Owen Wilson’s whole career could be considered unlikely. The Dallas-born actor emerged as both a performer and half of a screenwriting team with college buddy Wes Anderson in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, and quickly attracted the attention of a Hollywood that didn’t really know what to do with him: He did time in action blockbusters like Armageddon and Anaconda and starred as the villain in the serial killer thriller The Minus Man before earning an Oscar nomination with Anderson for their script to The Royal Tenenbaums. But rather than settle into a career as an indie darling and unconventional leading man who focused on awards season, he opted to pursue a broader comedic career: He partnered with Jackie Chan for the Shanghai Noon franchise, co-starred with Ben Stiller in (among others) Zoolander and Meet the Parents franchises, teamed up with Vince Vaughn for Wedding Crashers and The Internship, and voiced Lightning McQueen in Pixar’s smash Cars series. Through all of that, Wilson became a ubiquitous presence on screens; his films have grossed nearly $3 billion at the box office, making him the 32nd best box office performer of all time—ahead of stars with storied careers like Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey, and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
To put it in Wilson’s most famous catchphrase: Wow.
Yes, wow. As said by Wilson—for a full 2:35 above—the word is strangely calming, lifting you up and lulling you into a state of alpha-level hypnosis. That’s not only when Wilson delivers the surprised remark, either—the meme holds up. Try watching LeBron James react during a recent game, with his voice replaced with Wilson’s:
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 20, 2018
Here’s the trailer to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with every light saber and blaster sound replaced with Wilson’s “wow” instead:
Or a compilation from Ellen, shown live to Wilson, of cats meowing, but their meow is replaced by, you guessed it, Wilson’s “wow”:
It may not be Matthew McConaughey’s “all right, all right, all right,” but it’s uniting people around the world who know and love Owen Wilson’s face, voice, and “wow.”
Which is why, last month, hundreds of fans in Melbourne, Australia gathered for a very important event: led by a man with a megaphone, the crowd joined together to say “wow” like Owen Wilson for 45 seconds.
Some of the impressions are very good, and some are not. None of that matters, though. To see so many gathered, all saying the same word, in the style of the same man, is a rather memorable moment, the sort of thing to which the appropriate response is, indeed, “wow.”
After the event in Melbourne, “wow” is spreading. On Facebook right now, there are ten copycat “Say Wow Like Owen Wilson” events scheduled for cities around the globe. Nearly 10,000 expressed an interest in gathering in London’s Trafalgar Square on Sunday. Nearly 8,000 have done the same in Seattle’s Gas Works Park. In the northern England city of Durham, nearly 3 percent of the population favorited the May 5 event on Facebook. In Chicago, competing events at Millennium Park and the Willis Tower will both host crowds united by their familiarity with Wilson’s onscreen persona and their enjoyment of mimicking his expression of incredulity or pleasant surprise.
Reminiscent of flash mobs, these Wilson-themed meet-ups are charmingly earnest—a reminder that the internet can help people rally together around not only politics or social issues, but for expressions of silly joy.