Have you ever wondered what would happen at night if the animatronics at Magic Kingdom came to life? Sure you have! Well, culminating in a decade of anticipation, the question has been answered, sort of. After years of waiting, Universal Pictures finally released Blumhouse’s Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023), and although it doesn’t capture the terrifying magic of animatronics coming to life at Disney World, it’s opened to rave reviews from gamers who’ve wondered the same about a little place called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria.
Freddy Fazbear, brought to life in 2014 as a singing restaurant animatronic hiding a dark secret, has finally left the medium of video games and made the jump to the silver screen alongside friends, Foxy, Bonnie, Chica, and Cupcake. Little did Scott Cawthon know that his first Five Nights at Freddy’s video game would lead to a fandom that would see the creations of numerous successful sequels, characters, and ultimately a film that just raked in $132 million on its opening weekend.
Drawing on inspiration from the ’80s and ’90s eateries that featured arcade games and singing animals, Scott Cawthon created a horror line that tells the story of Freddy Fazbear Pizzeria. The pizza joint, once extremely popular, has fallen into desolation disarray after a series of missing children cases led to it closing its doors.
Beginning with “the bite of ’83,” the pizzeria experienced an unfortunate turn of events as child after child went missing. Owner William Afton (Matthew Lillard in the film) is forced to hire security for the closed establishment after a series of breakins and vandalism. Although there are clear differences between the now popular movie and the original games, ulitmately the haunted animatronics of Freddy’s come to life at night hunting down any living soul caught within the building.
“Five Nights at Freddy’s” The Movie
True to its horror origins, Universal’s newest fright fest doesn’t skimp on the gore. Based on the characters and story from the popular video game, the new film from Blumhouse, who also M3GAN (2022), Get Out (2017), and Hush (2016), carries on a long tradition of creating immaculate movies that keep viewers at the edge of their seats.
Blumhouse, as a production company, deals almost exclusively in horror, with a slew of titles, often distributed by Universal Pictures, including Paranormal Activity (2007), The Black Phone (2021), and Halloween (2018). Purchasing and adapting existing titles, scripts, or properties and turning them into live-action horror jamborees is the game’s name, and no one does it better than Blumhouse.
For this reason, fans of the popular Five Nights at Freddy’s Universe have waited patiently for years as rumors circled message boards and fan sites suggesting that a live-action film was in the works. They got their wish the weekend before Halloween, as Freddy Fazbear and company made an extremely loud slash, I mean splash, at theatres across the globe, as well as on Peacock streaming service in homes worldwide.
*Potential Spoilers Ahead*
The film follows Mike Schmidt, played by Josh Hutcherson, best known for his role in The Hunger Games (2012), as he takes a job at a desolate business as the nighttime security guard to help take care of his little sister. Haunted by the disappearance of his younger brother
when they were kids, Mike finds himself right in the middle of a ring of supernatural sacrifice that ultimately led to his brother’s death.
Accompanied by his sister (Piper Rubio) and a local police officer who sports a dark secret as well (Elizabeth Lail, You), Mike must unravel the truths about what actually happened at Freddy Frazbear’s before it’s too late.
The film, primarily due to anticipation from gamers, opened to wild reviews and substantial earnings. Through extreme promotion from YouTube personalities who’ve played the game on Twitch streams for years, as well as targeted ads, many waited with intense anticipation for the release of Five Nights and Freddy’s, and according to reviews, it didn’t disappoint.
How the Game Works
In the original game, before the lore of characters such as Springtrap, Golden Freddy, and Glamrock Chica were introduced, players had to utilize a flashlight and security cameras to keep an eye on the animatronics who would move to different locations around the building when not being watched. Ultimately, as your work nights continued, the feat of keeping the possessed Freddy and friends at bay became more complex, typically resulting in jump scares from Freddy, Circus Baby, and other exciting game characters.
