M3GAN 2.0 Won't Try To Force Memeable Moments, According To Director Gerard Johnstone [Exclusive]

In case you haven't heard by now, "M3GAN" is the moment. Even though the film was one of the first notable releases of 2023, this haunted doll take on the killer artificial intelligence film has been an internet sensation ever since the first trailer dropped. The smart marketing campaign of this film, coupled with the bountiful reaction images and memes of the titular doll dancing along to various songs, feels like a "lightning in a bottle" moment — leading to the relatively low budgeted flick making a killing in its box office debut. The film has now passed $100 million worldwide, and is still going strong.

If you're a real bestie and have been following this film's production, however, you could have probably guessed that the forces of producer James Wan, "Housebound" director Gerard Johnstone, and "Malignant" writer Akela Cooper combined are a horror dream team, and that the internet's obsession with "M3GAN" was only inevitable.

Now we know that "M3GAN" will return in the form of an official sequel, "M3GAN 2.0," which has been greenlit for 2025 by Universal Pictures, Blumhouse, and Atomic Monster. Screenwriter Akela Cooper and stars Allison Williams and Violet McGraw are all set to return for the second movie.

/Film's BJ Colangelo had the pleasure of interviewing director Gerard Johnstone about "M3GAN" and her newfound icon status, and though he hasn't been officially announced to direct "M3GAN 2.0," he does have some insight on the direction the sequel will be taking. If you have concerns over a sequel to a horror camp classic trying its hardest to become another meme sensation, you'll be relieved to know that isn't this creative team's plan.

You can try, but you can't force a meme.

"M3GAN" has certainly more than earned its sequel, as evidenced by both the glowing reviews and the box office numbers. But when a film has become known for its meme-friendly, over-the-top moments, how does one innovate or try to "top" the original film? 

Johnstone openly admits that it's probably not worth trying to force it. "I think if you do that, you are kind of setting yourself up to fail, and the audience will smell that a mile away," Johnstone answered. "I think for me, what works about the movie and what I think people are responding to is that it's fun and absurd and full of lots of pleasant surprises."

The director has a point. In fact, we're living in a time where the entertainment industry has become more "in-tune" with social media now more than ever, and we've seen plenty of major studios try to cash in on viral trends. Once upon a time in 2019, "Star Wars" teased a major plot point of "The Rise of Skywalker" through the battle-royale game, Fortnite. Last year, the "Morbius" meme reached a critical level of irony that Sony Pictures couldn't understand, prompting the studio to re-release the film to even drearier box office numbers.

You can certainly try, but you can't force a meme. Most audiences are good at detecting inauthenticity, and "M3GAN" has thrived because it has been blissfully sincere about itself from the beginning. There's a sense of awareness to the film that isn't cloying or cynical, and that's credited to its sharp direction and writing.

M3GAN's camp is secondary to its substance

If "M3GAN 2.0" will lean into the absurdist, camp sensibilities of the original, it will do so organically. Johnstone explains that even when they were developing the first film, those highly memed moments were secondary to the themes and ideas the team wanted to explore:

"And so looking at the sequel, those are my sort of paragons that I'm just trying to follow is like, how can we continue to be fun, absurd, surprising, but at the same time make sure that we continue to be part of the cultural conversation, I guess. In addition to the dance, we're not too heavy-handed about it, but there are themes about co-parenting in the age of A.I. and things like that. So it's important to have some substance to hang all of those dance sequences onto."

Films should not strive to be one thing, Johnstone is ultimately saying. Though they certainly helped, "M3GAN" was able to reach such a wide range of audiences not just because of the memes, but because it turned in a genuinely smart and emotionally engaging take on A.I. wrapped into a B-horror slasher. If anything, "M3GAN succeeds because of its impressive versatility.

Unfortunately, we're a long way from "M3GAN 2.0," scheduled for January 17, 2025. When the time comes, we know she'll make a legendary re-entrance.