By Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
Even eternal vampire love must come to an end.
The Twilight Saga movie franchise's days are wrapping up to some staggering numbers: five movies, a three-sided romance entangling a human, a vampire and a werewolf - and $2.5 billion (and counting) in worldwide box office.
The passionate fans of the series, which is based on Stephenie Meyer's four best-selling novels, will have a chance to let out one more box-office roar as the final chapter, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, hit select theaters at midnight Thursday (before opening wide Friday), nearly four years after the original (2008's Twilight) started the Twi-hards screaming.
"It's a very emotional thing," says Bill Condon, who directed the final two installments. "This is a very interactive experience with the fans. And they have come so far with us."
So have the filmmakers who spun the magic - including the celebrated leads Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. Condon says after hearing the screaming crowds at Monday night's last U.S. premiere, the finality hit him at the party afterwards. "As I was saying goodbye to everyone at the end of the night, I was thinking, 'Wow, this really is the end.' "
But even after the final film bow (though a Twilight spinoff has been discussed), the series remains an impact player in the business. "Forever is a very long time,'' says Condon, alluding to the romantic phrase used in the movie promotions. But this is part of a movement.''
Consider these bite marks that the series leaves on Hollywood:
Girl power. Before Twilight, the studios' prevailing hit-making philosophy was to please the teenage boy consumers with male leads for tentpole franchise-worthy projects. Twilight shattered that myth when an overwhelmingly female audience propelled the first installment, with Stewart at the emotional center, to $70 million in its opening weekend.
The franchise never cooled.
"That is the best legacy of this series," says Condon. "Not only can a woman be the center of the story, but also it's the idea - what this women audience responds to is extremely valuable. They will come out in force. Not every movie has to be made for the teenage boy."
"Twilight opened Hollywood's eyes," says Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com, who notes that once studios realized they were losing the boys to video games and the Internet, they needed the teenage girls.
"And when they got a teen girl heroine of their own, it was the perfect storm that showed teen girls are a force to be reckoned with. Twilight paved the road with gold for the others to follow."
Feistier heroines have followed in Brave, The Hunger Games and even Stewart's turn in Snow White and the Huntsman.
"I don't know if any of these movies ever get made, or at least get the excitement about them, without Twilight proving that these women have buying power," says Melissa Rosenberg, who penned all five Twilight screenplays and is working on Earthseed, a futuristic movie featuring a female hero.
Sexy young adults. Harry Potter put magic (and a couple of smooches) into the young-adult book market. But Meyer's monster-selling series introduced sexy funk with its electricity between the human girl (Stewart), the vampire (Pattinson) and the werewolf (Lautner).
"It's the forbidden love triangle, with pure emotion - love and lust," says Carol Fitzgerald, president of The Book Report Network. "It's sexy and dangerous."
It's also the formula that will be attracting attention in a slew of upcoming films-from-books, including Beautiful Creatures (due out Feb. 13 and featuring a young couple caught in a supernatural world) and Matched (a love triangle in a dystopic future; no release date yet).
The Twilight series set the benchmark for studios seeking a book series that can launch a franchise - a legacy that The Hunger Games will likely inherit if it continues its run.
"It has raised the bar for Hollywood studios - and mini-studios - to find 'the next Twilight, a run of novels that might yield a similar return," says film historian Leonard Maltin. "That hasn't worked out so well for everyone who thought they had 'the next Lord of the Rings,' but it won't stop people from trying."
Vampire heat. These creatures might be an eternal part of the pop culture, but Twilight brought a needed jolt to the genre, leading to a resurgence of vampire chic on the small screen (True Blood, The Vampire Diaries) and occasionally on the big screen (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Dark Shadows).
"We can definitely say Twilight is the reason we exist," says Julie Plec, executive producer of CW's The Vampire Diaries, whose tale of a vampire love triangle (two hot vampire guys, one human girl-turned-vampire) is in its fourth successful season. "I mean this with all of my heart. The eyes that tuned in for the first episode of our show tuned in directly as a result of the success of Twilight."
