M3GAN director wasn't sure horror fans would vibe with the movie – then the internet went wild for its first trailer

Amie Donald as M3GAN in M3GAN
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

When the first trailer for M3GAN, a new sci-fi-horror from the writing team behind Malignant, landed online last year, genre fans immediately lost their minds on social media. You couldn't scroll for more than a few seconds without seeing GIFs of the titular doll throwing shapes on Twitter or someone declaring her as the next horror icon – but until that point, director Gerard Johnstone wasn't entirely confident cinemagoers would vibe with the movie's concept.

In the run-up to the film's release, the New Zealand-born filmmaker admits to Total Film and GamesRadar+ how great it was to see so many people excited M3GAN given his previous doubts. "It was such a delight to see people loving an idea that made me laugh, but I wasn't sure if it was a really silly idea or not and how people would react to it, so to have that embraced immediately really felt like a win. 

"But also, I knew there was more to the movie than just that," he continues, when asked whether the positive reaction elevated any existing pressure to deliver the next horror hit. "There are so many mad things that M3GAN does in the film, and I knew we had all of those things up our sleeve, so I'm not worried at all. It was in the can by then, you know, so now I'm just looking forward to people seeing everything else that we have in store."

Starring Get Out's Allison Williams and The Haunting of Hill House's Violet McGraw, M3GAN centers on gifted roboticist Gemma, who invents a mechanical friend for her newly orphaned niece Cady following the sudden death of her sister and brother-in-law. Preoccupied with work and unable to connect with the lonely youngster, Gemma programs M3GAN to "protect Cady from harm, both physical and emotional" – an update that ends up having terrible consequences when the doll becomes overprotective and starts offing anyone she perceives as a threat.

"She's hypnotic. Even though she's a horror villain, there's nothing horrific about her. She's got poise, she's got grace, and she's got personality and sass," Johnstone says of the titular droid's appeal. "So, it seems to be that people are really latching on to her personality. Our idea, really, was: imagine if you could buy the cool kid in your class and be friends with them? And that person would also become your protector and look out for you? To convey that, we realized she had to be cool, she had to have a personality. Along the way, that whole thing just took on a life of its own and M3GAN just became someone that was just full of these fun one-liners. People really identify with that."

M3GAN releases in US theaters on January 6, and UK cinemas on January 13. While we wait, check out our list of the most exciting upcoming movies coming our way in 2023 and beyond.

Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.