Ranking Every Child’s Play Movie from Worst to Best
The Child’s Play franchise is a good example of how versatile you can get with a very simple idea if your idea is surrounded by creative people with a solid sense of humor.
And an appreciation for slasher movie violence and inventive practical effects.
In the case of this series, and this ranking of every Child’s Play movie from worst to best, we’re talking about one of the simplest, and perhaps silliest, premises ever committed to a successful franchise.
A mass murderer (Brad Dourif, a brilliant character actor who has brought weight and palpable intensity to a litany of monstrous and/or misunderstood human beings over the years) dies during a shootout with the cops in a toy store. Before he dies, he transfers his soul into a Good Guy Doll, the consumer must-have product of the impending holiday season.
Obviously, with eight movies, a solid remake, and an upcoming TV series simply called Chucky, there’s a little more to the story than that. Characters have been added. The mythology has been expanded to an impressive degree. Charles Lee Ray, Chucky’s real name, is still stuck in the doll. Occasionally, he tries to transfer his soul to something that would make killing a little easier, but these days, he seems to be more or less content as the most famous killer doll in film history.
To be sure, this character should only be able to go so far. Yet across all of these films, all of which are at least fun to watch, Chucky has shown an enduring appeal and a surprising degree of versatility in terms of where and when he might turn up.
As of this writing, Chucky is one of the few 80s slashers who hasn’t really slowed down in any noticeable way during his career. In a movie choking nearly to death on characters and references, it says something about Chucky that his appearance in Ready Player One was among the most memorable.
His popularity continues, and this ranking of the Child’s Play series will hopefully make it clear as to why that’s the case.
Ranking Every Child’s Play Movie
8. Child’s Play (2019)
Director: Lars Klevberg
Again, one of the things about ranking the Child’s Play movies is that so far, I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. That even includes the remake, which takes the same basic premise of a killer toy becoming connected to a young boy, and why that doesn’t seem to ever go well for anyone. Child’s Play here differs itself by using Chucky with contemporary subjects like streamlining A.I., smart technology, and the current state of consumer culture.
If that sounds like a lot, it can be sometimes. However, at its heart, and with enough tense energy and strong performances to carry things along, Child’s Play is a pretty solid modern slasher. It takes a sharp turn by changing the relationship between Chucky and Andy to one that is less overtly antagonistic, but no less dangerous.
When it focuses on those two, with standout performances by Gabriel Bateman and Mark Hamill (who not surprisingly nails it as Chucky), Child’s Play stands pretty well with most of the rest of this series. It just seems a little overstuffed with the need to be as socially relevant as possible.
That isn’t inherently a bad thing. The original Child’s Play obviously makes its own points about consumer culture. With the remake, there could be an argument made that there’s way too much ambition to incorporate that commentary to the point where it’s a very clear, sometimes distracting point of interest from what we’re all here for.
The movie’s larger themes and overall tone does tend to slow down the stuff that works best here. This includes Aubrey Plaza as Andy’s mom Karen, as well as a very well-made, impressively intense third act.
One thing is for certain: Starting in 1936 with Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll, coming to the present with this film, and looking ahead to the Chucky mini-series, the killer doll genre is a genre that keeps on chugging along.
7. Child’s Play 3 (1993)
Director: Jack Bender
While Child’s Play 3 is a lot of fun, it still feels like a lesser version of the sequel. By the second movie, the series began to lean a little harder into the humor some feel is inherent in the killer doll or haunted toy genres. Child’s Play 3 follows a very similar path to pretty good results, but it rarely feels like the film has anything of its own to offer.
The military school academy where Andy now finds himself is a good setting. Unfortunately, it’s not really used to its full potential until near the end of the film, when Chucky tries to turn a war games exercise into a bloodbath. Even then, like a lot of this movie, it doesn’t quite get all the way to the finish line.
Another thing which doesn’t help is the miscasting of Andy, who was portrayed by Alex Vincent in the previous two installments. It makes sense to hire an older actor because Andy is now a teenager, with the film taking place several years after the events of Child’s Play 2. Vincent was simply too young.
Justin Whalin is a good actor, and is nonetheless very watchable here as the new Andy, but it just doesn’t quite click that this is the same kid we’ve been following for three movies.
Despite Brad Dourif keeping things pretty fun (although some of his quips are a little weaker than other entries), and while I do like Perrey Reeves as a cadet at the academy who becomes close to Andy, most of the casting in Child’s Play 3 contributes to the disjointed feeling you can’t quite shake throughout.
Child’s Play 3 keeps the tone of its predecessor to the point of feeling tired. It’s also worth mentioning that while Jack Bender is a noted and prolific TV director of such shows as Game of Thrones, Carnivale, Lost, and several episodes of The Sopranos, I think Child’s Play 3 needed a different director.
