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The 'Twilight' effect

The polarizing vampire franchise has left a mark on pop culture, changing everything from the way books are promoted to the way movie tickets are sold

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Whether you’ve spent the past seven years loving Twilight or hating on it — and rare is the moderate when it comes to Stephenie Meyer’s vampire novels — the end of Edward and Bella’s tortured romance is upon us. And yet long after giddy fans have watched the credits roll on the final Breaking Dawn film (in theaters Nov. 16, rated PG-13), and the naysayers have posted their last die Twilight scum! comment online, the influence of the franchise will still be circulating in our culture’s bloodstream. Consider this one Möbius-strip effect: Twilight created a tidal wave of interest in the paranormal — vampires, werewolves, zombies, all of them with enviable cheekbones and abs — which helped get shows like The Vampire Diaries greenlit. Meanwhile, a British woman named E L James began noodling around with all of Edward and Bella’s pent-up desire in Twilight fan fiction. Today her ubiquitous ` erotica trilogy is every bit the polarizing sensation as its inspiration, and The Vampire Diaries‘ Ian Somerhalder is campaigning for the lead role in the movie adaptation. Last week Simon & Schuster, sick of being a mere voyeur to all this action, shelled out a hefty amount in a two-book deal for more Twilight fan fiction. Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Bastard, in which Edward and Bella types, here reimagined as a demanding boss and his young, ambitious assistant circling each other wantonly at the workplace, will land on unapologetically horny women’s nightstands in February 2013. Edward and Bella spend some 2,000 pages in tortured anticipation of sex — which is one of the series’ chief draws for many readers — but copycat characters tend to hop right to it.

What’s unique about Twilight, and consequently about Fifty Shades of Grey, is that the phenomenon speaks to a distinctly female fantasy. ”Twilight is about being loved completely for who you are, not for what you look like or what you say or do, but for the very cells of your being,” says the franchise’s screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg. ”That’s a universal desire, but one that’s largely embraced by women. And, by the way, it is no more or less reasonable a fantasy than the big-budget tentpole movies that appeal to 13-year-old boys.”

So now teen girls and their mothers are flexing their buying power like never before, at movies like The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games, and Snow White and the Huntsman. ”Women wield an enormous amount of influence in the film marketplace,” says Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson, whose adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian thriller made more than $400 million in domestic box office. ”Hollywood is getting wise to that later than perhaps they should have. But better late than never.”

Getting compared to Twilight can be great for business but hell on the ego. As hunger for the Hunger Games movie reached its apex earlier this year, fans took to the Web to plead the series’ superior merits and thereby differentiate themselves from the Twihards. The rivalry was like watching a student body turn on the most popular girl in school in favor of the edgier transfer student. First-time author Isaac Marion, whose debut YA novel, Warm Bodies, concerns a zombie-human couple, understands the blessing and burden of comparisons. Summit Entertainment, which distributes the Twilight films, is releasing the Warm Bodies adaptation, and Marion’s book jacket boasts a blurb from Meyer. ”People are very eager to dismiss my book as ‘Twilight with zombies,”’ he says. ”That’s frustrating, but I’m glad they’re at least talking about it. I’ve just learned to avoid the rants in the comments section on IMDb.”

In a recent interview with MTV News, Twilight producer Wyck Godfrey enthusiastically discussed his next film project, Legend, an adaptation of Marie Lu’s dystopian YA novel about two teenagers in a ruined Los Angeles. Such a hit of promotion translated to an instant surge in Legend‘s social-media hits and book sales. Everyone has been looking for the next Twilight, after all, and the place they are hunting most furiously for it is on the young-adult bookshelves. ”Hollywood has come knocking a lot more aggressively,” says Erin Dempsey, executive director of trade marketing for Penguin, which publishes best-selling YA authors like John Green, Ally Condie, Richelle Mead, and Lu, all of whom have film deals. ”They know that these are the readers who will go to the movie theaters in droves.” But perhaps the biggest game changer, says Dempsey, is the rise in the food chain of the YA blogger: ”Twilight fans were rabid, and they took to the Web and shared their love in a way that really hadn’t been seen for another book before. These bloggers now have as much power as the traditional media outlets.”

