Photo: Summit Entertainment
Since the publication of its first book in 2005, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga has sold more than 100 million copies around the world. Its first movie adaptation grossed $382 million worldwide. Breaking Dawn, Part 1, the fourth and penultimate installment in the film franchise, is expected to make as much as $140 million when it opens this weekend. Twihards, as Twilight’s rioting teenage fans are known, have been camped out for weeks at premiere locations in the hope of glimpsing Robert Pattinson (Team Edward) or Taylor Lautner (Team Jacob), a preference as important to this generation as Dylan or Brandon was to the Catalanos. You already know all this; Twilight is virtually inescapable at this point, even if you’ve never set foot in a Hot Topic. But as the movie franchise nears its conclusion (one more to go!), and a new set of teen series swoop in to take its place, Twilight’s future teen hegemony is less certain. There will still be Twihards (first love never fades), and they will surely try to inspire a similar devotion in their own children, but will Twilight be able to work its vampire-loving magic on another generation?
It’s important to note, at this point, that whatever its literary or sociological faults (and yes, there are plenty), Twilight is incredibly effective as a story. An unremarkable teenage girl finds herself in a love triangle with a wildly attractive, nonthreatening vampire and an equally hot, motorcycle-savvy werewolf. Both love her unconditionally, protect her fiercely, and — awesomely, and not just to a teenage mind — fight over her. With newborn vampire armies. There’s also a showdown in Italy and half-vampire spawn. It’s ridiculous, but it keeps the pages turning, and not only taps into all the insecurities and hopes and crazy hormones that come with being 13 years old, but all the insecurities, hopes, and crazy hormones older readers like to be reminded they once had. Twilight’s fans are not just tweens, but also grown women, though the latter population may be less likely to shout it from the tree tops (where Robert Pattinson’s Edward carried them, in their imaginations).
But a big part of the Twilight movie experience is the frenzy — the weird tattoos, the insane fan sites, the are-they-or-aren’t-they-dating speculation. (They are. Even that fun is over.) After Breaking Dawn: Part 2 — the final half of the final book — that hysteria will fade away. Movies like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings live on because people watch them alone, after the commercial brouhaha dies down. Twilight watched alone is just a poorly lit staring contest between two strange-looking dudes (neither of whom will be famous, if recent box office earnings are any indication). It’s like the boy band of successful movie-to-book franchises — no one lusts and shrieks more passionately than its fans, but eventually they will put the R-Patz and Lautner posters in the trash, next to the David Cassidy, New Kids, and N’Sync posters of yore. The next generation will likely want pinup boys all their own.
And they’ll get them: A lot of books and movies can re-create the teenage experience, and presumably some new series won’t have the problems that Twilight does. Stephenie Meyer’s central plot, though irresistible, is entirely replicable, and certainly no one is reading the books for her prose. The movies look cheap, with that pasty makeup and herky-jerky “spider-monkey” flying that will probably not age as well as their DVD hawkers might hope. (Those clothes, also, will surely be outdated, and not in a cool, “Let’s be the Cullens for Halloween” sort of way.) Maybe Twilight will find some second life as the B movie that’s always on cable, and so you watch it, half-jokingly, like Teen Wolf or Weird Science. But these are not stand-alone movies; they are movies that teens watch because they read the books, and loved the books, and want to see that hunk Robert Pattinson act out the books. But without pre-knowledge of Twilight, he’s hardly even a hunk — just a guy in sparkly mime makeup looking confused.
Meanwhile, new YA series are already gunning for Twilight’s perch. The superior Hunger Games wisely debuted its trailer this past Monday, and it seems ready to match Twilight in wall-to-wall coverage, if not in book sales. Surely a dozen new knockoffs will follow, and while they might not reach Twilight levels of ubiquity, they will have the advantage of being brand-new. Teenagers, remember, are not so wild about the hand-me-downs. There’s too much else to watch. And the makeup really is bewildering.