A Nightmare On Elm Street: the terror that transformed a movie studio

Let’s do a bit of movie history. Always fun.

Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street
Photo: New Line Cinema / WB

The story of New Line Cinema dates back just over 50 years, when it was formed with the idea of supplying art house films to universities in the US. It’s not the most usual opening to an article about horror cinema, granted, but bear with it.

Eventually, in late 70s and early 80s, New Line opted to start making films of its own (including some early John Waters movies). But it took some 27 years before the company hit its transformative moment, one that paved the way to the likes of the Lord Of The Rings and Austin Powers trilogies.

It was in 1984, then, that New Line – then in the midst of a financial crisis, that almost saw the entire production shut down mid-filming – put A Nightmare On Elm Street into cinemas. It’s one of those perfect movie stories of the script that virtually every else passed on (it had been doing the rounds since the start of the 80s), until New Line took a chance.

It was initially a low profile horror, directed by the late Wes Craven (who to that point had primarily earned headlines for the hugely controversial The Last House On The Left). Leading the cast was Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, and it proved a magical combination. The film soared, and transformed New Line in double quick time. It wasn’t just a hit out of nowhere, it was a hugely, hugely profitable one.

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From a modest budget – less than $2m! – over $25m was earned at the American box office alone, and that was before video takings were factored in. Add in the sequels that followed to growing box office in subsequent years, and New Line suddenly found itself creating an iconic horror franchise. Not for nothing did New Line earn the nickname ‘The House That Freddy Built’.

Here are some nerdy morsels about the movie…

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The sequels gave breaks to directors such as Renny Harlin, Rachel Talalay and Stephen Hopkins, too. But this was Wes Craven on peak form. He’d conceived the idea for the film, and by grounding it in something so relatable – a killer who comes and gets you in your own home, whilst you’re asleep – it simply enhanced the horror. Furthermore, it enhanced the word of mouth. Much of A Nightmare On Elm Street’s original success was down to the sheer word of mouth. Would Freddy come and get you? Best buy a ticket and find out.

New Line, now part of Warner Bros, has never lost its horror roots. Most recently, it’s enjoyed an enormous success with the new adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, and the growing The Conjuring Universe too. That it continues to do so owes no small debt to a man called Freddy, with a very garish jumper…