Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger Career Could Have Ended After Just One Film

Robert Englund is Freddy Krueger, but it took more than one film for New Line Cinema to recognize his irreplaceability. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" was a great success, making $57 million on a budget of just over $1 million. Mixed with the slasher movie craze of the 1980s, it would've been financial insanity not to greenlight a sequel. However, director Wes Craven did not return for the sequel, subtitled "Freddy's Revenge." Had the studio had their way, it would've been a different actor playing the vengeful Freddy, too.

Let's look at how Englund won the part in the first place for the original film, and then how he got to keep it for the sequel.

Jack Sholder: Englund's advocate

In the original film, Robert Englund had actually been an understudy for David Warner. Warner got as far as a makeup test before a scheduling conflict kept him from proceeding. Still, Wes Craven wanted a proper actor in the role. Fresh off mini-series "V," Englund auditioned for Freddy, and with that, Craven found the performer he'd been looking for. Speaking to Vulture, Craven said:

"I couldn't find an actor to play Freddy Krueger with the sense of ferocity I was seeking. Everyone was too quiet, too compassionate toward children. Then Robert Englund auditioned ... Robert wasn't as tall I'd hoped, and he had baby fat on his face, but he impressed me with his willingness to go to the dark places in his mind. Robert understood Freddy."

Englund's presence is essential to why the film works, but you almost never glimpse his face, thanks to both the makeup and dark lighting. This might be why the executives at New Line thought they could recast Freddy when Englund's agents demanded a salary increase for him in the sequel. However, Craven's fill-in, Jack Sholder, disagreed with the recasting and played a key role in convincing the studio to bring Englund back. Speaking to in 2017, Sholder said:

"One of the really great things about the original 'Elm Street' and what Wes Craven did, was he cast a real actor to play the boogeyman. It was usually a stunt guy or an extra, just somebody who would pop up out of the woods and chop somebody's head off or something. Here, you had a real character with a personality played by a really superb character actor."

The Freddy franchise

Jack Sholder's comments reveal the difference between Freddy Krueger and contemporary slasher villains. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees aren't characters so much as they are forces of nature. Between their lack of emotive personality, their masks, and their silence, they can be played by anyone without audiences noticing the difference. Freddy, on the other hand, is a character, with a wise-cracking personality that's tied up in Robert Englund's charisma. In the aforementioned Vulture interview, Craven even said that in designing Freddy, his burns were meant to be a "mask" that would still allow the actor to emote.

Craven's attempt to create a slasher with a personality succeeded all too well. Like with "Halloween" and "Friday," Freddy became the real star of the "Nightmare" series. It was even more unavoidable than with the former two franchises because Freddy was a defined character, making it easier for audiences to connect with him. The sequels flesh out the character's mythology and backstory, turning him from a simple murderer to the "bastard son of 1000 maniacs."

"New Nightmare," which Craven returned to direct, feels like a response to Freddy fandom. Audiences in the film's world — a close mirror of ours — are in love with Freddy. Englund is in the film as both himself and a demon wearing Freddy's skin. It'd be easy to make him play dual roles of hero and villain, but instead, the protagonist is Heather Langenkamp, aka the original "Nightmare" heroine Nancy Allen. While Nancy was forgotten by the films after film no. 3, "Dream Warriors," "New Nightmare" explores how being a scream queen cast a shadow over Langenkamp's life.

Reboot and recast

All good things must come to an end. When the original "A Nightmare On Elm Street" was remade in 2010, Jackie Earle Haley played Freddy instead. Director Samuel Bayer's involvement, announced in February 2009, was coupled with a confirmation that Robert Englund wouldn't be returning. Instead, Haley won the part after Bayer and Co. saw his screen test as Rorschach in "Watchmen." Asked about his lack of involvement in the remake by MovieWeb, Englund said:

"They want to have their own identity. They're rebooting the franchise, and I understand that. I'm not the guy to put down remakes."

Once he saw the movie, Englund changed his tune. Interviewed by ComingSoon, Englund said he thought the remake was "cold" and failed to invest the audience in its teenage heroes. His thoughts on Haley's performance were mixed too:

"Haley made Freddy his own. I think the change to a more [realistic] burn makeup with melted features took a lot of the strength away from the character. The strong nose and chin in the makeup I wore gives Freddy presence and power. And I played Freddy as if he liked being evil, he liked his work. Jackie went a different way."

Jackie Earle Haley is without a doubt a fine actor, but his performance still proved that there's one and only Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund.