Horror franchises can go on and on, there are 12, soon to be 13, installments of Halloween, six Screams, and 12 Friday The 13th movies. Chucky, the doll given to six-year-old Andy Barclay by his mother, naturally unaware that the doll is possessed by the soul of Charles Lee Ray, a prolific serial killer, is one such franchise, with eight movies now in the can.
The origin of the franchise comes from creator Don Mancini, who cooked up the initial premise for the killer doll based on his own experiences as a youngster. While he didn't befriend an evil Cabbage Patch Kid, he observed the hysteria surrounding their release – in large part due to his father's role as a marketing executive for a toy company.
Together with his love of the slasher genre, in particular A Nightmare on Elm Street, Mancini penned the first draft which would go on to spawn a sprawling slasher franchise. In the almost-40 years since, Chucky's been around the block.
From that 1988 original to the latest savvy sequel in 2017, to the TV series: he's seen it all. The pint-sized doll with murder in his heart and a quippy one-liner on his lips has given nightmares to generations of horror fans. The small-screen series, his latest offering, is due to return for season two this October. And with the premiere on the horizon, we've ranked all of the Chucky movies for your (dis)pleasure.
Big spoilers for the Chucky franchise follows, as you might expect.
8. Seed of Chucky
Where its predecessor Bride of Chucky carefully straddles the line of self-referential and scary slasher to winning effect, Seed tips into the former effectively rendering it horror-lite. Picking up years after the events of Bride with the offspring of Chucky and Tiffany resurrecting their parents in Hollywood, what follows is zany slapstick as both try to quash their killer instincts as a way to mute their child’s own appetite for destruction.
Jennifer Tilly plays a version of herself whom Tiffany wishes to embody — quite literally. Their onscreen sparring, in particular during a conference call sequence, provide the biggest laughs even if they're not matched by scares. Low budget aside, it's the absence of the truly horrific which is really missed here, in large part due to the overly-complicated plot that involves a web of characters looped in solely to die.
Seed is not without its strong points however, introducing Chucky's genderfluid spawn into the franchise. The nonbinary Glen/Glenda character forces both Chucky and Tiffany – along with the audience – to confront gender stereotypes in a way that enables mass carnage.
7. Child's Play 3
The only issue with a franchise revolving around a killer doll is how fast the novelty wears thin. Child's Play 3 does little to distinguish itself from the previous two installments in terms of story. Chucky still wants to take over Andy Barclay's body.
The scenario however is a little different. This time, Andy's at military school and a time jump puts him at 16. Released a mere nine months after Child's Play 2, the production rush shows in the script which is a little flat compared to the vibrant first sequel.
The military setting puts Chucky in close proximity to a lot of weapons — rifles, grenades – but they're only explored in the final act. Weirdly, the climax unravels at a nearby carnival. The bulk of the action copies the previous film's structure, except this time Andy is the teen protector of young Tyler, who becomes the object of Chucky's attention with a game of 'hide the soul.' It doesn't help that Andy's lost his pluck, no longer a can-do kid with courage, but now a bit of a dullard.
The movie's missed opportunity lies in its opening sequence at the Good Guys factory. It's here we see how Chucky is resurrected. He’s not the same doll, his DNA drips into a vat of melted plastic and from here a new Good Guy is forged. This scene held the seeds of Mancini’s original idea for the movie — an army of Chuckys — which was back burnered due to budgetary concerns. It's a shame we didn't see this '90s version of what would essentially become Cult of Chucky.
6. Child's Play (2019)
Cult of Chucky's success surely would have ushered in another sequel following the original mythology, but instead, we were given a remake of the 1988 original. Granted, this entered development years before Curse and Cult, with an entirely new creative team at the wheel.
The remake is better than it should be. Gone is the serial killer trapped in a doll's body, in its place, a killer robot toy. Funky factory settings at the hands of a disgruntled worker lead this Buddi doll to indulge its basest, most violent whims. Unfortunately for Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza), she brings that murderous hunk of plastic home for her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman).
Director Lars Klevberg wrings every setup from the smart home premise as Buddi hooks into the system to cause mayhem from every angle. The choice to craft a new origin is a gamble that pays off in one regard, because it's impossible to better Brad Dourif's Chucky. To copy the original so closely would only serve as a reminder of Mancini and co's winning formula. But in replacing him with an "evil AI" trope, we're sadly given a doll who's evil by design: he only wants to kill because of his settings.
5. Cult of Chucky
How many horror franchises retain any of their zest, originality, and stamina after eight installments? Don Mancini returns to the director's chair after the bloody slayings of Curse for an equally-maniacal follow-up, continuing the direct-to-video era of Chucky sequels.
Twisting the mythology of Chucky's voodoo leanings, Cult imagines a world where Charles Lee Ray is able to transport his soul into multiple dolls – a concept Mancini cooked up decades earlier. The story catches up with Nica (Fiona Dourif) being sectioned to a mental asylum, convinced she's responsible for the deaths of her family.
A light retread of Curse in that the action is restrained to a single location, it's nevertheless the perfect setup for Chucky to settle some scores. This is not merely a continuation of Nica's tale, either. Franchise stalwart Andy Barclay, now an adult with a torturous axe to grind, returns to get his revenge on Chucky too. There's a fair amount of plot lines all entangled which can, at times, feel a little overwhelming when we're here to watch a tiny doll hack and slash, but Mancini and co. manage to wrestle it from incoherence. Watching an army of Chucky's work together to murder a nurse, one particular moment of spectacular savagery.
