Exactly what’s happened over the last year?
In that 12-month span, the opening weekend grosses for the Twilight movies went from $69.6 million last November for the first of the series — the one that should, by all rights, have had a bigger opening and was so critically skewered it should have kept people away from the second one – to $140.7 million last weekend.
As much as anyone over the age of 25 wants to the whole thing to just go away, you can’t argue with the results, the third-highest opening weekend of all time. There are lessons to be learned here about how to build a blockbuster franchise, and the copycat movie industry is no doubt learning them right now:
LESSON #1: Let the hype create itself. It didn’t seem like the studio did anything that crazy for this one, no innovative viral marketing, no vampires out at bars biting people, nothing. They just did it the old fashioned way, played some commercials and sent the stars out to every talk show on the planet and they ended up with then third-biggest opening ever (still not as good as Dark Knight or Spidey 3!). Sometimes, that’s all you need to do and everything else is a waste of money. It’s just about impossible to create “movie event” status. This one had it, and every high school girl in the country knew that if she didn’t see this movie on opening weekend, they’d walk into school today feeling left out. And this wasn’t a party they had to wait for an invitation from the cool kids for — this was open to everyone. Apparently, everyone went. WNEP did a story Thursday night at a midnight showing at a theater in Moosic, and people had been there since 4 p.m. They were playing Twilight board games, quizzing each other on Twilight trivia, dressed in Team Edward and Team Jacob garb, all that teen zaniness. Right there, we all should have known this had something special.
LESSON #2: Make sequels quicker. The best way to keep your brand in the public consciousness? Keep it physically in the public. Normally, if a sequel comes out two years after the original — like Iron Man 2 will in May– it’s considered remarkably fast. New Moon coming out one year after the original is a stroke of genius that’s going to make every studio in Hollywood say, “Umm, we should have thought of that.” But now they will, and sequels are going to be forced out into theaters faster than ever.
LESSON #3: Sequels shooting back-to-back. You think this one was quick? You won’t even have time to forget it before the Eclipse comes out on June 30, just in time for Fourth of July. It’s because they shot New Moon and Eclipse together and just broke them into two movies. Burger King won’t even be rid of its New Moon cups when the next one comes out. This goes along with the last point — don’t give the public a chance to forget your brand. It’s not the first time sequels have been shot back-to-back, Back to the Future II and III, and the second and third Matrix movies did and then released within months of each other. But it is the first time the sequels have come out so close to the original. The Busty Cops series didn’t even come out this quickly.
LESSON #4: Sign no-name actorsto your series. It’s a calculated risk to cast four or five people no one has ever heard as the lead actors and actresses in your potential $1 billion franchise. Most people won’t start a franchise without a couple big-name actors. But when you want to follow lessons 2 and 3, you can’t do it with Bruce Willis, or Robert Downey Jr., or Angelina Jolie, because before you even approach them about your movie, they’re already tied up with projects for five years, they need script approval for any sequel, they create power plays to get their friends in the director chair, whatever. Getting everyone on the same schedule is about as easy as finding a good review for New Moon. Downey Jr. would have never committed to a two-year schedule for three Iron Mans, because he knew he would have to give up things like Sherlock Holmes. That’s the other genius and good fortune of the Twilight series — casting no-names so that when you tell them the next four years of their lives will be devoted to these movies and these movies only, they jump at the chance to sign on the dotted line. Plus, you keep costs down so you can spend your budget in other more menaingful places.
LESSON #5: Women go to movies. What, you didn’t know that? Yeah, it happens. And they don’t even have to wear full-body coverings, either! Just because it seems like every movie franchise ever made has been skewed entirely to men — 20-year-old men, no less — if you give any group of people something they want to see, they’ll turn out for it.
Some random links to make sure this isn’t all about Twilight, in which case I’d probably have to tender my resignation by the end of the day:
The one redeeming quality of New moon is that I’m exceedingly happy for director Chris Weitz who deserved a hit after what he put up with on Golden Compass (which literally put me to sleep and made no sense). Chuck and Buck is a great movie, and About a Boy will likely show up on my favorite comedies of the decade list (coming in December!). If American Pie would have been released a couple months later, it would have too, and he had a hand in all of them. Plus, I picked him out in Mr. and Mrs. Smith on first viewing, which I bet about 10 people in the world did. Next year that trophy will be sitting on your mantle!
This had to be coming sooner or later — Tim Riggins is going to be out of Friday Night Lights next year. These are the things that happen when you’ve got a $90 million opening weekendunder your belt, a potential franchise for that character from said opening weekend, and a star on the rise. You can’t keep making your rinky-dink TV show that needs to be funded by an outside company just to stay on the air. It’s incredible he even came back for this season after Wolverine. So he’ll get the swan song for next year, a la Smash and Street last year and Lyla this upcoming year. Good-bye Tim Riggins, my favorite character on TV.
Oops, getting younger guys on TV may be making Courtney Cox think about the possibility of getting them in real life. This likely won’t cause any change in the Cougar Town schedule.