Why do dolls creep out so many people? Some theories suggest their creepiness has to do with a human instinct that tries to reconcile a doll’s human-like qualities with its inhuman state. Or maybe it’s because movies and television have taught us that if a doll comes to life, it’s probably trying to kill us.
Doll horror movies have their roots in films featuring disturbing ventriloquist dummies. Movies like The Great Gabbo (1929) and Dead of Night (1945) toyed with the idea of dummies being given a kind of life of their own through the madness of their operators. The Twilight Zone took the idea even further in the 1963 episode “Living Doll.” In the show, a doll named Talky Tina has some choice words (and a trip down a staircase) for an abusive father. Talky Tina opened up a branch within the subgenre, making doll horror films arguably even more scary than the ventriloquist dummy movies that had come before them.
Horror movie dolls generally fall into two categories. Sometimes a doll will be haunted, and it acts as a conduit for a spirit or some other force that does the actual killing (Annabelle from the Conjuring universe falls into this category). Other times, the doll will have sentience and the ability to move and kill on its own (like Chucky from the Child’s Play and Chucky movies). Either way, dolls are creepy.
This list compiles the top ten horror movies where dolls are the main focus. It is weighted heavily towards dolls that do the killings themselves, mostly because sentient dolls often feature more prominently in the films they are in as opposed to a haunted doll. Also, no puppets or ventriloquist dummies are included in the list because they could fill up a top-ten list of their own.
Top 10 Best Doll Horror Movies
Blood Dolls is a goofy horror-comedy from writer/director/producer Charles Band. It’s a fun piece of low-budget schlock from Band’s notoriously ridiculous production and distribution company Full Moon Entertainment. The movie is about a wealthy madman with an abnormally tiny head. As part of the man’s quest for never-ending death and torture, he creates a trio of murderous dolls that he has kill anyone who has wronged him. The dolls are named Ms. Fortune, Sideshow, and Pimp, and they are mute caricatures that play a small role in the unhinged wackiness of the overall film. The movie isn’t “good” by most normal standards, but it’s quite fun for anyone familiar with Full Moon’s brand of humor and horror.
Papi Gudia is an unofficial remake of Child’s Play (1988) from India. The movie is pretty much the same as Child’s Play, with entire scenes lifted directly from the earlier film. The only real difference is that Papi Gudia has much lower production values, less tension, and a much less animated doll. So why is it on this list? Because Papi Gudia is about 40 minutes longer than Child’s Play, and most of that added time is thanks to numerous Bollywood song-and-dance numbers. You haven’t truly experienced a killer doll movie until you see its tormented characters start dancing and singing about it.
Dolly Dearest stars Denise Crosby (of 1989’s Pet Sematary and Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Marilyn, a wife and mother who moves to Mexico when her husband buys an old doll factory. Meanwhile, an archeological dig near the doll factory unleashes a demonic force that takes up residence in the factory’s already creepy dolls. When Marilyn’s daughter takes one of the dolls, her personality changes as the demon inside the doll begins to possess the little girl. Dolly Dearest has a fair amount of downtime, but Denise Crosby is great, and the doll, especially its facial expressions, are incredibly unnerving.
Demonic Toys is another direct-to-video Full Moon Feature filled with with campy horror. When an attempted arrest goes poorly, a wounded criminal makes his way into a warehouse full of toys. The man’s blood awakens a group of demon-possessed toys that go on a murderous rampage. Among the toys are a vicious teddy bear and an evil doll called Baby Oopsie Daisy. Sequels for Demonic Toys crossed over with other Full Moon franchises including Dollman (who is a tiny person and not an actual doll) and Puppet Master. The Demonic Toys franchise also includes a 2010 sequel titled Demonic Toys: 2 and a 2021 spinoff titled Baby Oopsie.
6. Dolls (1987)
In Dolls (1987), a storm forces a young girl to go with her father and cruel stepmother to seek shelter at the home of an elderly couple. The family, along with three strangers also looking for a place to wait out the storm, discover numerous dolls throughout the couple’s house. The kindly couple has ulterior motives for letting everyone stay with them, and as the night goes on, the dolls rise and begin to attack the visitors. There is a fair amount of campiness inherent in the story and execution of Dolls, but it is also a sufficiently creepy killer-doll movie with some great kill sequences.
