Group of cheerful people laughing while watching movie in cinema.
Zoran Zeremski | Istock | Getty Images
Gen Z has been an enigma to the entertainment industry for years. But now there’s more insight into what they like.
The short answer: Minions and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, according to new data from decision intelligence company Morning Consult.
The long answer: Generation Z fits into some of the same molds as previous young generations, namely sharing a love for comedy and horror, but this current demographic is also very conscious about how they spend their time, preferring shorter episodes of TV and shorter feature films. They also spend less time consuming news from traditional media sources.
Aged 13 to 25, this cohort grew up with the internet and social media and was set to inherit a strong economy with a near record-low unemployment rate.
Then the pandemic hit.
Studios were already struggling to reach this tech-savvy group before Covid-19 shuttered movie theaters and pushed audiences toward streaming options and social media entertainment like TikTok. Now, Hollywood is scrambling to not only ramp up production, but also to adapt to this younger generation of viewers. And it will be vital for showbiz to understand the generation’s tastes as it matures.
“It might not be too much of a surprise that Gen Z is all over social media,” said Saleah Blancaflor, the business of entertainment reporter at Morning Consult. “Our Morning Consult research found that the majority of Gen Z hear about upcoming releases from people posting about them on social media.”
Blancaflor pointed to the “#GentleMinions” trend, which gained popularity on TikTok during this year’s release of Universal and Illumination’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” as a prime example of how Gen Z hears about film releases and can rally to drive box office ticket sales.
The trend saw groups of young moviegoers dress in formal attire to attend showings of the film. The film grossed $107 million domestically on its opening weekend, with people aged 13 to 24 accounting for 56% of box office receipts, according to PostTrak data from Comscore.
“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is the sequel to the 2015 film, “Minions,” and spin-off/prequel to the main “Despicable Me” film series.
The Despicable Me franchise that includes “Rise of Gru” has a larger fan base among American Gen Zers than any other entertainment property, according to Morning Consult.
Next come Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and then Universal’s “Jurassic Park.” Netflix’s “Stranger Things” is sixth, and the DC Universe, owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, ranks 10th.
Gen Z has grown up with the Minions. The first “Despicable Me” was released a little more than 12 years ago.
“A lot of the properties that are mentioned in the survey that we did tend to be a little more popular with millennials,” Blancaflor explained. “Lord of the Rings and Star Wars were a little bit lower on the list than Minions or Jumanji. Those films, and even a lot of the Marvel movies, came out a little bit before Gen Z was starting to come to age.”
This likely means Universal is on the right track greenlighting more Minions content. “Despicable Me 4” is slated for release in July 2024.
In addition to enjoying comedy content, Morning Consult determined that Gen Z likes horror movies significantly more than the general public.
The firm’s data shows that 1 in 3 Gen Z adults saw a horror movie in theaters this fall, a significant turnout considering Hollywood studios and movie theaters have found it difficult to bring back audiences on a consistent basis since the pandemic.
“Gen Z is becoming a more reliable audience,” Blancaflor wrote in her report on the cohort. “Particularly, for scary stuff.”
She noted that recent original horror releases like Sony Pictures’ “Barbarbian” and Paramount Pictures’ “Smile” have surpassed expectations at the domestic box office on the strength of this younger audience.
“Message to studios: more horror, comedy and horror-comedy Gen Zers’ taste in genres is versatile,” Blancaflor wrote. “They want films and TV shows to scare them almost as much as they want them to make them laugh.”
As Hollywood looks to lure moviegoers, particularly younger ones, back to theaters, Morning Consult suggests they put marketing dollars toward advertising on platforms like TikTok where Gen Z lives.
Data shows the majority of the generation hears about upcoming film and television shows from social media posts. More than half of Gen Zers saw, read or heard about the #GentleMinions trend on TikTok and were encouraged to see the film in cinemas and record themselves dressed up in suits and sunglasses.
Similar results were seen for the social media marketing of “Smile,” which saw hired actors attending televised MLB games, among other locations, and giving creepy smiles in view of cameras.
Additionally, apps like TikTok have shaped how much Gen Z wants to spend watching TV or sitting through a film, Morning Consult reported.
While prestige TV ushered in the age of lengthy TV shows, like hour-plus-long episodes of “Game of Thrones” on HBO, and blockbusters have evolved to run in excess of three hours, Gen Z is balking at this trend.
Gen Z wants TV episodes to be 45 minutes or less, Morning Consult reports, with 35% of respondents calling it an ideal runtime and 34% preferring 30-minute episodes. For films, Gen Z said they prefer them to fall between two and two and a half hours in length.
While some streaming services, like Netflix, have experimented with show length, others have course-corrected too far, Blancaflor said. She pointed to Quibi, the failed short-form entertainment app that tried to make 10-minute episodes of television.
While Quibi may have understood that younger audiences enjoy more condensed content, its execution was lacking, Blancaflor said, leading the app to shut down after just a few months.
“How this generation spends their time is important and precious to them,” she said.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.