On the surface, the weird and viral love for Netflix’s recent movie Bird Box doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Sure, the memes it has inspired have spread all throughout the internet, and the #BirdBoxChallenge has come close to putting people in the hospital. But these trends aren’t really all that connected to the post-apocalyptic horror movie itself — at least until you look closer.
On top of that, for many people, the interest doesn’t feel honest. There’s been substantial conspiracy theorizing that Netflix somehow gamed people into watching a just-okay movie (albeit one starring Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock) by flooding social media with Netflix-orchestrated Bird Box memes. The theory holds that Netflix created bots or paid people on Twitter to spread memes about the movie — in essence, to create FOMO that would nudge more people to watch it. (Netflix had no official comment on the meme or the film’s success, but a company representative told Mashable that “the meme content happened on its own and spread organically.”)
Seeing everyone’s Bird Box meme makes me want to watch the movie asap .. I feel left out
— ♕DinahJane (@dinahjane97) December 28, 2018
Though that conspiracy has been debunked, the virality of it indisputably worked in Netflix’s favor: The network said that 45 million people streamed Bird Box during the holiday week following its December 21 debut, making it the most successful Netflix film launch to date. Bird Box also became something of a social media phenomenon, because as the memes made the rounds, they seemed to simultaneously generate more interest in the memes and authentic interest in the movie from people who wanted to watch it solely to enjoy the memes.
Me showing everyone Birdbox memes. pic.twitter.com/oTyMyer4Jz
— Vince Metz (@Vincent_vanGrow) December 31, 2018
Satisfaction when you finally watch birdbox and understand the memes, jokes and discussion surrounding it.#BirdBox
— Paul (@poeticmindofP) December 30, 2018
The buzz around Bird Box has now stayed so viral for almost two weeks — an extremely long time in internet terms. That makes the film arguably Netflix’s buzziest production since its hit TV series Stranger Things — so much so that when Kim Kardashian finally got around to watching it on New Year’s Day, she met with an inevitable ‘get with the times’ reaction from fellow supercelebrity (and Twitter powerhouse) Chrissy Teigen:
kimberly like everyone in the entire world
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) January 2, 2019
All of this is fun, but it might be baffling considering that the memes have been going strong for well over a week and show no sign of slowing down. In fact, many people feel that the memes have outstripped the popularity of the movie itself — quite an accomplishment considering that it stars Sandra Bullock. (However, the memes have also thrown assumptions about Sandra Bullock’s recognizability into question!)
Are Bird Box memes just a quirky but ultimately meaningless internet distraction? Where did they come from and why are they still here?
The answers to these queries, and more, lie within.
Bird Box is about our impending planetary doom. Bird Box memes are mostly about blindfolds.
Bird Box is about a mom, played by Sandra Bullock, who’s desperately fighting to protect herself and her two kids in an apocalyptic near-future where monsters make people kill themselves by sending them suicidal visions. (Yes, really.) To survive, characters must stay blindfolded at nearly all times. It’s a popcorn flick with strong performances from Bullock, John Malkovich, and Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes.
Although the premise is more than a little silly, it works in tandem with A Quiet Place to nicely bookend 2018: two post-apocalyptic horror films, one opening and one closing out the year, that involve monsters effectively disabling one of humans’ five senses.
By forcing their characters to adapt and survive, respectively, without speech and without sight, both films tackle a growing cultural awareness that humanity is stumbling, deaf and blind, toward a global climate collapse that many of us feel completely out of our depth to handle. (Others have theorized that the monsters in Bird Box are metaphors for everything from Satan to Twitter and social media and parenting.)
Bird Box memes, however, are mainly just blindfold jokes. No, really.
Only Bird Box meme I’ll share pic.twitter.com/7DUAoDbQI8
— Corbin Forest (@CorbinForest) December 30, 2018
The majority of Bird Box memes that aren’t blindfold jokes are responses to the story itself. But on some level, all of the memes are responses to the story. A good way to think about Bird Box memes is that they are kind of like the “This is fine” dog in action. (Did I just memeify a meme? Yes. Take deep breaths.) But in all seriousness, these memes react to Bird Box in ways that are explicitly about sidestepping the movie’s terror and apocalyptic drama to humorously perform denial about all the terror and drama.
— Adam Szachacz (@Wallzers) December 30, 2018
To understand what else the memes are doing, though, we have to take a look at the memes themselves.
Bird Box Memes: A Compendium
There are four main classes of Bird Box meme. Get ready, ’cause we’re breaking ’em down.
