How Twilight changed pop culture
A decade ago on the big screen, the lion fell in love with the lamb…and a whole generation fell in love with Twilight.
The first film in the supernatural series hit theaters on Nov. 21, 2008, and you can make fun of its sparkling vampires all you want, but 10 years later, we’ve still got that Twilight glitter in our eyes. In celebration of the movie’s big anniversary, EW spoke with director Catherine Hardwicke and stars Peter Facinelli (Carlisle), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper), Kellan Lutz (Emmett), and Edi Gathegi (Laurent) to revisit the teen vampire phenomenon and reflect upon its lasting impact on pop culture. Most notably, perhaps, it was at the forefront of the current wave of…
“I love that I see how it changed the landscape,” Hardwicke says. “They felt there was a limit to how many women and girls would actually go see a movie. [Laughs] That was not true. Opening weekend, they were like, ‘Hey, if we make $39 million, we’re going to be excited.’ Cut to us making $69 [million]. Then they’re like, ‘Well that’s all, everyone who wanted to see it saw it opening weekend.’ Cut to us making $100 mil.” All told, the movie took in $192.7 million domestically — on a $37 million budget.
“Nobody thought this could happen, and then of course it did — and then it kept going, each Twilight movie kept making more and more, and then Hunger Games and Divergent and Wonder Woman…it’s like, duh!” the filmmaker says, pointing out how the forward motion of one such film enables the next: “Patty [Jenkins] was able to do Wonder Woman, and I’m sure part of the ammo was, ‘Okay, women came out for this one [Twilight], so maybe they’ll come out for this.’ You need that when you’re going to pitch your movie.”
“There was a woman at the very center of it, we had a woman director, and it was written by a woman,” Gathegi enumerates. “It felt very female-driven, the whole momentum of it. That was cool to be part of. I think Twilight, [if it were] made now, would get a lot of credit, because that’s the conversation today.”
It wasn’t yet, though, in 2008. “Nowadays we’re finally getting to see these stories of strong women, and flawed female characters who become strong or learn about themselves,” Rathbone says. “I think it’s really important for us nowadays to tell those stories. But it’s also nice to remember Catherine Hardwicke and Stephenie Meyer started this 10 years ago.”
But Twilight isn’t just about the girl. She is, of course, in love with a…
“I’ve never really been into vampire stories,” Gathegi admits. “The clever thing that [Meyer] did with Twilight was, it’s really a story of star-crossed lovers — it’s disguised through vampirism. I’m going along for the ride because of the emotional core, the teenage angst, the love story. Whatever you put on top of that, if it’s done in a truthful way and everybody’s buying into the premise, I’ll take it.”
Facinelli, too, wasn’t sold on the bloodsuckers at first, telling his agents that he didn’t want to make a vampire movie — until he read Meyer’s novel. “I just thought it was a beautiful love story told in this vampire kind of backdrop,” he says, echoing Gathegi. “I just felt like this book kind of tapped into [a] boy-meets-girl kind of story — or girl-meets-boy. The kind of story where it was forbidden love. And that feels like a throwback to Romeo and Juliet.”
While Hardwicke “always loved old vampire movies,” she was taken with Meyer’s sparkling reimagining of the monsters. “The concept she came up with was very different,” the director says. “We’d never really seen it. The old vampire stories are in dark alleys in London, dark alleys in Paris. Here it’s like what? They’re going to be beautiful vampires in the woods? That’s pretty novel.”
When Twilight took off, it inspired a new wave of beautiful vampires in the woods. “I think it might have spawned, like, The Vampire Diaries,” Facinelli says. “I remember sitting there, we were up in Vancouver, and that cast had just finished the pilot, and they were like, ‘Oh, we’re kind of doing the TV version of you guys.’”
But not every was entirely thrilled with the new take. “I was into vampire movies when I was a kid,” Rathbone says. “It was really cool once I got to play it. The only bummer about it was we didn’t get the teeth.”
