Analyzing popular past & upcoming films / series to create profitable microstock concepts

March 25, 2021 / by Alexandre Rotenberg

As the popular saying goes, “life imitates art” and in this post we’ll explore both past and upcoming viral popular culture films & series in view of now creating potentially profitable microstock content to soon be licensed at the major agencies. May the force be with you!

Viral films & series make for potentially profitable microstock subjects

Lately, many of us are spending more of our time indoors during what feels like never-ending lockdowns binge-watching films & series on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO etc. What we may not be aware of is that the content we consume is, generally speaking, in a small way helping to shape and solidify our own and our cultures’ beliefs. Some of these beliefs, in turn, may be transformed into useful subject-matter that microstock buyers are searching when seeking to illustrate particular trending / soon-to-be trending concepts.

Inception screenshot
Paris unfolding scene from Inception (2010)

Before we even begin shortlisting some key films and series that may go viral in the near-future, let’s take a trip down memory lane. In particular at three films, three documentaries, one series, and one animation which have been shortlisted and should have already gone viral. We’ll analyze each of them individually on how they inspired popular culture and, in some cases, even led to real-life events. We’ll also look at the top-10 main corresponding keyword(s) at the major microstock agencies for such concepts and screen-grabs to help us to brainstorm any gaps in the market for those particular concepts, as well as colour palettes.

Bambi (1950) – Highlighting Animal Cruelty Issues

The shooting of an innocent deer in the classic Disney animation, Bambi, resonated so much with popular culture that the term “Bambi Effect” was coined to describe the emotional trauma experienced by hunters and trappers when viewing close up a dead or dying animal. Apparently, the effect is stronger should the animal be considered “cute” or “adorable”, such as a dolphin, rabbit or panda. No such luck for hyenas, turtles and lobsters.

The “Bambi Effect” was so strong that in the years following Bambi’s release in 1950, according to online reports, the number of deer hunted in the US decreased by roughly half. In addition, the animation helped to slowly but surely bring awareness to the masses on ethical issues surrounding animal cruelty. See “Bambi” search on iStock results:

Bambi search iStock
Results for 'bambi' on iStock

Main relevant keywords: Bambi Effect, animal cruelty, cute, deer, Cervidae, adorable, mammal, bambi, animal rights

Jaws (1975) – Forever Ruining Seaside Holidays

Who can forget the original summer blockbuster, Jaws?! As a direct result, some middle-aged and older adults until this day (some 45 years on) are still afraid to go into the ocean water, even if the odds of being attacked and killed by a shark (1 in 3,748,067) are roughly ten times less than being killed by fireworks (1 in 340,733). Nevertheless, the film continues to capture the public imagination even after nearly half a century.

“Sharks” results on Shutterstock:

Jaws search in Shutterstock
Sharks - a popular concept in the microstock world

Main relevant keywords: Jaws, dangerous, attack, teeth, danger, shark, Selachimorpha, ocean, threat, predatory

Fight Club (1999) – Inspired Actual Fighting Clubs

Take for instance the cult film, Fight Club, that inspired the creation of actual underground fighting clubs, as well as being inspiring members of the public with their anti-capitalist / anti-establishment message, even leading to an attack on symbols of the corporate US, such as Starbucks.

Starbucks building

Main relevant keywords: fight, club, fighter, martial arts, competitive, anti-corporate, anti-establishment, occupy, resistance, anarchist

Hands down, 1999 was a fantastic year for cinema. Another cult film of the turn-of-the-century was The Matrix, which continues to influence fashion trends. The “Matrix Look” consists of dark sleek frame sunglasses, form-fitting leather jacket or long black coat, or a cat suit for the ladies. Also, the cool green hue background with programming language has become iconic. Check out “Matrix look” on Shutterstock:

Matrix look
'Matrix look' examples on Shutterstock

Main relevant keywords: matrix, fashion, sleek, outfit, eyeglasses, form fitting, cat suit, sunglasses, leather jacket, futuristic

Supersize Me (2004) – Role of Fast-Food Corporations in the Obesity Pandemic

Who can forget Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, when he decided to consume nothing but McDonald’s for an entire month and also reducing his exercise routine? Morgan documented the highly-caloric journey from start to finish with shocking results.

Supersize me

The documentary, which was awarded the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Documentary Screenplay, was a watershed moment to improve the public’s awareness of diet and nutrition in a time when millions of children and adults were/are considered clinically obese, particularly in the West. Surely, the lockdowns these days aren’t helping either.

The most obvious effects of the film were changes in the sizes of fast-food menus by eliminating its “supersize” meal option (hence where the expression “supersize”, which is to drastically increase the size of portions derives), though McDonald’s denies that decision had anything to do with the film. In addition, McDonald’s began adding more healthy options such as salads and fruit on fast food menus. Source: Adobe Stock

Burger search results

Main relevant keywords: Supersize me, fat, overweight, obesity, unhealthy, obese, obesity, health crisis, McDonald’s, junk food, fast food

V for Vendetta (2005) – Guy Fawkes Mask Becomes a Symbol for Rebellion

The post-apocalyptical dystopian film, V for Vendetta, showcased the protagonist wearing a Guy Fawkes Face Mask. Fawkes was an English conspirator in the 17th-century failed Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Parliament.

