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The Twilight Legacy: How It's Changing Cinema
Love it or loathe it, Twilight might make the movies better...

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WORDS HELEN O'HARA
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Twilight, Bella and Edward

The Twilight series is a pivot point in cinema, and it's time we acknowledge it as such. It was the first film of a trend that is becoming a wave that may become, in the distant future, something perfectly normal: the female-focused franchise. Twilight was the first multi-part, billion-dollar franchise that was aimed at and led by women, and which hit big at the box office. There had been a few direct-to-DVD cartoon series (Disney's TinkerBell efforts), a few rom-coms to get a single sequel (Bridget Jones, for instance) and a few minor teen efforts, but since Twilight hit we've had The Hunger Games and attempts to launch girl franchises in everything from Confessions Of A Shopaholic (admittedly that didn't make it beyond a first effort) to Snow White And The Huntsman to, soon, 50 Shades Of Grey (the best-selling book in this country ever. Make of that what you will). Instead of standing around marvelling and scratching their heads when a Mamma Mia! or a Devil Wears Prada does well, filmmakers are actively seeking out properties that target women and have sequel potential.

The highest-grossing films of all time are overwhelmingly the ones that appeal to both sexes.
This is not to say that a franchise or a sequel necessarily in itself a good thing, and no one is saying that franchise-crafting is the best or only way to make films. But the new approach marks a shift, and perhaps the beginnings of a sea-change, in how big tentpole films are made and who they're made for.

It's a truism and a cliche that blockbusters over the past couple of decades have been aimed and marketed primarily at teenage boys. Star Wars is generally credited as the first film to establish this fact, rightly or wrongly, and it’s been the driving force behind everything from Batman to Transformers to American Pie. But boys have become a less reliable audience than they were 10 or 20 years ago. That demographic is now, often, staying at home and playing games as their principal form of entertainment. They still go to the cinema, of course, for films that appeal to them - but their attendance in droves is no longer a guarantee and no longer the only reliable engine of box-office success.

Combined with the threat of piracy and that of home entertainment, the studios have been keenly aware that even where takings are bigger, audiences are getting smaller. Adjust for inflation and suddenly Avatar falls from the biggest film ever to 14th on the list, Gone With The Wind still marking a high-point in movie-making history. It’s become increasingly obvious that Hollywood can’t afford to cater only to the (hitherto) most reliable and lucrative market.

What's more, the boys’ films seem to demand higher and higher budgets. With the exception of occasional comedies that hit big, male-oriented blockbusters tend to have huge effects costs (and most of those hit comedies have big star budgets). These higher price tags are, at least partially, connected to games once again. Game designers can take players to alien worlds, total wars, exotic locations or historical periods for no more than the cost of a contemporary-set game (less, maybe, since creating photo-realistic reality is particularly challenging for designers). If Hollywood is going to compete, it has to be bigger, better and more exciting – and that means money.

So the studios are delighted that a new audience has emerged who turn out in big numbers for cheaper films. Make fun of ‘crazy’ Twi-hards all you like, but around that hard-core of fans there's a much larger, more balanced crowd for whom Twilight is merely something they enjoy with varying levels of pride. And incidentally, you shouldn’t make fun of those fans. They’re no crazier than the Trekkers, Star Wars fans and comic-book guys who drove geekdom to its current high status in the culture. In the same way that a teenage love of Transformers does not equate to a lack of intelligence / soul / the hope of one day growing up, Twilight has sometimes been a gateway drug into better geekery for girls. Like Potter before it, Twilight’s a gateway (geekway?) drug. Liked Twilight? Try Dracula, The Lost Boys. Try Near Dark.

Hollywood's salvation may just be this new crowd, still often indifferent to gaming and at least behind the guys in terms of addiction to it; still going to the cinema in big numbers whenever someone bothers making a film for them, and also still signalling what they're interested in by reading books in larger numbers than any other social group.

Behind The Scenes on The Return Of The King

Twilight's children: Hollywood now has an abundance of novels aimed at young, female readers to adapt which hope to be the next big thing.

