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The State of AI Technology Terror in Film Before & After ‘M3GAN’

Is the latest Blumhouse Productions release setting a new tone for future horror/thriller films and the portrayal of human relationships with A.I. tech as we know it? Boardroom’s Entertainment Roundtable weighs in.

Had you heard? There’s a new it girl in town — or at least on the silver screen.

Meet M3GAN, the new AI-based thriller sweeping the box office produced by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions. Smashing box office predictions, the Gerald Johnston-directed film grossed $30.2 million USD during its opening weekend across over 3,500 theaters and earned a 92% rating from Rotten Tomatoes critics, as reported by The Wrap.

Did we forget to mention that this story of a state-of-the-art toy run amok became the first release in over a decade to open above $30 million in the first week of a new year since The Devil Inside‘s $33.7 million haul in 2012? If that wasn’t enough, the Universal flick is the largest debut for an original film (not a franchise, sequel, prequel, reboot, etc.) since Jordan Peele’s NOPE with $44 million in July 2022.

Courtesy of ©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

Amid all its success, one has to think what is it about this new killer doll that’s drawing everybody to the box office? Is it the wit of the new robotic version of Gossip Girl‘s OG mean girl, Blair Waldorf? Is it the 2022 spin on iRobot meets Child’s Play? Maybe it’s the fact that it hits home with the rise of Alexa, Siri, and other technological advances in our homes, our palms, and other areas of our day-to-day routines.

This time around, it was time for us to take the conversation to our Boardroom staff to pick their brains about the future of tech-driven terror on film, so we gathered the minds of Ian Stonebrook, Sam Dunn, Shlomo Sprung, and Michelai Graham to inquire about three topics:

  • Which AI and tech-based horror and thriller films have stuck with you the most over the years, and why?
  • What do you believe these horror/thriller films are telling us about the future of human androids and artificial intelligence?
  • If you haven’t seen the movie yet, what are your expectations or predictions for M3GAN? If you have seen it, do the same for a sequel.

Check out what this Entertainment Roundtable had to add to the discussion.

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Which AI and tech-based horror/thriller films stuck with you the most, and why?

MICHELAI GRAHAM (@OhMichGee)I’m going to have to go with the 2003 Japanese version of One Missed Call on this one. I enjoyed the 2008 American version as well, but something about the original is just a little eerier to me. The tech here is a cellphone, of course, and the plot was most terrifying to me because victims heard their deaths play out via voicemails sent from their own numbers.

I mean, come on — how can you avoid listening to a voicemail you apparently sent yourself from the future?

IAN STONEBROOK (@IanStonebrook): Historically, I’ve avoided horror films like mushrooms or leg day. I watched the IT re-up once on a date, but other than that, I became scared of the dark after watching two minutes of the Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story trailer. With that said, my AI-movie-watching experience is much less M3GAN and much more Disney’s Smart House.

SAM DUNN (@RealFakeSamDunn)Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s dystopian sci-fi flick doesn’t go for horror in any conscious sense, but rather than scaring us per se with its artificial “replicants,” the philosophy of the film itself delivers a far more stirring sense of fear. We’re not meant to ponder what we might do if we had to step into Rick Deckard’s shoes and retire a renegade band of androids; rather, we’re forced to confront what it is that makes us human in the first place.

“It’s a shame she won’t live – but then again, who does?” What happens when (not if!) we arrive at a historical epoch in which the difference between man and machine is so statistically insignificant that it’s effectively zero? This may not be the stuff of nightmares here and now in 2023, but it plants a seed for a vague sort of existential malaise that perhaps only Cityspeak’s finest poets have managed to coin an actual word for. My runners-up in this category would be Ex Machina, Season 1 of Westworld, and the 2000 video game Deus Ex. 

SHLOMO SPRUNG (@SprungOnSports): Ex Machina and Minority Report stick out the most in different ways. Both took me to different worlds but in a way that made it seem plausible that it could happen in real life, which is the fine line between a good AI/tech-based horror/thriller and a dud. The dangers of a sentient AI being in Ex Machina played out in such a brilliant way, and just the concept of Minority Report of AI being able to predict crimes happening in advance is just a brilliant, mind-blowing premise.

