Questioning ‘Twilight’: Will It be a Box-Office Hit?

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Photo: Summit Entertainment

On Monday when I asked “The Hollywood Reporter is asking an equally difficult question with regard to Twilight: “But will the buzz translate into blockbuster box-office?”

The following paragraph quickly reminds us how difficult the question is to answer:

The question has become one of the industry’s most debated. Its answer will offer a referendum not just on Summit’s ability to shepherd a studio-style hit but also on whether franchises can be created on modest budgets at a time when production and distribution costs are skyrocketing and the YouTube generation is harder to reach than ever.

To have an enraged Twilighter explain it to you the “Twilight” book series is the biggest and greatest series of books of all-time and it has sold enough copies alone to guarantee the film is a box-office success. Of course, this is from a die-hard fan perspective and we can appreciate fan expectations, but they aren’t always realistic as much as they are optimistic in their confidence.

As the THR article points out, unlike “Harry Potter” or “The Da Vinci Code” — two other literary sensations that became film franchises — “Twilight” is not a mega-best-seller. And the teen demographic that devours the novels can be especially fickle when it comes to its film choices.

I made a slight attempt at finding actual sales figures to do any kind of comparison between the “Twilight” books and others but wasn’t able to find any immediately. However, the fourth book in the “Twilight” series, “Breaking Dawn”, which was released at the beginning of August sold an estimated 1.3 million copies in its first 24 hours. That is, of course, a large number, but it doesn’t really compare to the 8.3 million copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” sold in its first 24 hours. As for “The Da Vinci Code” it is estimated to have sold approximately 40 million copies worldwide. Meanwhile, the four “Twilight” novels are ranked 4, 5, 6 and 7 at Amazon.com, while ranked 9, 10, 13 and 35 at Barnes and Noble. I offer these numbers up for you to make your own conclusion, but book sales hardly translate to box-office glory.

(On a quick side note, if anyone can find and source actual book sales figures and send me a link that would be fantastic!)

“If I were marketing this movie, I’d want to make sure it doesn’t look like it’s based on the books, because anyone who reads the books is already in the tent,” Syracuse University pop culture professor Robert Thompson tells THR. “Make it look like a rip-roaring good story about vampires that doesn’t make a 12-year-old boy say, ‘That’s what the girls are reading.’ ”

Summit realizes this and is going to have to go for more than just the teen female audience. THR reminds us of TwilightMOMS and says the obvious goal is to attract boys, who for decades have been willing to embrace metaphors for their own adolescence via superhero movies. To this end, Summit has generated trailers (including footage shown at Comic-Con) stressing the action scenes. As one rival studio marketing exec puts it, “If they just get teenage girls, they’re dead.

One recent film targeting teen girls was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, which quietly garnered $43.8 million on a $27 million production budget. Twilight is budgeted at $37 million (according to Summit; some peg its cost at $40 million-$50 million), but alternatively some box-office prognosticators tell THR the film could earn back close to its budget during its opening weekend alone. An opening weekend that was once home to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before Harry moved to Summer 2009 and Twilight swooped in hoping to take advantage of the pre-Thanksgiving release date.

The Hollywood Reporter article goes on to say that while the final cut of the film has been seen by a select few and Summit plans on only a few additional trailers prior to its November 21 release, the film is said to remain true to the tone and the pivotal moments in the book, including two key sequences involving Bella and Edward being chased at a baseball game and Edward showing his daylight self in a meadow.

Some changes were made, which is to be expected. Noted is one scene in which Bella confronts Edward about his vampire secret went from a slow reveal over dozens of pages to a single high-pitched confrontation.

Will the changes matter to the fans or does the mere physical representation of the much loved Edward and Bella on the big screen be enough? If the film stinks will that stop the die hards from returning to see it again and again? If the film is deemed fantastic will that urge naysayers to give it a chance?

The Hollywood Reporter says Summit is counting on fans to spread the word to other age groups or even to come back for Titanic-esque repeat viewings. To compare Twilight to Titanic is a bold move, even if it is just a mild comparison. However, the question is still out there as to how well Twilight will actually do. It certainly is maintaining its buzz, but it’s an unknown entity. I can’t imagine Twilight not making its money back, the real question is just how high will it go?

If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the latest trailer for the film and don’t forget to vote in the poll below.