The mask, with its iconic grin, soon became a best-selling item on Amazon, and was soon after the film’s release used as an anti-establishment symbol. More recently, it’s been adopted as a symbol by Anonymous, an internet-based activist group.

“V for Vendetta” on Shutterstock:

Guy Fawkes mask results

Main relevant keywords: male likeness, mask, face, chaos, identity, guy fawkes, v for vendetta, gunpowder plot, anonymous, protest, protest symbol

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Wake Up Call on Imminent Dangers Posed by Climate Change

Although it’s been 15 years since US Vice-President, Al Gore, took to the centre-stage in the ground-breaking wake-up call on the imminent threat posed by climate change (including rising sea-levels – see digital composites below), his powerful message still resonates to this day.

So powerful in fact that in the immediate aftermath of the release, many households engaged in behavioral changes, such as increased recycling and carbon offsetting.

Flooded cities
Digital composites of flooded cityscapes by Alexandre Rotenberg

In 2004, the documentary is said to have inspired the blockbuster film, Day After Tomorrow:

Day after tomorrow
Flooded New York City in Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Main Relevant keywords: climate, disaster, pollution, climate change, dystopia, global warming, sustainability, rising sea levels, unsustainable, fossil fuels

Queen’s Gambit (2020) – Catalyst for a Chess Fever Especially Among Girls and Women

The Queen’s Gambit attracted a staggering 62 million viewers, making it Netflix’s most-watched scripted limited series. The popularity of the show directly contributed to substantial rise in sales of chess sets and online games, particularly by girls and women, who are the smallest demographic of chess players.

“Chess girl” results from Alamy:

Chess and women

Main relevant keywords: chess, game, mind sport, playing, chess board, girl chess, woman chess, queen’s gambit, pawn, pastime

10 honorable mentions (films)

  • Back to the Future Franchise (“Nobody calls me chicken”)
  • Forrest Gump (“Life is like a box of chocolates”)
  • Godfather Franchise (“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”)
  • Harry Potter Franchise (“Never be ashamed”)
  • Lord of the Rings Franchise (“My precious…")
  • Pulp Fiction (“Bring out the gimp”)
  • Psycho (“Slasher shower scene”)
  • The Wizard of Oz (“There’s no place like home”)
  • The Shining (“All work and no play makes jack a dull boy”)
  • Star Wars Franchise (“I’m your father”)

10 honorable mentions (recent series):

  • Black Mirror (“You are just a puppet, you are not in control”)
  • Breaking Bad (“Say my name”)
  • Desperate Housewives
  • Game of Thrones (“Winter is Coming”)
  • House of Cards ("Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value”)
  • Narcos (“Plata o plomo”)
  • Lost
  • Stranger Things (“Friends don’t lie”)
  • Sopranos (“Those who want respect, give respect”)
  • Vikings (“Fear not death for the hour of your doom is set and none may escape it”)

Creating microstock photography concepts from the above-lists

However educational / entertaining, the aim of this post isn’t academic, such as something you’d learn on a Media Studies module at university – there are plenty of those resources around. If you’ve clicked here you want to know how to make money from your content licensed at multiple microstock sites.

Closed cinemas
Many cinemas remain closed for the time being due to the pandemic

Therefore, you would be wise to hone on the lists above and research some keywords at microstock agency search engines. The results may identify some key gaps in the market, which are beyond the scope of this article.

If you would like to take your research further, a highly recommended tool to gauge current and upcoming trends is Google Trends.

Just be aware that looking to the past means that you may already be too late in the game due to strong and established competition in the search engines for many of the generic keywords outlined above.

In any case, with what most microstock agencies are paying contributors, it may not be worth the return on investment, particularly if it requires paying models, extensive travel and using props. It purely depends on the concept and caution is advised.

Instead, or ideally in conjunction, you would be even wiser to try to anticipate films/series that will be released soon and start creating concepts around those now.

Upcoming films & series in late-2021 and early 2022 (that may go viral)

Being acutely aware that we’re not living in normal times, many films and series have been delayed. Taking the below list of films that are forecasted to be released, I’m going out on a limb here with my crystal ball and predicting which ten films to soon be released may go viral (in no particular order):

  1. Godzilla v Kong
  2. Mortal Kombat
  3. Top Gun 2: Maverick
  4. The Beatles: Get Back
  5. Dune
  6. James Bond: No Time to Die
  7. Jurassic World 3: Dominion
  8. The Matrix 4
  9. The Little Things
  10. Mission Impossible 7

This image licensed at Arcangel could be an interpretation of the surface of the Planet Dune, minus the worm.


As for series, I’m predicting the following four may go viral (also in no particular order):

  1. Clickbait
  2. Cobra Kai Season 4
  3. The Crown Season 5
  4. Black Mirror Season 6


Do you agree with the above selections? Now it’s up to you to start creating interesting concepts around those to sell regularly at the major microstock agencies.

We’ll be back in a few months with an update on how the above new-releases have done and if they have influenced society somehow and in turn, microstock trends. Hope you’ve enjoyed this piece. Happy viewing!


  • header image from Shutterstock

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