Most Hollywood movies are aimed squarely at the coveted "people with enough money for a movie" demographic, and they don't try to go more niche than that. But some popcorn flicks have gained surprising popularity with oddly specific groups of people, and you'd never the association at first glance. For example ...
Gay women growing up in the '90s didn't have a whole lot of wank material. It was pretty much Ellen DeGeneres, Xena the Warrior Princess (right?), and Ross' ex-wife on Friends. And then came Jack Dawson from Titanic, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Remember when we explained that Titanic is a much more intriguing movie if you pretend DiCaprio's character is secretly female? Well, many gay women seem to agree. Titanic started a phenomenon in the late '90s which historians refer to as "Leomania" -- teenage girls losing their minds over DiCaprio and his baby-faced good looks. And that sea of girls included a surprising amount of budding lesbians. As the (also-lesbian) writer of this article explains, young DiCaprio, with his soft features, bisexual wardrobe, and nonexistent facial hair, embodied a certain androgynous look that many queer women possess. Some young women became Leomaniacs without realizing that they were attracted to him not as a girlish boy, but as a boyish girl.
Titanic and DiCaprio provided a "safe" way for homosexual women to fantasize without the anxiety of fully coming out. They could see the kind of thing they were attracted to, but it was on display by a man, so it didn't create any sort of personal crisis to think "I am attracted to this." DiCaprio remains beloved by the lesbian community to this day -- or at least we assume so, judging by these videos of lesbian "lookalikes" reenacting his scenes.
While Disney's Frozen is beloved by children all over the world, Japan's obsession with the movie is something else. It's the country's third-highest-grossing movie of all time, and the highest-grossing 3D film ever. Nearly 20 percent of Frozen's box office returns came from Japan, and it's not like they have a shortage of animated films over there.
And oddly enough, the fact that Japanese society is horribly sexist might have something to do with this. In the U.S. and Europe, Disney tried to market the movie to boys, focusing on the male characters (remember, the first teaser was all about Olaf), and doing its best to hide the fact that it was a musical. In Japan, on the other hand, they sold it as a tale of female empowerment, playing up Anna and Elsa.
See, according to Disney Japan, it's Japanese women who "have the power to spur consumption and create a fad." But, whether Disney planned to or not, the allure went much deeper than that. The movie's main song, "Let It Go," became an anthem for Japanese women blowing off steam at karaoke bars, especially after putting up with rampant sexism in the workplace. Not one but three versions of the song were released in Japan, two of which reached the top of the charts. Hell, the movie was such a phenomenon that a lingerie company even manufactured a Frozen-inspired bra that changes color when you bump boobs with a friend. Just like ... in ... Frozen?
Something must be very different in translation.
The Simpsons has been a mainstay on TV for so long that it's easy to forget how edgy and controversial it was in its early years. An actual president of the United States (the first Bush) even used the show as an encapsulation of American moral decay, and an audience of fiercely religious people applauded him for it.
Today, The Simpsons has won over a huge contingent of churchgoing fans, including the Vatican itself. A 2001 cover story in Christianity Today found that, after "Jesus," "Ned Flanders" was the name most often associated with the word "Christian" on high school and college campuses. Flanders was, mathematically speaking, the most visible evangelical figure known to non-evangelicals. And that's just neat-a-rino, as far as churches are concerned. Numerous religious leaders quoted in the article praise the show for the mainstream example it sets, with one Christian philosophy professor calling Ol' Painty Can Ned "television's most effective exponent of a Christian life well-lived."
Other Christian columnists have praised The Simpsons for delving into deceptively complex religious dilemmas in relatable, non-preachy ways. "Religious" TV characters are so often portrayed as the stereotypical moral compass, or as an unreasonable foil to the main character's logical nature. On The Simpsons, the family engages in faith the way the vast majority of American families do -- as a slightly annoying weekly ritual they go through out of obligation, but something which is still there for them when they need it. Also, they once tackled the God-fearing man's most ruinous crisis of faith:
South Koreans love spy movies, but their most beloved character isn't James Bond or Jason Bourne -- it's Harry Hart, Colin Firth's character in the Kingsman movies. The first film became South Korea's #1 R-rated foreign film ever, and the second one did the same thing, minus the "foreign" part.
It might all be down to timing. The first Kingsman movie came out right after a series of videos of rich Koreans being abusive to the general public went viral. In one instance, the daughter of the chairman of Korean Air blew her fuse after being served nuts in a plastic bag. She yelled at the crew, made them kneel in front of her, and delayed the flight just to kick out the chief steward. Since Kingsman is about a working-class lad becoming a secret agent, Fox Korea decided to take advantage of the national mood by releasing a series of viral videos of people going vigilante on rich jerk-offs. Like this one, coincidentally set on an airplane.
So the movie's success was partly due to everyone's animosity toward rich people ... and partly due to everyone's desire to be like them. Or dress like them, anyway. The success of the movie brought about a 64 percent spike in double-breasted suit sales for one Korean department store, and there's even a new "Kingsman" suit shop that uses the movie's logo and catchphrase, "Manners Maketh Man." (You'd think "respecting copyright" would count as "manners.")
In Pixar's Inside Out, emotions are represented as separate, unique people all squatting in the same brain. But while most people see that premise as a fun excuse to keep John Ratzenberger employed, those struggling with kids on the autism spectrum found it a godsend.
See, kids on the spectrum can have a difficult time understanding that other people's emotions can change on a moment's notice. A non-autistic person understands that someone can be mad that you ate all the cookies today, but somehow still love you tomorrow, while children on the spectrum sometimes struggle with that concept. That's why many families have found that Inside Out helps kids on the spectrum visualize the concepts of emotion, and even apply them to their daily lives.
This idea has caught on in the academic world as well. The University of Indiana's Resource for Autism declared that the movie has a "natural potential for teaching social thinking in individuals with autism spectrum disorders." The Autism Society even gave the directors an award for their service. Basically, this silly cartoon is helping some young people understand what it means to be human. We should probably be thankful that Pixar didn't turn that cute elephant into a violent anarchist.
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It's hard out there for millionaire purveyors of garbage pizza.