How A Creepy Dance And Instant Gay Icon Status Turned ‘M3GAN’ Into A Box Office Smash

January 13, 2023


Topline

M3GAN went viral months before her film premiered thanks to a widely imitated dance curated for TikTok fame and her instant emergence as a queer icon, paving the way for record-breaking box office success.

Key Facts

Horror-comedy film M3GAN, featuring the namesake artificial intelligence-powered doll who bonds with a young girl and quickly becomes overprotective and murderous, has had the internet in a frenzy since October, when the first trailer — in which the doll dances, swaying side to side and doing flips — premiered.

Her dance, set to a creepy remix of Taylor Swift’s “It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” instantly became a hit online for its humor and campiness and spawned plenty of viral tweets and memes mashing up M3GAN’s dance with songs from other artists like Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion (or, according to one popular tweet, “M3GAN Thee Stallion”).

The trailer made M3GAN (embodied in the film by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis) a star months before the film premeried: it’s racked up 10 million views on Twitter and 24 million views on YouTube to date.

She’s also taken over TikTok: videos tagged with #M3GAN have surpassed 1 billion views, ranging from people dressed as the doll imitating her iconic dance to videos of the studio’s marketing effort, like a team of M3GAN dolls dancing at the movie’s premiere.

M3GAN is the latest in a long history of horror films led by scary dolls, a fact that landed her in a marketing-fueled Twitter fight with fellow horror doll and apparent rival Chucky in October (which only boosted M3GAN’s social media fame) — “everybody’s tryna be me,” Chucky tweeted in a viral response to the M3GAN trailer, to which M3GAN responded, “u know u that doll when u cause all this conversation.”

After months of dominating internet memes, M3GAN opened in theaters on January 6 as a box office smash, surpassing expectations to gross $30.4 million domestically in its opening weekend — it’s grossed $35 million domestically and $50.9 million worldwide to date, easily surpassing its $12 million budget.

The film was also a surprise hit with critics, boasting a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Key Background

M3GAN opened in theaters on January 6, released by Universal Pictures and produced by Blumhouse Productions, a studio known primarily for horror films. The film stars Allison Williams (known for her roles in the film Get Out and series Girls) as Gemma, a developer of toy robots who’s focused on creating an artificial intelligence doll: model 3 generation android, or M3GAN. When Gemma’s niece Cady loses her parents in a car accident, she takes her in but struggles with parenting, leading her to introduce Cady to M3GAN. The doll becomes a protective caretaker, but soon develops sentience and becomes violent to those who threaten Cady. The film’s success comes on the heels of a bizarre, highly viral marketing campaign, including the doll herself maintaining an active social media presence and life-size M3GAN dolls making appearances in real life and on late-night talk shows. A group of M3GAN dolls took New York in the days leading up to the film’s premiere: the doll’s Twitter account posted a video captioned “me and my besties belong up here,” featuring an ensemble of M3GANs doing the viral dance on top of the Empire State Building.

How M3gan Emerged As A Queer Icon

Almost as soon as the film’s trailer dropped, media outlets and social media users labeled M3GAN as a queer icon, which screenwriter Akela Cooper said she did not expect. “She was built from the first wire for finger-snapping and a chorus of ‘icon,’” GQ argues, pointing to the doll’s overt campiness — she dances in a contorted manner, sings a cover of Sia’s “Titanium,” and wears dramatically large sunglasses. Paste Magazine compared M3GAN’s marketing campaign to that of Ma, another horror film with a large LGBTQ following, owing to their campy premises, instant meme-ability, and “a woman (human or not) who embodies a particular fierceness at its center.” Joe Vallese, a New York University professor whose research has explored the links between queerness and horror movies, told Vox he knew M3GAN would become an instant gay icon, adding queer men may be reclaiming what has long been societally prohibited, like femininity.

What To Watch For

Could M3GAN be the next big horror franchise? Cooper said her original script was gorier and contained more kills and hopes to release an unrated version. The film was rated PG-13, allowing teenagers who would have discovered the film through its social media virality to see it in theaters. There are also plans for a sequel, Deadline reported.

Tangent

M3GAN’s success comes as horror thrives at the box office while theatergoing as a whole is declining. Last year, Nope and Halloween Ends boasted big domestic opening weekend numbers with $44.3 million and $40 million, respectively. Nope has grossed $123 million domestically and $171 million worldwide to date, while Halloween Ends has grossed $64 million domestically and $104 million worldwide. Despite having a smaller opening, Smile became a huge box office hit last year; after a $22.6 million domestic opening weekend, the movie grossed $105 million domestically and $216 million worldwide. These numbers starkly contrast with prestige dramas and films poised to win big at awards shows, which have been struggling to connect with audiences in recent years.

Further Reading

‘M3GAN’ is an internet star. The film’s director calls viral reaction ‘unbelievable’ (NBC News)

Why M3gan is already a camp horror icon in the making (Vox)

M3gan was a queer icon before the movie’s release. Now that it’s out, does her status remain? (The Philadelphia Inquirer)





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