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 diabolical 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 acknowledged his desire to make a sequel before the movie even opened in theaters. He just felt sure that audiences would instantly fall in love with M3GAN, short for Model 3 Generative Android, whose chaotic dance moves, painful one-liners and killer tendencies made him an Internet icon as soon as Universal debuted the first trailer.
“We broke our ground rules,” he says. “I felt so encouraged that we started entertaining a sequel earlier than we usually do.”
And sure enough, “M3GAN” hit the box office in early January, shattering expectations with its $30 million debut. So far, it has already grossed $50 million worldwide. With a price tag of $12 million, the film’s backers — Universal, Bloom’s company Blumhouse Productions and producer James Wan’s Atomic Monster — are set to reap the big prize.
Gerard Johnstone directed the well-reviewed film, which centers on a brilliant roboticist (portrayed by Allison Williams) who creates a realistic AI programmed to be the perfect companion for his recently orphaned niece. After its killer debut, Bloom spoke diversity What made M3GAN a viral star and why he needs a follow-up film.
From my understanding, James Wan came up with the idea for M3GAN. How can you get involved?
James Wan and the Atomic Monster came up with the idea and I’m lucky enough that they brought it to us. We prepared together for a long time. One of the hardest things was figuring out what M3GAN would look like and how it would work. I give Gerard a lot of credit for figuring it out.
How was M3GAN first described to you?
AI gone wrong… that was the first pitch to me.
He is a combination of real acting and CGI. How did you initially envision the character?
Gerard was incredibly focused on that. At points he drove everyone crazy. I look back now, and I’m thankful that he did. The smallest detail of how his eyes would look and his gaze… he was obsessed. Much of the film’s success lies in the fact that he is both a human and a kind of robot.
Is it difficult to pull off the aesthetic of the unusual valley? M3GAN clearly resonated, but there are high profile examples – “Cat” comes to mind – Where audiences really rejected it.
The way you stick the landing is that you don’t start prepping your movie until you know what M3GAN will look like, every detail of how you’re going to shoot him. We’ve made mistakes in the past where we have some kind of monster in a movie and we start preparing before the monster acts. 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 go wrong if rushed.
How important is it to come up with the right name for a character like M3GAN?
The title treatment was from Atomic Monster. It came to us with that title with 3 for an “E”. It’s all important. When you get something to connect with culture, it’s very difficult. This rarely happens. Every detail is important. You never know what actually did it, but the title certainly played a role.
At this point, try as they might, I don’t know if studios can engineer a hit. But M3GAN makes a pretty good argument to the contrary. Did you know that she would be such an instant sensation?
I agree that 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 movie ever thought that the dance sequence would go viral. And I think if you orchestrate a dance sequence in a film to go viral, you’ll fall on your face.
Horror has a reputation for resonating more with audiences than critics. Has the barometer for quality changed at all?
It used to be that you could open a movie, even if the movie wasn’t that good, with great marketing. But for theater more than ever, you need a great movie And Great marketing, or it wouldn’t work. This has changed over time, but really in the last 10 years social media and Rotten Tomatoes – as the transfer of information has accelerated. It used to be word of mouth, you’d have three or four days when people would talk to each other about a movie. Now you have three or four minutes.
Horror has been on a hot streak at the box office. What genre is needed to work in theater?
Horror has always been a reliable genre. I’m glad today is no different. It seems to have taken the least hits of all the genres. The point is what “M3GAN” is, a fun playable movie that people love. And you need to have great marketing to get people to see it.
One of the reasons your movies are so successful is because you keep the budget low. Is it necessary for original theatrical films these days?
I have always believed that the cheaper the movie, the better. When you lower the budget, you make better creative choices. It’s hard to do. When budgets are big, the commercial pressure to please everyone slows down the storytelling.
How long do you think “M3GAN” should play in theaters before going to premium video-on-demand?
I don’t know, because I don’t think a window for theater is one size fits all. I definitely believe in an extended exclusive theatrical window. This is the best way to monetize the distribution of movies.
January can 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 horror because Christmas has a lot of adult movies [audiences] Ready for something fun and less serious.
Would “M3GAN” have been as successful at the box office without its PG-13 rating?
The movie is short acting. People have said that young people have stopped going to the movies, and I think “M3GAN” shows they won’t until you give them the right kind of movies.
How soon did you know that “M3GAN” would get a sequel?
After I saw the first movie, we had a good idea that a sequel could really work. So, we broke our ground rules and started talking about a sequel before the movie even released. I felt so encouraged that we started entertaining a sequel earlier than we usually do.
What M3gan brings to the killer-doll genre is new?
It’s probably his attitude and the fact that technology is at the center of the film that makes everything so contemporary.
Why do you think M3gan has become a gay icon?
We just hoped that people would find M3GAN fun and scary, but the icon wasn’t in my wildest dreams. I am thrilled to see it.
You’ve posed as M3gan several times. What is the best part about her image?
The best part is the comfort of the dress and I think the sunglasses are pretty cool. The worst part is definitely the shoes.
M3gan sings a haunting rendition of Sia’s “Titanium” in the movie. Do you have any dream musical numbers for the sequel?
I don’t. I’m going to leave that level of creativity to James Wan and the other people in the film.
Will the sequel be called “Meg4n”?
Too early to say!