The Business Of Nightmares – A Look Back On The ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ Franchise

There’s already been plenty said and written about this franchise. For me the original 1984 film, which I saw at the tender age of 7, is the very reason why I fell in love with the moofies. It was a film that built a studio and took Robert Shaye, founder of New Line Cinema, from the boot of his car to the head of the company that made THE LORD OF THE RINGS. It took Wes Craven from cult director to mainstream horror maestro and it introduced the world to the most easily identifiable bad guy in film history – Freddy Krueger.

Without Freddy Krueger there would’ve been no Frodo Baggins. Without Freddy Krueger there would’ve been no Blade. Without Freddy Krueger there would’ve been no Horrible Bosses.

So back in 1983 with a sub $1 million budget that Shaye scraped together on a belief that a script,which all the major studios passed on from exploitative horror writer/director Wes Craven, was something everybody could relate to – A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET went into production. From there, they say, the rest is history.

Spawning 6 sequels, a spin off, a reboot and an ill-fated TV Series – the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise was the cornerstone of the New Line Cinema stable during the 80’s and early 90’s.

Let’s Check Out The Trailers For All The Films & Then We’ll Talk Shop!













But did they make any money Azzles?

Well of course they did – in fact much like the SAW franchise – NEW LINE were churning out an ELM STREET every year there in the late 80’s. Let’s have a look at the grosses against budget in the U.S. Note that some of the global grosses are estimated from gathering as many figures as I could across territories. (My thanks to Box Office Mojo, IMDB, Rentrak)

Film Year Budget US Gross Global Gross % Diff Budget
A Nightmare On Elm Street 1984 $1,800,000 $25,504,513 $31,522,652 1,651%
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge 1985 $2,200,000 $29,999,213 $32,999,134 1,400%
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors 1987 $4,500,000 $44,793,222 $62,710,511 1,294%
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master 1988 $7,000,000 $49,369,899 $80,472,935 1,050%
A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child 1989 $8,000,000 $22,168,359 $36,134,425 352%
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare 1991 $8,500,000 $34,872,033 $56,841,414 569%
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare 1994 $8,000,000 $18,090,181 $21,863,019 173%
Freddy Vs Jason 2003 $25,000,000 $82,163,317 $114,576,403 358%
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2010 $35,000,000 $63,059,655 $117,729,621 236%
Total $100,000,000 $370,020,392 $554,850,114 455%

The A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film franchise is worth over half a billion dollars (and that’s without rental or home entertainment figures involved). When the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET released back in 1984 it was the make or break for the fledgling New Line Cinema. But all that was put paid when the reviews (which still sit at 95% on rotten tomatoes) came out and people began to flock to it in droves. It was a runaway success and although Craven and Shaye argued over the ending  of which Craven didn’t want a sequel possibility – the idea of a follow up was all but assured.

1985 -Without the sun even setting on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET in theatres, development began on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART TWO without Wes Craven, who left New Line stable to pursue other projects and it is suggested there was some bad blood between him and Shaye. Written by David Chaskin and directed by Jack Sholder, the film bore little if any resemblence to the original source and is widely regarded as the first latently homosexual horror movie (The Gay Leather Bar, Jesse, That Dance Routine, The Shower Scene, Grady’s Bedroom). The reviews were savage and critics panned it for its nonsensical plotting but that didn’t stop the box office from outgrossing the original. FREDDY’S REVENGE was still a hit.

1987 – So after a short break and a Mea Culpa from Bob Shaye to Wes Craven – Craven returned with Bruce Wagner to write a draft of the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART THREE: DREAM WARRIORS. The script they turned in is essentially the bones of the film produced but it has a much darker tone to it – Freddy was nastier and there was a more on Freddy’s childhood. Shaye then employed a maverick new director Chuck Russell (Eraser) and Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, The Walking Dead) to come on board and work on the script. Both versions can be found here. Well it worked big time – NIGHTMARE 3 blitzed the box office – smashing Freddy Krueger right into mainstream America and, indeed, the globe. It made Robert Englund a household name and saw the first foray into film for a new talent: Patricia Arquette. And after $45m at the U.S. box office – it was, up until then, the highest grossing film New Line had ever released… until…

1988 – A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART FOUR: THE DREAM MASTER (which turns 25 next year) is out and out the biggest box office success of the entire original series.With a just under $50m domestic gross the film, directed by Renny Harlin (which then went on to do DIE HARD 2, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT), it was the highest grossing independent film of all time when it released to #1 in the States. The film was such a wildfire hit that New Line pushed the concept even further and expanded it to a TV series: FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES (ultra cheap, ultra silly) and here’s the pilot episode for your viewing pleasure:

