From Chucky to M3GAN, these are the scariest dolls in horror movies

Chucky Horror TV
Image via SYFY / USA Network

The fact that dolls can be a child’s best friend doesn’t make them any less scary to adults. It’s easy to pour emotions into them, but the last thing you want is for those emotions to come back. What long-lost secrets were they told? 

Dolls stand between childhood innocence and adult cynicism, a gap that horror movies have exploited for decades. The genre has found scares in every sort, from ventriloquist dummies to string puppets and the latest AI must-have toys. 

As M3GAN brings us another icon to haunt our nightmares for years, here’s our assembly of the scariest dolls in movies. 

Billy, Dead Silence

Dead Silence is all about the terrifying gift of ventriloquism, and that doesn’t just mean getting the ‘bs’ right. When the doll’s called Billy, you know James Wan is involved. In Dead Silence, Wan wheels out an array of solid horror moves in what’s probably the most functional horror he and partner-in-scares Leigh Whannell have written. 

When recently widowed Jamie Ashen returns to his hometown, where nudge, nudge, dolls aren’t popular, he uncovers the truth behind the Billy doll that was mailed to him before his wife died. The proto-Nun ventriloquist may be the main threat, but her possessed doll is frightful.

Billy is a tool for revenge manipulated by supernaturally unseen hands, and the hokier his moves, the better, especially his slowly scraping wooden eyeballs.

Clown doll, Poltergeist

A minor player in Poltergeist, but one of the most memorable entities in the film. Coulrophobia helps — a fear of clowns — along with some great foreshadowing. 

Early in Poltergeist, young Robbie is unsettled by the doll staring at him in his room, which pays off later. Although it’s only a distraction while other entities abduct his younger sister Carol Anne, it plays into many familiar fears. When the doll moves, he becomes the bogeyman in clown’s clothing.

Fats, Magic 

The ambiguity gnaws at you during the King of Comedy-style descent of a young ventriloquist and magician. Everything is ambiguous as Corky and his doll Fats dig themselves bigger holes. Director Richard Attenborough brought out the innocence and menace in Anthony Hopkins 13 years before The Silence of the Lambs, but the real focus is on his puppet. 

Corky made it big by combining magic and ventriloquism, but his success forces him to flee New York City and his agent for his childhood home. While he uses his talents to ignite a romance with an old sweetheart, Fats has increasingly homicidal ideas. The doll looks just enough like Hopkins to sell the movie’s illusion, and he’s one of the most hands-on marionettes you’ll find on this list. The more you think poor Corky is behind the crimes, the scarier it becomes, and like a good magic trick, the wallop comes in the trick of an ending.

Blade and crew, the Puppet Master series

There was never any chance Blade could be mistaken for a toy. Created by the titular Puppet Master Andre Toulon during WWII, he was based on a Gestapo major and possessed by the soul of a German surgeon who specialized in resurrecting the dead. 

Blade is the nominal leader of Toulon’s menacing creations, each animated by Egyptian magic, and stacking up an impressive 15 movies so far. He has a distinctive look, with a pale face and long white hair hanging over a dark trench coat under a wide-brimmed hat. Blade’s name comes from the weapons that replace his hands: a knife blade and a hook, representing murder and death. No wonder he earned his own spin-off, albeit set in a parallel reality, in 2019’s The Littlest Reich.

Annabelle, the Conjuring universe

James Wan just can’t shake scary dolls. He introduced the possessed Annabelle doll in the supernatural horror The Conjuring, and she soon earned a spin-off origin movie and franchise. 

This disfigured doll is prone to demonic possession. It draws inspiration from a real-life Raggedy Ann doll that paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren locked up in their Occult Museum in the 1970s after what they called a string of demonic activities. In movies and now porcelain, Annabelle is an inanimate host who wraps up demonic possession and personal tragedy throughout her appearances. The real-life inspiration and the erratic approach to the character’s timeline add something special.

