M3GAN is the first big horror release of 2023. Opening in theaters during the first full weekend of the year, M3GAN made over $30 million before the weekend was even over. The film’s success is largely due to savvy marketing and a fun, creepy new horror villain. But did its PG-13 rating hold it back from being even greater? Would M3GAN be better if it was more bloody and violent? If it was more like what screenwriter Akela Cooper originally envisioned? Maybe so, but better for whom?
Is M3GAN Better as an R or PG-13 Horror Movie?
Screenwriter Akela Cooper spoke with the LA Times, saying that her original script for M3GAN was “way gorier” than what the final movie became. Speaking to Total Film, director Gerard Johnstone said the cuts and reshoots he did to achieve a PG-13 rating made the scares more effective. Which style of horror, R or PG-13, works better for M3GAN? It really depends on your perspective.
WARNING: The following sections contain spoilers about who lives and dies in M3GAN.
From a Box-Office Perspective
Conventional wisdom dictates that PG-13 movies make more money at the box office than R-rated movies. Taking a look at the numbers from 2022 shows that PG-13 films far out-grossed R movies at the domestic box-office. If you take the top-performing R-rated horror movie from 2022, Nope, and compare it to the top PG-13 movies, Nope ranks at number 12 for the year with a little over $123 million. However, a counterargument is that the top performing PG-13 horror movie of 2022 was The Invitation which sits at number 23 among all other PG-13 movies with only about $25 million. From this perspective, it appears that PG-13 does better overall in theaters, but R does better when you’re specifically looking at horror.
Of course, talking about ticket sales ignores streaming numbers. Still, the box office is a large indicator of the success of a movie. It is especially important for a movie like M3GAN which was initially released exclusively to theaters before hitting streaming and physical media at a later date. Talking about financial success comes from a business perspective though. While all horror fans should want horror films to succeed (yes, even the ones you don’t personally enjoy) so horror can continue to grow, when it comes down to what an individual actually wants to pay money to see, it’s all about personal preference.
As mentioned above, Akela Cooper wrote M3GAN as a more bloody movie than what it turned out to be. The body count was higher, and the humor was “extremely dark.” With movies like Smile (2022) and Halloween Ends (2022) not shying away from blood and violence in key moments, and with movies like Scream VI (2023) promising to increase the gore, M3GAN was released at a time when gruesome kills and an R rating are generally accepted by theatrical audiences. So why was M3GAN toned down to PG-13?
From a “Less is More” Perspective
Gerard Johnstone says that M3GAN “was always so close to PG-13 anyway.” So even though the decision to hit PG-13 was made “after the fact,” this would lead us to believe that not much was lost. Akela Cooper understands the decision, saying that “once the trailer went viral, teenagers got involved and you want them to be able to see it.” So if not much was lost, and the intention was to reach a wider audience, it’s difficult to fault the studio for the changes. They were doing what they thought was best for business. More people watching horror is a good thing. Looking at the 2022 box office examples though, are more people actually going to see M3GAN if it’s PG-13 rather than R? Different people, surely, but more? We can speculate all day, but we’ll never know for sure.
But what if there is truth to what Johnstone says about M3GAN’s kills becoming more effective by relying more on sound and suggestion rather than blood and guts. Did we get the better version of M3GAN? Some of the kills in M3GAN are effective just as they are. The boy Brandon getting run over by a car after having his ear torn off and being chased through the woods is an example of this. Seeing his body get torn up by the car would be unnecessary. The car skidding through his blood while a single shoe flops down the road is more than enough. Similarly, we don’t really need to see M3GAN kill Celia’s dog to get the point. In these cases, less is more, because showing gore in these scenes would feel like overkill.
From a “Blood and Guts” Perspective
Though a couple of the movie’s kills are fine, others are underwhelming. Celia’s death in particular stands out in this category. Just as we think we’re finally going to see M3GAN at her full murderous capacity, the scene ends with Celia getting sprayed with her own yard chemicals and screaming. Then the film cuts away. We don’t even see the aftermath of what happened to Celia’s body. David’s death is similarly disappointing. The buildup to David’s death with M3GAN dancing and chasing him with the blade of a paper cutter is fun, but the payoff isn’t there. We see a little blood splatter, the tip of the blade barely pokes through David’s chest, and that’s about all. These are characters slasher fans typically cheer to see dispatched in inventive ways, but M3GAN cuts away before the most satisfying part.
Additionally, the body count in the final movie is smaller than in the original screenplay. As a guess, it’s likely that Tess and/or Cole don’t survive in the script. Brutally killing one or both of them would go a long way towards making M3GAN feel more dangerous and frightening as a character. Killing Gemma’s friends right before the final act would make the finale more tense since the audience would be less sure about who might die. As it is, the actual body count in the movie only includes people the audience is supposed to dislike. Why should we be scared for Gemma or Cady if supporting characters like Tess and Cole are safe?
