‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ Beats Opening Weekend Ticket Sales for ‘Oppenheimer’ and ‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’

There may be nothing more boomer than comparing Gen Z’s box-office juggernaut to a movie released before their parents were born. Nevertheless, that’s what this boomer is doing: The staggering opening for “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (Universal) is as shocking as the success of “Easy Rider” 54 years ago for its sense of upheaval and disruption.

Like Peter Fonda’s low-budget motorcycle cross-country drama “Easy Rider” in 1969, we are seeing moviegoers under 25 embrace a film as their own while it leaves older viewers baffled. Similarly, its success will have significant strategic impact for the future of production and distribution.

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Blumhouse Productions’ $20 million video game adaptation opened to an estimated $78 million and $152 million worldwide. With its lower ticket prices, that total translates to a bigger audience than the first weekends of either “Taylor Swift The Eras Tour” (AMC) or “Oppenheimer” (Universal).

It’s a shocker. Sure, rules can be broken — but rarely are so many rules broken at once.

The biggest would-be violation is this comes with the film’s same-day release on Universal’s Peacock streamer. A theater ticket costs about the same as one-month’s commercial-free access ($11.99, or $5.99 with ads) along with all other programming.

This isn’t the first simultaneous streaming release, but it’s the biggest. (“Black Widow” in July 2021 cost $29.99 extra for Disney+ subscribers). Even so, theaters came out a winner: Audiences under 25 are a key segment and increasingly picky. In this case, not only did they want to see this movie but they also wanted to see it with their peers as an event and shared experience.

Prior to release, the decision to make this horror movie PG-13 instead of R was derided as a fatal error. Instead, it was a stroke of genius: Estimates suggest 30 percent of the audience was under 17. That’s huge — it showed that viewers weaned on kids’ titles (animated and otherwise) responded to something aimed at their current age. This is what interests them now, not a retread or sequel to a film that even their parents didn’t see in its original release. (That would be another Blumhouse title in release, “The Exorcist: Believer,” which has grossed $59 million over four weeks.)

SAW X, (aka SAW 10), 2023. ph: Alexandro Bolanos Escamilla /© Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Saw X” ph: Alexandro Bolanos Escamilla /© Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

Horror genre films rarely get Cinemascore grades as good as B+. “Saw X,” considered a word-of-mouth success, got a B. “Freddy’s” received an A- — same as the horror-genre bending “Get Out.” Even more shocking is the comparison to critical reactions, with Metacritic ranking it at a paltry 33, about as bad as a hit film ever sees. Audiences and critics experienced wildly different perceptions of the same film.

More records broken: Not only is it the biggest Halloween-adjacent weekend opening, it’s also a groundbreaker for the date. Halloween parties mean that studios almost always favor opening weeks earlier. It’s the second feature by Emma Tammi, who now has to her credit a historically significant box-office smash with a horror movie that attracted a 58 percent male audience.

“Freddy’s” builds on the box-office theme of 2023: Like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer,” “Sound of Freedom,” and “The Eras Tour” before it, the path to success means turning originality into an event. That’s cause for hope.

“Freddy’s” took 62 percent of the weekend’s gross, which was around $126 million and 80 percent better than 2022. Year to date improvement remains steady at 26 percent.

Two other releases opened in the top 10. Angel Studio documentary “After Death” placed fourth with $5 million, while “Freelance” (Relativity), an action comedy starring John Cena and Alison Brie, placed seventh with $2 million.

Last week’s top two had big drops. “Eras Tour” is still strong at #2, down 56 percent. It added another $14.7 million for just under $150 million. Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Paramount), despite its A- Cinemascore, fell 61 percent, adding $9 million. It appears it was more must-see in theaters for core fans, particularly with its much-discussed length. Others may be happy to wait for it to stream on Apple in December.

It’s already deep into the fall awards/specialized season, with two of the more acclaimed and potentially breakout titles debuting with traditional platform runs. Both Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” (Focus) and Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” (A24) opened in New York/Los Angeles, with the same per-theater average ($33,000) and Metacritic scores (81).

