Twilight is a book and film franchise that has largely received a lot of unfair and harsh criticism over the course of its relatively short existence in pop culture. It isn’t high art – in fact its extreme popularity probably made it a richer target for lampooning (and its ubiquity certainly led to an inevitable backlash as well), but it is decidedly something beloved by millions of fans while also harshly derided by an incredibly vocal section of the internet. The criticism, while not totally fair, is at least shared by a seemingly large number of people.
Now, some of the criticism against Twilight, actually, is quite fair – I do believe author Stephanie Meyer definitely intended to include shades of her real world Mormonism into the book – but I don’t find it worth the time or effort to get all that worked up about it. In the end, who really cares? It wouldn’t be anywhere near the first time an author has asserted some kind of personal agenda or belief into their novel. I don’t think Meyer ever expected to even get the first Twilight book published at all. I don’t think she could have expected whatsoever the level of fame and notoriety the franchise would bring her either. I do fully expect her to be laughing all the way to the bank as I type this very sentence – and I don’t blame her. I wish my name was on the spine of that cash-cow.
One thing no one can say about Twilight is that it is financially unsuccessful. The collected five films have grossed well over one billion dollars in domestic money alone (an almost absurd amount when you consider the limited fanbase behind the property), and internationally have become one of the highest grossing film franchises ever (up there with the likes of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings – again, almost unbelievable). The film I’m going to discuss today shares a few traits with Twilight for sure, but it definitely doesn’t share that series’ financial success – not even close. In the years since the 2008 release of the first Twilight film, many others have tried to replicate its success. Many have failed, including a little forty million dollar film called The Host, based on a novel by one Stephanie Meyer.
When Open Road Films, the studio behind such mid-level hits as the excellent Liam Neeson-starrer The Grey, bought the rights to Meyer’s The Host, they had to expect it would be a huge hit. The films in the Twilight series consistently grossed around 300 million dollars each domestically with the exception of the first film. Produced for a relatively light forty million, The Host would be quite a profitable venture if it were to gross even as much as that first Twilight film (which grossed around 180 million back in 2008 – a very nice number for an at the time untested film franchise with no major stars). Ultimately, however, The Host fizzled out at the box office, grossing only around 48 million dollars worldwide. Even with a successful DVD release, the film will have a long way to profitability for Open Road, and might never turn a profit if the DVDs don’t sell. So, what exactly went wrong?
The Host is not Twilight. Its popularity is nowhere near as far reaching as that juggernaut of a franchise, either in book or film medium. Open Road’s expectations for a franchise starter were commendable, but ultimately misguided. The Host doesn’t even have a novel sequel – it is just one book (it is part of a planned but as yet unwritten and/or unpublished trilogy of books). It doesn’t even make sense to try and start a film franchise out of a property that exists as just one book. It didn’t help that The Host opened in theaters after the final Twilight film (and even after a failed knock-off in Beautiful Creatures – which had already flopped) had already released, when audiences were more than likely exhausted by young adult romance media, whether in book or film form. Would it not have made more sense to release The Host at a better time and attach an extended teaser-trailer for the final Twilight film to it instead?
It didn’t help that critics savagely attacked the movie. I know that these films are generally critic-proof to the fans, but The Host received almost universally negative reviews from everybody who saw it. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that an overwhelming majority of Stephanie Meyer fans are women – and older women at least pay attention to reviews. The Host ultimately scored a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, well below even the worst reviewed Twilight film. The movie didn’t even resonate with its core audience, either, as Cinemascore polling indicated it graded out at a B-, an absolutely terrible score for a film seemingly tailor-made for the fangirl crowd. Most properties with assumed large fan bases behind them (think: the Marvel and DC movies) at least score A’s or A minuses with their core fan base. A B- for a film like The Host might as well just be an F.
I can only assume that large swaths of the internet took schadenfreude in the relative failure of the film adaptation of The Host. I am not one of those people. I typically don’t root for the failure of any film project. Pretty much anything made at least has a shot at being somewhat interesting. The reviews and general consensus around The Host, however, seems to be that nothing ended up right on screen. Critics, as noted earlier, savaged the film, calling it unintentionally laughable, frustratingly absurd, and fundamentally flawed, according to reviewers like Ben Kenigsberg and Roth Cornet. Even with a filmmaker as interesting as Andrew Niccol at the helm and an actress as interesting as Saoirse Ronan on board, the entire thing just ended up being another failed knock-off of Twilight. Maybe Open Road Films, however, should take solace in the fact that they didn’t fail alone. Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments also bombed in 2013. After their collective failure, I can’t imagine we’ll be subjected to many more of these types of films for quite some time.