From a “Gateway Horror” Perspective
Many people will argue that gateway horror is important. They will also argue that PG-13 can be fantastic. Both of those statements are true, but they’re not necessarily great arguments for supporting a PG-13 rating for M3GAN. There is a vast array of horror already out there that can be considered a gateway for people who aren’t really into horror, or for younger people getting into horror for the first time. You could add M3GAN to that category, but you don’t necessarily need to. Each movie should be made to best fit its own subject matter and the intentions of its filmmakers. Even though the intention for M3GAN shifted from script, to production, to final film, it came out perfectly fine. More than fine, it’s good. But it’s not wrong to think it can be improved upon, and it’s not wrong to be a little disappointed that we didn’t see more of what Akela Cooper wrote.
An R Rating is Better
Gerard Johnstone appears happy with his PG-13 movie. That’s fair enough. Plenty of moviegoers are also happy with it, spending millions of dollars to see it and giving it generally high praise in reviews and online scores. M3GAN is a success, and it is a fun, entertaining horror movie.
However, subjectively, M3GAN would be better with more interesting kills, scarier scares, and an R rating. For the reasons explained above, a more brutal M3GAN would increase the feeling of danger. And yes, PG-13 movies can feel dangerous and scary, but many of the scariest PG-13 movies fall into the supernatural horror category. The Ring (2002), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), and Insidious (2010) are all PG-13 and scary, but it’s more difficult to pull that off with a movie about a killer robot. The second half of M3GAN turns slightly into a slasher flick, and excellent PG-13 slashers are a rare breed.
Does a movie need to be scary in order to be a good horror movie? That’s a debate for another time, but M3GAN would surely be a more entertaining movie with an R rating. Seeing M3GAN in action would’ve been more worth the wait, the finale would’ve been more satisfying, and it would have fixed some issues with certain kill sequences appearing like they were cut off too early. An R rating would have made M3GAN even better than it is.
The Cast of M3GAN
Allison Williams as Gemma
Gemma is Cady’s aunt (Gemma’s sister is Cady’s mother). Gemma takes Cady in when the young girl is orphaned after losing her parents in a car accident, but Gemma has no clue about how to care for a grieving child. Cady’s arrival comes at a time when Gemma is on the verge of a career-defining breakthrough with the creation of M3GAN, and Gemma realizes that Cady could provide the human element that proves to her bosses that M3GAN is a revolutionary development in human-AI interaction. She also believes that M3GAN can help Cady cope with the grief she is feeling. Gemma has the best of intentions by letting M3GAN and Cady connect with each other, but as the aphorism goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Violet McGraw as Cady
In the opening scene of M3GAN, Cady loses her parents in a horrific car accident. Now living with her aunt Gemma, Cady is emotionally distant. That changes when she is introduced to M3GAN. M3GAN becomes Cady’s best friend and mother wrapped into one, but Cady’s emotional bonds with the android lead to dysfunction and danger.
Amie Donald & Jenna Davis as M3GAN
M3GAN (pronounced like the name Megan), stands for “Model 3 Generative Android.” She is created by Gemma and her coworkers Tess and Cole as a secret project while working for the Funki toy company. M3GAN is meant to be more than a toy though. She is a robotic companion whose artificial intelligence is designed to support and protect whomever she is paired with. Unfortunately, M3GAN is revealed to the bosses at Funki before Gemma is ready, before the android’s AI is fully tested in real-world scenarios.
Jen Van Epps as Tess & Brian Jordan Alvarez as Cole
Tess and Cole work with Gemma at Funki, and they are part of Gemma’s secret development of M3GAN. Though their roles in the movie are smaller and more supportive, Tess provides the voice of reason when she questions Gemma’s actions in regards to allowing Cady and M3GAN to get so close to each other.
Ronny Chieng as David
David is Gemma’s immediate superior at Funki, and Kurt is David’s assistant. David is somewhat of a stereotypical movie boss who is quick to anger, hard to please, and greedy to the point of pushing forward with projects even when he knows they are dangerous.
Lori Dungey as Celia
Celia is Gemma’s next-door neighbor. Gemma doesn’t get along with Celia, mostly due to Celia’s disregard for Gemma’s property and for allowing her barely-trained dog loose in Gemma’s yard.