1) Bird Box memes that react to the storyline itself.
This class of Bird Box memes is pretty basic: they serve to comment on the premise and story of the film. Most, predictably, are about reacting to events in the plot. (Vague spoilers below!)
girl when she was just waiting for sandy to choose her as the sacrificial boat captain in birdbox: pic.twitter.com/KvzQtDt3tp
— buknoy! (@mflburgos) December 22, 2018
Gary: look it’s beautiful
— rebeca ✧･ﾟ: *✧･ﾟ:* (@uwueoeoeo) December 27, 2018
— Sierra_Ari’s World (@ariisboss855) December 25, 2018
— TéDonn (@LaPharaoh_) December 25, 2018
2) Bird Box memes that use the blindfold imagery to joke about selective sight
This is an irresistible and widespread version of the meme, so much so that Michael Harriot wrote an entire tongue-in-cheek post at The Root about how the movie is a metaphor for white people’s selective refusal to see racism. The applications of the blindfolded metaphor are endless.
— Josh (@hatershatejosh) December 25, 2018
This is Chris Webber watching the game he’s commentating about pic.twitter.com/XzsBlTyxs6
— sreekar (@sreekyshooter) December 28, 2018
One of the most popular variants of this meme takes the form of joking about the kinds of things that would propel the meme-maker to take off their blindfold and look, when tempted by the vague nightmare monsters.
Creature in #Birdbox : It’s me Beyoncé
— John Domineh (@JDomineh) December 25, 2018
Bird Box demon: They givin away free Tacos w. Guacamole
— $ (@Jstlivinbbyy) December 28, 2018
bird box voices: look it’s a buzzfeed quiz that’ll tell you what your eye color is based off your favorite desert
— EKAT (@ekatwherley) December 31, 2018
Demon: Tom ain’t got no shirt on
— Quirkless_with_No_Magic (@ImCooL_LiKe_DaT) December 27, 2018
The more typical form of memeing — which would involve using ideas and images from the movie to engage with other aspects of society — hasn’t gotten nearly as much play from the Bird Box fandom thus far outside of these very popular iterations. But there’s a smattering of other forms of this meme out there as well:
How I am responding to men in 2019
— Martina (@LilladyGA) December 26, 2018
[birdbox deleted scene]
SANDRA BULLOCK: welp, kids, we might as well do a piñata
— Justin Staggs (@Staggfilms) January 4, 2019
3) Bird Box memes that make the inevitable comparison to Hush and A Quiet Place
Hush (2016), A Quiet Place (2018), and Bird Box all deprive characters of one of their five senses. In Hush, the main character can’t hear. In A Quiet Place, one main character can’t hear and the rest can’t speak. In Bird Box, each of the characters has to selectively blind themselves. So it only makes sense to meme them all together.
Bird box, Hush, and a Quiet Place be like pic.twitter.com/M64Pr09yS7
— tmtm (@he_tmtm) December 27, 2018
— raymart (@reymerts) December 26, 2018
The most popular iteration of this meme combines all three movie premises with a fourth image serving as the punchline — like these, in which the punch line comes, respectively, from a viral Vine kid, and a viral Wife Swap kid:
can’t swim pic.twitter.com/peKu7XYYNm
— maddi (@MadisonGuess) December 27, 2018
can’t stop me! i’m packin’ my bags, i had a very calm day until this little bump in the road comes and she be’s sarcastic! she’s gunna try n stop me but she can’t run in those lil high heels! You’ll never see this face AGAIN! pic.twitter.com/VnvAHVbDda
— Madison Harper (@maddyharper16) December 30, 2018
A few popular versions utilize jokes from the Fueled By Ramen bands My Chemical Romance and Panic! At the Disco, respectively:
You can’t swim, you can’t dance and you don’t know karate pic.twitter.com/YRCOaVSEgK
— Liam (@Liams_Dead) December 28, 2018
can’t take the kid from the fight, take the fight from the kid pic.twitter.com/UxHx3cBkon
— Pat (@patfriick) January 1, 2019
Many Bird Box memes also rope in Netflix’s other holiday release, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and its choose-your-own-adventure conceit.
— lauren (@rolivia_svu) December 28, 2018
Then there’s the most notorious meme branch-off of all:
4) The “Bird Box Challenge”
This is the meme that is literally just putting on a blindfold yourself and groping around in front of a camera.