Released ten years after the original Child’s Play, Bride of Chucky breathed new life into the franchise. Directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Ronny Yu and written by series creator Don Mancini, this fourth installment in the franchise fully embraces the ridiculousness of killer dolls with an over-the-top extravaganza of gore and comedy. The beloved character of Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) is introduced here in what is essentially a romantic road movie. Chucky (Brad Dourif) and Tiffany are former lovers who travel to find an amulet that they believe will allow them to transfer their souls into real bodies. Along the way they find time time to murder people for fun and fall in love with each other all over again.
Killer dolls have appeared in many horror anthology films over the years, but the doll segment in Tales from the Hood might be the best of them all. Tales from the Hood features four short segments, and the third main story involves a racist senator (played by Corbin Bernsen) who has set up an office in an old plantation house as he campaigns for governor. The senator quickly regrets his decision to work in the plantation house when the slaves who lived and died there posses numerous dolls who come to life and get bloody revenge for their suffering.
Second only to Chucky, Annabelle is easily one of the most recognizable killer dolls in film history. Annabelle first appeared briefly in The Conjuring (2013) before being spun off into her own series of films. Of the spin-offs, Annabelle: Creation is probably the strongest entry. In the film, a young girl discovers a porcelain doll hidden away in a closet inside the house she is being fostered in. The doll unleashes a demonic force that threatens to kill and/or possess everyone in the house. The Annabelle doll ushered in a resurgence of interest in possessed/killer doll movies, mostly of the low-budget, independent variety.
Suddenly in the Dark is a South Korean psychological horror movie with an unsettling doll at the center of the scares. Seon-hee (Kim Young-ae) is happy to have help around the house when her husband arrives with a new housemaid, but her joy quickly turns to paranoia as she questions the motives of the pretty young woman. Seon-hee begins to be plagued by disturbing (yet visually mesmerizing) visions, many of which involve the housemaid’s creepy doll in some very threatening situations. The psychological scares in Suddenly in the Dark provide a nice contrast to the demons and possessions seen in many of the doll horror films produced in the western world.
It should come as no surprise that the original Child’s Play from 1988 tops this list of best doll horror movies. Chucky’s popularity is unmatched in the genre, and this first film is what set the standard by which most other killer doll movies are judged. While later entries in the franchise were more explicit with the comedy and gore, Child’s Play acknowledges the ridiculousness of the concept while still providing a genuinely tense and frightening film. Plus, no other killer doll in history has the personality of Chucky, brought to life with solid practical effects and an undeniably amazing voice performance from Brad Dourif. Killer doll films produced decades later still struggle to match the quality and the magic of seeing Chucky come to life for the first time.
A Brief History of the Chucky Franchise
No other killer doll in history has had the impact on the horror genre that Chucky has. Chucky’s influence isn’t just on the killer doll subgenre either. The Child’s Play and Chucky films helped shape generations of killers on screen for decades, regardless of whether they are dolls, humans, or something else. Chucky became so well-known that he is often spoken of in the same conversation with horror icons like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers. Just like those pop-culture horror heavyweights, people know who Chucky is even if they’ve never seen one of his movies.
The original Child’s Play came out in 1988 when the most dominant form of American horror film at the time, the slasher movie, was already past its prime. Films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Friday the 13 Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) had established a path towards more comedy in slashers. Child’s Play could have easily been a completely goofy film, but the original movie’s perfect balance of silly and scary set itself apart from the crowd in the best possible way.
Child’s Play (1988) takes a serious approach to a slasher movie. It develops its main characters well, and it makes each murder feel important to the story (something many other slashers weren’t doing at the time). The original idea for the film came from a story developed by series creator Don Mancini. Influences on Mancini’s script included Talky Tina from The Twilight Zone, the effects of advertising on children that led to the Cabbage Patch Kids craze in the 80s, and movie killers like Freddy Krueger. The script would be modified somewhat before the film was made, but the heart of the story still made it on screen.
It’s commonly thought that Chucky was based on the “true” story of Robert the Doll, a supposedly haunted doll currently residing in Florida. However, this is not true. Chucky was based on the aforementioned Cabbage Patch Kids as well as the My Buddy dolls popular around the same time. The soul living in Chucky’s doll body is inspired by real killers though. The name Charles Lee Ray is taken from three notorious killers: Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray.
