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Film Based on Horror-Survival Video Game Is Surprise Box Office Hit

An evil pizzeria mascot, Freddy Fazbear, became a surprise box office sensation over the weekend, reinforcing a message that moviegoers have been sending to Hollywood all year: Give us something new.

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” sold an estimated $78 million in tickets at theaters in the United States and Canada from Thursday night to Sunday — a total that prompted double-takes in Hollywood because the movie did not play exclusively in theaters. “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” which was based on a popular horror-survival video game, also arrived on the Peacock streaming service on Thursday.

“This is more confirmation that moviegoers are looking for something new or, to be precise, getting the chance to see something they love already appear in a movie theater for the first time,” said Bruce Nash, founder of the Numbers, a box office tracking and analytics site.

In contrast, “The Exorcist: Believer,” an effort to revive a 50-year-old horror franchise, flopped in exclusive release in theaters earlier this month, collecting just $26.5 million over its first three days.

“The Exorcist: Believer,” the sixth installment in a 50-year-old franchise, failed to make a mark in theaters this month.Credit…Universal Pictures

Simultaneous availability in theaters and in homes became common during the pandemic, but most studios — at the demand of theater owners and some filmmakers — have returned to the traditional way of releasing movies (first in theaters for an exclusive run, then online for rental and purchase, and then on streaming). The worry is that people will be reluctant to buy tickets if they have the option to watch the same film at home.

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” collected an additional $53 million overseas, for a global total of about $131 million, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. The PG-13 film, directed by a relative newcomer, Emma Tammi, cost Blumhouse and Universal Pictures about $20 million to make and roughly $50 million to market worldwide.

NBCUniversal, which owns Peacock, declined to provide viewer numbers for “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” The company said, however, that the movie was Peacock’s most-watched content over the weekend and that it was “tracking to have the biggest opening ever for a film on Peacock.”

The film focuses on a security guard at an abandoned pizzeria who is terrorized by animatronic animals that used to “perform” for children at the restaurant. (Think about Chuck E. Cheese and the 1980s-era ShowBiz Pizza.) Josh Hutcherson of “Hunger Games” fame plays the security guard.

Universal and Blumhouse knew the game had avid fans, but they were unsure whether the story would attract a broader audience, which is part of the reason the companies also made the movie available on Peacock. But the film became a cinematic event, with teenagers and young adults attending in groups. Many turned up in costumes.

About 80 percent of ticket buyers were ages 13 to 24, Universal estimated. The movie received poor reviews, but ticket buyers gave it an A-minus grade (exceptional for a horror flick) in CinemaScore exit polls.

Blumhouse and Universal have already been talking about sequels to “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” the second time this year for Blumhouse. “M3gan” was the first. Hollywood considers nothing more valuable than a new franchise. Two in one year is almost unheard-of.

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” gave Blumhouse the highest opening in its 23-year history, surpassing “Halloween,” which arrived to $76 million in domestic ticket sales in 2018.

Jason Blum, the production company’s founder, said in an email that he was “even more pleased that Emma Tammi has the biggest opening weekend ever for a horror film directed by a woman.”

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