You’d think the Five Nights at Freddy’s game series would’ve spawned a movie way before now. First launched back in 2014, the Freddy’s games combined jump scares with very simple game mechanics that made it catnip for YouTube gamers and youngsters alike. The innate marketability and immense popularity of this franchise meant that it was inevitable that the Freddy’s universe would get translated into more media formats than just video games. However, a proper feature film adaptation has proved shockingly elusive over the year for the Five Night at Freddy’s universe, though not for lack of trying. Like so many gamers trying to make it to the next level in a Freddy’s game, Hollywood studios have been constantly making attempts at cracking the code of a Freddy’s movie only to fail entirely in their ambitions.
The Early Days of ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ as a Movie
Just eight months after the launch of the very first game in the Five Nights at Freddy’s series, Warner Bros. announced that it was pulling the trigger on a feature film adaptation of this game. The project would be shepherded by Vertigo Entertainment, an outfit that was in extremely good graces with Warner Bros. thanks to the success of the 2014 movie The LEGO Movie, and Seth Grahame-Smith. In the first half of the 2010s, Warner Bros. was all in on Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of books like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and had him attached to a wide variety of projects at the studio, including being the first director for The Flash. Attaching him to Five Nights at Freddy’s demonstrated a lot of confidence in the project from Warner Bros. brass. Meanwhile, Freddy’s ending up at this studio shortly after the success of the Warner Bros. horror title The Conjuring was a promising sign for this gestating video game adaptation. Maybe those mechanical animals were bound to be the next sleeper horror hit like The Conjuring.
Shortly after this initial announcement, Gil Kenan, who’d just helmed the Poltergeist remake, was tasked with directing Five Nights at Freddy’s. These positive developments, combined with the ever-increasing popularity of Five Nights at Freddy’s, seemed to indicate that this film was off to the races and guaranteed to hit the big screen sooner rather than later. However, no further news was revealed on the project until March 2017, when word broke that Warner Bros. had passed on making Five Nights at Freddy’s. This didn’t signal the end of the line for this adaptation, though, as several studios were immediately lining up to take over the project. It would eventually fall on Blumhouse Productions to take Five Nights at Freddy’s to the finish line.
It’s interesting to remember that, not long ago, there was doubt hovering over Blumhouse as a production outfit. As late as 2014, major outlets like The Hollywood Reporter were running pieces on how Blumhouse was making far more movies than were getting released and that its titles were struggling to fit into the release slates of its movie studio home, Universal Pictures. All of that changed in the mid-2010s thanks to the perfect confluence of events, like The Purge turning into a long-running franchise, Whiplash scoring a Best Picture nomination, and, arguably most importantly, Split and Get Out both turning into box office phenomenon’s in the span of a few weeks at the start of 2017. Just a few weeks after the double-whammy successes of Split and Get Out, Blumhouse snagged Five Nights at Freddy’s. This production outfit wanted to keep the good times rolling and reinforce to Hollywood that it was capable of handling in-demand intellectual property.
The Blumhouse Struggles with Five Nights at Freddy’s
Around a year after Blumhouse first snapped up the Five Nights at Freddy’s film rights, a director was announced for the project in the form of Chris Columbus. This filmmaker wasn’t super experienced with directing horror films, but his earliest screenwriting credits on titles like Gremlins and The Goonies indicated the kind of family-friendly frights a potential Freddy’s movie would undoubtedly aim for. Six months after this directorial hire, producer Jason Blum confirmed that this feature was gearing up for a 2020 release, a promising sign for those hoping to finally see this scary world on the big screen.
However, by the end of the year, word broke that the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie was being postponed due to screenwriting issues. Every time it looked like this video game adaptation was close to getting off the ground, new obstacles would appear that guaranteed its continued postponement. There was never any word on what exact script problems were causing the film to get delayed. However, it’s likely that a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie was plagued by a creative tug-of-war between its source material’s seemingly contradictory nature of being both super simple and staggeringly dense.
The original Five Nights at Freddy’s game is just players sitting in the dark, looking at monitors, and then a mechanical animal will get closer and closer before jumping out at you. It’s effectively simple, a good premise for a scary game. But there’s not a ton there for a movie to work with. The first-person approach of the game’s protagonist, Mike Schmidt, is a boon for Freddy’s as a game since it means anyone can step into the character’s shoes, but it also doesn’t leave much for screenwriters to work with when assembling a film adaptation. At the same time, the Five Nights at Freddy’s universe has developed an expansive lore that its most ardent fans have latched onto like a drowning human clinging to any nearby buoyant objects. Trying to incorporate those elements as bits of fan service into a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie while also making something that was accessible to general moviegoers couldn’t have been an easy task.
Blumhouse’s Five Nights at Freddy’s finally makes headway
These problems make it apparent why Five Nights at Freddy’s has proven so popular as a video game franchise, but also make it equally clear why this property has been so challenging to translate into a motion picture. Despite all these constant issues, not to mention Five Nights at Freddy’s moment of peak popularity in pop culture fading further and further into the rearview, Blumhouse Productions stuck with the project. Being such a notable video game property, the studio and its leader, Jason Blum, would get asked about the status of this film all the time. With each new query, Blum would often deliver some refrain of “it’s coming, we’re working on it.”
In 2022, though, Blumhouse put the pedal to the metal when it came to a Freddy’s movie. In August 2022, Blum revealed that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was working on animatronic figures for this feature, which turned out to be a prelude to a massive announcement about Five Nights at Freddy’s. In October 2022, it was revealed that Emma Tammi would now be directing this movie, which would star Josh Hutcherson and Matthew Lillard and kick off principal photography in February 2023. After years of creative dead ends, it looks like Five Nights at Freddy’s will get to be a major motion picture after all.
Granted, other versions of the movie have seemed to be surefire bets only to fall apart, so diehard fans of these characters may want to wait until they’re sitting in a movie theater before celebrating the creation of a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie. Even if this newest incarnation of this video game adaptation fails to go anywhere, though, the history of a Five Nights at Freddy’s film is long, winding, and full of missed opportunities. You’d think it’d be simple to translate such a popular game to the silver screen, but just like those malicious animatronics, the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie has been full of unnerving surprises.