Dominic Sessa stars as Angus Tully, Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb in director Alexander Payne’s THE HOLDOVERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC
“The Holdovers”Seacia Pavao/Focus Features

“Holdovers” opened in six theaters, with a $200,000 total, the highest for any specialized limited release this season. It is expanding more slowly, with 60 theaters set for this week. “Priscilla” is headed for over 1,000.

These two films are essential for the specialized side with their high-end credentials, critical support, awards hopes, and less competition for this audience than in most years. How each fares with different strategies will test the fragile market.

Also of note is the third-week expansion of Neon’s “Anatomy of a Fall.” By recent standards, its $565,000 in 262 theaters ($968,000 total), $2,156 per theater, is positive for the French Cannes Palme d’or winner. The jury remains out on its ultimate success.

David Fincher’s “The Killer” (Netflix) opened in perhaps 200 theaters nationwide, with a handful of Regal dates but mostly more independent theaters. No gross report as usual, but checking theater sites suggests it might have averaged under $1,000 per theater. Why did Netflix bother?

The Top 10

1. Five Weeks at Freddy’s NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 33; Est. budget: $20 million; also streaming on Peacock

$78,000,000 in 3,675 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $21,224; Cumulative: $78,000,000

2. Taylor Swift The Eras Tour (Variance for AMC) Week 3; Last week #1

$14,700,000 (-56%) in 3,773 (-82) theaters; PTA: $3,896; Cumulative: $149,300,000

3. Killers of the Flower Moon (Paramount) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$9,000,000 (-61%) in 3,628 (-82) theaters; PTA: $2,478; Cumulative: $9,000,000

4. After Death (Angel) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 22

$5,061,000 in 2,605 theaters; PTA: $1,913; Cumulative: $5,061,000

5. The Exorcist: Believer (Universal) Week 4 – Last week #3; also on PVOD

$3,100,000 (-46%) in 2,717 (-606) theaters; PTA: $1,141; Cumulative: $59,366,000

6. PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie (Par) Week 5; Last weekend #4

$2,150,000 (-51%) in 2,746 (-618) theaters; PTA: $783; Cumulative: $59,212,000

7. Freelance (Relativity) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 23; Est. budget: $40 million

$2,060,000 in 2,057 theaters; PTA: $1,001; Cumulative: $2,060,000

8. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Disney) (reissue); also streaming and on VOD

$2,000,000 in 2,185 (+535) theaters; PTA: $915; Cumulative: $(est.) 168,000,000 (adjusted)

9. Saw X (Lionsgate) Week 5; Last weekend #4; also on PVOD

$1,685,000 (-53%) in 2,141 (-615) theaters; PTA: $787; Cumulative: $50,297,000

10. The Creator (Disney) Week 5; Last weekend #7

$1,000,000 (-593%) in 1,685 (-805) theaters; PTA: $593; Cumulative: $38,845,000

Other specialized titles

Films (limited, expansions of limited, as well as awards-oriented releases) are listed by week in release, starting with those opened this week; after the first three weeks, only films with grosses over $5,000 are listed. Metacritic scores and film festivals lists as listed.

The Holdovers (Focus) NEW – Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2023

$200,000 in 6 theaters; PTA: $33,333

Priscilla (A24) NEW – Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Venice, New York 2023

$132,139 in 4 theaters; PTA: $33,035

Four Daughters (Kino Lorber) NEW – Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto 2023

$5,398 in 1 theater; PTA: $5,398

The Persian Version (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 2

$77,256 in 30 (+21) theaters; PTA: $2,575; Cumulative: $172,216

Anatomy of a Fall (Neon) Week 3

$565,000 in 262 (+248) theaters; PTA: $2,156; Cumulative: $967,637

The Mission (Picturehouse) Week 3

$7,901 in 11 (+1) theaters; Cumulative: $57,136

Dicks: The Musical (A24) Week 4

$129,122 in 635 (+290) theaters; Cumulative: $1,204,000

Common Ground (Area 23) Week 5

$8,500 in 7 (-12) theaters; Cumulative: $155,124

Stop Making Sense (A24) (reissue) Week 6

$44,568 in 70 (-19) theaters; Cumulative: $4,840,000 (reissue only)

Dumb Money (Sony) Week 7

$50,000 in 254 (-913) theaters; Cumulative: $13,830,000

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