Josh Hutcherson as Mike in Five Nights at freddy's

Why Are Critics and Audiences So Divided on ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’?

The reception of Five Nights at Freddy’s illustrates a significant divide between critics and audiences. Although critics largely panned the film adaptation of the popular horror game, its box office success and glowing audience reviews prove that viewers are loving the film despite what critics say.

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Five Nights at Freddy’s premiered on October 27 and is the first film adaptation of the video game series of the same name. Since the video game has become a cultural phenomenon in the time following its 2014 release, there was quite a bit of pressure for the film to do justice to the games. The film follows Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), who accepts a job as a night security guard at an abandoned restaurant, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. However, he soon realizes that the job entails more than he signed up for when the restaurant’s animatronics start coming to life.

Before the film’s release, early negative reviews concerned some franchise fans. Many early reviews criticized the storyline and felt that the film didn’t do justice to its premise. Another common criticism was that the film was just rather dull and not scary. While other reviews were more positive, the consensus was mixed to negative. However, audiences seem to have paid no mind to the more critical early reviews.

Audiences praise FNAF, while critics double down on criticism

The animatronics in Five Nights at Freddy's movie
(Universal Pictures)

When it was revealed that Five Nights at Freddy’s was aiming for a $50 million opening weekend at the box office, it may have raised some eyebrows. Its early negative reviews, combined with its dual streaming release on Peacock and the 2023 box office’s unpredictability, didn’t bode well for its performance. However, it ended up crushing the $50 million goal, ultimately debuting at $80 million, which is the best opening weekend of a 2023 horror film. It has since garnered $132.7 million worldwide on a $20 million budget.

Meanwhile, audiences aren’t just watching Five Nights at Freddy’s—they’re loving it. The film’s audience score on Rotten Tomatoes sits at 89%, signifying largely positive reviews. However, critics have actually doubled down on the negativity. During the early review period, Five Nights at Freddy’s boasted a critic score of 38% on Rotten Tomatoes, but that score has since sunk to just 28%. While the division between audience and critic scores happens occasionally, these scores, on average, tend to be within 10% of each other. The Super Mario Bros. Movie already gained attention earlier this year for a difference in audience and critics scores of 36%, but now Five Nights at Freddy’s boasts an enormous difference of 61%.

That’s one of the most significant audience/critics gaps in Rotten Tomatoes history, but why? A big part of it is likely who is watching Five Nights at Freddy’s. Its success is mainly being driven by Gen Alpha, as well as Gen Z. These are the audiences that grew up playing Five Nights at Freddy’s and watching the countless YouTube playthroughs, commentaries, and fan theories about the game franchise. Now, they’re turning up for the film adaptation, which happens to be perfectly suited for younger audiences.

While a common complaint from critics was that the film wasn’t scary, this actually works quite well for Gen Alphas, the oldest of whom are just 13. A more frightening film might’ve warranted an R rating, but the less intense premise makes it accessible for younger generations. For some of them, it might be the first time they’re able to watch a “horror film” on the big screen. Plus, Five Nights at Freddy’s does remain fairly faithful to the game’s original lore while adding an interesting backstory for Mike.

Even critics admitted that the animatronics were great, arguably the biggest factor the film needed to get right from the games. Lastly, with how connected younger audiences are to the digital world, those YouTuber cameos were bound to be appreciated by audiences more than critics.

Ultimately, it’s not surprising that what appeals to the youngest generation isn’t what appeals to film critics. Additionally, critics were likely thrown off by Five Nights at Freddy’s being labeled “horror” but not being terrifying. However, the film’s success shows that there’s merit to the PG-13 horror movie and making spooky films accessible to all audiences. Five Nights at Freddy’s isn’t a perfect or groundbreaking film, but it gave fans what they wanted and focused on appealing to the generation with the most power to drive its success. It reminds everyone that the younger generation is still going to the theater and that their opinions on TV and film count for something.

(featured image: Universal Pictures)


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.