Lutz had a similar complaint: “I remember watching True Blood and going, ‘Man, they have fangs! I kinda wish I was part of True Blood so I had fangs,’” he remembers. “One reason I almost didn’t do Twilight was I loved vampire movies, and with Twilight I was playing a vampire character who didn’t have fangs. How many vampires does an actor get to play in their career? Maybe just one. But here I am signing up for something where I glitter and have no fangs. I had to bite the bullet on that one, and maybe someday I’ll play a vampire that bites someone.” Here’s hoping!
A global online fandom
Remember that $192 million box office tally? Viewers around the rest of the planet more than doubled that, bringing in a total of $393.6 million worldwide. “I remember being in Thailand once on vacation, and there were people in Thailand that recognized me [as Carlisle],” Facinelli says. “A movie that travels that far is a pretty big phenomenon.”
“This was really before Facebook became the monolith it is, before Twitter and Instagram even existed,” Rathbone points out. “To see that this was a film that captured so many people before social media, and that they were able to make friends across the world… The amount of people I’ve met who have been like, ‘Oh, because of this series [or] fandom I was able to meet my best friend even though we lived in different countries’ [is remarkable].”
“Thank god [Twitter] wasn’t [huge], because people were actually reading books back then,” Facinelli jokes. But still, he was an early adopter. “Nobody on the set had Twitter, and I got it, and I was like, ‘You know, I think this is going to be a really interesting tool for the future,’ and everybody kind of looked down on it. They were like, ‘I’m not doing that, there’s no way I’m doing that,’” he remembers. “I got Rob to tweet out on my Twitter, and that was, like, a huge news event. He wouldn’t get a Twitter, but I had him tweet out ‘My dad made me tweet this,’ or something silly like that. And all of a sudden it became like a big news thing, and then he was kind of annoyed that he did it.”
But a year later, who was laughing? “On the next film, they all started coming around like, ‘Okay, tell me about this Twitter thing? Like, what is it?’”
The evolution of Twilight
The only thing that grew faster than Twitter was Twilight itself. “The first Twilight movie was an indie film,” Rathbone insists. “While we were filming in Portland there was this bar named Kelly’s near the hotel we stayed at. Robert Pattinson and I played open mics there! Nobody knew who we were.”
That first film “was just like summer camp,” Facinelli says. “And then by the fifth one it was hard to even see each other.” Forced to stay out of public and hang out in their hotel rooms, the actor remembers, the cast played the Twilight board game one night during production of one of the later movies. “I didn’t win, and I was really bummed, because Carlisle’s supposed to know, like, everything. I was the go-to on the books. But the reason I lost is because there was a bunch of high school questions that I didn’t know the answers to, because I wasn’t in the high school parts,” he says. “Ashley Greene won, and I accused her of using her psychic powers.”
The stars first got an inkling of the magnitude of the Twilight phenomenon when they appeared at Comic-Con before the release of the first movie. “The fans camped out for something like four days before the panel. We felt like Beatles on that stage,” Gathegi recalls. “That was when we went, ‘Okay, this $30 million indie movie we made in Portland based on this YA book is going to be huge.’”
Upon seeing the camped-out crowds at the first film’s premiere months after their Hall H appearance, “All I could think was, ‘Jesus, I hope they like it, because if they don’t, this happy crowd’s going to become an angry mob,’” Facinelli says. “Thankfully they liked it, and we were able to make more.”
“Everything was so new,” Lutz says. “Even the premieres were new, and they got bigger and bigger.”
While the movies exploded beyond the first one’s indie roots, the cast retained that mindset throughout — and still do. “Rob and Kristen have that indie spirit at heart. So now that they have this leverage, they’ve been able to greenlight, over the last 10 years, multiple indie films that would never have even gotten made,” Hardwicke points out. “The whole indie landscape has been enriched by their interesting taste.”
“We were all thrown into this amusement park ride, and for better or worse, it was just so much fun,” Lutz says. “Twilight was a great adventure.”
—Additional reporting by Christian Holub.