It’s been a month since the premiere of Twilight, and it’s still one of the most popular movies of all time. Since the first film’s premiere in March, audiences have been flocking to see the franchise’s three sequels – New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn – in theaters across the country. In fact, the last of these films is currently the second-highest-grossing movie of all time with worldwide earnings of nearly $800 million – more than seven times its production budget.
As if these financial accomplishments weren’t amazing enough, Breaking Dawn was also named the Best Film of the Decade (2000s) at this year’s MTV Movie Awards. Moreover, the franchise has spawned countless memes and viral videos depicting the romance between Twilight’s Bella and Edward Cullen – including a recreation of the famous ‘twilight zone’ scene from the first movie and an homage to the 1975 Woody Allen film Sleigh Queen starring Diane Keaton.
While Twilight has undoubtedly been a financial success, it’s not been entirely about the books. According to The New York Times, the first Twilight film cost over $5 million to make and was financed by Russian investor Yuri Solnistić. Two years later, when New Moon was released in theaters, it reportedly cost over $7 million to make and was again financed by Solnistić, this time in partnership with an American hedge fund. Even as the series’ popularity has declined in recent years, it has continued to generate revenue through DVD and digital sales, live performances, and theme park attractions.
It’s this financial leverage that has enabled the Twilight films to attain a level of success that most other movie series could only dream of attaining. By constantly re-releasing their films and partnering with companies like Netflix to create premium content, the franchise’s producers have kept the lights on and the checks coming in. In other words, even in these financially-challenging times, the Twilight films remain a moneymaker.
The Successful Series
If there’s one thing that the Twilight films have proven, it’s that a successful adaptation usually follows a few key rules. First, make sure that your version of the book is faithful to the original. Second, have fun with it! Finally, maintain a steady stream of content.
Interestingly, while each Twilight movie has had its fair share of critical acclaim and global success, they haven’t always been financially viable ventures. Take the 1989 film version of The Lion King for example. This adaptation of the Broadway musical was panned by critics and commercial audiences alike, earning just $56.8 million at the U.S. box office and $24 million internationally – a rather poor performance for what is, in many ways, a classic children’s film.
On the other hand, the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast – which was directed by Bill Condon and featured an All-Star cast including Dan Stevens as Beast and Emma Watson as Belle – was a critical and commercial hit, earning over $400 million worldwide and becoming the highest-grossing film in the franchise. Similarly, 2012’s The Dark Knight, which many critics consider to be the best film of the Batman series, was a commercial and critical success, but it didn’t necessarily make much money — until its subsequent home media release, when it became the highest-grossing entry in the series.
In other words, while critics may deride some of the Twilight films as merely mindless entertainment, these films continue to be popular because they have something to offer. Moreover, given their cult following and global appeal, it’s fair to say that Stephenie Meyer’s vampire stories will always have a place in pop culture.
The Twilight films are far from the only popular adaptation of a literary property to garner considerable acclaim and revenue – though admittedly, these films are the most high-profile example of this trend. The success of Game of Thrones is largely attributed to the global popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin’s sprawling saga of medieval warfare and political intrigue. While the TV series has been around for several years now, the films based on Martin’s books have largely been unnoticed outside of the fantasy community until recently – after the stunning international box office performance of the newest installment, The Winter Soldier, which debuted at number one in its opening weekend.
Outside of the fantasy sphere, the most recent adaptation of a well-known literary property to attract major attention is Black Panther, Marvel Studios’ latest cinematic offering. With a worldwide gross of nearly $1 billion, this adaptation of the comic book series written and illustrated by Stan Lee is not only the third highest-grossing film of all time but also the highest-grossing film of 2018 to date.
However, even though both The Twilight films and Black Panther are well-regarded and profitable ventures, they are certainly not the only ones. Several other popular literary properties have managed to strike a chord with audiences and are continuing to do so decades later. The most recent literary blockbuster, Little Women, cost just under $15 million to make and was financed by Chinese investors. It’s been a box office hit in its native country and is now available on Netflix.
Moreover, the Coen Brothers’ 1996 black comedy, The Big Lebowski, cost just under $15 million to make and relied heavily on international markets to succeed. The same can be said of 2017’s Isle of Dogs, which also stars Alister McGrath. Finally, the 2005 release Finding Neverland was also largely financed by Japanese investors and opened to rave reviews. With a worldwide gross of nearly $500 million, it’s one of the highest-grossing films of all time. It remains one of the most popular films of the decade among Baby Boomers. In short, there’s a wide array of literary properties that are just as relevant today as they were 75 or 50 years ago.
While it’s impossible to predict how much revenue individual literary properties will generate in the future, it’s clear that audiences continue to flock to these stories because they offer something fresh and exciting. Moreover, given the financial and critical success of the Twilight films, it’s quite possible that Stephenie Meyer’s vampire stories will continue to have a place in popular culture for generations to come.