It’s been 31 years since audiences first met Chucky, an adorable doll who has been possessed by the soul of a serial killer, and kids have been having nightmares ever since. It’s been a strange journey for Chucky through all the “Child’s Play” movies. He’s gone on road trips, to mental institutions, to Hollywood, and even gone to military school. And with Chucky going to an all-new franchise — even while the original series remains active — it’s time to take another look at all of the “Child’s Play” movies and see how they rank.
8. Child’s Play 3 (1991)
The worst “Child’s Play” movie (so far) has an idea so arbitrary it barely makes sense: What if a killer doll was at a teen military academy? That’s not much to work with, and although some of the kills are noteworthy — especially the paintball game which Chucky rigs with real bullets — it has nothing to do with Chucky, or even the very concept of dolls. “Child’s Play 3” could have been set anywhere, for all the good it does the characters and is probably best left forgotten.
7. Seed of Chucky (2004)
Don Mancini, who wrote and/or directed every installment of the original “Child’s Play” series, took his first step behind the camera for “Seed of Chucky.” Strange and sprawling, the film stars Chucky and Tiffany’s son, Gentle Glen (voiced by Billy Boyd). Or, since he’s a doll and has no anatomical organs, possibly Glenda. Together, they all ponder the unusual questions about their evolving, sometimes nebulous identities while wreaking havoc on the set of “Chucky Goes Psycho,” a fake film that stars actress Jennifer Tilly, who does double duty as herself and the killer doll Tiffany. The Hollywood in-jokes are dorky, and the director’s sense of suspense and comedy timing aren’t honed, but Mancini’s fascination with the gender roles of his puppet villains lends the film a unique perspective. John Waters is great as a paparazzo who gets his comeuppance.
6. Child’s Play (2019)
If the “Child’s Play” remake had nothing to do with “Child’s Play,” it probably would’ve been a better film. Unfortunately, this story about an artificially-intelligent toy whose switch gets flipped to “evil” bends over backward to justify Chucky’s look and personality; even the fact that he’s a doll doesn’t make sense. At least Lars Klevberg’s film is impishly gory and boasts a fine and affable cast. Mark Hamill’s take on Chucky is very different than Brad Dourif’s, but he lends the film a strangely tragic mentality, playing Chucky like an innocent monster who has no idea that slicing off faces is bad.
5. Curse of Chucky (2013)
Chucky finds himself in a dark, spooky house full of rich family members who hate each other, in a “Child’s Play” film that took the franchise back to its horrifying, deadly serious roots. Some of the scares in “Curse” are the best in the series, and Fiona Dourif — playing the disabled protagonist — is a fantastic lead, full of inner conflict and frustrated strength. By this point, Mancini had found his groove as a director, and he lends this fifth installment a James Whale–esque “Old Dark House” aesthetic and tone, equal parts creepy and playful.
4. Cult of Chucky (2017)
The hero of “Curse of Chucky” couldn’t convince the court that a killer doll murdered her family, so now she’s stuck in a mental institution, with a doctor who thinks that confronting her with another Chucky doll is a good idea. It’s not, of course, and before long the killer Chucky is stalking the hallways, ghoulishly messing with the heads of the inmates and giving the franchise its most brutal murders. Mancini worked on the TV series “Hannibal” between sequels and it shows, and not just because of the in-jokes. This is a visually ambitious, psychologically complicated horror sequel with unexpected twists on the familiar Chucky formula. And Fiona Dourif is, once again, completely great.
3. Child’s Play (1988)
The first “Child’s Play” is a classic for a reason. Director Tom Holland (“Fright Night”) introduced the world to the killer doll, and he uses an impressive assortment of techniques — from live actors to puppetry — to keep Chucky inside the uncanny valley, clearly a doll and yet eerily not. Catherine Hicks is wonderful as the single mother who has to question her young son’s sanity, and Alex Vincent is so innocent as Andy, Chucky’s owner, that the violence seems even more monstrous by juxtaposition. The first “Child’s Play” tips its hand too early, revealing Chucky’s voodoo-serial-killer origins in the first scene before playing half the film like he might be a normal doll anyway, but it’s still a fantastic shocker.
2. Bride of Chucky (1998)
Chucky responded to the post-“Scream” irony boom with a nimble, self-referential, wildly entertaining sequel inspired by, arguably, the greatest horror sequel of all time: “Bride of Frankenstein.” With a sudden injection of humor, the addition of the pitch-perfect Jennifer Tilly, and the overdue admission that the whole “Child’s Play” series has always fundamentally absurd, director Ronny Yu (“Freddy vs. Jason”) sends the evil dolls on a road trip with Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile, who hilariously get blamed for all the murders. Everything is on point in “Bride of Chucky.” The cast is impeccable, the script is sharper than ever, and the kills are absolutely first rate. It’s just not as scary as…
1. Child’s Play 2 (1990)
When people who’ve never seen the movie think of “Child’s Play,” it’s “Child’s Play 2” that they probably have in their heads. The superior sequel follows Andy into foster care after the horrifying events of the original film, but Chucky comes after him and goes on a killing spree. Andy gets blamed, and nobody believes his story and director John Lafia (who co-wrote the original) understands that adults worrying about their kids is scary, but kids who feel powerless and helpless in the face of evil is scarier. “Child’s Play 2” ends with a spectacular set-piece in a doll factory, and it’s strangely similar to the finale of “Terminator 2,” which is bizarre — since “Child’s Play 2” came first.