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Twilight turns 15: Revisiting the mania, sparkly vampires and all

On its crystal anniversary, we're taking a fresh look at Bella and Edward, that baseball scene, and the (lasting?) impact of a cornerstone YA franchise

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Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2
Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2
Photo: Lionsgate

Picture this: you’re in an exceedingly blue-tinted forest in Forks, Washington, with the sexy new object of your affections. You’re obsessed with him, but you’re starting to have some doubts. “How old are you?” you ask him. “15,” he answers. “How long have you been 15?” “Since November 21, 2008,” he responds.

In this vision, your new obsession isn’t immortal vampire Edward Cullen, of course, but the Twilight saga itself. The first Twilight film, released 15 years ago today, was an overwhelmingly successful moviegoing event, and the fervor only grew with each subsequent release. Forgive us this little fantasy, but we thought it was fun... and isn’t fun what Twilight is really all about? Well, for some of us it is. For others, not so much. To mark this momentous occasion in our culture, and the history of baseball on screen, The A.V. Club took some time to really sink out teeth into the highs and lows of cinema’s most sparkly franchise.

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When did you last watch the Twilight movies?

Mary Kate Carr: The last time I watched (some of) a Twilight film was by happenstance on cable in a hotel room, in an “Oh, might as well keep this on” kind of way. The last time I intentionally watched the Twilight movies was in 2021, at the beginning of a road trip where I stopped and visited with my cousin Rachel. When the movies were coming out in theaters when we were teenagers, it was a special thing for her and me to see them together. So on this visit to her house as an adult, we marathoned them together, which was very cute of us and added to my appreciation of them.

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Saloni Gajjar: I watched the first Twilight movie during the early lockdown days, and I can’t remember the last time I saw any of the rest. If it’s playing while I’m surfing channels, maybe I’ll keep it on for a few minutes (damn you, nostalgia).

As for watching Twilight in 2020, I was revisiting it after a long time, and I chose to do it while a little bit, umm, wasted, assuming I’d enjoy it more. Boy, was I right. The movie is already such a trip, so it was fun to watch it again with the lowest of expectations.

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Emma Keates: After many months of scream-laughing about True Blood together, my friend Sarah and I decided it was about time to return to the franchise that actually got us hooked on vampire content in the first place. We got through Twilight (great), New Moon (even better and so much more bizarre than I remembered), and about 40 minutes of Eclipse (boring) before calling it a day.

Matt Schimkowitz: I’ve watched them piecemeal over the last decade or so. I think the last one I saw was Breaking Dawn: Part 1 in 2021. I still haven’t found time to watch Part 2.

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Do they hold up?

MKC: Short answer: yes. Long answer: “hold up” might not precisely be the phrase, but I had a new understanding and appreciation of the choices being made. Like, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are playing these characters as real weirdos, sometimes aggravating weirdos, and they’re exactly right to do it! Bella and Edward are bizarre individuals who are bizarre together! The word “camp” gets tossed around way too often, but there’s an obvious awareness of how ridiculous the premise is while still getting full commitment by some of the actual best actors of our time. I don’t know if the actual story holds up, but 迟丑补迟’蝉 more on Stephanie Meyer than the filmmakers.

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SG: It held up in the sense that I knew it would be a badly made, funnily performed YA escape. Of course, 迟丑补迟’蝉 not how I felt about the films back when they were released because I was the target audience (I think). As an adult, I can say I was happy to turn my brain off and enjoy its campiness and over-the-top performances.

EK: The movies hold up about as well as True Blood for me, which is to say that, like Saloni, I used to think they were dramas and now I think they’re comedies. Like, I used to think Bella’s depression scene in New Moon was one of the most harrowing things ever filmed and now my friend group pretty regularly sings Lykke Li’s “Possibility” at each other whenever someone complains about any sort of minor inconvenience. They’ve given us a lot of laughs, and I’m endlessly thankful for that.

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MS: I should say that my wife loves Twilight, so Edward and Bella come up regularly in our household. However, despite my attempts, I mostly have the same reaction to every Twilight movie: They’re unspeakably boring. I don’t find them particularly funny ironically and don’t find them emotionally compelling sincerely.

bella’s first day at school-twilight

Were you a fan back in the day?

MKC: Oh, jeez, I was definitely a part of Twilight mania. I read all the books and fell for them like any other middle schooler at the time. One of my most vivid memories is making a joke about Jacob being a werewolf to my middle school girlfriends and then realizing my friend Maura hadn’t finished New Moon yet—I have carried the guilt of spoiling that plot detail for her for, like, 15 years! I wasn’t such a fan that I had posters in my room or an unhealthy obsession with Robert Pattinson, but I definitely experienced some of the fandom from the inside and had a special experience of going to (most of) the movies with my cousin. I remember reading Breaking Dawn and being so disappointed and specifically thinking it felt like bad Twilight fan fiction. By the time the Breaking Dawn movies came out, I was no longer engaged with the fandom, and didn’t watch them until years later. And in some ways, they were even more bizarre than the book!

