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Morbius Re-Release: What Did You Think Would Happen

Elizabeth Technology July 5, 2022

Memes are beginning to shape the perception of movies in a way movie studios can’t cope with.

Memes Rule The World

You’ve probably heard of ‘The Snyder Cut’. Back when Justice League was being filmed, Zack Snyder had to step away from filming due to family troubles, and he wasn’t able to return in time to finish directing. The movie we got as a result could have been something great, but lacked polish and vision. Fans online demanded the Snyder cut! The Snyder cut would have been great! The studio, realizing the could capitalize off this meme without losing face, partnered up with Snyder to make this happen. Fans got what they wanted, over online streaming services, but the Snyder cut ended up being five hours. Online, people seemed to like it a lot! But was it actually good? Or was it better only because they’d written five hours of script and tried to cram it into half that for a theater release? It was a poorly conceived project, and needed a re-write. In a world without memes, they wouldn’t have gotten away with re-framing the project parameters to turn a movie into a show.

Compared to the original shortened version, where character development and breathing room were cut to fit, the five hours of movie pulled out of the Snyder cut was better, but still suffered from some of the same problems Batman V. Superman did. By having a direct comparison, and by giving fans what they’d asked for, the Snyder cut of Justice League earned a higher rating than it probably actually deserved and would have gotten if it came out by itself without all the baggage. Once you, a fan, has asked for something, it would be rude to say you didn’t like it, right? A similar meme led to a very hideous Sonic from the Sonic movie getting a total overhaul into a much cuter Sonic, and people pushed each other to see it because the studio had gone through tremendous effort to make their movie watchable. The least you can do is go watch it, right?

Memes played a crucial role in ‘fixing’ both of these movies, giving fans a voice and letting DC and Sega know that the path they’d started down was not one they could continue on.

However, you can’t be ‘in’ on the joke if you don’t have any goodwill around your brand. People like Sega, and they liked Zack Snyder. DC has stumbled a few times since the release of Justice League, rusting out fans’ goodwill with controversies like cutting Ray Fisher (who played Cyborg) for speaking out about poor treatment of the character, but keeping Ezra Miller (who plays Flash) despite Miller assaulting more than one person in Hawaii while filming.

DC doesn’t have much goodwill left from non-fans. They stop listening to memes when those memes might cost them money. Sony, however, does not have their experience. This is what lead to ‘Morbin’ Time’ and a thousand-theater re-release nobody actually wanted.

Morbin’ Time

The first meme to refer to ‘morbin’ time’ came off a tweet that said you, the reader, couldn’t say that it wasn’t his catchphrase because the reader didn’t see the movie, either. Immediately, this should have been a hint to Sony that it was funnier if you hadn’t seen the movie. The perception of Morbius was a lot like the perception of the Green Lantern movie, except in a future where people know the Green Lantern movie isn’t good.

 “I loved it when he said ‘It’s Morbin’ Time!’ and morbed all over those guys.” “Stand Back, I’m beginning to Morb!” “What are we, some kinda Morbius?” “True Morbheads know what it means to morb and be morbless.” Et cetera. On Tumblr especially, the point of being a Morbhead was that you hadn’t seen the movie. You could ‘morb’ someone by flashing them with a very compressed, very pixelated two-minute gif of the entire movie. I got morbed on Tumblr and TikTok. People were streaming Morbius illegally on Twitch, a livestreaming platform usually used for gaming. Pirating it so you could show it to friends against their will was funny. Morbing someone was a punchline. You didn’t want to watch the movie. Sincerely watching movie outside of those gifs would ruin the fun of not knowing he didn’t morb all over those guys. Worse was paying for the privilege to do so after it was clear the movie was just another trash film.

Unfortunately, Sony misunderstood that the memes were laughing at them, not with them, and attempted to re-release the movie and double-dip on their opening weekend. Their first weekend was fine and made back the movie’s budget (meaning it didn’t actually bomb, despite the memes), but this second, undeserved re-release only earned them an additional 85,000$ across 1000 theaters in the US. It also soured people on actually watching it even more. Would they have done this without the memes? Absolutely not.

