Ten years ago, Twilight arrived in cinemas. The adaptation of the hit YA novel by Stephanie Meyer became a box office smash, grossing over $393 million worldwide. The film spawned four sequels and blew the doors wide open for subsequent YA adaptations like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Warm Bodies.
Although director Catherine Hardwicke did not return for any of the follow-up films, she deserves significant credit for her role in crafting the world of The Twilight Saga. Hardwicke assembled a cast of mostly-unknown young actors who would become household names. Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, and more became big stars following the success of the film franchise.
At New York Comic Con, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the original movie, Hardwicke spoke with us about the unexpected success of her movie, and the lasting impact the franchise continues to have on the world of big budget Hollywood blockbusters.
Director Catherine Hardwicke On The Indie Spirit Of Twilight
Today, Twilight is regarded as a big-name mega-franchise with a pop cultural relevance on par with Harry Potter and Star Wars. It's not an overstatement to suggest that it's one of the most recognizable brands on the planet. Sparkly vampires may be derided by old-school horror fans, but they're arguably even more more popular than the old-timey Bela Lugosi-style bloodsuckers.
However, when the first Twilight film was in development, it was by no means a sure bet. With a reported budget of a relatively meager $37 million, Twilight was not a blockbuster release. As Hardwicke explains:
I don't think anybody thought it was gonna be that crazy. I mean, I knew there was a passionate fanbase who had read the books, but we didn't know that would translate. A lot of people might read books, but they might not go to the movies. They said, okay, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was the most popular female book before that, and it only made $39 million, so they were like, okay, that might be what Twilight makes. Even up until opening weekend, they had no idea.
Looking back at all five films, the original Twilight has a distinct look compared to its sequels. Its inimitable sense of style has to be credited to Hardwicke's work on crafting the tone of the film. Hardwicke's background as a production designer on such films as Tombstone, Three Kings, and Vanilla Sky certainly helped hone her visual acumen, which was put to great use of Twilight. Her style would be imitated, to varying degrees of success, in the subsequent films. Hardwicke credits the relative lack of oversight from the studio to her ability to define the look and feel of Twilight:
My film got to be a little bit more of an indie film. People didn't know it was going to be so big, so I got to be distinct. I tried to be inside and feel what Stephanie (Meyer) created; the first time you fall madly in love with somebody, and you're just, almost drunk and intoxicated, like "Holy Sh**!" You're just obsessed, writing their name in your notebook over and over. How can you feel that in a film? That was my challenge. I thought, the way I shoot it, I have to intoxicate you with the camera and in the woods, and I could never let the sun come in, because I really wanted it to have that moody feeling. I love those trees. Everything had to just, ya know, draw you in.
Twilight Director Catherine Hardwicke On The Continuing Legacy Of Twilight
It's impossible to overstate the significance of Twilight, and its legacy can still be felt in the female-driven movies being produced by Hollywood. It's still so much tougher for a woman to be put in charge of a big-budget studio film. For example, Captain Marvel will be the twenty-first Marvel Cinematic Universe film, but the first to be directed by a woman. Would that have happened without movies like Twilight (and The Hunger Games and Wonder Woman) proving that female audiences can drive films to mainstream blockbuster success? According to Hardwicke, this will be Twilight's greatest legacy:
Twilight changed the perception, the idea that a movie about a girl wouldn't be popular, wouldn't make a lot of money. It changed that, it blew it out of the water. A novel written by a woman, a movie directed by a female. We broke records. That's a ground-breaking thing. People can use that for ammo; when another female director goes to a meeting, they're gonna say, "well, I don't think you can do this," they can respond with, "Well, Catherine did it, Twilight did it." You use it as a building block to the next thing and the next thing.
Twilight is an important piece of cinematic history. The first film is ten years old, but the franchise's fanbase remains as passionate as ever, and it would likely never have been possible without Catherine Hardwicke's vision for adapting the first chapter in the timeless story of Bella and Edward.