Hindsight may be 20/20, but producer Jason Blum didn’t need the luxury of time to see that “M3GAN,” a horror movie about a demonic robot-like doll, was destined for success.
So much so that Blum did something he’d never done in his nearly 30-year career: He publicly admitted wanting to do a sequel before the movie even opened in theaters. He just felt sure audiences would instantly fall in love with M3GAN, short for Model 3 Generative Android, whose anarchic dance moves, blistering steps, and killer tendencies turned her into an Internet icon as soon as Universal released its first trailer.
“We broke our cardinal rule,” he says. “I felt so optimistic that we started doing a sequel earlier than we usually do.”
And sure enough, “M3GAN” smashed at the box office in early January, shattering expectations with its $30 million debut. To date, it has already made $50 million globally. At $12 million, the film’s backers — Universal, Blumhouse Productions, and producer James Wan Atomic Monster — are poised to reap big rewards.
Gerard Johnston directed the well-reviewed film, which centers on a brilliant roboticist (portrayed by Allison Williams) who builds a realistic artificial intelligence creation programmed to be the perfect companion for her recently orphaned niece. After his fatal appearance, Bloom spoke to variety On turning M3GAN into a viral star and why she needs a follow up movie.
In my view, James Wan came up with the idea of M3GAN. How did you get involved?
James Wan and Atomic Monster came up with this idea and I was lucky enough that they brought it to us. We prepared together for a long period of time. One of the hardest things was figuring out what M3GAN looked like and how it would work. I give a lot of credit to Gerrard for finding that out.
How was M3GAN first described to you?
The AI got it wrong… That was the first step for me.
It is a mixture of real acting and CGI. How did you first envision the character?
Gerrard was incredibly focused on that. At some points, it drove everyone crazy. I look back now, and I’m so grateful for it. The smallest details of what her eyes and stares would look like…he was obsessed. Much of the film’s success lies in her being a human and a robot of sorts.
Is it hard to pull off the uncanny valley aesthetic? M3GAN had obvious resonance, but there are notable examples—”Cats” come to mind— Where the public really rejected him.
The way it sticks with the landing is that you don’t start preparing for your film until you know exactly all the details of what your M3GAN is going to look like, and how you’re going to shoot it. We’ve made mistakes in the past where we’ve got some kind of monster in a movie and we start preparing before the monster can be. We learned from those mistakes, so I didn’t want to spend any money on the movie until we knew exactly how we were going to do M3GAN. Special effects get worse when dashed.
How important is it to come up with the right name for a character like M3GAN?
The treatment title was from Atomic Monster. It came to us with this address, with the number 3 for “e”. All this is important. When you get something to connect with the culture, it’s very difficult. That rarely happens. Every detail matters. You never know what he actually did, but the title definitely played a role.
To this point, as far as they can try, I don’t know if the studios can pull off a hit. But M3GAN makes a good argument to the contrary. Did you know she’ll be an instant sensation?
I agree you can’t engineer a hit. The moment you start trying, the audience smells it and it doesn’t work. No one involved in the film could have imagined that the dance series would go viral. And I think if you orchestrate a dance sequence in a movie to go viral, it will just fall in your face.
Horror has a reputation for resonating more with audiences than critics. Has the quality measure ever changed?
It used to be that you could open a movie, even if the movie wasn’t very good, with great marketing. But more than ever for plays, you need a great movie And Great marketing, otherwise it won’t work. It has changed over time, but really in the last 10 years with social media and Rotten Tomatoes – the transmission of information has accelerated. It used to be with word of mouth, you have three or four days before people talk to each other about a movie. Now you have three or four minutes.
Horror was on a hot streak at the box office. What does this genre need for theatrical work?
Horror has always been a reliable genre. I am happy to say that today is no different. It appears to have received the least damaged of all types. The key is what “M3GAN” is, a fun playable movie that people love. And you need great marketing for people to see it.
Part of the reason your films are so successful is because you keep budgets low. Is that necessary these days for original theatrical films?
I’ve always been a firm believer that movies are better when they cost less. When you cut budgets, you make better creative choices. It’s hard to do. When budgets get bigger, the commercial pressures to please everyone ease the storytelling.
How long do you think “M3GAN” should play in theaters before it makes the transition to premium video on demand?
I don’t know, because I don’t think the theatrical window is one size. I definitely believe in the exclusive extended theatrical window. It is the best way to monetize movie distribution.
January could be hit or miss at the box office. Why did you decide to release “M3GAN” this month?
The first week of the year is great for frights because there are a lot of adult movies around Christmas, so [audiences] Are ready for something fun and less serious.
Would “M3GAN” have been as successful at the box office without a PG-13 rating?
The movie plays a smaller role. People said young people stopped going to the movies, and I think “M3GAN” shows they don’t as long as you give them the right kind of movie.
Does M3GAN bring anything new to the killer puppet genre?
Maybe her attitude. And the fact that technology is the focus of the movie makes everything very contemporary.
Why do you think M3GAN has become a gay icon?
We were just hoping people would find M3GAN interesting and intimidating, but the icon wasn’t in my wildest dreams. I’m glad to see him.
I’ve dressed up as M3GAN many times, including Halloween. What’s the best part about embodying it?
The best part is the comfort of the dress and I think the sunglasses are pretty cool. The worst part is the shoes for sure.
When did you know “M3GAN” would get a sequel?
After I saw the movie for the first time, we had a good feeling that a sequel might really work. So, we broke our rule of thumb and started talking about a sequel before the movie was even released. I was so optimistic that we started making a sequel earlier than we usually do.
M3GAN sings a harrowing rendition of Sia’s “Titanium” in this movie. Dreaming of sequel musical numbers?
I’m not. I will leave that level of creativity to James Wan and the other people on the film.
Will the sequel be titled “MEG4N”?
Too soon to say!