Twilight’s Enduring Cultural Ubiquity

Revisiting the modern cult classic in honor of its fourteenth birthday.

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Imagine this: you’re in Hot Topic, trying desperately to decide whether you want to let the world know you’re Team Edward or Team Jacob. Meanwhile, on Twitter, Paramore fans are panicking over the band performing “Decode” live. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are at the forefront of cinematic discussion. You’re not mistaken: Twilight is back.

 

Objectively, Twilight is not a good movie. For one, it takes itself too seriously. Did nobody tell Catherine Hardwicke, the director, that vampires are fictional? Combined with stilted dialogue and the infamous blue filter, it doesn’t necessarily make for Oscar-worthy cinema. Not to mention, the entire plot revolves around “will they/won’t they”- which, in this case, refers to “will Edward snap and drink Bella’s blood”. In the years since its release, Twilight has been ridiculed, rightfully so, for its questionable plot, dialogue, and incessant use of sparkly editing, but what changed that made it popular again, over a decade after its initial release?

 

To ignore the impact of the 2000s revival would be remiss. The “Y2K” trend, characterized by low-rise jeans, mini skirts, and wide-leg pants, has been in fashion for a couple of years. Along with pop culture comebacks (Britney Spears released new music, Rihanna is headlining the Super Bowl, and Paramore is back after a five-year hiatus), it’s not surprising that Twilight’s bootcut jeans and MP3 players have made their way back into the world’s collective consciousness. People, even those who were barely cognizant during the aughts, are feeling nostalgic- even if some of that nostalgia is fabricated.

 

Twilight has a Rotten Tomatoes critic score of 49 percent, tied for the highest with Breaking Dawn: Part Two. That score doesn’t quite match up with audience reviews, at 72 percent; regardless, most viewers can agree that it’s…not great. People aren’t watching Twilight because it’s good cinema- they’re watching it because it’s a mindless romance flick. It grossed 35.7 million dollars on its opening day and had a total box office gross of over 407 million dollars worldwide. To this day, the entire saga (five movies released between 2008 and 2012) has grossed 3.3 billion dollars worldwide. The book series, whose first installment turned seventeen on October 5 of this year, has sold over 160 million copies worldwide. In 2020, a companion book, Midnight Sun, was released, selling one million copies in its first week. The point is that this series is popular, regardless of whether it’s any good or not.

 

In February, The Batman, currently ranked second on Rotten Tomatoes’ top 100 movies of 2022 list, was released. Coincidentally, The Dark Knight was the top movie of 2008. It has received praise from critics and fans alike for its gritty take on Bruce Wayne’s origins; much of that praise is directed towards Pattinson. Many have drawn parallels between Edward Cullen, Twilight’s brooding, angsty vampire, and Bruce Wayne, The Batman’s…also brooding, angsty lead. One could argue that, given his nocturnal schedule, Wayne is vampire-like. It’s hard to disagree. Last November, Stewart starred in the Pablo Larraín-directed Spencer, inspired by Princess Diana’s life; the film was released to critical acclaim, and she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. There is no correlation between Bella Swan and Diana, unless you consider the royal family comparable to a coven of vampires.

 

About halfway through the movie, Edward watches Bella sleep, and then it’s not mentioned again. Ignoring the glaring creepiness and questionable acumen from both parties, watching it in 2022 is hilarious. It’s intended to show how enamored he is with her, but, shocking nobody, it comes across as blatantly stalkerish and unromantic. Other noteworthy scenes include the infamous baseball game and the hall of mirrors at the film’s end. Social media is rife with memes inspired by and reenactions of embarrassing scenes such as these, which is unsurprising, considering the popularity of cringe comedy (think: The Office and Parks and Recreation). People are no longer trying to ignore the lip-biting, sparkly, spider-monkey moments; they’re watching specifically for them.

 

Did Stephenie Meyer intend for Twilight to be picked apart and interrogated for substance when she dreamed of a vampire sparkling in the woods? Probably not- it’s a love story, from an era when capri pants, wedge sneakers ,and chunky highlights were acceptable. Yes, it’s only been fourteen years since its release; yes, in the grand scheme of the world, it’s foolish to debate the relevance of a romance series when people are dying every second; yes, it’s self-indulgent to pile on criticism and question the judgment of teenage girls in the 2000s. But self-indulgence can be sweet. Just ask the Cullens.