People who were interested would have seen it the first go-round. Online moviegoers realized how terrible of a precedent allowing Morbius to succeed on it’s second weekend would set. Companies could make a bad movie, and instead of fixing the issues that lead to the bad movie, they could instead manufacture memes about how bad their movie is, generate hype online for it, and then re-release it for people to laugh at how bad it is, at full price, of course. This would reward studios for producing lackluster content and rushing production. Morbius is alright, a little cheesy, but not the worst superhero movie, according to reviews – when Sony so much as thought they were in on the joke, the meme turned cold and cringe, and they lost all of that organic marketing they could have watched roll in on streaming services, rentals, and dumb merch. All to re-release a movie ‘nobody even saw’.

The Idea of the Movie

Morbius is one of those characters that’s just sort of there. He’s not one of the big, popular, everyone-knows-and-likes him kind of characters by default the way Spiderman is. Still, being a relatively unknown side character in today’s day and age is not a movie’s death sentence. Few knew who Iron Man was before Robert Downey Jr. turned him into one of the most well-known Marvel characters of all time in a movie that most critics expected to bomb. Instead, it set off a chain reaction that led to one of the biggest, most profitable, most-beloved and well-known cinematic universes the world has ever seen.

It didn’t seem preposterous that Dr. Morbius, a vampiric character that’s often pitted against Spiderman and co. could eek out a worthwhile movie and set himself up for a sequel and some merch. Unfortunately, the movie was nothing special, and the actor playing Morbius himself wasn’t helping matters.

The Guy in the Movie

Jared Leto has had good roles that he played well. He was in American Psycho, Blade Runner 2044, and a handful of other big movies. Unfortunately, he became better-known for his role in 2016’s Suicide Squad, another superhero movie about a handful of side characters that was poorly received by critics and the internet. Leto’s idea of the Joker, to use a phrase I stole online, is like a pizza cutter – all edge, no point. He’s kooky and cringey, and has a set of lines straight off of Reddit’s r/ImFourteenAndThisIsDeep. The movie failed because the script was really bad and had too many characters competing for screentime, a common DC issue, but Leto’s Joker stood out as one of the worst parts of the movie, remembered alongside iconic lines like “What are we, some kinda… Suicide Squad?” and “This is Katana. I would recommend not getting killed by her, her sword traps the souls of her victims.” (Are you seeing the setup to “It’s Morbin’ Time” in these lines?)

To make matters worse, Jared was also notoriously creepy and rude to his costars for the sake of ‘method acting’, going so far as to send Margot Robbie a rat, which then had to be re-homed because it’s a living animal and not a prop. He couldn’t seem to distinguish between press that said he’d gone too far in a good way and press that said he’d gone too far in a bad way, either, which egged him on in interviews after the fact, further solidifying his reputation as a jerk online. The poor performance in the movie made many people question what Jared actually thought method acting was – are you turning Jared Leto into the Joker, or are you turning the Joker into Jared Leto’s Joker?

Aside from that, Jared’s got some weird thing going on with a bunch of young women and an island that he’s kind of hinting might or might not be a cult, but not in a way that couldn’t be plausibly denied.

And On Morbius

Now that I’ve told you all about Jared’s weird behavior to get into character as the Joker, you’ll be ecstatic to know he did it again with Morbius, and used a combination of crutches and wheelchairs to adapt to the character. That in and of itself is actually good method-acting: playing a disabled character accurately as an able-bodied actor means putting yourself in their wheels or crutches, experiencing the world as they do. You have to learn to hold your weight differently, at the very least. You learn things like motion-activated sinks and sinks that are too high aren’t mobility-aid friendly. Heavy pull doors suuuck. These are things you don’t think about until you have to live with them. Unfortunately, Leto took this to such an extreme that filming would come to a halt as he used the crutches to get to the bathroom and back, taking up to 45 minutes to do so.

 To strike a deal, the director had someone backstage wheel him to and fro in a wheelchair so the bathroom breaks would stop eating up so much time, which is where it became bad method acting. Jared was sort of parodying what an able-bodied man thinks crutch-users have to go through to get to the bathroom, not actually experiencing it, because the set has to stop because he’s the star and he can take however long he wants. He never had to learn to hurry on the crutches like real people often do, or like someone like Dr. Morbius would have had to, or how to actually handle things like opening doors and washing hands, or using mixed physical aides to do all of this in a reasonable time frame. Instead, he can flail through it, doing it the long way, instead of doing it the way crutch users actually do it. Because he’s Jared Leto and he’s the star. Thus, he’s not portraying a man on crutches accurately.

