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M3GAN's Box Office Haul Is A Major Signal For Hollywood Decision Makers (But Will They Pay Attention?)

All hail our new queen: M3GAN, the animatronic murder doll at the center of the new horror flick from Blumhouse Productions. (If you're curious about the premise, think "Gremlins," but girlboss this time.) After an incredible viral marketing campaign involving New York City subways populated with M3GANs and the doll's dance from the trailer making a fan out of Megan Thee Stallion, the movie finally hit theaters ... and immediately became the first big industry success story of 2023.

Sure, "Avatar: The Way of Water" is still going strong, but on the very first weekend of the new year, "M3GAN" danced its way into theaters, earning a whopping $30.4 million off of a modest $12 million budget. Produced by Jason Blum and James Wan, two modern-day auteurs of the horror genre, "M3GAN" is yet another original hit for Blumhouse, following in the footsteps of "Nope" as a recent original concept that struck gold at the box office. Beyond that, the reviews for "M3GAN" are good, proving that its financial haul isn't just people wanting to goof on the film in some way. So what does "M3GAN" spell for the future of Hollywood horror — and will the big guys in charge pay attention?

Movie stars are out; M3GANs are in

In case you missed it, George Clooney and Julia Roberts starred in a movie that came out in October. It was called "Ticket to Paradise." Did you hear about it? See it in theaters? Is this ringing a bell at all? If not, that makes sense; Clooney and Roberts are two of the most famous people in the world, and a "movie star" — or in this case, two of them — might sell solid tickets, but they don't start new conversations.

This isn't a new trend; franchises like "Star Wars" and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been hiring lesser-known actors for years. In fact, in 2009, Vulture declared that Marvel had hired two "no-name" actors for the first "Thor" movie, referring to Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston ... and at the time, they were completely right! Huge franchises are starmakers, and as a result, they typically turn to lesser-known actors and build them from the ground up. There are exceptions, of course; for every Hemsworth or Hiddleston, there's a Robert Downey Jr. or Scarlett Johansson, but, you get the point.

With that said, aside from Allison Williams, "M3GAN" doesn't feature any huge stars at all and still succeeded, which says that A-listers like Roberts and Clooney are no longer a guarantee of box office success.

Original horror concepts are still in demand

It's been nearly six years since "Get Out" became one of the biggest successes in recent horror memory, and since then, the original, indie horror genre has shown no sign of slowing down — on the contrary, it's been gaining traction almost constantly.

Between Blumhouse and A24, horror has consistently come up with some of the coolest and most innovative projects throughout the last decade, hiring creative directors like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster and letting them loose behind the camera. With Peele's successes "Get Out," "Us," and "Nope" under the Blumhouse roof and Aster wowing audiences with "Hereditary," "Midsommar," and the upcoming "Beau is Afraid," there's no doubt that audiences are hungry for new spooks and scares that aren't just remakes of things that have frightened them in the past. That's not to say that franchises like "Halloween" and "Scream" aren't going strong, but the balance between new freaky ideas and long-standing legacy horror movies has to be perfectly struck to make sure both end up succeeding.

Prestige dramas don't have as much appeal anymore

As @filmgal observed on Twitter, "M3GAN" isn't just crushing its own budget, but it's topping other movies at the box office: "not ['M3GAN'] making more in its first 2 nights than 'Babylon' has in 2 weeks..." She's not wrong. In case you're unfamiliar with "Babylon," the newest ode to Hollywood by acclaimed director Damien Chazelle (who also helmed almost-best-picture but not quite "La La Land") became the industry's latest prestige flop – right on the heels of David O. Russell's star-studded "Amsterdam," which suffered a similar fate.

Clearly, people are a little tired of movies that could be called "Oscar bait;" even though a movie like "Get Out" sometimes triumphs over the competition and snags a major award (Jordan Peele won the Academy Award for best original screenplay at the 2018 ceremony), the nomination spots usually feel reserved for niche, "highbrow" content. Even when a huge hit like "Mad Max: Fury Road" wins more Oscars than any other movie during the 2016 ceremony, it's still stuck in the tech categories, ignored in the "important" ones like best picture. Meanwhile, movies like "M3GAN" are out here succeeding where "Babylon" and "Amsterdam" are failing, proving that theatergoers don't want to see another love letter to Hollywood. Instead, they want to see a freaky little robot girl do a dance — and beyond that, they want to experience something new, fresh, and exciting instead of retreading familiar ground.