Girl-meets-boy stories are not the usual stuff of Hollywood blockbusters, even when it's girl-meets-vampire.
Neither are stories created by women, with a predominantly female audience, shot on a bargain budget with a cast of relative unknowns and released by an independent distributor trying to establish a niche among Hollywood's half-dozen studio behemoths.
Yet Summit Entertainment has good reason to believe "Twilight" will have more box-office bite than your typical teen soap about an awkward high school babe and her cool new mystery beau.
"Twilight" has a few stunts and clever visuals, but it's far from the special-effects extravaganzas that dominate the movie business. It was shot for $37 million, a pittance compared with big studio movies that can cost four or five times more.
What "Twilight" does offer is epic star-crossed romance, melodrama, peril, an attractive young cast and an action-packed finale. But mostly, it has arguably the most passionate fan base of any literary adaptation since Harry Potter.
"It's like a little bizarre, little perfect-storm phenomenon," said "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke, who began working on the project less than two years ago and has since seen the books grow from earnest cult status to rabid international fan base. "I knew some people loved it, but I didn't know it would get this kind of crazy buzz."
"Twilight" tells the story of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), an introspective teen who moves from sunny Phoenix to cloudy Forks, Wash., to live with her divorced dad. At her new school, she is swept up in a supernatural romance with aloof Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), part of a family of eternally young vampires fighting their nature by refusing to feed off humans.
The chief creative forces behind "Twilight" are women: director Hardwicke, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg ("Step Up," TV's "Dexter") and author Stephenie Meyer, whose four books in the "Twilight" series have sold 18 million copies.
Schoolgirls were the first in the "Twilight" fold, drawn in by the all-consuming obsessiveness of Bella and Edward's forbidden love. "Twilight" reads like a confessional, a young girl's diary loaded with compulsive detail and teen angst.
"I was convinced before I ever met Stephenie that she was a mad person who completely believed she was Bella, and this was just her fantasy," said Pattinson, best known for playing Cedric Diggory in two of the "Harry Potter" films. "It's kind of like voyeurism. ... It seems like it's something like a fan-fiction thing, which was never intended to be read by anyone."
That was the exact intention of Meyer, who wrote "Twilight" late at night while her husband and children slept.
From out of a dream
Inspired by a dream she had about a "normal girl and a beautiful vampire that was in love with her and wanted to kill her," Meyer said she created the story for an audience of one.
"No one was going to read it except for me. That's probably why it comes across as so intimate," Meyer said. "It was a story I wrote for one person to be exactly what I wanted to read at that point in my life, the escape that I wanted. And I stepped into this character's shoes, who was very different from me, and I got to live someone else's life. For me, that's what writing is."
Things happened fast once she decided to publish "Twilight." Even before the book came out, Hollywood came calling.
An early version of the script turned the intimate story into a standard action movie, with Bella transformed from solitary teen to an outgoing track star who ends up "strapping on a gun and night vision goggles to go vampire hunting," Meyer said.
Since then, the project has taken a seemingly charmed course. Sales of the books surged. The audience broadened from girls to include older women. And another teenager, Harry Potter, graciously moved out of Bella's way.
In late summer, Warner Bros. decided to bump "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" from Nov. 21 to next July. Summit then moved "Twilight" from its Dec. 12 release to Nov. 21, grabbing a prime date just before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest weekends of the year at movie theaters.
"Twilight" will have to contend with the Disney family flick "Bolt," an animated canine adventure opening the same day and featuring the voices of John Travolta and teen idol Miley Cyrus.
No one in Hollywood expects "Twilight" to put up numbers anywhere near a "Harry Potter," whose five installments have averaged $90 million over opening weekend.
Yet in a single weekend, "Twilight" could wind up matching or exceeding the total $48.8 million total domestic grosses of Summit's first five releases over their entire runs. Since debuting a year ago with the fright flick "P2," Summit's receipts have ranged from $1 million for the Christina Ricci fairy tale "Penelope" to $24.8 million for the martial-arts thriller "Never Back Down."
"The Hollywood prognosticators, we're really trying to tune it out," said Erik Feig, president of production for Summit. "What is great is we go into this being very, very happy with the film, so whatever it does, we're going to be thrilled with it. Whatever that number is, we do believe people who are going to see the movie are going to like it."
Girls and women are expected to dominate the audience, making "Twilight" a rare female-driven franchise. Females accounted for 89 percent of advance "Twilight" sales at MovieTickets.com, said Joel Cohen, the company's executive vice president.
Sales for "Twilight" have been brisk, with MovieTickets.com and competitor Fandango.com reporting hundreds of shows already sold out more than a week in advance. Both companies reported that "Twilight" initially was outselling "Quantum of Solace," even though the new James Bond flick opened a week earlier.
A survey of ticket buyers on Fandango.com found that nearly half of the people interested in seeing "Twilight" were over 25.
"It's early teens to up above 50-year-olds," said Rick Butler, Fandango's chief operating officer. "Some of the daughters have encouraged the mothers to see it. Mothers have heard about it and read the novels themselves and want to take their daughters."
Summit has three potential sequels to make if "Twilight" does well enough, so the studio has sought to expand the audience further to pack in young males.
"I feel like girls, the ones who are fans of the book, are going to go see it several times," said Stewart, who starred in the horror tale "The Messengers" and appeared in Sean Penn's "Into the Wild." "But it's funny how the trailers now, they're obviously trying to target boys and make it, like, more full of action."
A solid male audience seems possible, considering "Twilight" features a studly male with superpowers, a pack of ravenous bloodsuckers and fetching young women, both human and vampire.
"I don't see it as only girl-oriented, because I think guys really like vampires, too, and they like hot girls," Hardwicke said. "When we've shown it to our little family and friends screenings, the boys liked it as much as the girls. Just because the early adopters, the first ones that read it, were girls, I don't think it needs to stay there.
"If you're a guy and you want to pick up chicks, you should go see `Twilight.'"