Hugo, Dead of Night

British anthology movie Dead of Night is best remembered for the closing story and its malevolent dummy. Michael Redgrave plays Maxwell Frere, who faces every ventriloquist’s worst nightmare: a dummy who wants to go and work with a rival. As Hugo becomes increasingly violent and erratic, attention falls on Frere, who is dragged into increasingly fraught situations. 

It’s Voice versus puppet; a rare take on the story on this list, and the segment’s compelling ambiguity keeps it in the memory. What’s particularly creepy about Hugo is that he never moves unaided. Framing and stunning lighting ensure he’s a creeping presence, whether sitting on a bed or as a figure from which his ventriloquist eventually recoils.

He Who Kills, Trilogy of Terror

Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis directed this anthology drawing on short horror stories of I Am Legend author Richard Matheson. The author adapted his short story Prey for the final segment Amelia, which Curtis filmed as a one-woman play. Karen Black is the titular character who is terrorized in her high-rise apartment by a wooden doll with a spear and pointed teeth, and is possessed by a Zuni hunter called He Who Kills. It’s a frantic segment as the vicious doll uses carving knives and teeth and mad screams against his victim, elevating the whole anthology. 

He Who Kills is a small doll in a claustrophobic space, but its distinctive design makes it vastly different from other dolls on this list. It was a stellar debut that earned He Who Kills a place as a poster boy of the belated 1996 sequel and another segment of terror.

M3GAN, M3GAN 

M3GAN is a Frankenstein movie, so it needs an excellent monster to demonstrate the responsibilities of playing god. Alison Williams, a Blumhouse stalwart, is the genius who creates M3GAN and sees her as the perfect way to care for her orphaned niece. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for the doll to steal the show. 

In a slickly produced movie with a top-draw soundtrack, M3GAN gets the simple details right. That’s the comedy, the misdirection, and the unnerving qualities of the doll who subtly breaks her programming (or fulfills it too well.)

M3GAN stretches the remit of the doll as this is a pseudo-sci-fi take on possessed puppets (there’s even a hint of Aliens in the climax), but the doll herself is an unnerving triumph when she’s being nice or chooses not to be. 

Billy, Saw

Billy isn’t necessary to the Saw franchise, but it wouldn’t be the same without him. Something in the almost cute automaton balances perfectly with the elaborate traps Jigsaw inflicts on his victims.

He outlasted his master, or so we think, appearing in every movie in the Saw series so far and achieving a public profile as James Wan’s most aped doll on the way. Impressive for a doll that is mostly talk and little action. Imagine being Amanda Young in the first Saw movie, as the puppet appears on TV, telling her the key to the reverse bear trap hooked to her jaw is in the stomach of her apparently dead cellmate. When she digs deep to free herself, her reward, apart from an intact jaw, is Billy trundling in on his ever-so-cute tricycle to congratulate her. As avatars go, Billy had it tied up from the start.

Chucky, the Child’s Play franchise

The king of horror dolls has uncoincidentally notched up the most screen time across eight movies, two shorts, and three seasons of a SyFy series. While the Child’s Play franchise moved from psychological horror to slasher to satire, Chucky has remained a reliably homicidal constant. 

A considerable part of the doll’s success is the vice-like grip creator Don Mancini has kept on him, even as the series went straight-to-video and fended off the competition of a studio remake. It’s also a great help that behind Chucky’s smooth or damaged visage is the wisecracking of horror legend Brad Dourif. 

Chucky is a bonafide possessed doll. In 1989’s Child’s Play, serial killer Charles Lee Ray was sensible enough to learn a voodoo ritual that could save him from a fatal gunshot wound. After transferring his soul into a popular Good Guy doll in a toy store, he carries on his deadly campaign. Later movies saw him attempting to possess human bodies before learning to inhabit multiple dolls and create a cult that can take over the world. 

Chucky deserves his place alongside the slasher icons of horror cinema. In fact, he could probably take them all on and win.