Deconstructing ‘M3GAN’ with Screenwriter Akela Cooper

She Tiktok danced her way into our hearts, before brutally cutting down people with the blade of a paper cutter guillotine. Yes, I’m talking about M3GAN, the homicidal A.I. doll/singer/dancer that has taken the country by storm, grossing $30M domestic on a $12M budget this past weekend, and a 95% Rotten Tomatoes score. But where did the insanely loyal robot get her start? Only screenwriter Akela Cooper knows!

And we were fortunate enough to chat with Cooper about the origins of everyone’s favorite killer-robot-doll/influencer (is that redundant?)!

This is the second collaboration Cooper has had with M3GAN producer/writer James Wan. The duo previously collaborated on the director’s cult hit, Malignant. If that film had the opportunity to open in theaters the way M3GAN had, we’d most definitely be seeing the same levels of success. Especially given the strong audience the film found on digital over the past two years. But I digress.

The fact is, the success of the Malignant team’s second collaboration is absolutely not in question, and M3GAN is a certified hit. And we were able to ask Cooper about her response to the strong positive commercial and critical reception of the film, as well as its origins. Here’s what she had to say:

Hi Akela! First of all we love this movie! Thank you so much for it! We love this movie! And congratulations on its success. 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. $30M opening weekend! This is a huge, huge movie. And no one more deserving than you and James, and [director] Gerard [Johnstone]! Because you guys just knocked it out of the park! How has that been for you?

COOPER: Thank you! Yeah, it is — I can’t speak for James and Gerard — but like, never in my wildest dreams did I think this was going to be the result of five years of hard work. I’m happy for it. I’m not complaining. But I’m a B-movie fan! Obviously I love B-horror movies. And so when Malignant came out in 2021, obviously there was a day-and-date thing. But it was a cult hit! And I was happy with it. The audience who would love it found it and they do love it. And that’s great! And I thought that was going to be what was going to happen with M3GAN. I thought there was going to be this small niche audience who was going to find it, and love it, and carry it into the future. It would be that movie that friends share with friends… And for this to have happened it’s like, whoa!

It’s deserved. In my head, Malignant did this good when it came out. No, it deserved to do this good. When you make great movies that know exactly what they are, that are so self aware, like M3GAN herself, and know who they’re catering to and what type of horror they are they deserve the success because they’re intelligently handled and written. And that’s what you and James have done with both of these movies. And I couldn’t be happier as B-movie horror fan. So really congratulations. Where did M3GAN come from? Did the story come up during Malignant? How did this come to be?

COOPER: Well M3GAN came first actually. It was the first thing I’d written for Atomic Monster. I’d written two original specs and my rep sent them around. And Jason Scott and Michael Clear from Atomic Monster responded to my writing and were like, “hey! we’d love to meet with her generally.” And so I had a basic “get to know you” meeting with those guys, and in the meeting they told me that they and James were sitting in their offices kicking around the idea of making a modern-day Child’s Play. A modern day killer doll movie, which they pitched to me. The elevator pitch was Chopping Mall meets Child’s Play. And I hadn’t seen Chopping Mall in a while, but I remember robots in the mall. And I had to go back and watch that to make sure what I remember was in the movie. But they were like, “If you want to take a crack at this and come up with a take we’d love to hear it.” And I’m like, “Okay.” And driving off the WB lot, thinking about it, the first thing that came to me was her name, M3GAN. I was like, “I don’t know what that stands for, but I’ll figure it out later.” And I did try to come up with other names but it was just like, “No. It’s M3GAN. This is what she is.” So from there I knew what she was going to be called, and I knew the movie was going to open up with the death of Cady’s parents… Like I knew that was the opening and that this orphaned little girl was going to have to live with a relative. And so like putting myself into it, I have an older sister, who in the early-‘00s had two young kids. And after I moved out here to Los Angeles, she’s like “hey just so you know, my husband and I…” they were like doing their will or whatever they were doing, “if anything happens to us, and if anything happens to our parents, you’re next in line to get our kids.” And I was like, “What? I am in no way equipped to take care of small children. What are you talking about.” And that’s just kind of where Gemma came from. Was basically what if I had to take care of small children… and I knew I wanted to do something about women in STEM. I wanted to make Gemma into robotics and stuff, and so she was the creator. So yeah. In thinking through those things the story continued to spool out of my head from there. I wrote up, I think it was, a six-page treatment. And then came back into the office of Atomic Monster and pitched it to them. And they responded really well and they sent it to James. And he responded really well. Eventually it made its way to Jason Blum. Who was eager to partner with James. And so he bought it. And here we are.