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SG: Absolutely. I had read all the books, and several of my friends were far, far more obsessed with it so it was easy to just ride the wave. We went to see the movies as a group, which made it a lot more fun. I’d like to point out that I was still living in Mumbai, India, at the time, and the Twilight craze there was super unhinged as well. You had to book tickets way in advance, there were huge Facebook group meet-ups and plans to watch together, massive giveaways in the theater, and all of that stuff. The posters and commercials were everywhere. It was impossible to miss it, whether or not you were a fan of the franchise. There’s no denying these films had a global chokehold on audiences.

EK: One hundred percent. It wasn’t my main fandom (we all had to pick one to identify ourselves by back then, and mine was definitely Supernatural), but I still bought all of the books at midnight and have a distinct memory of poring over New Moon as quickly as possible at summer camp so none of the other girls in my bunk reading it at the same time could spoil it for me. I also had a number of conversations along the lines of “it’s literature and should be taught in schools, actually” with my dad and brothers that I kind of still stand by today—out of sheer stubbornness, if nothing else.

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MS: I mostly ignored Twilight when it hit in the late 2000s. I rightly assumed I wasn’t the audience for Stephenie Meyer’s hyper-conservative, LDS-informed take on romance, sexuality, and feminism. I still don’t connect with them.

Team Edward or Team Jacob?

MKC: Team Edward. The thing is, I’m a practical reader, so it’s always obvious to me to pick the winning team. Bella was always going to pick Edward, so why would I waste time investing in Jacob? Watching the movies again as an adult, it was actually kind of messed up that Bella used Jacob as a crutch like she did, but she was a weird, depressed kid. And of course, the resolution to the love triangle re: Renesmee is one of the most boggling literary choices of our time.

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SG: To be honest, even back then, I disliked both the characters because, in their ways, they came off as creeps. Jacob was okay in the beginning, I guess, but there’s no coming back after you imprint on a baby, huh? My feelings did not apply to the actors, though. I was crushing on Robert Pattinson back then so maybe 迟丑补迟’蝉 why I was Team Edward. Now, first of all, I’m happy to be proven right about the characters being creepy. But I’m also happy to be right about Pattinson as an actor, he’s nailing it with all his choices. I’m still team no-one for Miss Bella Swan, though. Girl should’ve run out of rainy Forks, Washington, as soon as she got the chance.

EK: Team Charlie Swan. For me, not Bella, obviously.

MS: Edward. Not only has Pattinson proved to be an actor worth following, but also his character has never imprinted on a baby. Though, as has been litigated countless times before, the age gap between Bella and Edward grosses me out. But 迟丑补迟’蝉 Hollywood! It’s common for a 120-year-old vampire to marry a teenager.

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What’s your favorite movie and/or scene?

MKC: I think the first one was then and still is my favorite. That movie coming out was the peak of Twilight fandom for me personally, and I think for the phenomenon in general. It’s just an interesting film with interesting choices, and defined stylistically what we think of as Twilight. It would have been cool to see what Catherine Hardwicke did with the rest of the franchise.

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SG: It will shock no one to learn that my favorite scene was and is the baseball game. It only helps that clips of it continue to go viral even today on Twitter and TikTok, so it’s never out of my sight. The whole thing is so exaggerated, fun, and silly. With constant meme-ing in mind, there are scenes we can’t escape online like Edward is “repulsed” by Bella’s smell, or Victoria lingering at the end in hopes of seeking revenge. Back then, I remember enjoying the scene when Edward reveals who he is to Bella (after she makes him admit it), when they go on a date at the Italian restaurant, and the scene where he introduces her to his family. They’ve made Italian because her name is Bella! You gotta laugh.

EK: “Hold on tight, spider monkey” will always, always, always make me laugh. If you don’t know the lore, the line was actually born out of one of director Catherine Hardwicke’s delirious late night brainstorming sessions because she needed a bit of dialogue for the tree-climbing scene and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg couldn’t write it because it was 2007 and she was on strike. It’s just ... chef’s kiss. Screenwriters (and unions!) continue to define the culture even when they can’t write at all.

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MS: Was, is, and forever will be the baseball scene from Twilight. Aside from it being a delightfully goofy time capsule of digital effects of the era, it’s also one of the few times the series has fun with the idea of teen vampires.

