The Child’s Play franchise has gotten a reboot out in theaters this weekend, but without Charles Lee Ray, which begs the question – why? The franchise has waffled over the years between aiming for straight horror, to taking itself too seriously, to fully embracing camp and queer representation, but not all iterations are considered equal. In order to see how this new version stacks up against the rest of its predecessors, we decided to rank each and every one of them.
8. Cult Of Chucky
Of all the missed opportunities in the Child’s Play franchise, this is easily the biggest misstep. It presents itself as a discourse around psychosis, suggesting that Chucky isn’t real and that Nica (Fiona Dourif) actually did kill her entire family. Consequently, this includes Andy, with Alex Vincent reprising the role he originated. But it shows its hand too quickly, and, in an odd turn of events, doesn’t take itself seriously enough. Where the subject matter in Bride and Seed flourished under the yoke of campiness, the idea of an unreliable narrator, in this case, would have benefitted from a bit more gravity. And what’s worse is it falls prey to the exhausting trend of using rape as a means of identifying a bad character rather than putting the work into just crafting an awful character from the get-go. It picks at low-hanging fruit when it doesn’t need to, and leaves so much to be desired. But Fiona Dourif is amazing, so at least we have that.
7. Child’s Play 3
More than anything, Part 3 commits what I consider to be the cardinal sin for any film – it’s boring. You can have flaws in continuity, the internal logic can be off, you can even get away with bad writing, but there’s just no excuse for a film like this being boring. Mancini himself describes it as one of the weakest of the franchise. At almost exactly an hour and a half long, it manages to feel like a slog, dragging for the entirety of its runtime. We don’t really care about Andy anymore, but Mancini and director Jack Bender didn’t adequately flesh out Tyler (Jeremy Silvers), Andy’s emotional replacement, in order to make us give a damn. It’s also exceptionally bizarre, feeling at times like Full Metal Jacket for teens and others like Private Benjamin … with a killer doll, of course. That level of absurdity is the film’s strongest asset, and something that, when fully realized in Bride and Seed, actually elevates the material. Here, unfortunately, it’s just the cherry on top of a very bland sundae.
6. Child’s Play (2019)
In an attempt to revitalize the franchise for a new era, Orion Pictures decided to bring Chucky into the cloud. Doing away completely with Charles Lee Ray, our new Chucky is, instead, A.I. gone wrong – or rogue, as the case may be. He’s not possessed, nor does anyone cast some kind of spell. Instead, all safety protocols are wiped from his chip before he’s shipped off in a bleak scene that ultimately amounts to nothing. Uninhibited by Asimovian rules or regulations, Chucky can now learn and change as he sees fit – and boy does he. But while the kills are at the very least amusing, this otherwise promising remake falls completely flat. The groundwork exists for some stellar satire and social commentary about our state of technological addiction and Orwellian surveillance. Instead, we’re given horror by numbers and it doesn’t always pan out. In the end, you can’t help but wonder why we needed this remake at all.
5. Curse Of Chucky
A wise person knows when to admit they were wrong. When it comes to Curse of Chucky, I most definitely misjudged this straight to video treat by its cover. The film starts off rough, there’s no denying that. The writing is wooden, and it feels like most bargain bin, straight-to-DVD flicks – bad acting, bad directing, bad writing, and painful to watch. Everything just feels off. Chucky looks different and not in a good way, and everything feels a little too hammy. But once the film hits its stride at the top of the third act, it doesn’t let up, ending with stunning flair. On top of everything, casting Fiona Dourif was an excellent choice, as she steals every scene she’s in. It’s a shame Mancini didn’t fully lean into this one from the get-go, because where it winds up is perfection. But, unfortunately, it sits in mediocrity for the majority of its run time.
4. Child’s Play 2
With Child’s Play 2, we saw the first seeds of campiness we’d come to associate with the franchise. It’s not as strong a film as its predecessor, but Mancini and director John Lafia clearly saw this as an opportunity to move things in a new direction. With bright colors and dutch angles for days, the film moves at a different pace, often feeling cartoonish. The end scene in the Good Guy toy factory is the most fun you’ll have watching a man get doll eyes forcibly shoved into his eye sockets. But it’s uneven. The pacing is inconsistent, and it feels like it’s taking itself too seriously in an attempt to stay firmly connected to the first film. It’s at its best when it relishes its camp potential.
3. Child’s Play (1988)
The first Child’s Play is a classic, there’s really no arguing that. While other creepy killer dolls came well before Chucky, he definitely put the subgenre on the map, taking the slasher villain in the opposite direction of his hulking, behemoth counterparts of the era. It’s really the only film in the entire franchise that’s genuinely scary by virtue of the element of surprise. Typically, killer dolls are possessed and controlled by an outside force. Sometimes they serve as more of a vessel for the homicidal proclivities and psychological trauma of the human behind them. No one expected the Good Guy doll to start killing folks because he was self-possessed, with full autonomy over his actions. Chucky’s got no strings to hold him down, which effectively adds to the terror. As a result, the first Child’s Play stands alone, unique in its ability to be genuinely scary.
2. Seed Of Chucky
“Any good story,” director Don Mancini has said, “is about surprising the viewer and subverting their expectations.” With Chucky being an absurd concept to begin with, eventually, he needed to go in a different direction. And if your audience is already laughing at the main character, whether you like it or not, you might as well steer into the metaphorical skid. That started with Bride and culminates with Seed, one of the most contentious films in the franchise, but also one of the most important. Mancini did something truly amazing with Glen/Glenda (Billy Boyd), Chucky and Tiffany’s child; he gave mainstream Hollywood a story about a non-binary trans person discovering the duality of their identity. The studio said it was “too gay” when giving Mancini notes that he, ultimately, didn’t take, and audiences felt the same way. But Seed stands out as a significant moment in mainstream queer cinema for a reason, and that needs to be celebrated.
1. Bride Of Chucky
With its tongue firmly in cheek and distinct confidence, Bride of Chucky perfectly captures what makes Chucky so engaging as a character – camp. Pulling from the legacy of James Whale and Bride of Frankenstein, Don Mancini held nothing back with this installment in the franchise, and it paid off. What we’re given is a fearless, entertaining flick that puts Chucky front and center with his partner in life and mayhem, Tiffany Valentine-Ray (Jennifer Tilly). It’s not the scariest in the franchise, but that doesn’t really matter. It plays to its strengths and succeeds as a result. Instead, we’re given an ode to the classic Universal monster movies, complete with pint-sized makeover montages, dark romance, and a deliciously nihilistic world view. Chucky never needed to be too serious, and we all have more fun in his world when he isn’t.
The Child’s Play remake is in theaters now. Read our review here.