1989 – No sooner had part 4 and the TV series get a kickin that New line announced A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD was going to release. Using the tried and true formula of hiring maverick young directors, Shaye employed brit Stephen Hopkins (Lost In Space, Predator 2) to direct the film which, thanks to a pregnant series Exec Producer Sara Risher, had to take on pregnancy in its plotting. Plagued with script problems and continual changes, most of whats in the film represent Hopkins artistic eye with it’s gothic elements, comic book fandom, H.R. Giger nods and Escher sets – but the fans didn’t want that – they wanted Krueger – or maybe they’d had their fill of him? The box office responded accordingly. THE DREAM CHILD was the lowest grossing of the entire franchise – also slammed by critics – and it was a sign for the studio that maybe it was Krueger at over saturation point. … But it didn’t lose money.

Freddy got a vacation. The TV show got axed after 2 seasons and the films got 1990 off.

1991 – What do you do when a franchise runs out of steam? How do you get back your audience for one more go around? It’s easy – announce that you’re gonna kill off your star! That’s exactly what New Line Cinema did and they hired stable hand Rachel Talalay, who’d worked production on all of the films, to direct the feature from a script she and New Line exec Michael De Luca wrote. Interestingly, Peter Jackson also wrote a draft for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART SIX but it was discarded. Here’s the brief run down on it (because I’d love to read it):

Jackson’s first Hollywood paycheck involves the complex family tree of Freddy Krueger… Jackson’s first films Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles caught the attention of a number of New Line staff, including scriptreader Mark Ordesky. Though Ordesky failed to persuade his bosses to distribute either film, Jackson and Feebles scriptwriter Danny Mulheron were instead offered the chance to write a script for Elm Street…

Jackson and Mulheron’s script begins with Freddy initially having lost much of his power to terrify. Teenagers in Springfield take sleeping pills so that they can go into the dream world and take turns attacking him. the film’s hero is a policeman in a coma, who finds himself in the dream world, where he discovers Krueger. “The climax of it was the deconstruction of Freddy Krueger,” says Mulheron. “By confronting him with his impotence, he lost his ability to scare.” Jackson and Mulheron’s script was paid for but never used, partly because Elm Street production veteran Rachel Talalay had drafted a treatment for her own film Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. New Line commissioned a script based upon this treatment, which failed to satisfy, after which Talalay asked New Line executive Michael De Luca to write the script himself. Freddy’s Dead was filmed in early 1991. New Line staff, enthused by the Jackson Mulheron script, later asked Jackson if he might want to work on their long-in-development Freddy Versus Jason, but Jackson turned them down. – Peter Jackson From Prince Of Splatter To Lord Of The Rings By Ian Pryor.

So FREDDY’S DEAD THE FINAL NIGHTMARE goes out with a cheesy 3D gimmick and becomes the 3rd highest grossing in the original series. Stopping shy of $35m at the U.S. Box Office.

So he’s gone now. But is Freddy ever really dead? No – he just gets a 3 year holiday before

1994 – Wes Craven accepts the invitation from Bob Shaye to write and direct A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 7 for the 10 year anniversary of their prize franchise. Originally titled A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 7: ASCENSION, Craven delivered one of the best reviewed films of the year when WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE released. But it didn’t fire the box office delivering the weakest result of all of the Freddy films. (Don’t let that be a deterrent, the film is fantastic). That was it. Freddy was dead and buried.


Until…. Paramount lost the rights to the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise and New Line bought it.

2003 – Veteran Hong Kong director Ronny Yu,  who’d just delivered a knock out genre mash in BRIDE OF CHUCKY, lands the gig for the fan boy geek grudge match ever FREDDY VS JASON. Almost a decade since Krueger walked the screen and man did the fans respond – on a $25m budget the film grossed $82m domestically in the U.S. and $114.5m globally. A certified hit it was also one of the hardest films to write apparently with walls of scripts turned in for it. There’s clearly still life in the old blades yet.

But Freddy slept for another 7 years before being re-incarnated.

2010 – After Time Warner absorbed New Line into it’s stable and keeping the name as a label only – Robert Shaye exited the business. Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s production company that specialises in horror remakes TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE & FRIDAY THE 13TH go into production on a reboot of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Neither Shaye nor Craven are consulted on the project and Englund is replaced by Jackie Earle Haley. Releasing Aug 2010 in the U.S. this new reboot smashes its way to a $45m opening weekend in the U.S. to finish on $63m domestically & $117m globally. Talk of a sequel began the day after the film opened but to date no development has happened here.

Either which way you look at it – the franchise was a smash hit – none of the films lost any money, they were all profitable and the impact it had (has) on popular culture is undeniable. It’s proof that if you see an idea and you believe in it – anything can happen.

Maybe it’s time you revisited Elm Street!