The fact that women, especially young women, are reading in huge numbers may be key. Hollywood has consistently failed (so far) to turn games into good movies, and while their comics record is much better, they're getting to the bottom of the bucket of obviously commercial comic-book characters. Sure, they're still trotting out superheroes like they're on fire (which sometimes they are) but they've gone through the big reliable characters and are beginning to start rebooting those and teaming them up in new groupings. Those left unfilmed are, for the most part, not massively familiar names (Moon Knight, anyone?). Books matter again as a source of film inspiration. Of course, Harry Potter proved a gargantuan success - but a series like that, on page or on screen, only comes along once in a generation and actually isn't as replicable as studios might like. Although executives are searching desperately for "the next Harry Potter", attempts to replicate that formula have floundered (Percy Jackson, The Vampire's Apprentice, The Spiderwick Chronicles, arguably The Golden Compass).

What is working, however, are adaptations of Potter's literary successors, those books that don't stick to the model of JK Rowling's series but which Potter fans turned to once they finished with Harry and friends. Those who became addicted to reading thanks to the boy wizard cast about for their next series as they've grown older, and they found stuff like Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Host (due soon), Divergent (in development with Summit), Daughter Of Smoke And Bone (Universal has the rights), The Spook's Apprentice (filmed as The Seventh Son), The Mortal Instruments (shooting now), Wicked Lovely (in development), Warm Bodies (in post-production) and more. Lots of these stories have female protagonists, but they're not girly, (all) romantically neurotic or endlessly obsessed with shoes and boys; they're actual characters. And they're sufficiently dissimilar that we expect them to have a higher hit-rate than the Potter-clones. We're potentially looking at mainstream films aimed at women that aren't shallow or offensive!

And what we're also starting to see, in an even bigger change, is that men may be tempted to go see the films that result. The high water mark so far is The Hunger Games, which is the best of these films in terms of quality and one of the most successful in terms of box office. Three more instalments are already underway (the final book has, inevitably, been split in two) and while the fans are not as eardrum-shattering as the Twi-hards, they do seem as enthusiastic in a quieter way. The Hunger Games, too, was a film that men didn't have to be embarrassed about seeing, what with the action and life-or-death stakes and general lack of moping about over sparkly vampires, but that girls could still watch and see themselves in. So maybe it's not female leads that turn male viewers off, but bad female leads. 

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games, too, was a film that men didn't have to be embarrassed about seeing.
Such a knack for appealing to both men and women is worth seeking out. The highest-grossing films of all time are overwhelmingly the ones that appeal to both sexes – your Avatars, your Titanics, your Harry Potters. You don’t guarantee success by ignoring either gender, and women have been overlooked outside of formulaic rom-coms for too long.

Hunger Games is another success that Hollywood is scrambling to replicate now; witness Divergent's development in particular, since that feels very strongly similar in tone to Suzanne Collins' series. The Hunger Games' success suggests that the Twilight phenomenon is replicable in a way that Potter was not; that books attracting a similar audience to a previous hit, but not themselves strongly reminiscent of that hit, can become big in their turn.

What we might also see thanks to Twilight and a string of female-focused hits is Hollywood beginning to treat women like a demographic that matters at all in blockbuster films. As an example of how this can work, you might have noticed in the past few years that more and more blockbusters are globe-trotting to China or Russia (for example: Battleship, The Dark Knight, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Karate Kid, The Darkest Hour and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon all feature scenes in one of the two) because China and Russia are now important markets for Hollywood blockbusters. Following that logic, if women become a valuable demographic for the studios, maybe we'll see women in male-targeted action movies or thrillers not simply defined as Wife, Girlfriend or Mother. Maybe the character composition of these films will change from a statistically unrepresentative 25% female (or so) to a more-like-it 50%. Judging by Dredd this year, female characters don’t have to derail the manliness.

