By Carrie Bell
Updated March 14, 2012 at 03:00 PM EDT
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Twilight

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It is far too easy to lump the Twilight franchise and The Hunger Games trilogy in the same gooey pile of frenetic teen appeal, romance, and endless merchandising opportunities.

It’s partly because it’s rare these days for one to be mentioned without the other and because, quite frankly, they do have a lot in common — starting with the unparalleled fan devotion. Both started with popular young-adult best-sellers that revolve around a tumultuous love triangle and the threat of early death thanks to some sort of fantastic, grotesque, inconceivable circumstances. The movie adaptations are filled with hot young things whose every move and comment after casting is closely observed, reported, and debated at water coolers, in high school hallways, through social networking sites, and on an extensive web of fan blogs. The films are promoted with T-shirt lines, dolls, and mall tours. Musicians clamor to be included on what will surely be a chart-topping soundtrack that even hipsters have to admit they browse on iTunes. Heck, now both movies are even brought to you by the same studio (Hunger Games distributor Lionsgate bought Twilight home Summit earlier this year).

Having covered all four Twilight premieres for EW and having slightly worse hearing to show for it, I assumed I was in for a very similar night — loud, long, and concerned about future generations thanks to the lewd signage — when I took the Hunger Games assignment. The banal details leading up to premiere day seemed suspiciously similar: Credentials had to be requested weeks in advance, getting into an early screening was harder than killing a Career Tribute, the event would be held at Nokia Theatre (the site of the last two Twilight premieres), and the press call time was four hours earlier than Jennifer Lawrence would even contemplate stepping on the carpet.

Once I arrived, though, the atmosphere felt different. The word that immediately popped into my head: calmer.

For one, the public restroom in the adjacent parking lot was not filled to the brim with young girls shortening their skirts and adding an extra layer of eyeliner in hopes of luring Robert Pattinson away from Kristen Stewart. (I almost had to throw down in said bathroom a few years ago when, before the Eclipse premiere, one girl thought her tart transformation was more important than washing my hands after using the facilities.)

At The Hunger Games premiere, a passerby practically might not realize a big-deal event was happening until turning the corner to see it. Security was laxer, and overhead screens were still showing Target ads and Clippers-Lakers promo spots. Across the street, there was no extra set of bleachers as there had been last November — only a smattering of people standing near the limo drop-off, several of whom told me they had just happened by, noticed the event, and figured they’d stick around to see a celebrity.

NEXT: The stars arrive… will chaos break out?

That isn’t to say that there wasn’t large-scale fandemonium at both. Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane) said the vibe felt more like an awards show than a premiere. Alexander Ludwig (Cato) told me the crowds and the nonstop autograph requests made him “feel like one of the Beatles,” which is the same analogy RPattz used when I interviewed him at the New Moon opening.

But the number of folks waiting around for a glimpse of Gale (Liam Hemsworth) was smaller and quieter. Sure, there were fans who had camped out in downtown Los Angeles in hopes of scoring a ticket to the screening or at least a dooughnut from Dayo Okeniyi (Thresh). But they had only been there for a day and one very chilly night, whereas the tent city for Breaking Dawn was a four-day affair.

The fans in the bleachers surrounding the black carpet (another similarity) were far more dedicated and energetic as several rounds of the wave and signs pointing out the far-flung destinations they traveled from can attest. Many had posters, photos and well-worn copies of the book on hand for signatures. Many rocked Mockingjay pins, official tie-in tees and Katniss braids, while others took inspiration from the Capitol characters and donned jewel tones, feathers, and fascinators.

They grasped homemade signs, although their general aura seemed far less sexual and suggestive than those witnessed at Breaking Dawn. (Many at that premiere referenced the broken bed frame from the Edward-Bella marriage-night hookup and the willingness to be bitten or impregnated by various vamps and wolves). Hunger Games fans seemed more friendly and empowered. One girl under 12 had emblazoned neon poster board with the phrase “I am Katniss” and a drawing of the film’s bow-and-arrow-toting heroine with the head area cut out so she could put her face through it.

As the leads and author Suzanne Collins arrived, the chanting of names and pleas for hugs and photos began. There were even a few girls who broke down in tears, but the general demeanor of the crowd remained cool and collected. Amanda Belcher, 29, who has attended both franchises’ premieres and works with TheHob.org fan site, attributed the differences to The Hunger Games’ “broader audience.”

Said Belcher, who lives outside Scranton, Penn., “There are so many more men at this one. There are more families and a wider variety of ages. And there are less young girls obsessed with Taylor [Lautner] or Robert. I think all of those things keep the level of sheer hysteria to a minimum.” She continued, “But it is also the first movie and there are people who still don’t know what it is yet or if they like it. Who knows what it will be like by the time they make Catching Fire? It could be just as crazy as any Twilight event.”

My ears are ringing already.

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