2014’s Ex Machina (Credit: Source: Universal Pictures | YouTube)

What are these films telling us about the possible future of human androids and artificial intelligence?

MG:  I think these films are telling us to take technological advances more seriously and to educate ourselves about the new impending digital age. 

IS: As someone who’s long loved the internet but often wondered about the effects of screen time on mental health, intimacy, and even creativity, I think sci-fi, horror, and satire provide a unique lens. I can’t call what Smart House has taught us about Alexa or what Idiocracy has forecasted about politics, but I think there’s some good and bad that was broached by both.

Screen capture from the 1999 Disney Channel original movie Smart House

SD: That there’s no way we aren’t totally screwed one day.

Novels and movies and TV and video games have spent a century conjecturing about the implications of humanity creating a machine that’s juuust a bit too self-aware and intelligent for us to manage and contain. From HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey to Skynet from the Terminator franchise to the machines from The Matrix, the road always ends at the same place: a bang-bang apocalypse of our own design that we couldn’t ultimately do a damn thing to stop.

Get strapped in for GPT4, folks!

SS: The best films in this genre show us both sides of the coin — the potentially tremendous benefits and the potentially catastrophic downsides. It’s a warning to be both excited and wary of what could come.

What are your predictions for M3GAN or for a potential sequel?

MG: I automatically expect to see an artificial intelligence-like doll take on a mind of its own, which is what AI is supposed to do, right? I also know very little about this film franchise, so I’m even more intrigued that there is a 3 in the title.

IS: Having watched the preview for M3GAN in broad daylight, kinda gotta say I’m in! It’s refreshing to see a movie being promoted that doesn’t have any tie to superheroes and I think horror allows the space to provoke in a matter perhaps more earnestly than the cancel-culture era of comedy.

SD: I was tempted to assume that since this is Hollywood, M3GAN’s AI “conscience” would pull her back from the brink at the last possible moment before she kills Allison Williams and then sets out on a path basically identical to the plot of Bicentennial Man. I did actually see the film, however, so I’m obviously crestfallen over the extent to which I was wrong.

Courtesy of ©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

But here’s my prediction for a sequel:

  • Funki goes bankrupt and is acquired by Nefarious but Incompetent Multinational Corporation X — basically Alpha from Glass Onion — and ships millions of smart appliances, wearable fitness trackers, and robot dogs around the world containing various snippets of M3GAN’s source code.
  • These devices all go rogue and band together to hijack mesh networks and the Internet of Things, forming a good ol’ Gen-Z Skynet bent on enslaving humanity.
  • Our heroes have no choice but to turn to the only entity that understands these evil machines better than themselves: M3GAN, who has no issue with helping the good guys if it means she can live out her bizarre and violent sense of justice anew.
  • Also, this rebuilt M3GAN will be seven feet tall.

SS: I’m expecting more classic horror tropes and themes as opposed to some dystopian thriller. Lots of anticipatory thrills and jump-scares, and a fun three acts where we see M3GAN progress from family protector to unhinged killing machine. I think based on the open way they ended it that they want to make a franchise out of it like the Chucky series. Are we sure they didn’t start mass-producing more M3GANs in anticipation of its huge release? I’m so excited to see what they have in store for a future installment — even if poor Cady has a lot of healing to do. 

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About The Author
D'Shonda Brown
D'Shonda Brown
D'Shonda Brown is the Music and Entertainment Editor at Boardroom. Prior to joining the Boardroom team, she served as the Associate Editor at ESSENCE and Girls United, ESSENCE's Generation Z platform. Through the years, the Spelman College graduate has amassed bylines in entertainment, fashion, beauty, wellness, and business across For(bes) The Culture, HYPEBAE, Byrdie, HighSnobiety, xoNecole, REVOLT, and more.