This past weekend, while The LEGO Movie dominated the box office, the latest vampire movie to try to cash in on the success of Twilight came out and bombed…hard. Vampire Academy, based on the best-selling series of novels, debuted at #7, making a paltry $4 million at the domestic box office. Vampire Academy is just the latest in a long string of movies about the undead that have failed to catch on with audiences in the wake of Twilight’s massive success. Unless this Fall’s forthcoming Dracula: Untold somehow manages to become a hit, expect major studios to not go near vampire films for a very, very long time. And as a fan of the vampire movie genre, this just bums me out.
You see, vampires and me… we go way back. I first became obsessed with creatures of the night with repeated airings of Fright Night on HBO back in 1986. Then the following summer, when I turned thirteen, I sneaked in more than once to see The Lost Boys, back when you could do stuff like that and never get caught. When high school rolled around, I graduated to more serious (and gayer and sexier) stuff, and carried around Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in my backpack with me everywhere I went. This led me to the video store to discover older vampire stuff I’d missed, like Tony Scott’s The Hunger and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. In my twenties, there was the double-whammy of awesomeness that was Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Then, at some point in my thirties… the Twilight bomb hit. It was the biggest success the vampire movie genre had ever had, and quite possibly the end of that genre at the same time.
There have been enough articles written about how awful Twilight is, so I don’t need to get into the specifics as to why here, but to summarize: just as vampire fiction alone, Twilight is terrible, because it takes mythical creatures who, despite their wildly different interpretations over the years in various media, were always portrayed as dangerous outsiders, and turned them into the annoying popular kids at school who really love to shop at Old Navy. Twilight is like seeing your twelve year old niece wearing a Ramones t-shirt from Target; she has no idea what it means or who the Ramones were, just that it’s something once edgy and cool that she’s appropriating and therefore (pun totally intended) de-fanging it of any of its former meaning.
Worse than being crappy vampire fiction however, Twilight also has a weird anti-feminist, anti-premarital sex, and frankly misogynist bent to it, but that’s a subject unto itself. Even the women in my life that I know who like Twilight all seem to know how bad it is and give me the “yeah, I know it’s bad, but I love it anyway” answer whenever asked why they love it. And that’s totally fair. I enjoy lots of terrible things that I know are terrible. I can watch the last forty minutes of Attack of the Clones and enjoy it despite knowing better. I don’t begrudge them that enjoyment.
Nevertheless, the success of the Twilight franchise towers over every other vampire film ever made. Four of the five films made something like $300 million dollars, and that’s just domestic. By comparison, the next two most successful non-Twilight vampire movies, 1994’s Interview with the Vampire ($209 million, adjusted for inflation) and 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula ($166 million, also adjusted) are as close to fully mainstream as bloodsuckers got before Twilight, and neither come close to Twilight‘s best box office numbers. Even with the successful nature of many of the vampire movies of the ’80s and ’90s, they just hovered around being mega-blockbusters; they were popular, but never quite mainstream enough that your grandma would watch them. They still primarily preached to the choir. There were no “Dracula Moms” back in the day.
But it seems the success of Twilight has seemingly killed the chances of any other vampire movies to succeed. Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly vamps have apparently put a stake in the heart of the entire vampire movie genre, at least for the foreseeable future. But just why is this? After all, it goes against the way Hollywood usually works. The success of Star Wars in the seventies led to string of high profile sci-fi hits for the next decade. The more recent success of superhero movies has just led to more and more successful superhero movies. Eventually these trends burn out, but it seems Twilight left zero room for the success of any other vampire property it its wake.
There was no domino effect once Twilight became a pop culture phenomenon, not even a short lived one. Judging by box office numbers, since the release of the first Twilight in 2008, vampire movies have been, to quote Mommie Dearest, “box office poison.” Since then, almost every major vampire film released has tanked; movies like Daybreakers, Let Me In, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter all hovered around the $30 million range or lower, which is what movies like Fright Night and Lost Boys made three decades ago when tickets were much, much cheaper. Vampire Academy is just the latest and maybe biggest flop of all of these, and this one was tailor made for the demographic that embraced Twilight.
So just what has happened? Well, it seems for an entire generation of younger moviegoers, the term “Vampire” literally equals “Twilight.” Younger audiences make no distinction between the two, even though on some level you have to figure they know better. I know I’ve found myself recommending good vampire movies like Let The Right One In to younger Millennials, only to have them say “nah, I hate all that vampire crap.” When I dig for more information as to were the prejudice comes from, the answer is almost always the same: “my girlfriend (or wife, or sister, or mother, or just female friend) made me sit through all of those awful Twilight movies with her, and I never want to see another vampire again.” Younger males (and those females who rejected the whole Twilight phenomenon) don’t differentiate; vampires began and ended with Robert Pattinson. They are one and the same thing.
But what about the female demographic that went insane with Twilight-mania? The “Twihards” who lined up for days to see it? The women and girls that make up Twilight’s target demographic were clearly not interested in seeing any other vamps on the big screen that weren’t Edward Cullen, even when that vampire was played by Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows. Apparently, vampires began and ended with Robert Pattinson for them, too, judging by the abysmal box office of Vampire Academy, a movie seemingly tailor made for the Twihard demo.
If there’s a silver lining to this development for those of us who love vampire fiction, it’s that vampires seem to have found a very comfortable home on television. Since True Blood launched on HBO in 2008, it’s been the pay-cable network’s highest rated (or second highest rated) original show, a true pop culture phenomenon all its own. Although it’s ending this year, it’s certainly not due to a massive ratings dip. The CW’s anchor series has been The Vampire Diaries since 2009, and just recently got a spin-off show, The Originals. Being Human, which features a vampire lead character, has also been one of Syfy’s biggest hits. I even hear that Dracula on NBC has gotten better, although I gave up on that show early on because I couldn’t get past the criminal sin of having Jonathan Rhys Meyers lose his British accent. With True Blood ending soon, another cable network really needs to fill that hole with a television version of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Please, network executive who makes these decisions and reads Nerdist, go make that happen. And cast Tom Hiddleston as The Vampire Lestat, please. We already know he can look good as a blonde.
But as for movie vamps, are they really gone for good? Well, forever is a long time, so I imagine at some point they’ll make a big splashy return. Vampires have been an ongoing part of western culture for nearly two hundred years, since the novella The Vampyre came out in 1819 and started a century’s long obsession that ultimately resulted in Dracula. Movies are too big a part of pop culture for vampires to abandon them completely. But just what’s it going to take for a vampires to make a big screen comeback? For starters, I’d say, at least five to ten years for the stink of the Twilight franchise to wear off. By that point, a new generation of younger moviegoers who weren’t forced to sit through the whole saga can come in without the baggage of that franchise behind them. In the meantime, our TV bloodsuckers will just have to tide us over. And maybe that’s not so bad.