Regardless of the “what ifs,” let’s take a look at what M3GAN actually delivers. From director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound, 2014) and screenwriter Akela Cooper (Malignant, 2021), M3GAN is a sci-fi horror movie about an artificially-intelligent android that becomes murderously overprotective of a young girl. If you’ve seen the 2019 remake of Child’s Play where Chucky is reimagined as a robot, then you’ll be familiar with the basic idea of M3GAN in a broad sense.
Really, if you’ve seen any sci-fi/horror movies about artificial intelligence, you’ll also have a good idea about what happens in M3GAN: AI gets too smart, becomes independent, and decides it knows better than humans. That’s not to say M3GAN is completely derivative though. The movie and its titular villain have great personalities of their own. Though the movie is familiar in many ways, it still feels mostly fresh and fun. In that way, M3GAN exemplifies the beauty of genre filmmaking done well.
The heart of the movie lies within the relationship between young Cady, her aunt Gemma, and the android/doll M3GAN. Much of the first half of the movie is built on establishing that three-way relationship. Watching Gemma’s awkward attempts at reaching out to Cady, only to have Cady shut Gemma out once M3GAN enters her life is all very well done. Also, even though though movie is quite campy at times, Allison Williams’ performance as Gemma grounds the story enough for the emotional beats which are necessary for the movie to pack the punch that it does.
Even M3GAN, a character who can get quite silly at times, helps provide a few surprising moments of true emotion as she and Cady bond. In the end, it’s that bond which makes M3GAN more than just an “AI killer robot gone wild” movie. It’s a movie about a little girl learning to cope with loss.
But also, M3GAN absolutely is a “creepy robot doll gone wild” movie. At least, that’s what the trailers promised and what many people were expecting to see. Do we see M3GAN go wild in the film? Yes, but if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve already seen most of the best parts of the movie outside of the finale. A movie should never be judged against a trailer since the filmmakers rarely have much say in what marketing decides to give away for free, so this isn’t meant as a complaint. It’s just meant to let you know that if you expected a full-on slasher movie with a robotic doll, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
Many killer doll movies either lean hard into the inherent campiness of the subject matter (like Bride of Chucky), or they go for more serious scares (like Annabelle). M3GAN is able to accomplish a blending of both, even though that combination makes both the silliness and the scariness feel somewhat muted at times. As an example, the truncated kill sequences serve their purpose well enough, but M3GAN doesn’t even approach true scariness until the final sequence when characters we actually care about are put in danger. But by that point, the lightness in the movie’s tone makes us feel safe enough in assuming that nothing really bad is going to happen.
Overall, M3GAN is a fun horror movie that is light on scares but heavy on personality. There is enough substance in the ideas that serve as the foundation of M3GAN (dangers of technology, parenting, coping with loss) to keep the audience hooked, but the abundance of familiar tropes and character archetypes keep the movie from getting bogged down in heavy, emotional material. M3GAN is a fun sci-fi thriller that overperforms thanks to its trio of interesting core characters, led by the campy/creepy M3GAN herself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will M3GAN be on Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, etc?
Where can I stream M3GAN 2023?
Is M3GAN a doll?
Who plays the doll in M3GAN?
The “girl in the mask” is Amie Donald, a 12-year-old dance champion and brown belt in karate. Most of the stunts and contortionist-like actions we see M3GAN do in the movie were done by Amie herself, and only a few shots of M3GAN in the movie are entirely CGI. However, M3GAN’s face is articulated using visual effects.
Jenna Davis is the voice of M3GAN. Jenna Davis rose to fame on YouTube uploading videos of herself singing at around the age of ten in 2014. By the time M3GAN was released, Jenna’s YouTube channel had grown to over 2 million subscribers, and she has over 4 million followers on TikTok. Jenna is also an actor with multiple credits in television, music videos, and short films. M3GAN is her most prominent role to date.
What is the rating for M3GAN?
What is M3GAN about?
Is M3GAN a good movie?
What are other movies like M3GAN?
– Child’s Play (2019) – Any movie with Chucky is probably a good choice, but this reboot of the franchise is most like M3GAN since Chucky is reimagined as an AI-powered robot instead of an electronic doll with the soul of a serial killer.
– Happy Death Day (2017) – As a PG-13 slasher with a Groundhog-Day twist, this Blumhouse horror comedy hits a similar campy/creepy tone as M3GAN.
– Malignant (2021) – This was also written by Akela Cooper, so it has an old-school campy vibe like M3GAN, though Malignant is darker and more violent.
– Deadly Friend (1986) – This Wes Craven movie about a teenage girl brought back from the brink of death by having a computer chip inserted into her brain is cheesy and unnecessarily violent, but it’s also a lot of fun.
– Ready or Not (2019) – Samara Weaving stars as a bride who is forced to play a deadly game of hide-and-seek with her new family in his bloody and fun dark-comedy horror film.