When the trailer for M3GAN first dropped last year, people immediately took to social media, obsessing over the well–dressed, blonde, robot girl and celebrating her odd (but intriguing) dance routine. What wasn’t there to enjoy about a killer doll with great hair and sassy moves?
The horror genre as of late has adapted well to the ironic humor and niche references of the younger generations online, and it seemed like M3GAN would be the new film to spur numerous trends and active followers on social media. Even before it was released, costumed users made videos recreating M3GAN’s dance and she became an internet obsession before the first review was even posted. From the start, people considered M3GAN to be a modern “cult classic.”
The film is your average corny, out–of–this–world horror film. The film follows a young girl, Cady (Violet McGraw), after the tragic death of her parents. She’s left in the hands of her distant and overworked aunt, Gemma (Allison Williams), who is a roboticist for a popular toy brand, Funki. With Cady’s guardianship suddenly thrust upon her, Gemma struggles to balance the pressure of creating a new toy for Funki while also welcoming Cady into her home. Sure enough though, Gemma finds a way to do both as she introduces Cady to an enhanced doll she has been developing called “M3GAN.” By testing the doll on Cady, Gemma is able to improve M3GAN and gives her humanlike qualities that allow her to communicate with Cady. At this point, Cady and M3GAN become inseparable and Gemma begins to lose control over both of them: M3GAN no longer responds to her orders and Cady only listens to M3GAN. The situation quickly gets out of hand, and horror ensues.
Since the film’s release, this promise of iconicism that was first introduced in the marketing campaign has fully come into fruition with M3GAN’s surprisingly good box office performance and an already promised 2025 sequel. But can this early and quickly gained success and devoted fanbase determine its cult status or disprove it?
A cult movie typically refers to a film that’s inhabited within an alternative group of moviegoers who have built an entire culture around the film. Usual conventions that aren’t necessary for cult fan bases but are still prevalent include midnight screenings, dialogue memorization, and costumes. It's also common for films in this category to be labeled as controversial. Because many of them were either box office failures or were poorly received by critics, they've had to build their fan bases over time.
When people think of cult movies, some of the most infamous that come to mind include The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Heathers, The Room, and Repo Man. All of these films have ardent fan bases that have kept their films’ legacies alive for decades now by cultivating intricate subcultures that audiences still regularly interact with. If M3GAN were to become a cult film such as these, it would need some time to build up a devoted audience to this caliber.
The formation of this unique fanbase is somewhat common for the horror genre specifically as it is easy for these movies to occupy a smaller niche in cinema culture that would only attract an alternative group of people, as slasher movies, scary “B movies,” and bizarre sci–fi horror films aren’t necessarily approachable to mainstream moviegoers. This small, edgy subculture seemed to be what characterized the M3GAN crowd at first, but the number of people outwardly supporting it was by no means small and its relevance undoubtedly entered the mainstream. Also, contrary to many cult horror movies, it has been rewarded for its technical greatness and was an instant hit among most critics, making it fairly uncontroversial.
With such a ridiculous concept, people were expecting M3GAN to be one of those “so–bad–it’s–good” horror films. But with its compelling characters, great pacing, and relevant themes surrounding technology and familial connection in the digital age, the film resonated with audiences and critics much more than initially anticipated. People will still watch M3GAN to laugh at how insane the story is, but they also will go and be able to recognize its critical value. Critical success is rarely found this quickly in cult movies, but M3GAN proves that a subversive horror film can still find good reviews and a dedicated fan base early on.
Even with a subculture of M3GAN enjoyers that is surprisingly large and vocal, this doesn’t take away the fact that the film is entirely unique and its playfulness resembles the cult classics that have come before it. The fact that M3GAN has welcomed this accepting generation of moviegoers and allowed them to create a passionate fan base surrounding it so quickly speaks to its “cult” qualities. Even if it took next to no time for this community to form and for the film to find success, it's safe to say that M3GAN can be deemed a modern cult phenomenon.
It may also be safe to assume that this sensation of early achieved cult status will become more common as films continue to adapt to the nature of the internet and the way in which it connects people to various niche interests. Maybe a film won’t need to bomb at the box office or get trashed by critics anymore to eventually find its place among a destined group of cinephiles.