If Twi-hards are the tip of a demographic iceberg of potential filmgoers, they could prove to be the saviours of the studios and a transformative force in big-screen cinema. If the big studios can be find a healthy audience for their mid-budgeted, female-friendly novel adaptation, then maybe they'll have the money to make Halo or The Authority. If studios successfully recruit new a reliable new film-going demographic, that's more money in the coffers and a more secure base on which to risk ambitious, big-budget concepts from original filmmakers.

Twilight is a good thing, long term. It could usher in a slightly more equal era of cinema going, and could see better films being made that appeal to much of the same audience but don't exclude men. If it offers a new and alternative model for filmmaking sucess, that could make Hollywood more flexible and more inclusive - just as studios are also trying to attract older fans with the likes of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet. Ultimately, any attempt by Hollywood to widen its focus and cater to a bigger crowd must be a good thing for the health of cinema overall.

We’re still not convinced about the whole magic-werewolf-baby-love thing though.
 

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Your Comments

1 RE: Here's hoping
L: Helen O'Hara I have no difficulty whatsoever getting well-made points, but you're completely misreading the article to make your case, to the extent that you're doing so. There's a clear difference between the film itself and the films that come after it. A film does not in itself have to be important, great or even good to start a trend; it just has to be successful. And the Twilight films ARE successful. I'm not even arguing that. That's simply true.he evidence suggests otherwise. You yourself state that you want others to rethink what they think of Twilight. Why? It's a terrible series of films that has been incredibly successful and has inspired more films, one or two of which may end up being decent but most of which will be the same formulaic crap. You don't have to rethink the film itself to get this. Yet you insist on using hyperbole such as Twilight is "a good thing", "a pivotal point" and "Hollywood's salvation". If it wasn't your intention to add to the hype More

Posted by Quentin Black on Friday November 30, 2012, 04:06

2 Joss Whedon again
I seem to be developing a schtick for namechecking Joss Whedon whenever I post, and I'm going to do it again - I wonder if the context of this article would have been much different if Whedon had completed the aborted Wonder Woman movie. In other words, what if this movement had been bolstered by a major entry in the superhero genre (Catwoman obviously doesn't count)? be he'll still eventually do a Black Widow solo outing. Or less likely, Maria Hill - just saying this knowing that he had Cobie Smulders in mind for playing WW (allegedly). More

Posted by rwoo on Thursday November 29, 2012, 09:55

3 RE: Here's hoping
L: Quentin BlackI use bold text because your previous reply demonstrated that you have difficulty getting the point. You can argue the semantics of the original article all you want but saying that the effect it has on cinema is important isn't any different from saying that the film is important. Others have written about both Taken and Statham films but few have many positive things to say about their influence. have no difficulty whatsoever getting well-made points, but you're completely misreading the article to make your case, to the extent that you're doing so. There's a clear difference between the film itself and the films that come after it. A film does not in itself have to be important, great or even good to start a trend; it just has to be successful. And the Twilight films ARE successful. I'm not even arguing that. That's simply true. is explains a lot. He's technically a minor? Are you seriously trying to say that he stopped aging mentally and will never mature More

Posted by Helen OHara on Wednesday November 28, 2012, 15:46

4 RE: Here's hoping
L: Helen O'Hara You use bold text really oddly. I didn't say that Twilight was important as a film; I said its effects are important. I think both Taken and Jason Statham's careers have also had knock-on effects on the sort of film made; others have written about the influence of both. Perhaps you should read more widely? use bold text because your previous reply demonstrated that you have difficulty getting the point. You can argue the semantics of the original article all you want but saying that the effect it has on cinema is important isn't any different from saying that the film is important. Others have written about both Taken and Statham films but few have many positive things to say about their influence. she's poorly depicted in the books (I think she's better drawn in the films) but I'm not quite sure why you think the boys are either "inappropriate" or "slightly abusive". Technically the older boy is himself a minor, since he died at 17, and if we're being pernMore