Shit been on Netflix 30 minutes and there’s already a #BirdBoxChallenge
— Furious Styles (@LolitosWay21) December 24, 2018
That’s right — if it sounds like something that might put you in the hospital, it probably is:
Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don’t know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in the hospital due to memes.
— Netflix US (@netflix) January 2, 2019
You might think Netflix’s warning was for Netflix’s benefit — a stealth way of getting more hype and attention for the memes. But, uh, have you seen any of these memes?
— Shane Dawson (@shanedawson) December 30, 2018
— FireMadeFlesh (@FleshFire) December 27, 2018
Granted, this is far from the first time people have done unwise things on video in the name of a good meme and a chance at 15 minutes of internet virality. But what is it about Bird Box that’s inspiring so much enthusiasm — and why hasn’t the meme cycle died off yet?
I have a few theories.
Why are Bird Box memes so popular?
Bird Box’s December 21 premiere date — the Friday before Christmas — gave it the perfect opportunity to reach people looking for something to watch while enjoying some time off work for the holiday.
Many of those same people were probably spending time with their families, and the combination of Sandra Bullock — a megastar who typically headlines very mainstream films, including traditional family fare — with an ensemble of cult actors (Malkovich, Rhodes, Get Out’s Lil’ Rel) and an intriguing horror premise may have ensured that Bird Box appealed across household demographics at a moment when families were seeking ways to bond with each other.
Plus, in early test screenings, the film scored high with women viewers, perhaps because of its focus on family bonding. That a message could have proved to be a holiday bonus, in that it offered an unexpectedly wholesome addition to the normal end-of-year table talk.
So I’m envisioning a scenario where people bonded with their families over the movie and the memes — in either order — and then put on their blindfolds and started making the memes themselves. Crucially, the phenomenon surged between Christmas and New Years, when lots of people were on vacation or bored at work and had downtime to devote to making and circulating the memes online. And though Netflix did heavily market the film, it couldn’t work magic. Luckily for Netflix, the combination of timing + time off + dedicated meme-makers + the internet may have worked better than magic ever could.
2) Black Twitter loves it
Bird Box memes — including many of the ones featured in this article — first took off among the nebulous community known as Black Twitter, where the meme picked up its tongue-in-cheek flavor and reactions to it found their best forms.
— Jay Nedaj (@JayNedaj) December 26, 2018
Netflix even acknowledged the community’s support indirectly, after announcing Bird Box’s viewing numbers.
wow I love and appreciate true FACTS
— Netflix Film (@NetflixFilm) December 29, 2018
3) K-pop fandom also loves it
Across social media, K-pop fans have worked K-pop subjects into Bird Box memes with an impressive rate of consistency, using the conceit to comment on recent K-pop news and to meme their favorite bands.
me performing for the demons in birdbox so they leave me alone pic.twitter.com/2D9a8R9xY7
— king soty (@prdskim) December 29, 2018
Twitter is a k-pop fan account screaming at Kim Kardashian to watch BIRD BOX
— Amy (@amylopan) December 31, 2018
If you know anything about K-pop, you know that K-pop fandom is mighty, and when fans commit to a meme, they go all in. There is zero logical connection between Bird Box and K-pop memes. But clearly, the movie has struck a chord with fans; and when has logic ever gotten in the way of love?
4) Bird Box is also a huge Tik Tok meme
On Tik Tok, the social video app whose runaway success has made it the natural heir to Vine, Bird Box memes have been very popular; posts using the #birdbox hashtag have racked up nearly 54 million views in recent weeks. Especially popular are blindfolded family videos overdubbed with Bullock’s “if you take off your blindfold, you will die” speech from a seminal scene in the movie, and the #BirdBoxDance, which is exactly what you think it is.
5) The memes have given people a way to recreate the experience of collectively shouting at the screen while watching a horror movie together in a theater
Think about it. Half the fun of popcorn-ready horror movies like Bird Box is attached to the performative community around the film — i.e. yelling at the screen, or otherwise reacting en masse, when something especially scary, funny, or poignant happens. But the memes give us a chance to perform our communal, collective response to the film the way we can’t really do for a small-screen phenomenon unless we’re all in one space.
Well, the internet has clearly become that space. And because it came out at a time of year when a lot of people were already primed to think about community and togetherness, memes about the movie may have been a perfect extension of that sentiment. And at the same time, they also offered a chance to collectively decompress at the end of the year — whether from the stress of a scary movie, from the holidays, or from a scary 2018.