," one user wrote. Who knows what other stunts we may see as "Despicable Me 4" continues its journey toward box office glory.