Posted by Quentin Black on Wednesday November 28, 2012, 04:04

5 RE: Here's hoping
L: Quentin Black Hi Helen 1) I don't see many people writing articles on how the Taken films or Jason Statham's latest offering are misunderstood, important films and if you did you'd likely have a lot of people replying with equal vitriol. nt is we shouldn't be defending bad films, regardless of the gender of the lead, period.eminism wise you have a poorly depicted teenage girl whose life revolves around two inappropriate, dangerous and slightly abusive boys. She endangers her life and the life of others when she doesn't get to be with the older boy (mentally he is older by centuries, which is made extra creepy by the fact that she was a minor when he met her), a tactic that works. Instead of being accepted for who she is she ends up changing herself and her life to be with this boy, in the process becoming this perfect being that the world revolves around like it was her destiny. This is hardly a healthy and positive message to send to young girls.ou use bold text realMore

Posted by Helen OHara on Tuesday November 27, 2012, 15:19

6 RE: Here's hoping
Where as vie s women in a positive light and was conceived way before Adi "I've just had this great idea" Shankar came along. Natassia "BloodRayne" Malthe, LeeAnne "Viper" Liebenberg, Gary Daniels... its going to be a cult classic. Currently in negotiations for filthy lucre, this is an act of shameless self-promotion. And female empowerment. http://www.soldiergirlsmovie.com But to the point: there are many bad movies that are loved by a disproportionate amount of people. But I think that Twilight suffers more than most at the hands of film fans (like visitors to this forum as opposed to the casual multi-plex goer) because its SO shit yet SO popular at the time. It's like a skidmark on the pants of cinema that has been mistaken for something edible by the public at large. I'd have to say say that I'm more on-side with Quinten's i], but I don't feel that Helen's piece is at all cynical. I think that both (main) advocates here have good points - Helen's cruciaMore

Posted by Russ Whitfield on Friday November 23, 2012, 09:38

7 RE: Here's hoping
Hi Helen 1) I don't see many people writing articles on how the Taken films or Jason Statham's latest offering are misunderstood, important films and if you did you'd likely have a lot of people replying with equal vitriol. nt is we shouldn't be defending bad films, regardless of the gender of the lead, period.eminism wise you have a poorly depicted teenage girl whose life revolves around two inappropriate, dangerous and slightly abusive boys. She endangers her life and the life of others when she doesn't get to be with the older boy (mentally he is older by centuries, which is made extra creepy by the fact that she was a minor when he met her), a tactic that works. Instead of being accepted for who she is she ends up changing herself and her life to be with this boy, in the process becoming this perfect being that the world revolves around like it was her destiny. This is hardly a healthy and positive message to send to young girls. 2) You've seemed to have missed the pointMore

Posted by Quentin Black on Friday November 23, 2012, 06:31

8 Hold up just a minute
It's all well and good arguing over weather you think Twilight is good or not (I, personally, am a teenage girl who would much rather watch The Avengers or LotR), but I think we must all agree that this article has a point. While it may not be the best film in terms of narrative or technical flair, it has paved the way to making cinema more accessible to females and films with a female demographic. Therefore the Twilight franchise MUST be a good thing because it will hopefully be remembered as the film that led to the female led/ female targeted films that will follow. So although I've only seen the first two Twilight films (I soon decided it wasn't worth seeing the rest), I will still appreciate the franchise because it will undoubtedly lead to great films for females. Thank you Helen O'hara for making me see it this way. More

Posted by Bazzonian on Thursday November 22, 2012, 18:25

9 The REAL Hunger ...
... as the article points out, is for strong female heroes. Consider the fact that the Twilight and 50 Shades books are well known for being poorly written, but that they have been incredibly successful. We like to think that there is equality among the sexes but women STILL aren't having stories told for THEM. That hunger is so great that crap written by untrained, undisciplined bedroom-based writers is flying off the shelves and filling the cinemas. Some day, a real proper writer is going to write a Myth-based picture with a female Hero that's as high a standard as something like a Dark Knight or an Iron Man, and on that day the rest of the business will kick itself, because the movie will make much more money than your Batman (which still marginalises its female characters, especially Catwoman who's only purpose seems to be to give Bruce Wayne someone to run away with so he doesn't get lonely), as women fill the theatres to see a PROPERLY COMPELLING female Hero (i.e. NOT subservientMore

