Can Collectible Popcorn Buckets Save Movie Theaters? – Eater

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Gimmicky popcorn buckets, like the ones for “Dune: Part Two” and “Despicable Me 4,” are part of a new promotional playbook for movie theaters
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I didn’t realize Despicable Me 4 was happening until I saw the popcorn bucket: a “baby popcorn carrier” that will allow its wearer to hold popcorn hands-free, while also creating the illusion of a Minion jumper and Gru’s signature scarf. This is presumably a tie-in to the fact that the new movie features Gru’s newborn son, Gru Jr., plus, I’m guessing, more Minion antics. I have somehow managed to avoid seeing any movies involving Minions and yet, now I know this, thanks to the picture of the popcorn carrier that’s making the rounds online.
Commemorative popcorn buckets are no new thing. AMC has been selling themed metal collector’s buckets for years, and bulky, limited edition novelty buckets are hyped among Disney World fans, with guides dedicated to sharing the park’s recent offerings. What does seem new, however, is the surge of maximalist, memeable popcorn buckets and mainstream consumer interest in them — you don’t have to be a Disney die-hard to encounter one. According to Google Trends, search interest in the term “popcorn bucket” went from basically negligible between 2004 and 2022 to slightly more appealing in 2022 and 2023 to hugely, shockingly popular in early 2024.
The ‘DESPICABLE ME 4’ popcorn holder has been revealed. pic.twitter.com/PYk9o97OjT
We can thank the sandworm for that. AMC’s Dune: Part Two popcorn bucket, which began to circulate online in January, was an instant sensation. The lid, which was meant to look like the maw of the franchise’s famous Shai-Hulud, was sphincter-esque with long bristles for the worm’s teeth. It inspired headlines like “The Internet Fears the Dune 2 Dick-Trap Popcorn Bucket” and a dedicated skit on Saturday Night Live. But maybe most importantly, it got people talking about Dune, even if they hadn’t previously been fans.
The Dune popcorn bucket is part of a new promotional playbook. Accompanying 2023’s flashy Barbie, AMC offered pink toy Corvettes for holding popcorn. The same year, for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, AMC also sold $30 Ant-Man helmets, the tops of which opened up to reveal popcorn inside. Cinemark presented popcorn containers in the form of large blue beetles with lifting wings for Blue Beetle. When Taylor Swift’s Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour hit theaters, it was accompanied by its own popcorn buckets. For Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, also in March of this year, Regal offered “ghost trap” popcorn buckets with hinged, battery-powered doors that sprung open and closed, presumably for catching ghosts.
With Deadpool & Wolverine hitting theaters next month, the actor Ryan Reynolds recently shared a promotional video of a popcorn bucket that requires requires you to stick a hand into Wolverine’s open mouth. Reynolds wrote on Instagram, “Years from now they will look back at 2024 as the year the War of the Popcorn Buckets began.”
Movie theaters, which were on the downturn even before the pandemic, are now attempting to claw back audiences. And movie theatergoing is on the uptick, although some surveys suggest that theaters will simply never go back to what they were pre-COVID. With revenue down, movie theaters are simply trying to maximize their profit margins. Boxoffice editor Daniel Loria told the Wrap earlier this year: “Moviegoers are showing a greater willingness to spend more at theaters, so why not see how far they’re willing to spend?”
Indeed, AMC told IndieWire last year that it sees growing potential in “strategic in-theatre merchandise sales” as a result of the success of its collectable popcorn vessels, which generally cost around $30 and often include the cost of the popcorn itself. (But there can still be surprises: AMC’s Barbie corvette, which included both popcorn and a Barbie doll, cost $65.)
A post shared by Ryan Reynolds (@vancityreynolds)
When you can watch almost anything at home, the gimmicky popcorn bucket is also a reason to actually go to the theater. If you made the effort to go to the movies instead of sitting on the couch — to maybe even dress up, as people did for Barbie — you might want to commemorate it with a souvenir. And of course, there’s no underestimating American consumers’ endless appetite for cheap plastic stuff.
Some of the appeal lingers long after the release. As of this writing, Dune popcorn buckets, sandworm lid included, are listed between $80 and $300 on eBay. And while active listings are often inaccurate gauges of an item’s value, recent sales show they are, in fact, pulling in around $50-$130.
However, value is ultimately beside the point. At their essence, the popcorn buckets are a wink and a nudge that a movie is in on the jokes you’re inevitably going to tell. In the case of Dune: Part Two, the absurdity of the popcorn bucket helped inject the otherwise serious, complicated franchise with light meme fodder — an approach that the movie’s marketing team also leaned into through short-form videos. There’s certainly much to discuss around Dune’s big, heady themes and Denis Villeneuve’s directing, but let’s be honest: It’s the dumb stuff that gets people interested and keeps them talking.
Months after Dune: Part Two’s release, it’s not the cinematography, as good as it was, that I’m rehashing mentally, but the memes (everything spawned by Austin Butler’s gruff “may thy knife chip and shatter,” in particular). I’m still thinking about the logistics of sticking my hand down a Shai-Hulud to get my popcorn, and how gross those bristles must be after all that butter brushes through them. To be memed is to be remembered, and the movie theaters know that.
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