How Universal Created a Hit – Deadline

Today, Universal/Blumhouse’s Five Nights at Freddy‘s is clocking past the $100M domestic mark, a box office milestone for the studio when it comes to its experimental theatrical day-and-date releases on its Peacock streaming service.

That’s not only the highest that Uni has seen from a pic that’s been distributed via such means at the box office, but it’s also per the conglom the most viewed movie or series ever for the OTT paid service in its first five days, outstripping the debuts of Halloween EndsThe Super Mario Bros. MovieBel-Air and The Best Man: The Final Chapters.

Among those day-and-date theatrical releases which played simultaneously on streaming services, Freddy‘s crosses the $100M mark in eight days, the second-fastest type of dynamic release to do so after Marvel Studios’ Black Widow which did it in six days while streaming on Disney+ back in July 2021 (that pic available to that Disney+ subs at an extra cost of $25).

Uni’s decision to go day-and-date didn’t have to do with their lack of confidence in the Freddy‘s brand, rather the opposite. It was a film armed with such a strong fandom, that studio execs knew a day-and-date maneuver wouldn’t damage the pic’s opening weekend box office.

“It had a fanship that wasn’t going to be deterred by being at home,” says one tracking source about the IP’s ride-or-die millennial following; that evident in the pic’s Oppenheimer sized U.S./Canada opening of $80M last weekend. Speaking of Oppenheimer, and even Illumination’s Super Mario Bros, it’s the third time that Uni has been able to harness a cultural zeitgeist this year at the box office. Seeing a double win for the fledgling Peacock which counts 28M, Freddy‘s proved an opportunity to attract at 13-17 demo to the Comcast-owned streamer.

The Teflon nature and fandom fortitude of the Freddy‘s franchise was witnessed first-hand by Universal anytime producer Jason Blum tweeted anything about the film going back to February 2018 when he first announced the project with then Harry Potter filmmaker Chris Columbus (who eventually stepped away). See below. Previously Warner Bros was set to make a movie based on the popular Scott Cawthon created 2014 videogame with Roy Lee, David Katzenberg, and Seth Grahame-Smith producing and Gil Kenan directing and co-writing. The film never got off the ground, and when the option came up in 2017, Blum swooped in.

More proof of Freddy‘s online traction was seen as late as seven days before the pic’s release; an X trailer pulling in over 373K views.

“There was a rabid core fanbase with this franchise,” Universal Chief Marketing Officer Michael Moses tells Deadline, “It’s one of the rare ones. It’s recent IP that a generation feels ownership of.”

As such, when it came to putting material out there for the film, it was important for Universal to get it right in the authenticity down to the eyeliner used by the animatronic animal characters Foxy, Bonnie, Freddy, Cupcake and Chica from the videogame — finite details only a Freddy fan would care about. Heck, how often have you seen a videogame’s creator, in this case Cawthon, double as the big screen-version’s scribe? To the Freddy faithful, that’s a gospel move by a major studio.

While Hollywood’s m.o. with each movie, no matter the franchise –comic-book or Disney princess– is to expand its audience, Universal and Blumhouse remained faithful as monks to the core Freddy fans, creating a movie that they, and they alone would embrace; Easter-egged in its secret language and one liners, complete with YouTube influencers/Freddy experts who made cameos in the film.

Universal went for the jugular in its marketing, making a straight line in their commitment to the IP’s millennial fans with a social media campaign which racked up an online reach per analytics corp RelishMix of 488.5M per the pic’s opening — massive for a marketplace mired in an actors strike with thespians unable to promote struck work. “That’s 2.3x over franchise horror comps” reported RelishMix. The previous big horror movie with an enormous social media universe following behind Freddy‘s was Scream VI at 360.5M.

“In addition to materials specific to the movie’s release, there’s music videos and game play views across YouTube from nine years ago on other platforms with some clocking +100M views on several clips. PlayStation lightly cross-promoted but there was the Blumhouse push to 3.2M fans. Furthermore, the reposting viral rate of YouTube videos was high at 33:1 as fans grew 3X in last 3 months up to 1.1M on Five Nights at Freddy‘s pages,” analyzed RelishMix.

Blum debuted the first teaser for the film across his social media accounts in May and with that initial glimpse of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, Five Nights at Freddy’s promptly trended No.1 on YouTube, No.5 on X and garnered more than 100 domestic press breaks.

The first trailer dropped in June with excitement over Freddy YouTube influencer CoryXKenshin’s casting in the pic. That sparked convo across YouTube and X where #Cory trended No.1 on the platform. The movie’s second trailer was paired with five-character posters and trended No.1 on YouTube. All trailers accumulated more than 400M views.

While there weren’t any dancing Freddy animatronic dolls touring U.S. landmarks ala Uni’s M3GAN marketing stunt with its dancing M3GAN androids last winter, there was a ChatBot that launched and encouraged fans to apply to be Freddy’s newest night shift security guard. Upon completing the application fans were given a custom security badge. To continue the story, fans were invited to create a custom video in the Freddy‘s world. They received an asset and continued to be our ambassadors for the movie by pushing it out on their own social channels. Uni saw tremendous success counting 800K total users, over 18M messages exchanged, 600K night shift badges created, and nearly 40K reels created. It also drove over 300K clicks to the Fandango movie ticket site.

A Fan Zone site provided an opportunity for fans to dive deeper into the Five Nights at Freddy’s lore while a custom Snapchat Lens allowed fans to record their own security footage. The lens brought the threatening characters to a Snapchatter’s world in 3D. The lens starts off as if viewed through the security camera with a visual effect overlay. In World View, the animatronics are powered down. But when one flips to selfie mode, users caught the terrifying characters springing to life. The lens provided different experiences and characters with each use.

In regards to TV, spots aired during the SNL season premiere, NBA’s opening week, as well as sporting events NFL, MLB, MLS, WWE Raw, and the DAZN Logan Paul fight. Digital highlights included a surround of Bad Bunny’s album release across X, TikTok, Pandora, Spotify and his music video for “The Orchard”. Additionally, five-night countdowns were placed across social media portals Meta, X, TikTok and Kargo leading up to the film’s premiere. Across the country branded Freddy’s Pizza boxes were deployed at local pizza restaurants in top markets while a Freddy’s Pizzeria façade wrapped the former Cabo Cantina location in Hollywood.

Cawthon even released a fake game ten days before the pic’s release with fans discovering ten minutes of security footage within ten minutes of the game’s launch.

Last month, the movie was tubthumped in a Blumhouse panel at New York Comic-Con with Blum conversing with the pic’s filmmaker Emma Tammi. Freddy‘s dominated the Hudson Yards subway station with out-of-home placements. In addition there was an outreach to Uber and Lyft riders.

As is typical for a big tentpole release, Freddy‘s was marketed throughout all of NBCUni’s sister verticals (aka their Symphony program) i.e., CityWalk in Orlando and Hollywood as well as ad runs on linear networks Syfy, USA, Bravo and NBC. Also, Freddy‘s was the darling of Universal Studios theme parks’ Halloween Horror Night’s Terror Tram maze.

This weekend, Five Nights at Freddy‘s is expected to gross $17M+ at 3,789 theaters in its second weekend at the No. 1 spot. Freddy‘s running cume will hit $111.4M by Sunday, joining a small batch of theatrical day-and-date blockbusters to cross the century mark stateside: Black Widow ($183.6M), Jungle Cruise ($117M), Dune ($108.3M) and Godzilla vs. Kong ($101M).

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