This past January, M3GAN was released in theaters to surprise critical acclaim, scoring a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and 72/100 on Metacritic, numbers unheard of in the month Hollywood traditionally uses as its dumping ground. M3GAN also made a haul at the box office, grossing almost $180 million worldwide off of a $12 million budget. This success was likely predicated on her “dance” that she performs when she finally decides to liberate herself. The dance was copied on TikTok and parodied on shows from Drew Barrymore to SNL. Of note, the SNL sketch makes a “gay sequel” because of the character’s popularity among homosexual men.
Meanwhile, I, intrigued by the positive reception, saw the movie upon release. While she puts her “step on me” energy to literal use during the film, I didn’t understand the queer fascination. Five months later, I watched the movie again (with–you guessed it–my Midsommar friends). With the gay appreciation in mind, I reoriented my perspective and was smacked by the obvious: M3GAN is a classic, coded-gay villain.
A “coded gay” character is one that is not heteronormative, yet, whether because of the culture inside the movie or outside it, they cannot be publicly out to the audience. Usually, this causes the character to exhibit anger and repression, resulting in villainous behavior while giving behavioral clues to viewers.
Classic Disney villains are notorious for this archetype, relying on foppish men or power-hungry women to forward their diabolical schemes. One would think such portrayals would uniformly irk the LGBTQ+ crowd. Ironically, however, many in the queer community became Disney super fans. ANY representation, after all, is better than erasure.
Thankfully, Pride rights have made progress in recent decades, and accurate, multifaceted representation of LGBTQ+ people has become more commonly visible in our contemporary media. If queer people have lovely and lovingly crafted shows, why, then, are gay people still flocking to M3GAN?
I believe that, because there are (and will hopefully continue to be) several contemporary, positive examples of LGBTQ+ characters, there is once again room for the coded-gay archetype. Why? Because discrimination and marginalization of queer people is still present in today’s society. Many gay people still feel that sting of rejection or experience fear of losing their jobs or loved ones should they be outed. Resultantly, having angry feelings about these situations is natural, and M3GAN, both the movie and the character, give Pride people an outlet for those feelings.
While the shark in Jaws is scary because it’s a seemingly unstoppable force of nature and Chucky taps into a viewer’s core fear, M3GAN will join the movie villain hall of fame because of her understandable motivations. Is she evil? Of course! But that’s what makes villains fun: they get to say and do all of the things a viewer would like–but just for a short time, enough to get those impulses out of one’s system. After the movie’s over, then, audiences can just press the off switch.