At its heart, the Child’s Play franchise rests on a single, simple premise. After his spirit gets trapped in a Good Guy doll named Chucky, serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) makes life miserable for young Andy Barclay (most often portrayed by Alex Vincent) in hopes of transferring his essence to the boy. As most would expect, that concept carried a few well-regarded slasher films in the late 80s and early 90s. But instead of drifting off into the direct-to-video market like the Leprechaun and Hellraiser franchises, Child’s Play reinvented itself to become a pop culture phenomenon that outdoes even Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers.
Much of that success goes to Chucky’s creator Don Mancini. Although Mancini hasn’t always had chief control over his murderous doll, his voice and vision guided the character from his debut in 1988’s Child’s Play up through his current heyday as the star of the well-received Syfy/USA series Chucky. Thanks to Mancini’s work, Chucky has appeared in movies, shorts, and television series, all of which get ranked here.
1. Bride of Chucky (1998)
Like the best toys, Chucky doesn’t go away for good. He just gets an updated edition. That was the case with 1998’s Bride of Chucky, which did away with the grittiness of the first three Child’s Play films and embraced the self-aware humor that came into vogue following Wes Craven’s Scream. Where other franchises felt like tired rip-offs when they went meta (see Halloween H20), Don Mancini always had a sly sense of humor that recognized the silliness of a killer doll. In Bride of Chucky, Brad Dourif’s Chucky meets his match with Tiffany, Charles Lee Ray’s girlfriend (played by a game Jennifer Tilly) who gets put in her own doll body. Director Ronny Yu’s aggressive style may overwhelm some viewers, and the digital blood looks worse every year, but Bride of Chucky unlocks the full potential of the Child’s Play franchise.
2. Seed of Chucky (2004)
In its opening few minutes, Seed of Chucky proves that the franchise lost none of its subversive energy in the six years since its last entry. But Seed of Chucky adds something hinted at in the first four movies: legitimate pathos. That pathos comes in the form of Chucky and Tiffany’s non-binary child who goes by Glen and Glenda, voiced by Billy Boyd. Stepping into the director’s chair for the first time, Mancini doesn’t skimp on the pint-side mayhem. But his script includes a touching tale of a child living up to their parents’ expectations, in terms of both gender identity and future careers. Of course, that future career means the family business as murdering people, but still, many can relate to the themes.
3. Child’s Play (1988)
Looking back at what Chucky has become, it’s easy to dismiss the first entry as an anomaly, a practice run that later movies do better. While the franchise does grow more intense as Mancini gains more control over his creation, the first movie still works as one of the better slashers in a decade full of them. Director Tom Holland (no, not Spider-Man) and Mancini’s co-writer John Lafia do allow some outrageousness to seep into the gritty Chicago setting (in fact, the voodoo curse idea comes from him and not Mancini), and the film introduces the greatest asset to the franchise in star Brad Dourif and gets great supporting turns from Christopher Sarandon and Catherine Hicks.
4. Child’s Play 2 (1990)
When Tom Holland ceded the director’s chair to the first movie’s co-writer John Lafia, Mancini got the sole screenwriting credit. Audiences feel Mancini’s stronger hand in some of the movie’s more over-the-top moments, especially those involving Andy Barclay’s (returning Alex Vincent) school and foster family, headed by parents Phil and Jonie Simpson (Gerrit Graham) and (Jenny Agutter). As with the first film, Chucky engages in more guerrilla warfare than outright mayhem, ruining Andy’s life in secret to separate him from the structures intended to protect him. But Child’s Play 2 also gives the franchise its first hint of real pathos and sweetness in the form of the bond Andy forms with his foster sister Kyle (Christine Elise).
5. Chucky Season One (2021)
After United Artists took the Child’s Play name away from him for the 2019 remake, Don Mancini got his creation back for the TV series Chucky. Mancini devotes plenty of time to fleshing out the backstory of Charles Lee Riley, with flashbacks to his childhood and adulthood leading up to the first Child’s Play (where he’s portrayed by Brad Dourif’s daughter Fiona, under heavy makeup). And, of course, the series has plenty of kills from Chucky and Tiffany, all presented with cheeky humor. But the real appeal of Chucky season one comes from the genuine affection it has toward orphaned boy Jake Wheeler (Zachary Arthur), who goes through the usual teenage trials of dealing with a crush on classmate Devon (Björgvin Arnarson) and the teasing of mean girl Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind), all while Chucky targets him for possession.
