M3gan director Gerard Johnstone on film's wild success, TikTok dance and potential sequel

There are two movies currently dominating the US box office to which New Zealanders can quite rightly lay claim: Avatar: The Way of Water with its enormous US$250 million production budget, as well as a hit horror film that had a budget of just US$12 million.

M3gan was directed by Kiwi filmmaker Gerard Johnstone and filmed almost entirely in Aotearoa.

Despite the low budget, it has pulled in around NZ$80 million at the international box office in just one week.

"My face is sore from grinning," Johnstone told Newshub at Warner Bros. Discovery's Auckland office.

"When you make something, you put it out there for everyone to either love or hate. That's OK, that's the business. But for the overwhelming majority of people to be really digging it, it's just, that never happens so I'm on a cloud."

She's not just a box office hit. On TikTok, M3gan is already an internet icon with her insane dance being mimicked the world over with the hashtag  #M3GAN racking up over a billion views.

That now iconic dance was just a late-night random thought from Johnstone.

"It was a really mental thing that made me chuckle one night and I thought, maybe I could sneak it into the movie and no one will say 'no you can't do this, this is too strange'. But to my surprise, everyone embraced it. I mean Universal [Pictures] were the biggest fans," said Johnstone.

"I just think we just need a little bit more mental at the movies, and I'm happy to bring that."

The germ of a dance idea was brought to life by a talented Kiwi dancer Amie Donald and her tutor Kylie Norris.

"I just have to hand it to them - those crazy moves, I don't know where that came from but I'm very grateful," said Johnstone.

M3gan was shot in Aotearoa during the COVID-19 pandemic over a mere 30 days as Johnstone's second feature film following 2014's Housebound.

The new film's success means sequel talk is already swirling.

Of course with love like that from his Blumhouse producers - horror legends - and the fact Johnstone has a mega-hit on his hands, the sequel talk is already swirling.

"It's really fun to read reviews talking about it as a franchise, like it's already a foregone conclusion that there's gonna be another one," said Johnstone.

"What's exciting for me is there were so many ideas that I wanted to do in this first movie that I couldn't and this is really going to give me an opportunity to do all that. There's so much more we can do - and I know M3gan has a lot more to say."

Following its success in North America and some other territories, M3gan opened in New Zealand cinemas this week.