The game is rather simplistic but has garnered a huge following thanks to Twitch and YouTube streamers such as Markiplier, 8-Bit Ryan, Cory X Kenshin, and Dawko. For years, over several releases totaling 20 games, FNAF (as fans affectionately know it) has grown into a lucrative business, selling shirts, toys, and books. As well, the game possesses a great deal of fan-made lore that Jeff Blum used to inform the new hit film.
The popularity of FNAF led to several sequels, including expansions on existing games. These additions to Five Nights at Freddy’s brought with theme popularized rendition of the original game’s fan-favorite characters, like Funtime Freddy, Toy Bonnie, Mangle, Nightmare, and Marionette. These characters, along with the originals, lend themselves well to horror film. Afterall Freddy Fazbear’s feels a lot like Chuck E Cheese, and who hasn’t had a nightmare or two about that place?
“Five Nights at Freddy’s” Does What Disney Won’t
Since its inception among the video gaming crowd, Scott Cawthon’s virtual masterpiece has battled it out and claimed its place among gaming universes, new and old. The years of excitement and suspense around Five Nights at Freddy’s not only led to superior numbers during its box office opening but are also highlighted by its streaming number success on Peacock, which is owned by NBC.
The intensity with which a new generation waited for their favorite game to make the leap to film was aided by masterful marketing by Universal, with promotional posters and ads plastered all around Halloween Horror Nights.
Also, the decision to drop the film in theaters and on their streaming service at the same time was a unique choice, showing Universal’s grasp of its audience at a time when the movie-going experience is expensive. The studio understands the value of affordable opportunities to add subscribers to its service while not gatekeeping its product to only those who can afford a trip to theatres.
That isn’t to say that isn’t Disney’s strategy. However, many cite affordability as the reason why the latest Disney live-action releases, like Haunted Mansion and The Little Mermaid (2023), have underperformed at the box office.
Universal, listening to the audience and understanding the economic picture in which some have to choose groceries over movie tickets, confronted the issue by providing different options to see the film on opening weekend.
Disney, on the other hand, has made different choices, selecting to debut its new high-dollar Haunted Mansion (2023) film in July in theatres, with a streaming release to Disney+ in early October. Although streaming numbers have since helped the movie in terms of views, it’s doubtful that they did much to aid in subscription numbers as many who are already subscribed chose to stay home and wait it out a couple of months until the movie debuted in their living room (at least that’s what I did).
Implications for Live-Action Films Moving Foward
The immediate success of Five Nights at Freddy’s doesn’t seem to have much to do with Disney on the surface. However, the fact that Universal, in a time when its audience is faced with financial hardship, still put out a video-game-based live-action adaptation that performed well during its opening weekend. Disney has struggled to accomplish this feat in the past few months.
So, what did they do that worked? The answer has been written multiple times in the paragraphs above. Universal and Blumhouse listened to the audience. They took something that already had amassed a loyal following in Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s and gave those fans exactly what they asked for without deviation.
You’ll find no characters preaching moral codes and ethics reflective of today’s age and time. Instead, you’ll find characters portrayed true to their original form, with little to no creative input outside of what they were meant to be in the first place. No one decided that Freddy had to be a dog to make a political statement, and there’s nothing preachy about Five Nights at Freddy’s. It’s entertainment, which somehow, it feels like Disney has forgotten that’s what they do and are best at.
Everything is consistent with what works in the first place. Universal even cast a few popular YouTube personalities within the film to help with promotion, but it’s unlikely they needed to. The story, significant and nostalgic enough for many, could have sold itself, especially with fan-favorite moments. Five Nights at Freddy’s is Five Nights at Freddy’s, not a version of it!
We can hope that Disney would open their eyes and listen to their audiences, especially with politically-charged upcoming released such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and just give audiences what they want. Magical stories that allow them to drift away with characters they know and love for a few hours. Nothing more! Maybe with the recent announcement of a delay of around a year, Disney has figured it out.
What do you think?
The views and opinions within this article are that of the author’s, not Disney, Universal, or Blumhouse.