January used to be a dumping ground for movies that studios had little faith in. Titles would be buried under the wave of the big holiday movie, or the slew of awards contenders that were jockeying for attention. Then one day, studio executives woke up to the fact that moviegoers want to see good films in theaters all year round, and so better movies – like this weekend’s surprising horror hit M3GAN – started arriving at the top of the calendar, and posting impressive numbers at the box office. The film might not rank as one of the best horror movies ever made. But M3GAN understood its audience, and played directly to them. Which is why I respectfully disagree with M3GAN director Gerard Johnstone about one of the movie’s most memorable scenes showing up in the trailer. 

The scene in question has been a viral meme on social media for weeks. It shows the A.I. doll M3GAN breaking out into a strange dance as she confronts someone in a long hallway. The dance includes arm waving, and a somersault, and it’s very funny… both in and out of context. But while speaking with Digital Spy, director Gerard Johnstone expressed disappointment over the M3GAN marketing team putting that moment in the trailers for the film, claiming:

I was really worried when I saw the trailer and saw how much dancing it was, I was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re giving it away and you’ve got to cut.’ I did want it to be a surprise. I wanted it to be a really fun surprise. Luckily, we’ve had two screenings and I’ve been able to sit in a room and see people genuinely react for the first time not knowing what they’re going to see. So I was a little bit bummed out, but you’ve got to market the movie, and it was fun to see that it was able to be recut and embraced.

I understand where Gerard Johnstone is coming from. He’s very close to the movie. He viewed that scene as a big surprise, and probably anticipated a huge reaction from M3GAN crowds when the doll – who had been killing people up until that point – suddenly showed off some meme-worthy dance moves. And yes, M3GAN star Allison WIlliams has seen your viral posts, and she loves them. 

But for me, the inclusion of the dance scene in the M3GAN trailer tipped me off to the fact that this movie would offer more than tired cliches and Chucky ripoffs. (We want to see those franchises cross over in the future, right? It’s the modern-day Freddy vs. Jason. We need to see who would win in that fight.) It told me that the movie and its creatives had a sense of humor about what could have been too serious of a premise, and that they understood the assignment of embracing the camp that was inherent to this premise. The dance scene told me that M3GAN had the potential to be fun and crazy, and not a dour slog. 

Here’s the scene in question:

That just makes me want to go see M3GAN again. And it does sound like Gerard Johnstone came around on the decision, as he went on to tell Digital Spy:

In terms of the trailer and things like that, I really just have to trust Universal. When you’re making the movie, it’s exhausting being over every single decision. So it’s quite nice [to] just sit back and say, ‘OK well, you guys do what you can’ I know that there’s more to the movie that people haven’t seen yet, so I feel OK about it.

And it worked. While M3GAN wasn’t able to dethrone Avatar: The Way of Water from the top of the box office charts, it rode a wave of positive reviews (including the official CinemaBlend review) to a $30 million opening… huge for a lower-budget horror movie that isn’t part of an existing franchise. This bodes well for the state of upcoming horror movies, and that’s why you will want to check out our conversation with James Wan and Jason Blum about horror in 2023, where they discuss original horror ideas, the lack of subgenre trends in horror, and their push to keep horror as weird as possible. 

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