Thank God for that! I know the year is only a few days old, but it’s my favorite movie of the year so far! But here’s the thing. I love how personal you made Gemma and how much you put yourself into it. Because it’s not typical for B-movies to get as emotional. But that relationship between Cady and Gemma, you get it. And for someone like me who has collectibles…

COOPER: YES! That scene gets me every time! I would never have done it. I could just see her on her laptop, on eBay buying the replacements!

I would totally do the same thing! In fact I did do the same thing when my nieces opened up my collectibles!

COOPER: Right? It’s like, “No! Don’t touch it!”

I love this! So nothing means more to us than to see voices of underrepresented groups coming across on screen a lot. And horror has been one of those areas where the voices in the industry have been dominated by male voices. But now you have yourself, Nia DaCosta, Mariama Diallo, Nikyatu Jusu, who just did Nanny, really coming out there. How does it feel to live in this moment where you all are changing horror and overseeing its future?

COOPER: It’s wonderful! And it’s wonderful that it’s so varied. Because Hollywood is one of those industries where they see what worked, and replicate that a thousand times until it doesn’t work anymore. And then something has to force its way into the “new thing” that will be copied again. Wash, rinse, repeat. I’ve said this before, and — I’m in no way sh—ting on these movies — but elevated horror was the thing for the longest time. And for those of us who love B-movies and just want to go to a horror movie to squeal, laugh, and talk about it with friends. And I’m happy to kick that door open. But then you’ve also got the other women you’ve said, and now we have the “fun horror,” the “elevated horror,” the modestly budgeted “doing both things” horror. And so it’s like the fact that there’s a bunch of us doing a bunch of subgenres of horror is something I’m really happy about.

Absolutely. It’s such a diverse portfolio of different stories you can tell, and you guys are crushing it! I love that we horror fans are eating right now! Speaking of (and I mean this in the most positive way) replicating success, I’ve heard from Gerard that there are thoughts about where you guys would want to take the story. So are we in the process of getting more M3GAN?

(from left) M3GAN and Cady (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone.

COOPER: [laughs] I know better than to say something with a Universal executive on the call!

I swear I’m not trying to trick you! I’m just excited.

COOPER: I am going to echo what Gerard said. There are thoughts through the success, we’ve all been texting and emailing each other. And James Wan is incredibly smart that he doesn’t want to deliberately do that, because he doesn’t want to tempt fate. But you gotta leave the door open, and leave the crumbs just in case. So yes. There are thoughts. And I am more than open to coming back and exploring more of what M3GAN can do, if we are so blessed to get that greenlight.

We would all love to see that too! With the Universal execs on the line I’m just going to put it out there: M3GAN in Space! You can even cross it over with Fast and Furious if you want to, since they’re in space too!

COOPER: Earlier I did a podcast with Gerard for Empire. Which was wonderful. And he had talked about a M3GAN Christmas special. Which we were both like, “Oh wow! What would that look like?” And it could be M3GAN sitting by a fireplace reading Christmas stories and singing songs! She doesn’t have to kill anybody. She doesn’t have to do anything else but that, people would love that wouldn’t they?

If you had M3GAN just singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” with M3GAN’s I would totally play that on a loop. I think everyone would love that as well.

COOPER: I mean if Guardians of the Galaxy gets a Christmas special, I’m sure someone at Universal will probably be like, “…actually…”

A Very M3GAN Christmas coming soon! Actually there’s not enough holiday horror either. We have Gremlins, Violent Night (which doesn’t really count as horror), maybe Krampus. But a M3GAN Christmas horror movie would be amazing!

COOPER: It’s ironic… but M3GAN the first draft I wrote was set during Christmas! The climax of the first draft took place in front of a Christmas tree. Once we had the pandemic and production had to move from Montreal to New Zealand, the weather in Auckland is very different from Montreal so, yeah, we lost the Christmastime setting.

It’s ok. It worked out well and it’s an idea for a future movie: A Very M3GAN Christmas! So there you go! Akela, I swear, this is one of my favorite interviews ever. I feel like I could just talk to you about geeky stuff forever and just enjoy myself, and laugh, and have fun. But you, James, and Gerard just knocked it out of the park, and I’m so happy for your success, and I’m so glad audiences responded to what I responded to. But I can’t wait until we see more. And looking forward to seeing that someday!

COOPER: Thank you as well!

M3GAN is now currently killing it at a theater near you!