When Kallie Mathews, a high school English teacher and the mother of two small children, started the fansite Twilight Series Theories out of Dallas back in 2007, she pictured a space where some girlfriends could giggle and obsess online. But Summit recognized the evangelical power of such sites early on and pounced. ”They wanted to get us news first because they knew that’s where fans would look first,” says Mathews. The studio started flying bloggers out on cushy set visits, granted them exclusive interviews with the cast, and gave them all-expenses-paid trips to the 2011 MTV Movie Awards. Summit invited Mathews and a few other select bloggers to sit in on edit-bay sessions with Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon, and she in turn persuaded him, for instance, to alter a few scenes. (In the new movie, Bella’s dress is messy and ripped after she drinks jaguar blood specifically because Mathews objected to her neat appearance in the early cut.) And her approval is no longer sought strictly on matters of Twilight. Lionsgate offered her a spot on the Hunger Games red carpet, and Sony treated her to a set visit for the adaptation of best-selling YA author Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (due in theaters Aug. 23). Studio executives now bank on the attention of women like Mathews rather than just their prepubescent sons. ”My ultimate hope going forward is that Hollywood continues to be a little more respectful of the female audience,” says Rosenberg.

As with any phenomenon, Twilight has inspired its share of goofy and crass behavior, most recently the tabloid frenzy over the state of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s relationship. Still, does the franchise deserve to be pilloried with such aggressive outrage? Online, Twilight haters rant not just against the material but also against the females of all ages for whom it’s become a comfort object. Even some Twilight fans seem sheepish about reveling in its escapist tone. ”There are endless male-fantasy movies out there, and some are good and some are bad,” says Rosenberg. ”Popcorn movies, no big deal, whatever. So I don’t understand the contempt people who usually have never read the books or seen the movies throw at Twilight. Even if it was the worst-written, worst-performed movie in the history of the planet, the vitriol with which they attack it is out of balance. I think it’s because Twilight was made for a female audience, and so that must make it silly and frivolous and stupid.” Why should it be so enraging that women get a kick out of Twilight (or even Fifty Shades of Grey) when there is a Transformers 4 in all of our futures?

Twilight is going to be a cult classic,” says Mathews, who recently walked the red carpet at the series’ final Hollywood premiere on Summit’s dime. ”I’m going to be 60 and still watch it and laugh, along with thousands and thousands of others.” So worship it if you want, or hate it if you must. Just remember that the whole thing about vampires is that they never die.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson of Twilight …

It launched a paranormal craze
The Vampire Diaries

Based on L.J. Smith’s best-selling books, the CW series has staked out a fan base as rabid as the Twihards.

Jeniffer’s Body

Diablo Cody’s answer to Twilight: an edgy 2009 demon-high-schooler flick that tanked at the box office with $16 million.

Being Human

Syfy’s remake of the British series about a vamp, a werewolf, and a ghost is one of the channel’s most successful shows.

Teen Wolf

In 2011, MTV joined in on the supernatural fun with this hit series, a reboot of the ’80s movie of the same name.

Sparked Hollywood’s YA Obsession
The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins

The dystopian trilogy has sold more than 50 million copies and has generated its own blockbuster film franchise that’s grossed $687 million worldwide so far.

The Mortal Instruments
Cassandra Clare

Twilight fans found a new couple to root for with this hot series involving demons. The first movie is slated for Aug. 23.

Beautiful Creatures
Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

The big-screen adaptation of the popular Southern gothic series hits theaters Feb. 13.

Made 13-year-olds and their moms a hot audience

Twilight not only confirmed the power of female moviegoers, it also made Hollywood pay attention to female bloggers, who now figure prominently in studios’ marketing plans.

Turned fan fiction into big business
Beautiful Bastard
Christina Lauren

The Twilight riff formerly known as The Office recently landed a two-book deal from Simon & Schuster’s Gallery imprint.

Gabriel’s Inferno
Sylvain Reynard

Professor Gabriel Emerson and his student Julia Mitchell are the stand-ins for Edward and Bella in this sexy, scholarly reimagining.

Fifty Shades of Grey
E L James

One woman dared to wonder what it would be like if Edward’s tastes ran on the kinkier side. The rest is history.