And the trend continues still.
"We were convinced we would be the final vampire show that put the nail in the coffin," Plec says. "Instead, here we are four years later, there are still new shows emerging as a direct result of that genre."
After all, what's not to love about vampires, even if they don't have Twilight vampire's sparkling skin?
"Never grow old, never die, and lusciously high cheekbones," says Plec.
Fan camp insanity. In 2008, Twilight's premiere organizers noticed fans were showing up a week ahead of time to camp for a spot at the theater - in tony Westwood, Calif. And their numbers only grew.
For 2009's New Moon premiere, the organizers moved the location to Los Angeles' Nokia Center to better handle the expected crowds.
"They kept coming, more and more of them," says Nancy Kilpatrick, president of worldwide marketing for Summit Entertainment. "It was really the only place in town you could have that many people and keep them safe and managed."
They also have made it fun. This year, a record 2,000 fans camped out in tents watching late-night versions of past Twilights on big video screens and listening to live concerts.
"I have seen a lot of them, but nothing comes close to Twilight premieres," says red-carpet veteran Marc Malkin, senior editor for E! Online.
DVD dominance. The fan excitement has carried over to the Blu-ray and DVD release for each of the franchise's titles, stoked by midnight-release parties across the country attended by key cast members - to hype the product. Piracy has hampered these events, which used to be more common. But Summit Entertainment has brought them back to enviable success, says Thomas K. Arnold, publisher and editorial director of Home Media Magazine.
"They are really exploiting it and taking these to a new level," says Arnold. "They are making the Blu-ray and DVD launch just like a theatrical event. I went to one at Best Buy. It's wonderful chaos. It's just a good marketing move.''
Social media matures. The film's producers have cultivated an active online relationship with fans that started on MySpace and has migrated to Twitter (1.1 million followers) and Facebook (the Twilight network has 80 million followers). When Condon was brought on as director, he wrote a note to the fans on the Facebook site to introduce himself.
"It's not so much advertising, it's a conversation, like we're chatting with friends," says Kilpatrick. "It can make a major difference."
Small-studio muscle. Not many people knew Summit Entertainment (producers of the Step Up films) before the vampire romance series brought it into the conversation alongside the Paramounts and Disneys of the world (Summit was bought out by Lionsgate in 2011).
"Without a doubt, Twilight single-handedly put the company on the map," says Fandango chief correspondent Dave Karger. "It proved that with the right product, any small distributor can become a player in the blockbuster business."
Twilight Moms. The very non-teenage women (all over age 25), many standing alongside their daughters at Twilight events, instantly captured the national media's attention and earned them the moniker Twilight Moms. Kara O'Grady, the production manager for TwilightMoms.com, says her group has 37,000 active members from 16 countries.
Beyond lending vocal and fiscal support for Twilight, the group is mobilizing to support other movies that might rock their world, such as The Hunger Games and Meyer's next project, The Host, due out in 2013.
"Twilight brought us together, and we're staying together," says O'Grady. "We are an untapped demographic in movies."
Undead love. If vampires can fall in love and settle down, then why not other forms of the undead? In next year's buzzed-about Warm Bodies (Feb. 1), the zombie called R falls in love with the girlfriend of one of his victims.
Writer/director Jonathan Levine says Twilight successfully enabled him to make the dark comedy/romance because a huge audience is eager to play along with classic monster types.
"Twilight was able to set the stage for this kind of stuff," says Levine. "It's the unique takes on these older classic characters and types. The audiences not only accept it, they crave it."
It doesn't hurt that the traditionally ugly undead form is played by Nicholas Hoult, "one of the top 10 most attractive zombies I know of," says Levine.
And it could pave the way for other dream monster screen pairings.
"Maybe like a sexy Creature From the Black Lagoon," says Levine." Or two Godzillas, one male, one female, they fall in love. I think we can sell this."