Twilight (2008) - Vampire Baseball Scene | Movieclips

What do you still love or loathe about the franchise?

MKC: After a time of being a moderate Twihard, I went through a period of being a baby feminist, and absorbing critiques of the story about the toxic nature of the central relationship (and about it not being particularly well written). I kind of turned my back on it at that point, and the whole insane hype about the films became a bit of an eye roll.

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Nowadays, my feelings fall somewhere in the middle. There are problems with the story, but I care less about holding my fiction to a higher moral standard. And as for the film franchise, I think it’s still a really fun document of the time. When we look back on Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s incredible careers, it’s always going to be that surreal launching pad. The movies cultivated true talent and often did something interesting with source material that was kind of silly. The later entries don’t hold up as well, filmmaking-wise, as something like Catching Fire was to the Hunger Games franchise. But I think the movies will continue to be comfort-watch, girls’ night giggles for many, many years to come.

SG: I don’t feel as strongly about it either way anymore. It’s crazy how insanely massive the fandom was when the movies came out, and how Twilight spawned an era of love triangles, vampire/werewolf stories, and YA pop culture content in its own right. It’s not like those didn’t exist before, of course, but Twilight made them mainstream and acceptable in a way that wasn’t possible before. It also made stars out of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson—who can complain about that? And I’m happy the world has realized Taylor Lautner is Taylor Swift’s best ex-boyfriend, I guess.

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EK: I’m mostly thankful for all the memes, all the laughs, and, like Mary Kate and Saloni said, the fact that they launched both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson into the stratosphere. In a way, Twilight gave us Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, and 迟丑补迟’蝉 something to celebrate. Against all odds, Twilight was also able to pull off one of the greatest movie soundtrack ever made, four separate times. It’s actually a little hard to comprehend. Bon Iver’s “Roslyn,” Thom Yorke’s “Hearing Damage,” and Paramore’s “Decode” still regularly find their way onto my playlists.

MS: I’m more or less indifferent to Twilight. I’m glad that it brings people so much joy, and the fans I’ve met in my years reporting on and studying fandoms have always been welcoming and kind. I wish I could enjoy it, too. That said, I’ll watch Part 2 one of these days. I hear things actually happen in that one.

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A moment for our colleagues who have never watched Twilight. What kept you away?

Drew Gillis: I never watched Twilight. I grew up in a read-the-book-first house, and I got halfway through the first book and got bored. I never finished it and figured I wouldn’t be interested in the film adaptation. Then my mom stole it and read it on vacation and ended up reading all of them. I think she watched all the movies too.

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I was also a middle/high school-aged boy during the peak of Twilight mania, so it was really cool if I hated on them (and, in my mind, would have been detrimental to my social standing if I didn’t). Now, I’ve seen the baseball scene enough times on social media to not feel like I’m really missing out on anything else. I don’t think I’ll ever watch them, unless I’m specifically in a situation that calls for me to watch them.

Jen Lennon: I was 14 when the first Twilight book came out, and at the time, I thought I was way too cool for that nonsense. I was 17 when the first movie came out, so by then, I thought I was extra-super-duper way too cool for that nonsense. I grew up on, and with,?Harry Potter—read the first book when I was 9, was terribly disappointed when I didn’t get a Hogwarts letter at 11, and was still riding high on Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince when Twilight dropped. The two franchises aren’t even remotely similar, but at the time, there was only room for one massively popular YA series in my life, and I thought that sparkly vampires sounded pretty dumb compared to an entire wizarding world.

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If there’s one universal truth about high school, it’s that you define yourself as much by the things you like as the things you don’t—and no one wants to be at the very bottom of the social pecking order. Harry Potter wasn’t cool, but it was acceptable; Twilight was not acceptable at all. So while I like to believe that my aversion to Twilight was simply because I had good taste, there was almost certainly an element of social pressure to stay away from it, too. And now, 20 years later, my relationship to both franchises has drastically changed.

Even before she started spouting dangerous hate speech on Twitter, J.K. Rowling’s consistent background and lore updates on the Wizarding World (which no one asked for and no one wanted) made me not want to engage with the series anymore. Conversely, I see Twilight in a much more positive light—maybe it’s because the distance of time makes it easier to appreciate its campy cheesiness, even if 迟丑补迟’蝉 not what Stephanie Meyer intended. But come on—sparkly vampires! That will never not be funny. I still don’t feel the need to engage with the books or movies beyond what I’ve gleaned through cultural osmosis; I’m not about to sit down for a Twilight marathon anytime soon, but I can appreciate them for what they are. I’m really glad that the series exists and that people enjoy it, even if I couldn’t see its value when I was a teenager.