Summit Entertainment seems to be shifting its marketing strategy for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the third film in what is arguably the first major film franchise targeted to teen girls and adult women – it is comparable to other recent large-scale media franchises such as Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harry Potter. The fledgling Summit has been staking new territory since it decided to develop the female-oriented book series into a full-blown media franchise. While fans have been eagerly awaiting the release of the third film in the series (scheduled for June 30), the official full-length trailer for Eclipse (released on April 23), suggests Summit may be clinging too tightly to the well-established formulas of male-targeted franchises to change the way the industry thinks of media texts that appeal to girls and women.
The first two films in the Twilight Saga, Twilight and New Moon, did extremely well at the box office, due in no small part to the dedicated female fans of the book series. Twilight (released in November 2008) earned $35 million in its opening day, earned $70 million in its first weekend sales, and set a record for a female director. Despite its financial success, Twilight received mostly poor reviews. For example, USA Today reported that Twilight had “questionable casting, wooden acting, laughable dialogue, and truly awful makeup.”
For the franchise’s second film, New Moon, Summit replaced Twilight’s director Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown, Thirteen) with Chris Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy), and upped the second film’s production budget to court the male demographic with CGI werewolves. Released in November 2009, the midnight ticket sales from The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($26.3 million) broke the record set by Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince and unseated Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, former record holder of the third biggest opening ever. Unfortunately, New Moon’s reviews were no better than Twilight’s: Roger Ebert argued that it “takes the tepid achievement of ‘Twilight’ (2008), guts it, and leaves if for undead.” The film neglected to draw a male audience as well: 80% of New Moon’s audience was female, a higher percentage than Twilight’s audience. Women loved it; men clearly did not.
One would think Summit would be pleased with their box office returns, despite the lack of critical acclaim the Saga’s films have received, because their success has helped to establish the production studio. But Summit’s desire to draw a larger male audience signals a discrepancy in the way Hollywood values male and female moviegoers. This discrepancy seems odd given that the elements that the mostly female fans love about Twilight share much in common with crucial elements of other film franchises (e.g., Star Wars, Lord of the Rings) that are so beloved by their mostly male audiences: “impossible romance, epic battles that transcend generations, silly costumes, and growing up superpowered.”
So despite the fact that Summit has broken records at the box office and has the opportunity to mark new territory by developing a major female-oriented franchise, it brought on David Slade, director of the 2007 vampire film 30 Days of Night, to direct Eclipse, the Saga’s third film. Summit’s President of Production, Erik Feig, revealed Summit’s perception of the series’ third novel when he described it as a “muscular, rich, vivid book.” The Eclipse novel does takes a turn to the dark side of the supernatural, but what Summit seems to have missed is that Eclipse is such an important book for fans because it deepens the love triangle between Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, and Jacob Black (and spawned fans’ identification as either “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob”). Given this, we felt disappointed when we saw the official Eclipse trailer, which focuses predominantly on a subplot from the book (a fleet of hungry “newborn” vampires come to Forks to destroy Bella Swan and the Cullen coven) and largely passes over the drama of Bella Swan’s need to choose either Edward or Jacob. It seems Summit is doing its best to frame the films, based on a Young Adult romance series, as violent and dark in an effort to make them boyfriend-friendly. What Summit fails to see is that by courting male audiences, they are devaluing Twilight’s devoted female fans and missing an incredible opportunity to develop the terms for future female franchises.
There’s just over a month left for Summit to further demonstrate how they want to frame Eclipse. The principal cast’s appearance on Oprah last week was an important nod to female fans—but we’re curious to see how the publicity for the film plays out. We’d love to be pleasantly surprised.