6. Chucky Season Two (2022)
If the first season of Chucky lambasted the American nuclear family, season two turns its attention to organized religion, as authorities send the now-parentless Jake, Devon, and Lexy to the School of the Incarnate Lord. The new setting gives Mancini plenty of opportunity to call out the hypocrisy and abuses of power that occur under the Church’s righteous exterior. Mancini also continues the first season’s exploration of Child’s Play lore, not only bringing back Glen and Glenda (Lachlan Watson) but also revealing that Chucky attended the School of the Incarnate Lord. The revelation builds sympathy for Chucky and raises the stakes for Jake, showing the ongoing destruction that can stem from the Church’s abuse.
7. Cult of Chucky (2017)
The second direct-to-video Chucky film struggled with many of its predecessor’s problems, namely a limited budget and an uneven cast. But it overcomes these flaws when Mancini embraces all of the franchise’s lore, making for a madcap film that celebrates the best of the concept. The main plot follows paraplegic Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif), sentenced to a mental institution for the killings shown in Curse of Chucky and once again must face off with Chucky. But the real pleasure of the film comes from the return of a now-grown Andy Barclay (once again played by Alex Vincent), who reveals that Chucky can transfer his soul into several dolls, creating the titular cult. Absurd as it is exciting, Cult of Chucky makes explicit something only implied by all previous movies: the killer doll premise doesn’t limit the Child’s Play franchise, it opens it up for a variety of stories and genres.
8. Curse of Chucky (2013)
After another prolonged gap between films, most expected the Child’s Play franchise to reinvent itself again for its next stage. On the surface, Curse of Chucky seems to go back to basics with a gothic approach, in which the Good Guy doll owned by little Alice Pierce (Summer Howell) starts killing members of her family, something that no one but her aunt Nica notices. But soon, Mancini’s signature arch humor and distaste for middle-class family values come to the fore, as the Pierces seem to despise one another. Mancini doesn’t always meld the different tones, a challenge exacerbated by some uneven performances in the cast, but there’s no denying the joy of seeing Chucky back in his killer glory.
9. Child’s Play (2019)
It’s impossible to talk about the 2019 remake of Child’s Play without acknowledging that it happened without Don Mancini’s consent. Wanting to cash in a valuable IP and fearing that Mancini’s combination of satirical humor, over-the-top violence, and queer drama didn’t maximize profits, Amazon subsidiary MGM went its own way with director Lars Klevberg and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith. That said, the remake does work as a satisfying slasher movie, precisely because it departs from the mainline franchise. This Chucky (voiced by Mark Hammel) comes to life because of rogue AI and a misguided attempt to protect Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Klevberg constructs some nifty scare sequences and the movie features fine turns from Aubrey Plaza and Bryan Tyree Henry as Andy’s single mom and neighbor, respectively. But none of that washes away the bad taste left by the mistreatment of Mancini.
10. Child’s Play 3 (1991)
Fans groaned when Child’s Play 3 hit theaters, worried that the concept had run out of steam. Despite solid work from director Jack Bender, who would earn several Emmy nominations for his work on shows such as Game of Thrones and Lost, and a script from Don Mancini, Child’s Play 3 felt like a reheated lesser version of the prior two films. This redundancy came despite a change in setting and lead actor, as a now teenage Andy (Justin Whalin) goes to military school to deal with what others see as behavior issues. At the time, Child’s Play 3 seemed to signal the limitations of Chucky. But now that Mancini has found new and exciting directions for the characters, Child’s Play 3 is less of a failure and more of an interesting detour for the franchise.
11. Chucky Invades (2013)
Although packaged now as a single short film, “Chucky Invades” is a series of promotions that insert the titular doll into scenes from other horror movies. So instead of seeing Mrs. Bates ruin Marion Crane’s shower in Psycho, it’s Chucky who does the stabbing and wisecracking. The trailer for The Purge finds the Sandin family staring not at angry neighbors, but at Chucky making threats to their doorbell camera. The blending effect works and most of the jokes land, but Orion Pictures did it better with posters for the 2019 remake that showed Chucky killing off members of the Toy Story cast.
12. Chucky’s Vacation Slides (2004)
A special feature from Seed of Chucky, the short “Chucky’s Vacation Slides” features Chucky, Tiffany, and Glenn and Glenda watching slides from their recent vacation. As Tiffany clicks through to pictures of various American locales, she notices dead bodies in the background and chastises Chucky for working too much while Glen and Glenda gets stressed by their parents’ squabbling. Although slight and full of obvious jokes, the short does continue the themes of Seed of Chucky, revealing the dark side of family values in the most insane possible manner.
Greensboro, North Carolina resident Joe George writes for Den of Geek, Sojourners Magazine, The Progressive, Think Christian, and elsewhere. Joe's areas of geek expertise include horror, science fiction (especially Star Trek), movies of the 60s and 70s, and all things superheroes. He posts nonsense from @jageorgeii on Twitter and from @joewriteswords on literally every other social media site in the world.