If you’re old enough to want to seek content like this out on your own, you’re probably too old to have known much about Freddy Fazbear, or exactly why his big screen debut has turned out to be the most impactful event on the film industry of 2023 this side of Mattel IP and/or armageddon.
Unless, of course, you happened to have dropped by earlier this month when we lacerated the ROI on THE EXORCIST, lamenting the almost evangelical reverence that Jason Blum and Blumhouse have, particularly with Universal. But even in a piece that attempted to point out that not everything with the Blumhouse imprinteur is a certified smash hit–clearly this iteration of THE EXORCIST wasn’t–we were astute enough to reference what was cited as a “Plan B” that all but telegraphed that better days were ahead . The last line was particularly prophetic:
In other words, it almost doesn’t matter how good the film is. (It looks great.) Five Nights at Freddy’s is going to be a hit.
We just had no idea how big a hit. As Forbes’ Conor Murray trumpeted, it was downright transcendent:
Five Nights at Freddy’s took the movie theaters by storm this weekend, grossing $78 million at the domestic box office, shattering records and already joining the ranks of the most financially successful horror films of all time. The box office overperformance has already made Five Nights at Freddy’s one of the biggest horror films of the year, and it achieved the third highest opening weekend box office total for any horror film.
And FORTUNE, which opened this month with a detailed profile of Blum by Devin Gordon that we also covered in our writeup, was quick to assign his colleague Indrani Sen to a post-mortem piece that all of us mortals not only how brilliant the Blumhouse strategy still is, but that, thanks to research, he kinda knew all of this was coming anyway:
Blum told writer Devin Gordon that he was worried about whether The Exorcist: Believer—the biggest and riskiest bet that his Blumhouse Productions had ever made—would succeed. As Gordon explained: “This is a Blum bet that could actually go very wrong.” “Blum admits he’s nervous,” Gordon explained. “Test screenings were all over the place. ‘The weight of the title is daunting,’ he texted me a week after our lunch. ‘There is no version of a new Exorcist where I’d feel great.'”
But as Devin wrote in his profile, ahead of that release, Blum was prepared for that possibility: “Blum has seen this movie before. He’s not the guy who’s going to go check out that sound in the attic with only a rolled-up magazine in his hand.” The weapon Blum devised to protect himself from being haunted by a movie flop was another big movie release, this one much more in line with Blumhouse’s longtime strategy of making smart bets on cheap, zeitgeisty horror concepts. Five Nights at Freddy’s is based on a cult video game of the same name, and struck a chord for Gen Z and the millennials who grew up with it.
And it is that connection to under-the-radar IP, and channeling the mindset of a generation that he’s far detached from, that makes Blum such a force to be reckoned with, And results like this only reinforce that reputation.
The box office performance is all the more impressive considering that, as part of an aggressive move to attempt to give Peacock meaningful content, especially in light of last week’s earnings report where it was credited with overachieving modest expectations from Wall Street in year/year subscriber growth. Perhaps with a more cautious world and demographic, simultaneous availability on a streaming service may have mattered more. Not that Peacock has been or would be more forthcoming with tangible data to prove or disprove it anyway.
But there is an awful lot of data readily available on how well received FIVE NIGHTS has been at the box office, and by whom. As THE WRAP’s Jeremy Fuster unpacked, Freddy and friends are right up there with Travis Kelce’s paramour in terms of ability to get people off their couches and out of their gaming chairs into the outside world:
According to demographic data from Universal, 81% of the video game adaptation’s opening weekend crowd was under 25, with 43% being between the ages of 13-17. Over the past decade, the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” games have built a devoted following among Gen Z gamers that any video game or horror franchise would love to have. And even if the box office returns fall off sharply next weekend, this $20 million production has the makings of another new franchise for Blumhouse.
Combine that with the $150 million domestic run from AMC/Variance’s “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” and about 44% of the $522 million grossed in North America this October has come from films that are targeted primarily at Gen Z moviegoers.
Studios and exhibitors have spent a lot of money and research figuring out how to get the generation interested in moviegoing. But perhaps Taylor Swift and Freddy Fazbear demonstrate that movie theaters aren’t on the list of things that Gen Z is “killing,” and that they will sell out auditoriums for movies that feature what they’re interested in.
“Young people rule Hollywood. Their interests have been and always should be the guiding star of what films studios greenlight,” said Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock. “The under-25 crowd tends to have more discretionary income to spend on these movies, and more often than not they tend to be the difference between a box office hit and a flop.”
And for those prescient or fortunate enough to already have a handle on what resonates with this audience, there’s potentially more good news awaiting:
Bock sees the success of these films as well as the niche success of Crunchyroll’s anime films from franchises like “Jujutsu Kaisen” and “Demon Slayer” as a sign of Gen Z’s growing power at the box office.
“I have never heard of most of these anime films, but the fact that Crunchyroll has been able to consistently bring out these younger anime fans shows that there’s a generation of moviegoers just waiting for movies that speak directly to what they like,” he said. Indeed, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” may be the latest sign that video games are supplanting comic books as the blockbuster IP of choice. Prior to this past weekend, the success of Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” last year and the record-smashing triumph of Universal/Illumination’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” this past spring shows that a generation of younger filmmakers understands what makes these iconic game characters appealing to their fans, with both films enjoying strong support across age demos. And even if some older franchises can make the cross-generation leap, it will likely take new titles and adaptations that older folks won’t recognize — like Warner Bros.’ upcoming spin on “Minecraft” — to keep numbers up.
Hmmm. If only there was, say, a conference coming up later this week where the intersection of technology and entertainment was being discussed in detail, with gaming experts and content creators in the same space? Might be a REALLY timely and outstanding opportunity to actually learn something valuable about how to actually spot the next potential blockbuster franchise.
How convenient that there just happens to be a tab within this blog where you can still order advance tickets for something like that.
Blum’s already taking his deserved victory lap, as FORTUNE recapped:
As Variety reports, it’s the biggest horror opening of the year so far (as well as the third-biggest horror movie opening ever); the highest-grossing Halloween weekend opener ever; and Blumhouse’s biggest opener to date. It’s also the second-biggest “hybrid” theater-and-streaming release of a film in any genre. And it was made for just over $20 million. “It’s so fun when it works,” Blum wrote on X.
Yep. Cap is tipped and torso is bowed, Jason. I’d love to meet and perhaps contribute to who or what will be next.
Until next time…