4. Curse of Chucky
In a return to the original movie's sense of terror, Curse of Chucky is truly scary. That's down to Mancini, doing double duty here as writer and director, who plots out a new chapter in Charles Lee Ray's story in the series' first direct-to-video title. The movie begins with Chucky arriving at the house of a young paraplegic woman, Nica (played by Brad Dourif's daughter, Fiona). Her abode, a delightfully creepy house tucked away in the woods, adds a touch of gothic flair to the mythos.
We've never had a haunted house in the franchise before, and it works wonders to reignite the foreboding terror. Deaths ensue as soon as Chucky's out of his box until the movie manages to circle back to the events prior to his death, slotting it into the timeline and throwing out a cute wink to Bride of Chucky and the Andy Barclay-era as well.
While Brad Dourif is given less in terms of Chucky's trademark snappy comebacks – his performance feeling more like a Frankenstein monster, slowly revived and coming back to life – the movie never suffers. It's Fiona Dourif who's the standout here, bringing a heart wrenching level of trauma and pain to Nica's situation. Chucky himself might not say much but he's back to his mean self, a most welcome return.
3. Child's Play 2
Two years after the success of the first, screenwriters Don Mancini and John Lafia, now in the director's seat, return with a bigger, badder chapter in Chucky's tale. With Andy Barclay now in foster care following the events of the first flick, Chucky is in pursuit, still desperate to take over the youngster's body.
The best sequel in the original run by far. Child's Play 2 is grungey, funny, and scary, the first step Chucky takes toward becoming the iconic horror slasher. The meat of the movie involves Chucky's attempts to find Andy, a premise offering plenty of setups for his murderous exploits including a gruesome car smothering. We're introduced along the way to his foster family, including his sister Kyle, an older teen packing plenty of sass, and the only person in the movie who believes Andy.
While these earlier sequences provide necessary story, the movie peaks during its final act at the Good Guy doll factory. It's as if Lafia knows this is the showstopper the entire movie works toward, saving most of its practical effects wizardry until the last twenty minutes.
The finale's smorgasbord descends into a new level of yuck. Chucky is crushed, melted, shot. Losing his hand at one point, he crudely shoves a blade onto the bloody stump, screaming as the bone and sinew crunches. Arguably Dourif's finest vocal performance in the franchise, his screams of agony as Chucky's body undergoes the reverse Pinocchio treatment – slowly becoming human as punishment for his misdeeds – are bone chilling.
2. Bride of Chucky
The franchise took a hiatus after Child's Play 3 in 1991 and that seven-year gap made all the difference. Horror had undergone a facelift in light of Scream's self-referential scares. As each movie in the Chucky franchise reflects its epoch, Bride is a knowing slasher, nodding at its own silliness while lovingly paying homage to the genre. Opening on a cop rifling through an evidence locker, we're shown glimpses of iconic horror villains to prepare us for the meta-riff to come.
Of course, that's not to say Bride is absent from Chucky's signature slayings. Director Ronny Yu maintains a brisk balance of laughs and blood as Chucky and his new bride Tiffany, also a doll, take to the road to find a way to become human. And, as the saying goes, it's the journey not the destination, and this cross-country jaunt in the RV of young lovers Jesse and Jade (Nick Stabile and Katherine Heigl) becomes a Natural Born Killers-type bloodbath. Chucky and Tiffany's penchant for one-upmanship in the murder stakes emerges as a gruesome and hysterical exercise in creativity. One cop receives a faceful of nails, leading Chucky to ponder why it looks so familiar because he resembles Hellraiser's Pinhead, of course.
This is the first entry in the series wherein Brad Dourif has the opportunity to act opposite another person and their chemistry elevates the two-hander scenes between Chucky and his bride. Jennifer Tilly makes her franchise debut as Tiffany, first in human form and then voicing the doll version. Her brand of humour matches Chucky's to perfection, their argumentative badinage leading to some of the series' wittiest exchanges.
1. Child's Play
Tom Holland's original is a damn scary slasher. Considering the route the franchise takes over the decades, reinventions, reboots, meta schtick slathered over later chapters, it's easy to forget where it all started. The taut script by Don Mancini and John Lafia, tells a simple, creepy premise: what would you do if your child's doll tried to murder them? At this point in the series, the Chucky legacy we've come to know and love, replete with cute one-liners and inventive kills, is still to come. In this first outing? He's mean.
A serial killer out for blood after he transfers his soul from his dying body to a Good Guy doll, Charles Lee Ray is a psychopath with no black-as-night sense of humour. What makes this original so effective is how uncomplicated it all is. Chucky wants to take over Andy's body. That's it.
Better yet, we don't see the doll come to life with its signature snarl until well over the hour-mark, a terrifying moment as Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks, who sadly never returns to the franchise) dangles him over the fire. It's only then that his hideous, uncanny visage transforms into the stuff of nightmares. Beforehand it all lives in our imaginations as Andy's babysitter is murdered and as Karen slowly starts to lose her grip on her sanity. None of the horror is shown up front, all held back until the final act for a masterclass in the slow build.
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Gem Seddon is a Seattle-based freelance entertainment writer with bylines at Vulture, Digital Spy, TechRadar, GamesRadar+, Total Film, What to Watch, and Certified Forgotten. Librarian by day, scribbler by night, Gem loves 90-minute movies, time travel romance, single-camera comedy shows, all things queer, all things horror, and queer horror. Alien and Scream are tied as her all-time favourite movie. She won't stop raving about Better Things.