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Why There Hasn't Been A Nightmare On Elm Street Movie In Over A Decade

It seems like horror icon Freddy Krueger has been scaring our faces off forever, so it's easy to forget what a ferociously original property A Nightmare on Elm Street was when it debuted in 1984. Directed by the legendary Wes Craven and starring Robert Englund as the deceased child murderer who continues to stalk the kids of Elm Street in their dreams, Nightmare stood apart from the glut of slasher flicks clogging multiplexes in the eighties with its incredibly inventive premise and a villain more terrifying than anything ever seen onscreen at the time. Throughout the flick's four direct sequels, Freddy would become known just as much for his wisecracking hamminess as for his gory kills — but in the original film, there was nothing funny about Freddy. He was an agent of pure malevolence, a sadistic predator who turned the slippery world of dreams into his playground, scaring half the life out of his victims before snuffing out the other half with his infamous bladed glove.

Craven didn't direct any of those four subsequent installments, but he returned for 1994's New Nightmare, an extremely meta entry that saw Freddy terrorizing the cast and crew of the Nightmare films in the real world (and ditching the one-liners). 2003's Freddy vs. Jason, a crossover with the Friday the 13th franchise and Englund's final turn as Freddy, was goofy, gory fun — but later in the decade, studio New Line would decide that the time was right to reboot the franchise. 2010's A Nightmare on Elm Street, starring Jackie Earle Haley as Krueger, was intended to take Freddy back to his straight horror roots while launching a new series — but it didn't exactly turn out that way. We haven't had another Nightmare since, and here's why.

The 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street failed to relaunch the franchise

On paper, the 2010 iteration of Nightmare seemed like it had the potential to be a smashing success. Haley, a fine actor, had just turned in an excellent, profile-raising performance as the unbalanced vigilante Rorschach in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, and director Samuel Bayer — a rookie feature filmmaker with a list of commercial and music video credits about six miles long — filled out his cast with extremely capable young actors. These included The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Rooney Mara in the lead role of Nancy, along with The Haunting in Connecticut's Kyle Gallner, Supernatural's Katie Cassidy, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' Thomas Dekker in supporting roles.

Early and often, the filmmakers stated, via venues like Shock Till You Drop, that their Nightmare would be not so much a remake as a "reimagining," one which would tweak some character and story elements in the interest of making Freddy truly scary again. Unfortunately, one of those choices proved to be extremely controversial: the decision to make Freddy not just a child murderer, but a sexual abuser of children (via Newsweek). The controversy might have fueled the box office fortunes of a better film, but when the reboot hit screens, audiences were sorely disappointed, finding it to be a flat exercise in paint-by-numbers filmmaking, with nary an effective scare to be found. 

One might think that one misfire of a reboot wouldn't keep the Nightmare brand on the shelf for long, and one would be partially correct. But, perhaps gun-shy from the brutal reviews and tepid audience response of the 2010 film, New Line approached the next proposed reboot of the property with extreme caution — too much caution, as it turned out.

Another reboot got stuck in development hell

Over the next five years, the radio silence from New Line on whatever might be happening with a new Nightmare movie was deafening. In August 2015, though, Freddy-starved fans got a glimmer of hope: it was announced that David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, the screenwriter behind the brilliant, creepy 2009 flick Orphan, would be taking on the task of writing yet another reboot (via TheWrap).

In the intervening years, though, it has become clear that the project has found a most undesirable home, in that lonely corner of Hollywood known as Development Hell. There has been virtually no movement on the new Nightmare. No director has been publicly attached, no casting news has been announced. The most anyone has had to say about the project in the last five years came in a 2018 GameSpot interview with Johnson-McGoldrickin which the scribe insisted that the reboot was "still happening" ... eventually. However, another remark Johnson-McGoldrick made during that chat goes a long way toward explaining why New Line was content to let Freddy languish in limbo for so long.

New Line has been focused on a different franchise

Johnson-McGoldrick happens to be closely associated with horror maestro James Wan, creator of the Conjuring universe. The scribe co-wrote 2016's The Conjuring 2, and in his sit-down with GameSpot, he implied strongly that at that time, New Line simply wasn't interested in developing any horror properties outside of that highly profitable series and its many spin-offs. "Nothing is percolating just yet [in terms of Nightmare on Elm Street]," Johnson-McGoldrick said. "The Conjuring universe is sort of first and foremost on [New Line's] horror burner... Everybody wants to see Freddy again I think, so I think it's inevitable at some point."

That doesn't sound too terribly promising, but it is understandable. The Conjuring films have combined to gross nearly $2 billion worldwide, as The Numbers reports, and to keep rolling with the hot property (not to mention, one that isn't carrying the baggage of an unsuccessful reboot) just makes good business sense. More recently, though, another wrinkle has been added to the story — one which might mean that the "House that Freddy Built," as New Line has long been known, could be effectively sidelined for the slasher's next appearance.

Freddy could still live again — maybe on HBO Max

In September 2019, it was reported by horror site Bloody Disgusting that the stateside rights to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise had reverted back to the estate of Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015. According to the site, the rights were obtained under a stipulation in the law allowing writers to reclaim the rights to an original work after 35 years, meaning that said rights would cover both the original 1984 film and — crucially — the character of Freddy Krueger. Note that New Line and its parent company, Warner Bros., reportedly retained international rights to the properties. Later that year, the same site reported that Craven's estate had begun actively fielding pitches with a focus both on feature films and a potential television series for HBO Max, the red-hot streamer which is also owned by Warner Bros. 

Since then, more than a few interested parties have poked their heads in the door to express their interest. These include Elijah Wood's SpectreVision production house (via Coming Soon), which produced such features as The Boy, Mandy, and Daniel Isn't Real, and feature director Mike Flanagan, who directed the Stephen King adaptations Gerald's Game and Doctor Sleep, and also created the hit Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. Hopefully, this means that Freddy's return is imminent — because, let's face it, the denizens of Elm Street have slept far too easily for far too long.