All of this is a lot of work for very little payoff – Morbius is a movie about a doctor who cures his own illness by becoming a vampire, so between you watching him decline and then recover, the part of the movie where he’s on crutches is maybe a 6th of the film at best.

The Movie Itself

The movie itself was nothing special. It’s a Sony movie. Fans have spent a long time watching Sony movies about superheroes miss the mark, so viewers are wary. People who liked Superman were willing to watch Man of Steel, but Morbius had very little built-in fanbase who’d go see it no matter what.

All this said, Morbius is allegedly fine, but not something you’d go out of your way to see unless the movie you were actually going to was sold out and nothing else was close in timing. Jared Leto delivers a passable if dramatic performance, the movie has good action scenes that are almost comically splattered with CG effects, the plot makes sense, it’s fine. Not good, not Iron Man or Wonder Woman, but not Batman V. Superman or Justice League.

It did fine too. It made its money back. But because it wasn’t the huge blockbuster comic book movies tend to be, and a lot of comic nerds avoided a movie they’d normally watch because it was from Sony, there were rumblings online that ‘nobody had seen it’, which started the memes. The movie itself could have gone down as one of Sony’s more passable movies if the studio hadn’t tried to hijack the memes into advertising.


Using Memes to Market? You Better do it Right

Elizabeth Uncategorized August 9, 2021

The era where anyone could make a meme and guarantee laughs is gone. Nowadays, marketing experts are finding themselves trying to make memes for teens and young adults without offending or confusing the rest of their potential audience.

Still, sometimes they do a good job, and the line between naturally sourced and artificial memes becomes blurry.

Artificially Created Memes

Firstly, let me define what I mean by ‘artificial memes’. A normal, “organic” meme is normally made by someone unaffiliated with the brand of said meme. For example, the team behind Among Us is not making the majority of the memes about Among Us, and any memes they do make are source-able right back to their Twitter or webpage. Ordinary, crowd-sourced memes dominate Among Us’s meme presence online, and the team’s contributions are welcome because it’s apparent that the memes are meant for fun, not advertising.

And then there’s the opposite: artificially made memes are memes that were made by someone within the brand the meme is affiliated with, and they try to hide the meme’s source so it seems like a natural, ordinary meme. There’s nothing wrong with a company flooding their own page with their own memes. That’s completely fine. It’s their account, whatever.

However, if those memes aren’t good or are too bland, most people recognize them as marketing first and memery second. It won’t ‘catch on’, and people won’t start creating and circulating their own, which is usually the whole point of artificial memes. Some companies mistakenly believe that by supplying memes to third-party Twitter accounts (and paying them to post the memes) that the memes will catch on that way. This assumes that the account is the problem, not mediocre, unfunny, or out-of-touch memes. Additionally, in an era where money ruins art and jokes, people generally recognize advert memes unless they’re really well done – they’re already primed to spot them and hate them almost on instinct. If they were good, they would have survived on the real account’s page. All advertising, no fun.

There’s a certain anti-corporation bend to most meme consumption. “I came to laugh, not to be advertised to. Silence, Brand.” If an organization really wants to seed their own memes, they have to do it discreetly. They have to hit the right notes. The era where a brand could just scatter-shot poor quality memes all over their own Twitter and guarantee a hit is gone.


Lil Nas X


Lil Nas X got it. He had (and still has) his finger on the pulse of Twitter. He memed on his own Top 40 song leading up to its release, Old Town Road. If you saw memes about it, that was no mistake, or happy accident – he did a lot of that himself. He’d spend hours a day just trying to pump up his presence online, using his content in hot formats. Eventually, they caught on. This is the ultimate goal of marketing with memes – people latch on to an idea the creator had and run with it, and then it begins circulating by itself.

It helped that the music was good and the man is funny, and able to tap directly into hot Twitter memes and accounts as they appear. Old Town Road was catchy, but campy! It was pop-country, too, and tapped into a segment of the population that didn’t hear that much of it. Twangy guitar and Billy Ray Cyrus with a hip hop vibe to it sounded very fresh and interesting, even to people who didn’t like pop-country.

