By David Mumpower
June 30, 2010
Okay, let’s quickly review the history/box office pattern of the Twilight Saga. Prior to the novel’s release, MTV Films acquired the film rights to a franchise that nobody knew. They treated the subject matter with so much respect that the screenplay bore little if any resemblance to the original Stephenie Meyer work. Paramount, the owner of MTV Films, ditched the project they had pegged as a loser and it was picked up by the virtually unknown distribution group, Summit Entertainment. This is one of those bottom line transactions on a ledger sheet that has virtually no meaning in Hollywood 99% of the time. Twilight would prove to be the other 1%.
After giving the project a modest production budget of $37 million, Summit Entertainment embarked upon creating a work in the vein of The Covenant, a teen-friendly witchcraft project that earned about $23 million in 2006. Even after the trailer for Twilight debuted, it was still considered a low key project in most circles, but a strange phenomenon was happening as a cultural undercurrent. Meyer’s work was being discovered by more and more teens, as was intended for the target audience. The unexpected fallout from this was that their mothers were also reading the books then passing them along to their friends. Twilight was becoming a buzz subject, growing at an exponential rate.
Summit Entertainment found themselves catching lightning in a bottle with a cheap acquisition that suddenly looked like a hugely profitable property. Even in the middle of 2008, however, there still wasn’t much recognition of the type of sleeping giant Twilight would prove to be. The film exploded into theaters with a $36.0 million Friday. That total alone represents the body of Summit’s investment. By close of business on Sunday, shrill voices across the land cried out in joy as Bella and Edward touched and the rest of us were left going, “$69.6 million for that? Seriously?” Everything the movie did from that point forward was gravy. And there was a LOT of gravy to be had, almost $400 million of it worldwide.
What happens when a low budget film earns more than any sane person could have reasonably expected? More is required in the sequel. In this case, that means a lot of muscle-chested lycanthropes, an odd request for a species whose stomachs are hidden by fur. Taylor Lautner figured out that it looks bigger if you shave it, though, and the end result is that Lautner went from being called Shark Boy by snide haters into becoming THE face (and chest) of the second Twilight Saga movie. What we learned from this is that sex sells, especially when cougars are given the opportunity to lust over jailbait.
New Moon became the third biggest opening of all-time, debuting with an incomprehensible $142.8 million including $72.7 million on its first Friday. As you know all too well by now, that’s the largest single day of box office in the history of the industry. And it was not a fluke. The project earned over $700 million worldwide, a $300 million bump from the previous iteration. That is how much the Twilight brand grew in such a short period of time. The first book was the biggest seller of 2008 and at one point midway through 2009, one out of every six books sold in North America featured Bella Swan being overwrought with ambivalent over Jacob and Edward.