Child’s Play led to two rather quick sequels. Child’s Play 2 (1990) is less mysterious and tense than the 1988 film, and it veers more into a typical slasher formula than the initial outing in the franchise. Even so, Chucky’s personality, fueled by the ever-amazing Brad Dourif, was bigger and more fun than ever. Child’s Play 3 followed in 1991, and even though it has some fun scenes, the overall film couldn’t capture the standard set by the first two films. Despite running out of steam, the original Child’s Play trilogy made its mark. Villains in slasher flicks got sillier, and direct influences from Chucky can be seen in movies like Dolly Dearest (1991), Leprechaun (1993), and Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996). Even killers like Dr. Giggles (1992) and Jack Frost (1997) owe something to Chucky.
In 1998, the Child’s Play series was reinvented with Bride of Chucky. Hong Kong director Ronny Yu and cinematographer Peter Pau brought a new and exciting visual style to the series, and Don Mancini provided a story that broke away from the ongoing saga of the first three films. Bride of Chucky is not a reboot, it is a continuation of Chucky’s story that puts the killer doll firmly at the center of the action (and in the title of the films going forward). Still, the movie feels vastly different from what had come before. It’s silly and violent, and its utterly ridiculous humor reinvigorated the franchise and the character of Chucky.
Seed of Chucky (2004) followed a few years later. It was the first Chucky film to be written and directed by Don Mancini, and it continued down the path of increasing the comedy at the expense of the horror. The movie has a lot of fun ideas, but it didn’t do well with critics or horror fans. Chucky devotees started clamoring for a return to the scarier side of the franchise, and Don Mancini gave it to them with 2013’s Curse of Chucky. Curse was originally announced as a reboot, and even though the final film is set within the continuity of the rest of the series, it definitely feels like a new start in many ways. Curse was followed by Cult of Chucky (2017), a film that brings characters from the history of the series together in a wild film that feels a lot like Child’s Play 2 in terms of treading closer to comedy while still being a horror movie first.
Child’s Play finally got the reboot treatment in 2019 with Mark Hamill voicing a new, AI-powered doll, but without the involvement of Don Mancini, the movie hardly feels like it should even be mentioned along with the larger Chucky series. Child’s Play (2019) is a fine reimagining of the original story for a modern audience, but it’s not really a Chucky movie. The next true installment of the franchise is the 2021 USA/Syfy television series titled Chucky. The series introduces some very engaging new characters, with the new lead, Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur), being based in part on Don Mancini himself. Chucky (2021) is yet another reinvention of the franchise that somehow manages to deftly combine the increasing weight of the entire franchise in a way that rewards long-time fans while creating a story that feels fresh.
In an industry loaded with remakes and reboots, it is an astounding feat for a horror franchise to survive over thirty years with its original continuity intact. It is also amazing that a killer doll has become one of horror’s most beloved villains. A lot of the credit goes to actor Brad Dourif for sticking with the character the entire time (except for the 2019 remake) and providing the perfect chaotic energy for a serial killer trapped in a doll’s body. Credit also goes to the countless effects artists who have brought Chucky to life over the years with predominantly practical special effects. And of course, much of the credit goes to Don Mancini for having the vision to reinvent his character over and over in ways that continually capture the interest of old and new fans.
More Scary Doll Films
If those dolls aren’t enough to haunt your nightmares, here are a bunch more movies featuring haunted dolls, killer dolls, and dolls that are just plain creepy.
- Asylum (1972) is an anthology film. In its final story, a doctor creates a set of robot-like dolls that he wills his consciousness into. Of course, the dolls become murderous.
- Ghost Story (1974), set in the 1930s, features a creepy porcelain doll at the center of a haunting that threatens to drive a man mad.
- Kill Barbara With Panic (1974), aka Patayin mo sa Sindak si Barbara, is a movie from the Philippines about a woman who commits suicide and uses a doll as a portal to influence her own daughter in a plot for revenge.
- Trilogy of Terror (1975) contains a famous story starring Karen Black as a woman chased throughout her apartment by a killer Zuni fetish doll.