Posted by Nicky C on Thursday November 22, 2012, 15:30

10 RE:
article, never really thought about in that way. Certainly changes my view on the whole Twilight franchise. I've never really thought that the Twilight would have any preference to the gender of their audience, just that it seemed to appeal more to women than men. With what you said regarding 50 shades and the hunger games and so on, its clear that there was a gap in the movie market that could be filled, if this in turn is what is keeping the cinema world afloat then we should appreciate it . Its seems that being macho is more important than being honest. Im a man, I enjoyed Twilight. I hope they dont set me on fire or throw me in a lake!! More

Posted by r74nnn on Thursday November 22, 2012, 13:07

11
I only hope that any upcoming "female" franchises seek to actually empower teenage girls rather than picturing them as total saps who have no character of their own who are utterly defined by their relationships with men More

Posted by pollytechnic on Wednesday November 21, 2012, 14:13

12 RE: Hate It
Jace, it's not about "sticking up" for Twilight; it's about looking past the love/hate at its effects on cinema. And you make this weird assumption that Twilight fans i] watch Buffy or whatever, which seems bizarre. Apart from anything else, a love of Twilight seems likely to lead them on to Buffy if they haven't come across it before (and it's entirely possible that younger viewers may not have seen it). As for Hunger Games having a resemblance to Battle Royale, what on Earth does that have to do with the argument in the piece? "Rip off" seems strong, and BR was hardly the first version of that story. I didn't say anything about the significance of the author's gender anywhere in this article, so I'm a little baffled as to why you'd bring that up. Two of the books I mentioned were written by men, in fact - Warm Bodies and The Spook's Apprentice - so it's not like I made authorship an issue. More

Posted by Helen OHara on Wednesday November 21, 2012, 10:43

13 Hate It
First of all, any article that sticks up for Twilight needs to have its sanity questioned. Girls flock to Twi-Douche because it's a love story, riiiight. Then why not watch Joss Whedon's more profound and much more believable Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead (her romance with Angel was a pivotal highlight). As for Hunger Games, why doesn't it get acknowledged that it ripped off Battle Royale, the much BETTER film? Just because these books were authored by women doesn't make them any more significant. More

Posted by jace007 on Wednesday November 21, 2012, 06:57

14 RE: Here's hoping
L: Quentin Black 1) Twilight is not an example of a film that has a "female character in scenarios that traditionally male characters" and with the exception of The Hunger Games and Snow White and the Huntsman (only one of which was good), neither are the films that haven been inspired by it. In fact the portrayal of women in the Twilight films is fairly offensive and damaging for feminism. think there's a discussion to be had about Twilight's feminist credentials, and yes I did make the argument that the Bella in the FILMS is rather feminist-friendly because I believe that's true. For the record, I don't think the Twilight films are great at all, but they're no worse than any number of male-oriented films that get a far easier ride and far less abuse, and so I find myself defending them simply out of fairness. Feminism wise, you could argue that Twilight tells the story of a woman who sees something she wants and goes to get it, not letting anything stop her. She ends up mMore

Posted by Helen OHara on Tuesday November 20, 2012, 15:53

15 RE: Here's hoping
L: baerrtt The success of movies through the years like The Silence of The Lambs, The Alien franchise, Kill Bill etc did absolutely nothing to change the overall studio mentality that existed as regards to female characters in major movies front and centre. Those aformentioned pictures got made, got acclaim and drew money and yet if not to you it's pretty obvious to most that Hollywood still weren't making enough movies, well-written or otherwise, that dealt squarely with female characters in scenarios that traditionally male characters find themselves in. The success of TWILIGHT, like the films or not, has hopefully helped eliminate the reluctance studios had in greenlighting movies starring women/girls over a certain budget. Until BRAVE Pixar despite two decades of feature film production hadn't done one single film with a female lead and Disney, overall, renamed a recent fairy tale adaptation (TANGLED) and centred the action on the male character in a cynical attempt More

