You might be aware of MGM’s upcoming remake of Child’s Play, the supernatural slasher cult classic that introduced the world to Chucky, the now iconic redheaded killer doll. The film was the brainchild of Don Mancini and produced by long-time collaborator David Kirschner. Brad Dourif played voodoo-crazed homicidal maniac Charles Lee Ray and also voiced the Good Guy doll that Ray eventually transferred his soul into before going on to terrorize Chicago child Andy Barclay and everyone he loves.
The original 1988 Child’s Play was made for a reported $9 million and went on to scare up a tidy profit for the studio with a total gross just north of $44 million. Since then, Mancini has carried on the franchise and its original continuity, writing six sequels with Kirshner and Dourif returning to produce and star in each one, respectively. Mancini is set to carry his long-running vision over to television for a limited Syfy series tentatively titled Child’s Play: The TV Series. It’s the longest streak of unbroken continuity for any of the slasher icons of the 1980s.
Now, as alluded to earlier, Child’s Play is getting remade featuring a newer-fangled doll also named Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) who shares the original Chucky’s taste in rainbow-striped sweaters, overalls, and young boys named Andy.
So how exactly is this possible? How can Universal continue the popular franchise with the original Child’s Play creator while at the same time MGM is completely remaking the original film? Let’s break down the complicated rights situation behind the popular franchise.
First, it’s important to know that since 1988, a number of studios have distributed the seven Chucky films. MGM had distribution rights to the original. Universal Pictures distributed Child’s Play 2, Child’s Play 3 and Bride of Chucky. They are also distributing Child’s Play: The TV Series.
For the fifth film, Seed of Chucky, Rogue and Relativity Media took over for Universal as distributor. Mancini and Kirschner returned to Universal for the latest two installments, Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky. Both received straight-to-digital releases rather than wide theatrical ones. Alright, now that we have the bigger picture in mind, we can dig a little deeper into the nitty-gritty.
In 1989, nearly a year after Child’s Play made such a big splash for the studio, an Australian sleeze bag by the name of Christopher Skase attempted to purchase MGM studios. Unfortunately, mere months before Child’s Play 2 was set to begin principal photography, Skase made it clear he had no intention of making any horror movies. Consequentially, the head of United Artists (an MGM company at the time) returned the Child’s Play rights to Kirschner free and clear so that he and Mancini could pursue the sequel elsewhere.
Remember when I said the original Child’s Play made a big slash for MGM? Well, as a result, a number of studios were now interested in going into business with Kirschner and Mancini on the yet-to-be-produced Child’s Play 2. Thanks to Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, who were phoning in a favor for a fellow producer who worked at Universal Pictures, Kirschner and Mancini met with Universal execs and the two parties agreed to partner up for Child’s Play 2. (Three decades later, Spielberg got to briefly direct Chucky himself in the film Ready Player One.)
After the third film in the series, the Child’s Play moniker gave way to more comedic spins on the franchise which now featured Chucky’s name in the titles. The first of these, Bride of Chucky, was another big win for Universal, grossing nearly $51 million at the box office. Mancini convinced the studio to let him direct the follow-up, Seed of Chucky, which was the first not the be distributed by Universal’s flagship banner; instead, the film was released via a newly acquired offshoot called Rogue Pictures. The film was a letdown both critically and financially, not making even half of what its predecessor did worldwide.
It took nine years before Universal felt comfortable putting more money into the Chucky brand. When they did, they did so on a much smaller scale. 2013’s Curse of Chucky was made with a granular budget of $5 million, not even half of what Seed of Chucky had cost to produce. Also, as mentioned earlier, ‘Curse’ and its sequel, 2017’s Cult of Chucky, received digital-only releases. Fortunately for the franchise, both were generally well accepted, garnering 76% and 77% critic ratings respectively via Rotten Tomatoes.
All of this leads us back to 2019. How is it MGM is able to remake the original Child’s Play? Well, simply put: MGM still maintains the rights to the first Child’s Play film. Mancini himself pointed this out previously:
“MGM retained the rights to the first movie, so they’re rebooting that.”
As it turns out, MGM indeed enjoys the rights to the first film in the Child’s Play series. And with Universal opting to put out their most recent Chucky films out via the straight-to-home route, MGM saw an opening for a theatrical reinterpretation of the material.
So what have Kirschner and Mancini been doing all these years with the franchise? You see, while MGM controls the rights to the initial movie, Kirschner and Mancini have the rights to produce Child’s Play sequels. This means that they cannot remake the film that started everything thirty years ago, but the duo can continue on the story that they set in motion with it all those years ago. On the other hand, MGM can remake the original film, but they are prohibited from straight-up remaking any of its sequels. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that MGM has every right to make sequels to their reboot should they see fit, which means we could see two different continuities of Child’s Play going on simultaneously, depending on how well the upcoming reboot performs.
MGM did approach Mancini and Kirschner about being credited as executive producers, however, the pair turned the offer down:
They asked producer David Kirschner and I if we wanted to be executive producers. We said no thank you, because we have our ongoing thriving business with Chucky. Obviously my feelings were hurt. Ya know, I had just done two movies… forgive me if I sound defensive, they were both at 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Even though they didn’t get theatrical releases, they were well regarded. And I did create the character and nurture the franchise for three fucking decades.”
Despite the tensions between the two teams, this new Child’s Play is directed by Lars Klevberg and hits theaters nationwide on June 21, 2019. It stars Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman and Brian Tyree Henry. Coincidentally, June 21 is the same day that Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story 4 releases, another huge film franchise featuring living toys obsessing over a kid named Andy. Hmmm….
For my ranking of all the Child’s Play/ Chucky films from worst to best, click here!
There it is! That’s my breakdown of the unusual rights situation regarding the Child’s Play movies. I hope my explanation helped clear some things up for you, at least a little. Anyways, what do you make of all this? It’s a lot to take in, I know. Do you think MGM should be rebooting Child’s Play while the original creator is still fulfilling his vision for the series? Will you be checking it out in theaters this June? Jump down to the comments section below and let me know what’s running through your head regarding this whole thing!