- Cathy’s Curse (1977) is about a young girl possessed by a doll she finds next to a portrait of her deceased aunt in the attic of her family’s house.
- The Pit (1981) stars a young boy who has conversations with his teddy bear. The bear gives the boy some very murderous thoughts involving a pit.
- Poltergeist (1982) isn’t about dolls, but it is a PG-rated film that has a scene with a clown doll that is etched in the minds of just about everyone who saw it when they were young.
- Curtains (1983) is a slasher movie that uses a frowning doll (which is neither alive nor a killer) to enhance the creepiness of certain scenes.
- Ghosthouse (1988) is an Italian film shot in the United States featuring a ghost girl instructed by a scary clown doll to kill. Maybe watch the Rifftrax version.
- Demon Wind (1990) has one scene where a demonic force turns a woman into a doll. The doll chastises her boyfriend before exploding and burning.
- Vaa Arugil Vaa (1991) is an Indian riff on Child’s Play in which a young woman transfers her spirit into a cute doll after being murdered by her horrible in-laws.
- Voodoo Dolls (1991) is about a school that is haunted because it’s built on cursed land, and it contains a laughable scene of voodoo dolls committing murder.
- Zapatlela (1993) is another Indian movie that lifts scenes from Child’s Play, though the doll in this one is completely goofy.
- Kill Barbara With Panic (1995), aka Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara, is a remake of the 1974 film of the same name with a possessed doll causing a young girl to enact a dead woman’s plot for revenge.
- Ragdoll (1999) features a young man whose plan to use magic to get revenge backfires when the killer doll he unleashes comes after people he cares about.
- Marronnier (2003) is a low-budget Japanese flick about a dollmaker who murders women and turns them into wax dolls who come to life amid a number of bizarre sequences.
- The Doll Master (2004) is a South Korean film about a group of people invited to a remote doll museum to pose for a doll maker. Their trip does not go well.
- Occult Detective Club: The Doll Cemetery (2004) is based on a manga from Japanese horror master Hideshi Hino about killer dolls in a cemetery.
- Doll Graveyard (2005), directed by Charles Band who probably directed more killer doll movies than anyone, is about the spirit of a girl who brings dolls to life for murder.
- Tiki (2006) is a goofy low-budget film about a killer tiki doll sent to get revenge for a girl put into a coma after a prank gone wrong.
- The Telling (2009) is a horror anthology with a story about a doll reminiscent of Talky Tina (in personality, not in looks) that is out for murder.
- Ooga Booga (2013), another Charles Band doll movie, is about a young man who is killed by dirty cops and comes back for revenge as an African tribal doll. Karen Black makes an appearance in her final film role.
- Heidi (2014) is a found footage movie following two teenagers who find a haunted doll in an attic.
- Maria, Leonora, Teresa (2014) is a Filipino horror film about a trio of parents who receive haunted/killer dolls after their children are killed in a bus crash.
- Finders Keepers (2014) stars Jamie Pressley as a mother whose daughter finds a haunted doll in a house where a family was murdered. Tobin Bell also appears in the film.
- Doll Factory (2014) is a goofy, low-budget comedy featuring an army of killer dolls unleashed after a demonic ritual.
- Sorority Slaughterhouse (2015) stars Eric Roberts as the voice of Bobo, a clown doll on a rampage in a sorority house.
- Robert (2015), loosely inspired by the real Robert the doll, is a rather derivative story about a boy who receives a doll from a disgruntled housekeeper. Robert spawned multiple sequels.
- The Boy (2016) stars Lauren Cohan as a nanny who is instructed to care for a doll instead of a real child, though events make her wonder if the doll is actually alive.
- The Doll (2017), a Mongolian film, features one of the most ridiculous dolls ever. A woman buys a doll from a homeless person, and her dreams of the doll are just of a person in a doll costume shot from above so they look small.
- Clown Doll (2020) is a low budget movie with a killer clown that looks less like a doll and more like a creepy kid in a costume.
- Evil Little Things (2020) is yet another horror anthology, this one with each story involving a killer doll.
- M3GAN (2023) is more of an android than a doll, but she quickly earned a spot in the “best killer dolls” conversation with her dance moves and snarky personality.