Ten Years On: An Ode to Twilight

With this week marking ten years since Twilight first premiered, Paige Johnston offers her take on the teen-favourite franchise.

Ten years have passed since Twilight graced our screens, entered our hearts and created a hoard of vampire and werewolf-loving teenage girls who fawned over Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. They donned their Team Edward or Jacob t-shirts while the young queer girls of the world couldn’t decide if they wanted to be Bella in her numerous plaid shirts, or date her. Yes, I was one of those Twi-hards. So much so, I wrote a thirty-thousand-word fanfic of me as Bella Swan when I was eleven. Today, a new generation are watching the five-movie series, meeting the cast for the first time, but has it stood the test of time?

Despite Twilight’s success, in the last ten years it has gained more than its fair share of critics. Even today, Twilight is discussed wildly as either the pinnacle of teen movies, or an embarrassment to vampire films and teenage girls everywhere. To the defence of the critics, the movies were downright cringy at times. Sparkling vampires? Sounds like something you’d write in your primary school English class. Edward covering his nose when Bella walked into the classroom, followed by her sniffing her pits? Hilarious. But let’s not mention the awful CGI baby and the plot-line of Jacob imprinting on her. That was a step too far for us all.

There’s also no denying the multiple issues in the Bella and Edward’s relationship itself; why did none of us pause to think about why a hundred-and-nine-year-old vampire was not only in love with a seventeen-year-old girl, but obsessed and watching her sleep without her knowing? Why did twelve-year-old me find Bella’s heartbreak over Edward in New Moon so romantic? On top of this, the pressure for every character to be in a relationship sent the message that being in a relationship seemed to be the be-all and end-all of teenage life. Twilight definitely did not promote healthy relationships to the teens across the world watching.

Delving deeper, Twilight certainly has its problems; for one, it lacked in diversity with an almost entirely white cast. A recent article has surfaced claiming that director, Catherine Hardwicke, had wanted more diversity, but author Stephanie Meyer had refused because she’d written all vampires to have ‘pale glistening skin’. We also have the issue of the poorly executed story-line of Native Americans, being presented as both overly-sexualised and the aggressors. That being said, they did make the effort to actually cast Native actors, which is rare in Hollywood even today.

Twilight never was and never will be perfect. One of the better things about the series is that the cast and the fans know that it had its issues, with the abundance of interviews of the cast criticising the plot and their own roles. But it wasn’t all bad. To this day, I still remember watching every movie over and over until I knew them word by word, and how my heart stopped while multiple people cried in outrage in the cinema during that plot-twist dream sequence in the final battle (you know the one). Films aside, the soundtrack welcomed Paramore and Muse into the hearts of many and soon became a timeless classic.

On top of this, it opened the doors for a new form of cinema; in came the flood of YA book-to-movie adaptations with female teenage leads. It was a common misconception in Hollywood that films with teenage girls wouldn’t sell. Particularly, boys wouldn’t want to see them. This idea had been perpetrated through books too, but the birth of YA books and movies quickly put that concept in its grave. With a budget of $37 million, Twilight almost surpassed that figure in its opening weekend alone, making $35 million. There’s no denying it was a success. And with anything, where there’s success, Hollywood will milk it until it’s dry, extending the four books into five movies. Up next came The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Mortal Instruments, and Beautiful Creatures. Some clearly did better than others, but the point remains: Twilight shone a new light on YA literature, particular those with girls at the front, beginning an influx of movies from popular books. From this door, Hollywood allowed in more diverse teenage characters, though most are still predominantly straight and white.

I’m not saying that we owe Meyer and Hardwicke all the credit for films like these being produced—Twilight was no diverse, feminist masterpiece after all—but Twilight certainly created a change in the industry that was crucial to opening the doors to diversity. It created a space for girls to find role-models, finding themselves as the leads, fighting for what they want. Girls were no longer simply the love-interest or the sidekick. They had agency, they passed the Bechdel Test, and they were unstoppable. Bella punched a werewolf in the face,  Katniss and Tris both sided with rebellions, bringing down corruption.

Through all its faults, Twilight was a game-changer. It brought teenage girls to the front of the stage and began a wave of new YA book-to-movie adaptations. Because of its success, films designed for teenagers—particularly teenage girls—have grown and welcomed in more diverse role-models from YA books. In my opinion, Twilight has stood the test of time. While it is no masterpiece, no ground-breaking diverse film, Twilight was a starting point. At the very least, it was a change from the usual action movie following a boy who looked exactly the same as the last, and for those of us who grew up on the five-part series, it’ll always be something to reminisce over. For those in later generations, one can only hope they’ll look at Twilight and see how far they’ve come since.

Paige Johnston

Image Courtesy of Summit Entertainment