In early 2021, Screen Media Films released “Willy’s Wonderland,” featuring Cage as a silent janitor in a movie that bears a striking resemblance to the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” franchise.
Directed by Kevin Lewis, the film revolves around a loner who agrees to clean an abandoned family fun center in exchange for repairs after his car breaks down. Little does he know, he finds himself battling possessed animatronic mascots.
The premise of “Willy’s Wonderland” shares many similarities with “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” the popular video game series created by Scott Cawthon in 2014. Both projects center around a man working at a place designed for children, involving animatronic characters that turn out to be murderous. However, there are some differences, such as the change in animal characters and the tone of the film.
“Willy’s Wonderland” leans towards a beat-em-up monster movie, with Cage’s janitor well-equipped to combat the menacing creatures. In contrast, the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” games focus more on jump scares and a sense of impending dread.
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The original concept for “Willy’s Wonderland,” initially titled “Wally’s Wonderland,” was developed several years before the film’s release by writer G.O. Parsons. The short film featured a bear similar to “Freddy’s,” but the final version swapped it out for different animals. It’s worth noting that Parsons developed the script around the same time the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” games were gaining mainstream popularity, making it difficult to prove any deliberate copying.
The “Five Nights at Freddy’s” movie has faced numerous delays since 2015 when Warner Bros. first signed on for an ill-fated adaptation. This allowed “Willy’s Wonderland” to beat them to the punch. However, this phenomenon of similar ideas emerging simultaneously is not uncommon in Hollywood.
“Twin films” have been observed throughout history, such as “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” in 1998, or “Hercules” and “The Legend of Hercules” in 2014. In 2019, “The Banana Splits Movie” also explored a similar premise. Therefore, the occurrence of dueling projects about killer animatronic robots is not an isolated incident.
Fortunately, Blumhouse and Universal, the studios behind the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” movie, need not worry. Unlike situations where one movie’s success overshadows another, such as Disney’s “The Jungle Book” and WB/Netflix’s “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle,” both films can coexist.
“Willy’s Wonderland” had a relatively muted release due to the pandemic and, while gaining a cult following, it wasn’t a massive hit. Therefore, it shouldn’t detract from the highly anticipated “Five Nights at Freddy’s” adaptation, which benefits from the support of a major studio and the renowned horror expertise of Blumhouse.
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Despite their similarities, there is enough room for both films to thrive. Fans of Nicolas Cage can enjoy his campy adventure through a haunted entertainment center in “Willy’s Wonderland,” while enthusiasts of the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” game series can witness Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza come to life on the big screen in its own unique way.
“Five Nights at Freddy’s” is scheduled to hit theaters and begin streaming on Peacock on October 27, 2023.