Before he hit the big screen, M3GAN was a social media icon.
A killer android doll is the star of “M3GAN,” which airs nationwide Friday. But her TikTok-esque dance moves, featured in the film’s trailer, made her a viral sensation months ago.
In the trailer, M3GAN dances — swinging his arms, spinning, posing against a wall and inexplicably doing somersaults — to a remixed track of Taylor Swift’s “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.” actually set to a disco tune called Walk the Night by the Skatt Brothers.
The film was brought to life with the help of actor Amie Donald, who physically embodied the puppet, as well as a combination of visual effects, animatronics and puppetry.
Donald, who has a background in dance, helped choreograph the dance, which has since exploded on platforms like TikTok and Twitter. As of Monday, the hashtag #M3GAN has more than 954.4 million views, while #M3GANDANCE has more than 186.5 million views on TikTok.
Many on social media have declared M3GAN a strange symbol. Dancing M3GANs have become commonplace events where the film is promoted. Some are also online sewing videos M3GAN side by side with Jenna Ortega’s viral “Wednesday” dance.
“I wanted people to like it and kiss it, but there’s no way to understand the reaction we got,” director Gerard Johnstone told NBC News in a recent Zoom interview. “It’s unbelievable. It makes my head spin.”
Written by Akela Cooper and based on a story by James Wan, the film follows newly orphaned Cady (played by Violet McGraw) after moving in with her robot aunt Gemma (played by Allison Williams). After Cady struggles to adjust to her new life with Gemma, Gemma introduces Cady to the newly designed Model 3 Generative Android, aka M3GAN. M3GAN and Cady become best friends until M3GAN becomes overprotective of Cady, who launches a murderous attack.
While the dance is poised to become a fixture on TikTok, built on the lip-syncing and dancing success of teenage girls and young women, Johnstone said the “M3GAN” choreography wasn’t created with the goal of being next. TikTok sensation.
Johnstone, who says he’s in a “self-imposed social media rut,” doesn’t spend time on platforms like TikTok. But as a filmmaker, she understands the role it plays in girls’ social lives and how TikTok elements like dance connect young women. He said he wanted to incorporate that experience into the film’s narrative.
“There’s a scene at the beginning of the movie where M3GAN and Cady are bonding and just dancing,” Johnstone said.
For the dance scene, Donald, who has a background in dance, told the Los Angeles Times that Gerard instructed her to be “creepy but distracting at the same time.”
People on the internet really found it creepy, disturbing and extremely entertaining.
“All my TL are gays working at M3gan” one person he tweeted in October.
“‘Th3 clouds raise 3d for the future of cin3ma and saw M3gan” -Martin Scors3s3, one person he tweeted.
Another person tweeted, referencing a scene in the movie where M3GAN sings to Cady. he wrote: “M3GAN to single-handedly propel ‘Titanium’ by Sia to the top of the charts.”
Williams said the internet response demonstrated how well people understood the character.
“The memes, the copies of the dance, the way people understood it, which I absolutely loved,” Williams told Insider. “And we just thought, ‘Okay, it’s done.’ They buy it.” It belongs to them now. It’s amazing.”
Over the weekend, many people flocked to theaters to see M3GAN dance on the big screen. The film earned $30.2 million at the domestic box office. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a critic score of 93% with 167 reviews as of Monday. (“M3GAN” is distributed by Universal Pictures. NBC News and Universal Pictures are both owned by NBCUniversal).
Like other viral events before it, M3GAN’s social media success was a happy accident — something Johnstone didn’t see coming.
“I’m very grateful that it’s been adopted and that it has an army of people willing to stand by it,” Johnstone said of M3GAN. “It’s unbelievable”
He credits some of the film’s early praise to the buzz on social media.
“A lot of the success of a movie depends on how you can market it,” Johnstone said. “I started making trailers, making TV trailers, so it was definitely a conscious thing — what are the bits that can be picked out?”
Even with that in mind, Johnstone said he didn’t think M3GAN’s dance should appear in the trailer.
“I really thought they gave a lot more than the dance,” she said. “So that shows how much I know.”