This sixth installment, released 9 full years after Seed of Chucky, is about as different from the 1988 original entry as it gets. Curse of Chucky is a film steeped in surreal visuals, the darkest humor to be found in this series up to that point, and isn’t particularly obsessed with remaining consistent in regards to the other films that came before it.
Some people despise such dramatic deviations from their expectations. I admit that sometimes this movie can be a little too unwieldy, a little too chaotic and stylized.
However, I also firmly believe that Curse of Chucky represented a very exciting new direction for the series. When the film is firing on all cylinders, it is not only the best of what these movies have to offer, but is also something that is entirely its own.
The worst thing you can say about Curse of Chucky is that some of the characters aren’t terribly engaging or memorable. That isn’t a knock on the actors, but this movie really does its best work when Chucky is squaring off against Nica. The fact that Nica is played by Fiona Dourif, Brad’s daughter and a furiously talented actor in her own right, is a small part of the fun.
Small, because Fiona brings much of what really sets Curse of Chucky off on such an interesting path. She is a great addition to the series, which progresses the series in an engaging way, while also keeping in mind favorites from past films. Brad Dourif moves flawlessly between hilarious and genuinely threatening. That isn’t a surprise, but it’s good that Dourif still seems to have a really good time playing Chucky. Everyone is having fun, and this is one of those cases where that comes through to the viewer.
5. Seed of Chucky (2004)
Director: Don Mancini
It makes sense that John Waters is in this. There are parts of this film which feel very spiritually related to some of the trash icon’s work. Those parts overwhelm the issues I have with this film, and ultimately justifies Seed of Chucky being number 5.
Starting with Seed of Chucky, taking over the director reins made sense for screenwriter and creator Don Mancini. Although his tendency to believe Chucky can do anything or go anywhere as a character (which is mostly true) sometimes derails whatever movie we’re watching, no one better understands than Mancini the potential of the character.
Just from an idea standpoint, Seed of Chucky is almost too ridiculous for its own good. Chucky and Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) return from Bride of Chucky, continuing their relationship story by actually exploring what seemed like a throwaway joke from the fourth film.
Childbirth and familial relationships are the driving forces here. Right out of the gate, this may or may not work for you. It doesn’t help either that Seed of Chucky is the purest comedy of all of these movies, which only really works for me up to a point.
The story of Chucky and Tiffany suddenly raising their own killer doll child (Billy Boyd, who helps to keep Glen/Glenda from becoming a punchline), while also trying to get Jennifer Tilly (playing herself) pregnant as a means of having a new human host body is also perhaps a little too busy at times. From a pure comedy standpoint, there is way too much plot going on, combined with one-off jokes about Hollywood which sometimes fall completely flat. I like Glen/Glenda’s journey to embracing gender choices, as well as how Chucky *sort-of* tries to be on board with it. It’s also fun watching Tiffany largely fail to be the parent she thinks she can be, although her heart is slightly purer than Chucky’s in this regard.
At the same time, Seed of Chucky goes for broke on malevolent cartoon humor, with some pretty wild stuff for a movie that received a wide release. If you dial down certain expectations, ignore the satire bits, and accept that this is really just a gory sex comedy about family, finding yourself, and embracing the unknown, Seed of Chucky is at least entertaining enough to sustain itself to a better-than-you-might-think conclusion.
4. Cult of Chucky (2017)
Director: Don Mancini
I don’t think you’re going to like Cult of Chucky if you particularly disliked Curse of Chucky. Everything about Curse which brought it to a new plateau in the series is doubled for Cult, making it far and away the weirdest Chucky story in the set.
While mainly squaring off against Nica (once again, Fiona Dourif is wonderful), Cult of Chucky takes on the notion of multiple Chucky dolls running amok. This makes the movie a little hard to follow at times, but it does give Mancini the opportunity to tell a range of different stories which celebrate the past of these movies, while also looking ahead to the future. It’s a juggling act that is done nearly to perfection — this film might be Mancini’s best work to date as a director.
Cult of Chucky also benefits greatly from one of the best casts of any of these movies. Watching the film again recently, I was struck by how successfully the movie includes our favorites, including Andy (Alex Vincent, who has been doing great stuff as an actor in adulthood), Elise (more on her later), and at least one or two others.
None of this is done at the expense of Nica’s story, or at the expense of additional characters who are clearly not going to get out of the mental institution Nica has been sent to in one piece, but who we like nonetheless. Their performances help to restore Chucky as a character who really can be scary sometimes. Maybe not in a profound way, but I can assure you that you won’t be laughing all the way through this.
Sometimes, of course, you will be laughing, as Cult of Chucky has a lot of very satisfying dark humor peppered throughout. It can surprise you as much as anything else in what is easily one of the best sequels in the series.
