How ‘Twilight’ Made the Movie Business Respect Girl Power

Screen shot 2012-11-09 at 5.53.17 PM.png

Analysis: "Twilight" proved that fanboys could be girls too and paved the way for "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent"

"Twilight" proved that girls like movies too. Sure there were romantic comedies geared at women, but the movie game's main job of building franchises used to break down firmly along gender lines, with production focusing on male-dominated movies that catered to teenage boys.

What is radical about the vampire romances, which wrap up their mega-grossing run this week with the release of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2,"  is that they forced studio executives to acknowledge that fanboys can be fangirls too.

"It's actually remarkable what the 'Twilight' franchise was able to do for girl power," Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, told TheWrap. "Before this people didn't know if girls could carry a franchise like 'Star Wars' or 'Harry Potter.' It really did change the paradigm and perceptions about what people will go see."

In the process, the "Twilight" films racked up over $2.5 billion worldwide and upended the old order. Where once there were six major studios, now there are seven. The merger last January of Summit, the studio that took a bet on "Twilight" when no one else would, and Lionsgate, the one that followed its lead and picked up "The Hunger Games," has created a new player in a crowded field. Moreover, the formula it followed could be embraced by other independent studios.

"It took away the preconceived notion that only major studios could create major franchises," a rival studio executive told TheWrap. "There had been other little moderate franchises produced by a smaller player, but there had never been a mega-billion-plus gigantic franchise. It showed that if Summit could do it, then Lionsgate could do it, and maybe one day Open Road will do it."

To put it in a historical context: Universal may have been built on monster movies, Disney's foundation may rest on animation, but Lionsgate-Summit owes its powerhouse status to adaptations of young adult novels aimed at girls.

Also read: 'Twilight' Fans Camp Out Days Ahead of Final 'Breaking Dawn' Premiere

"Twilight," like "Jaws" or "Avatar," represents one of those rare pivot points in the American movie business. Unlike those films, however, it altered the course of the entertainment industry without eye-popping special effects, critical raves or an action-heavy storyline. Instead, it filled theaters by mixing together a potent cocktail of Victorian-era morality and teenage sexual awakening.

The storyline, a mushy love triangle drawn out over five languid installments, is hardly revolutionary. Indeed, its sexual politics, with a high school age girl torn between a hunky werewolf and a brooding vampire, are decidedly retrograde. Indeed the whole film plays out as an extended metaphor for the dangers of premarital sex.

But a cursory scan of the hormonal teens erecting tent cities outside the "Breaking Dawn" premiere suggests that somewhere along the line the message became muddled.

Based on a series of novels from Stephenie Meyer, "Twilight" was hardly the first movie series to find inspiration on the bestseller list. Unlike "Harry Potter," however, the "Twilight" novels were unapologetically told through a female lens.

From "Brave" to "Snow White and the Huntsman," the ripples "Twilight" sent forth are still being felt today in a series of movies that focus on strong female protagonists. It's no mistake that "50 Shades of Grey," the sadomasochistic romance that sparked a bidding war in Hollywood recently, began life as a piece of "Twilight" fan fiction. Even "The Hunger Games" owes its greenlight and subsequent box office bonanza to Bella and Edward.

"Not in a million years would 'Hunger Games' have been made were it not for 'Twilight,'" the executive said. "Not only would it not have existed, it would never have been a sensation if it had not followed the exact format set forth by the 'Twilight' franchise. It was a paint-by-numbers job."

Like "Twilight," these films are for women, starring women and marketed to women. If men get dragged along, great, but these movies can become blockbusters thanks to the double X-chromosome set. For example, when "Breaking Dawn — Part 1" debuted last year to $138.1 million domestically, the audience was 80 percent female. Even films that have only faint traces of "Twilight"s' DNA such as "Bridesmaids" prove that when studios ignore this demographic, they leave profits on the table.

Also read: Why Lionsgate Thinks 'Divergent' Can Replace 'Twilight'

Beyond the gender of its central character, "Twilight" altered the horror genre. Prior to the books and films, analysts say that the idea of injecting romance into a gothic chiller would have been met with derision. After "Twilight," it became the norm, paving the way for HBO's "True Blood," "Red Riding Hood" and scores of Byronic blood-suckers.

"They made the vampire story no longer just a horror story," Vincent Bruzzese, president of Ipsos' motion picture group, said. "It took something that would have been relegated to a genre mashup and it made it mainstream."

Critics may have hated the movies, with "Breaking Dawn — Part 1" receiving a dismal 25 percent "rotten" score on the reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, but it didn't matter. The films registered with tweens and their impact only intensified when the stars of the series, Pattinson and the pouty-eyed Kristen Stewart, took their on-screen romance off-screen.

"It's usually a dangerous thing when people's personal lives get attached to a movie," Phil Contrino, editor-in-chief of BoxOffice.com, told TheWrap. "This was a special case where having the real world enter that space played beautifully with fans."

With Pattinson and Stewart's smooth-sailing romance hitting some shoals recently, their film  franchise may be wrapping up at precisely the right moment. In fact, Contrino argues that the final movie in the series could play better with foreign audiences than domestic moviegoers. The audience stateside is growing up, he said, and is not as likely to swoon at the onscreen amorousness this go round.

Even if that is the case, "Twilight"s' legacy will be felt for years to come. On a conference call with investors Friday, Lionsgate executives revealed that they had found a new series they think can fill the hole left by "Twilight." It's called "Divergent," and is based on a series of young adult novels about a teenage girl who rebels against her futuristic society.

Ultimately, the movies "Twilight" inspires may be less likely to give feminists agita. Though Stewart's hunched shoulder and petulant line readings made Bella a more nuanced and less delicate flower than she is in the novels, even her fire could not disguise the reality that she spends large swaths of the movies waiting around for the men to save her and then gazing adoringly when they do. In movies like "The Hunger Games," it's the women who are doing the fighting. When confronted with danger, Bella screams, but Katniss Everdeen shoots an arrow. Now that's something radical and worth rooting for.