Doll kills, doll dies, doll comes back to life; is this a viable franchise structure?
The Child’s Play (also known as Chucky) franchise currently consists of five official films, with the sixth film going straight to DVD in 2013. The franchise has seemingly been split between two key eras: the Child’s Play era (film’s one to three) and the Chucky era (film’s four and five). Launched in 1988, Child’s Play was a fairly new concept with a touch of fantasy mixed in with brutal horror, creating a popular slasher that kicked off a franchise that spans over three decades.
Starting off the franchise, the first film generated approximately $33m over its lifetime, a successful start for a budget film of around $9m; it received a Saturn Award and was nominated for three others. Following this, Child’s Play 2 was released two years later to a slightly diminished response to the previous; despite having a higher budget than the first film, it managed to generate almost similar numbers, bringing in around $28m worldwide. By Child’s Play 3, only a year later in 1991, it seems the novelty had worn off, and with a similar budget to the previous film, it only managed to scrape together around $14m worldwide. This is where the franchise gets a little more interesting; the next release came after a seven year gap and a reinvigorated story line helped attract audiences once again to produce similar figures to the first film: approximately $32m. However, six years later we see the release of the last cinema-available film in the series, Seed of Chucky, with another slump in form and a total gross of just less than half the amount generated from the previous film’s success with around $17m.
The structure of the franchise is interesting to examine, particularly with such a large difference between film styles and how the films pan out. It’s true that the first three films follow a similar plot, and by the end of this trilogy a new direction was definitely needed. Moving on to new pastures, Chucky is reunited with a previous lover – who then becomes a doll – and then they have a child. To reinforce this, there are some obvious changes in statistics; the Child’s Play trilogy sported more POV Chucky shots as well as Chucky getting injured more consistently. This is most notable with Chucky being the only villain with a need to depend more on him to generate interest. On the other side, the post Child’s Play era has more humans dying and more knife stabs than before, with Chucky now only responsible for 44% of the humans killed (a huge drop from 100% in the first three films). Again, this is largely due to the fact that Chucky is accompanied by another murdering doll, Tiffany.
As individual films, the first is host to more than twice the chase scenes of any of the other films, which is odd considering it’s also the film with the most location restrictions as most of the film set in a fairly small apartment. However, what this does display is the creators emphasis on using traditional thriller techniques for the first film, especially considering it shares the most POV shots award and includes the second highest knife stabs count in the series.
The one shining light throughout the franchise, is our infamous lead, Chucky. By being a doll he’s able to get away with a lot more than a human villain would and still be favourable by the audience; he’s arrogant, obnoxious and a generally horrible person. It’s interesting that even though the lead character is a killer and obviously a bad person, it’s hard not to root for him and more importantly, enjoy watching his character. This is likely down to the fact that the franchise is largely unrealistic and distant from real life events; other slasher franchises like Scream or Texas Chainsaw Massacre might hit a little closer to home due to the villain’s realism. When all is said and done, Chucky is a great villain, but more importantly a great lead. Not many franchises rely on the villain as the lead, but the Child’s play series delivers with great effect.
Looking back at the franchise journey and our beloved killing doll, Chucky has come a long way; from being burnt to a crisp, slashed to pieces, having a wife and a child, he’s certainly experienced a lot. The franchise progression was much needed after the third film, and the creators delivered for the best, developing a much darker and entertaining angle that allowed the franchise to avoid going stale. As a franchise, it’s likely to be sat in an average position in our overall Leaderboard but despite this, each film has its memorable moments, usually resulting in the brilliant lead performing a kill or replying with a profanity.
Maybe the franchise has hit another sticking point after Seed of Chucky, but with its track record of reinvigorating the story and developing new characters into the mix, I wouldn’t rule out another re-launch in a few years time. Let’s just hope it’s not another non-committal straight-to-DVD release.
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