Posted by Quentin Black on Monday November 19, 2012, 21:09

16 Thank you Helen
Wow, great article. Hope you are right and there's a real change coming and not just a hype thing. I especially like where you said; So maybe it's not female leads that turn male viewers off, but bad female leads. I think that is really true. So thank you for this Helen. More

Posted by mirjam_f on Monday November 19, 2012, 16:13

17 RE: Here's hoping
The success of movies through the years like The Silence of The Lambs, The Alien franchise, Kill Bill etc did absolutely nothing to change the overall studio mentality that existed as regards to female characters in major movies front and centre. Those aformentioned pictures got made, got acclaim and drew money and yet if not to you it's pretty obvious to most that Hollywood still weren't making enough movies, well-written or otherwise, that dealt squarely with female characters in scenarios that traditionally male characters find themselves in. The success of TWILIGHT, like the films or not, has hopefully helped eliminate the reluctance studios had in greenlighting movies starring women/girls over a certain budget. Until BRAVE Pixar despite two decades of feature film production hadn't done one single film with a female lead and Disney, overall, renamed a recent fairy tale adaptation (TANGLED) and centred the action on the male character in a cynical attempt as to not drive the More

Posted by baerrtt on Sunday November 18, 2012, 15:13

18 RE: Here's hoping
L: baerrtt I dislike the TWILIGHT franchise immensely and however much distaste I hold for those books/films Helen's point is a sound one that may positively restore the kind of cinematic balance that once existed. What I mean by this is that it was once normal to see a female led movie, for example, topping it's release year's box office (SHANGHAI EXPRESS, I'M NO ANGEL, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE RED SHOES, CLEOPATRA, MARY POPPINS and the SOUND OF MUSIC were just some of these examples). And then the autuer led 'Golden Age' of the 70s rolled in where the likes of THE GODFATHER, JAWS and STAR WARS all claimed the all time record giving studio execs the belief, or excuse, that audiences would no longer turn up en masse for event movies headlined by female characters. For all the Ripleys, Starlings and Sarah Connors or even the existence of TITANIC for the most part the majors have held this notion and however some may disagree that has led toMore

Posted by Quentin Black on Saturday November 17, 2012, 16:58

19 RE: Here's hoping
I dislike the TWILIGHT franchise immensely and however much distaste I hold for those books/films Helen's point is a sound one that may positively restore the kind of cinematic balance that once existed. What I mean by this is that it was once normal to see a female led movie, for example, topping it's release year's box office (SHANGHAI EXPRESS, I'M NO ANGEL, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE RED SHOES, CLEOPATRA, MARY POPPINS and the SOUND OF MUSIC were just some of these examples). And then the autuer led 'Golden Age' of the 70s rolled in where the likes of THE GODFATHER, JAWS and STAR WARS all claimed the all time record giving studio execs the belief, or excuse, that audiences would no longer turn up en masse for event movies headlined by female characters. For all the Ripleys, Starlings and Sarah Connors or even the existence of TITANIC for the most part the majors have held this notion and however some may disagree that has led to a maelstrom of artiMore

Posted by baerrtt on Saturday November 17, 2012, 15:08

20 Here's hoping
I am a middle aged man who has just come back from a twi-athalon showing of all five twilight films at my local cinema. I went because I enjoy that kind of event more than because I am a huge twilight fan, but I have actually quite enjoyed the films. Now I realise that probably qualifies me as a major sad-act, but the films, while they are never going to be classics, are certainly as good as or better than a lot of the 'summer blockbuster' films produced over the last thirty years (which I also go and see more often than not). To get to the point (finally!) I think this article is spot on, or at least I hope it is. If by waking Hollywood up to the female demographic means that focus is pulled back to story driven rather than action and effects driven films then everybody - male or female - wins. And if the hunger games and the upcoming warm bodies are anything to go by, I say bring it on! More

Posted by Topper_Harley on Friday November 16, 2012, 11:39

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