Is Your Favorite ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ Movie the Most Successful in the Franchise?

A Nightmare On Elm Street Freedy Krueger

Box office matters. Especially in horror where studios and executives have to be constantly reminded of the genre’s staying power. In the school of Roger Corman, the legendary producer teaches filmmakers to keep making sequels until the law of diminishing returns becomes too great to overcome. When you have an instant icon like Freddy Krueger in place to launch a franchise, it’s a given that a then-struggling New Line Cinema would keep all the lights green on Elm street, ad infinitum. Thus, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise was born.

Out of all horror properties, The Nightmare on Elm Street series was absolutely the least likely to find mainstream success. Jason and Michael are really just misunderstood kids; Freddy molested kids and their parents set him on fire. That is not the kind of character you put on a lunch box. Wes Craven created Freddy. But it was New Line Cinema that turned him into pop culture’s most unlikely icon.

Fortunately for Freddy fans, there were nine films made, a television series (DJ Freddy!), novelizations, and comic books. Let’s see if your favorite A Nightmare on Elm Street film was also the one that made the most scratch in the theater.

Here are the Elm Street movies ranked by box office receipts.

(note: the opening weekend take and initial release date are also listed. And since we’re in the midst of record inflation, adjusted box office is included, as well.)

  1. Freddy vs. Jason
    • $82,622,655 – 3,014 screens
    • Opening weekend (Aug 15, 2003): $36,400,000, New Line Cinema
    • Adjusted: $131,251,475.90
  2. A Nightmare on Elm Street
    • $63,075,011 – 3,332 screens
    • Opening weekend (Apr 30, 2010): $32,902,2993,332, Warner Bros.
    • Adjusted: $84,549,718.49
  3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
    • $49,369,899 – 1,765 screens
    • Opening weekend (Aug 19, 1988): $12,833,403, New Line Cinema
    • Adjusted: $121,983,296.69
  4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
    • $44,793,222 – 1,383 screens
    • Opening weekend (Feb 27, 1987): $8,880,555, New Line Cinema
    • Adjusted $115,254,221.99
  5. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
    • $34,872,033 – 1,862 screens
    • Opening weekend (Sep 13, 1991): $12,966,525, New Line Cinema
    • Adjusted $74,838,148.00
  6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
    • $29,999,213 – 614 screens
    • Opening weekend (Nov 1, 1985): $2,865,475 , New Line Cinema
    • Adjusted $81,493,029.40
  7. A Nightmare on Elm Street
    • $25,504,513 – 380 screens
    • Opening weekend (Nov 9, 1984): $1,271,000, New Line Cinema
    • Adjusted: $71,750,405.50
  8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
    • $22,168,359 – 1,902 screens
    • Opening weekend (Aug 11, 1989): $8,115,176, New Line Cinema
    • Adjusted $52,255,827.92
  9. New Nightmare
    • $18,090,181 – 1,873 screens
    • Opening weekend (Oct 14, 1994): $6,667,118, New Line Cinema
    • Adjusted $35,679,403.14

The Top Earner Is Never the Best Movie in the Franchise

In the summer of 2003, no one was predicting that Freddy vs. Jason was going to debut with over $30 million over the weekend. Diehard fans were waiting for the rumored matchup for ages. Although Friday the 13th loyalists weren’t exactly on board when Kane Hodder was not ultimately cast as Jason. Hodder donned the hockey mask for four consecutive entries from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood to Jason X. Ultimately, stunt man Ken Kirzinger was cast as Jason, mostly due to the actor’s size and height. Director Ronny Yu wanted Jason to tower over Freddy. The decision did provide opportunities for a number of fantastic shot selections. Both icons were undeniably cinematic again.

Freddy vs. Jason has solid action and a clever connection to the drug Hypnocil, the anti-dream pill first seen in Dream Warriors. It’s not even close to the best film of the franchise, however. It could have been much, much worse though and the huge success guaranteed that both franchises had plenty of life left.

The Wes Craven Effect

Craven’s original masterpiece was also a box office and critical success raking in $1,271,000 on opening weekend on just 165 screens. Back in 1984, that was news. Today, the first A Nightmare On Elm Street‘s total box office would total over seventy million. Having Craven at the helm showed how crucial it is to have a true visionary behind the camera. There would be no franchise without him. Craven finally returned to direct New Nightmare ten years later. The meta approach to Kruger’s legacy was another ingenious move by Craven that laid the groundwork for Scream. Surprisingly, it’s the lowest entry in the entire series, contradicting its positive critical reception and continuing appreciation from the fandom.

The Remake and the Heavyweight Fight

Regrettably, the second-best box office in the series is the much-maligned reboot starring Jackie Earle Haley. This is mostly due to the massive marketing push from Warner Brothers and the fact that Haley had a lot of heat at the time. Rorschach from Watchmen is going to be Freddy Krueger? It wasn’t the fan cast fave Kevin Bacon but it was something. Both Freddy vs. Jason and the remake were also part of the new distribution models that favored the multiplex instead of the indie theater. Both films were released on over 3,000 screens, almost 20 times the amount of theaters as the original.

The reboot is arguably the worst entry, although it exists outside the franchise’s timeline. Freddy vs. Jason was the fight we wanted. But one of the fighters was a pretender, not a contender. Listen to the fans. Get Kane Hodder and Robert Englund together next time. If the two titans ever do unite on screen, the pairing should have some serious box office mojo.

The Most Fun in the Theatre

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare isn’t for everyone. Freddy finally finds a way out of Springwood to find a new batch of kids. One of the best one-liners of the series is “Every town has an Elm Street!” Whatever your opinion of Freddy’s farewell is, Freddy’s Dead is just a great time at the movies. A reference to The Wizard of Oz with Freddy as the Evil Witch of the West shows how Kruger has become a kids’ movie classic all on his own. Trippy stoner sequences also give it a decidedly early nineties feel, an era when kids were still connected to older bands like Iron Butterfly and The Doors.

But what makes Freddy’s Dead the best theater experience out of any Elm Street movie? Put on your red and blue 3-D glasses at the end and go kill Freddy in three dimensions! Freddy is at his best when he’s a true matinee idol and England really shines here in his supposed final appearance.

Releases

A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy vs. Jason were re-released last year grossing $119,935 and $10, 793, respectively. Clearly, there was little to no interest in returning to the theater to watch two films that most horror fans already own at home. And we own multiple copies. Adjusted, both films would add another ten thousand bucks to their total gross, showing just how high inflation has become in the last year. The lack of demand shouldn’t keep the Elm Street franchise from finally developing a new legacy sequel. It’s inevitable that Freddy will return in some form.

Finally, theaters look to be bouncing back from the pandemic and moviegoers of all ages are returning to theaters. Rightfully, we used to be afraid to go to the theater. Now, it’s time for Kruger to come back and give us nightmares again.

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