3. Bride of Chucky (1998)
Director: Ronny Yu
Perhaps the best thing about Bride of Chucky is watching Jennifer Tilly absolutely steal the entire movie as Tiffany. Whether as a killer doll with a Martha Stewart obsession, or a heavy meal femme fatale with hints of compassion, it doesn’t matter. From the first moment forward, Tiffany is just as important to the Chucky universe as the Good Guy himself.
The one-time girlfriend of Charles Lee Ray, Tiffany’s desire to be reunited with her beloved begins with murdering a random goth (the late, hilarious Alexis Arquette), includes bringing the Chucky doll back to more-or-less life, and then reaches the completely logical conclusion of winding up in a killer doll of her own.
Even in doll form, Tiffany still believes she can tame the wild spirit of one of America’s most prolific mass murderers. She also finds herself willing to help Chucky transfer their souls into some fresh bodies, played with ample personality by Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile. Jennifer Tilly is particularly good at comedy because she can make any character worth investing in. Dourif achieved the same with Chucky, although with a very different approach.
Watching them together, combined with some of the best kill scenes in the series, makes Bride of Chucky one of the most entertaining horror movies of the 90s.
John Ritter, who also steals the scenes in which his nasty, abusive police chief character is ruining the lives of our Romeo and Juliet antagonists, has a death in this film that might be my very favorite of any Child’s Play film.
2. Child’s Play (1988)
Director: Tom Holland
Some people believe the Child’s Play movies never really reached the same heights of intent and quality that the 1988 original did. Since this film is number two in this ranking, I clearly disagree.
Obviously, we’re still talking about one of the very best horror movies of the 80s. We’re also talking about a film in which a single mother (Catherine Hicks) buys a popular new doll for her son for his birthday that is profoundly different from any other entry. Child’s Play is straight horror with slasher and psychological elements that is still the best film in the long, varied career of director and all-around genre great Tom Holland.
There is some humor, particularly in the way Andy is forced to navigate an increasingly dangerous world, but it plays more as subtext than anything else. This is a movie with an offbeat premise that is largely taken seriously by everyone involved. Brad Dourif establishes Chucky as a memorable maniac, and as someone whose jokes have the undercurrent of being disconcerting because they are simply the product of someone who really likes their work.
And in Chucky’s case, that work is to kill as many people as possible, regardless of the form, although there is also sizable tension in this film throughout, as Chucky tries to move his soul from the doll to Andy. If he doesn’t do this in time, he’s stuck with the doll forever. Other films would use this premise, but it perhaps works best here.
Alex Vincent as Andy contributes a lot of that tension with one of the best child actor performances in movie history. Catherine Hicks is surprisingly effective, despite a long career in considerably more wholesome works. Chris Sarandon as the cop who doesn’t believe the killer he’s chasing is using voodoo to continue his spree is another casting choice that helps build and maintain our interest in this story.
Child’s Play started one of the most unexpectedly successful horror franchises in modern history. It is absolutely perfect as a horror film.
1. Child’s Play 2 (1990)
Director: John Lafia
There might be a thin layer of nostalgia involved in putting Child’s Play 2 on the top of this ranking of every (to date) Child’s Play movie. It was the first one I saw. I was also lucky enough to watch it for the first time during its premiere on premium cable.
I liked it, not so much the weeks of nightmares which followed. Or getting in trouble with my parents for setting a My Buddy doll on fire almost immediately afterwards. I didn’t know for certain then, but I wasn’t surprised later to learn the doll, created from very noble intentions, was one of the inspirations for Chucky.
As I get older, and as the new stories continue to be released, Child’s Play 2 remains the best of them all for me. It continues the story of Andy by dealing very directly with the trauma he’s suffered, and the undeserved consequences of his experiences in the prior film. He is still being pursued by Chucky, and I’m impressed again and again with how well Alex Vincent plays Andy as both a victim of Chucky’s mere existence, and as someone who is perhaps the only one equipped to stop the doll once and for all.
Of course, while most of the adults continue to think he’s out of his mind, Andy has at least a fellow foster kid, a streetwise teenage girl named Kyle (played with an awful lot of appeal by Christine Elise). One consistency in Child’s Play from one film to the next is the notion of family. The people who build the foundation of your community, and sometimes even save your life, can sometimes come to you when you least expect them.
Andy’s foster parents are also worth mentioning. Sublimely unlikable, although they mean well, the performances by Jenny Agutter and Gerrit Graham are reminders of how underrated those two are. They are perfect examples of this film finding what is the best blend of genuine horror, legitimate tension, and just enough comedy to highlight the love Child Play 2 seems to possess for what I can only describe as minimalist camp. Director John Lafia, who also co-wrote the first film, fully understands what this movie needs.
Child’s Play 2 is the best of everything that makes Chucky and these stories one of the most beautifully eccentric franchises in all of horror. Like him or not, there is no one quite like Charles Lee Ray, and there is no actor quite like Brad Dourif.
Conversely, there is no horror creator quite like Don Mancini.
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