Hard work. Good content. Fresh memes. It all worked in his favor.


Bird Box


The movie was alright. There were holes in it, but for a Netflix Original movie, it was decent. That being said, there were a lot of memes being made about it. A lot. A suspicious amount. Some of which used formats that were already dying out by the time they appeared on meme Twitters. Where Lil Nas X is posting himself, and creating memes himself, Bird Box had a marketing team trying to recreate what 15-30 year-olds find funny online.

It had moderate success; Angelina Jolie looks goofy in a blindfold, and that imagery is part of what made even this middling attempt work. They weren’t trying to recreate jokes written in the script, they were trying to meme angles of the movie that weren’t funny on their own – and a lot of the time, that’s how memes happen! Random scenes, lines taken out of context, funny expressions – still-image memes are rarely about jokes the movie made, they’re usually jokes about the movie. The campaign only felt fake because the movie has mixed reviews, so it’s unbelievable that this many memes would be made about it by that many dedicated fans… but they had to really pump up their online presence to sell it, so that’s a flaw of the method, not the memes themselves.

Hard work. Mediocre content. Decent memes. It worked out well, but was eventually recognized as a campaign and not an organic movement.


Fast and Furious


So, funny thing – when people joke about bad movies, they joke about how bad they are. Or they sarcastically say it was life-changing. “Sharknado is a cinematic masterpiece”, that’s what they say. They don’t say anything about the insides of a bad or mediocre movie, because that would mean that they actually watched the movie. Most memes for these ones only have information gleaned from the trailer.

Fast and Furious 9’s marketing department has obviously tried to dump memes into the meme ecosystem to boost marketing. The problem is that the memes don’t match ordinary meme formats, or even act as good jokes. Dom says “family” a lot. And? So what? He doesn’t say it enough for it to be a gag. The memes are attempting to reinforce an idea within the movie, not use it as a joke, which is not what memes do.

Memes are often transformative -but they’re usually transformative in a way that’s not to the show or movie’s benefit.

Secondly, F9 spoiled it’s own memes. Back when F6 came out, people joked about them going to the moon to somehow beat gang violence on Earth. You can’t seriously use suggestions from memes without making them tongue-in-cheek, and F9 didn’t do that. They honestly, intentionally, completely straight-facedly, went to outer space. F9 jumped the shark. How can you make fun of something that wasn’t joking, but knew that what it was doing was stupid? They knew going to space was stupid. They did it anyway, in some sort of pseudo-irony that makes memeing on it unfunny.

Anyway, the foundation for their memes is inherently weak. While it may seem nonsensical which scenes in what movies get memed and which don’t, there’s a complex system to the humor that sorts some memes to the top and others into the trash. Trying to isolate it and identify it is possible… but marketing experts get hung up on ‘understanding’ it above actually making it funny. Anything that people without Twitter could understand is immediately too bland for the regulars on Twitter.

Lack of research. Lack of content. Stale memes. It was recognized as a campaign immediately.

People were confused about Bird Box, but they were downright annoyed by the F9 memes!


Sonic The Hedgehog


Sonic’s original design was so completely awful that CGI artists had to work around the clock to ‘fix it’ and replace him with a cuter, less uncanny Sonic. The script didn’t have to change, but a totally digital character had to be replaced with another, differently proportioned digital character. That is a nightmare. And yet, the team pulled through after some delays and a lot of very long weeks, and the Sonic Movie came out right before quarantine set in across the US.

Sonic didn’t set out to make memes. Memes happened about Sonic.

Good memes praising the studio, or memes neutrally making fun of the old design scattered Twitter. The conditions to achieve such a positive campaign are very rare! It’s much harder to make fun of a team that’s genuinely trying than it is to make fun of a team that’s clearly phoning it in, and Sonic came across as earnest enough to earn its underdog story and the memes that came with it. F9 could never admit going to space was a bad idea. Even if it did, it would never redo the scene. Sonic The Hedgehog was willing to admit that the first design was a mistake, and spent a lot of time and effort fixing it so that audiences would like it more. Memes were poking fun at a bad initial decision, not the movie or the franchise itself.

Hard work, on the right things. Good content. Good memes.