(WOMENSENEWS)-- Hollywood is raiding the bestseller lists of young-adult serialized paranormal romances, hoping to replicate the spell that the leading couple of "The Twilight Saga" -- Bella Swan and Edward Cullen -- held over the box office.
Over the Twilight series' five-film, five-year run (from 2008 to 2012), it brought in total worldwide profits of $3.3 billion. ("Harry Potter" tops the list at $7.7 billion, but that franchise consisted of three more films.)
As anyone who hasn't been living inside a coffin since 2008 knows, the once-human Bella (played by Kristen Stewart) had a heck of a time contending with paranormality, particularly given that her suitors were far from the ideal models of the boy next door. She was torn between two lovers -- thank heaven, not literally -- with shape-shifting wolf man Jacob on the one quasi-human hand and ruby-lipped sparkly vampire boy Edward on the other. No spoiler here, she went the way of the vamp.
But her ilk will not go gentle into that good night.
Avid "Twilight" followers (known colloquially as "Twi-Hards") are probably lining up now for tomorrow's opening of "Beautiful Creatures." Populated with witches (called "casters") rather than vamps and wolfs, the movie promises young adult filmgoers another breathless saga of enchanted love.
"Creatures" features Alice Englert as Lena and Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan, star-crossed lovers who find themselves counting down the days to Lena's 16th birthday when, as a spellcaster, she will be claimed by forces of either light or dark.
The good news . . . if this film doesn't scare up young crowds, two more follow in quick succession:
In March, "Twilight" novelist Stephenie Meyer is trying for an encore with "The Host," telling the quadrangle love story of a heroine named Melanie, her alien implanted soul named Wanda and their two separate suitors.
In August, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" delivers the story of 15-year-old Clary to the screen. She thinks she's perfectly normal . . . until she realizes she can see supernatural beings invisible to others. When her mother disappears, Clary turns to the mysterious Shadowhunters -- particularly the handsome Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) -- for help.
A Deeper Look
While publishers, producers and studios hold their collective human breath, hoping for a box office that's far from undead, we might want to take a deeper look into the mindset and the themes behind these tales:
- Puberty redefined as a supernatural force: Given that adolescents experience radical physical changes during puberty, there is a certain poetic metaphor to conceptualizing the process as an out-of-body, uncontrollable force. A young girl contends with developing breasts, menstruation, changes in anatomical shape and composition and possible acne, all due to the flood of hormones coursing through a body that she may have trouble recognizing as her own. She might as well be possessed by some unseen power that leaves her at its mercy.
- The colorless heroine: If the heroine lacks identity, the narrative allows the young reader-viewer to jump into the character's vacuous skin, living vicariously through the heroine's adventures. With a constant cry of "I don't know who I am" echoing throughout many of these stories, it serves as a virtual invitation to the YA fan to imprint herself onto the character.
- The weak alchemizing into the strong: The story transforms the initially weak heroine into a strong goddess -- usually even stronger than her would-be boyfriend, supernatural or not. By reaching out to every young woman who struggles with issues of inferiority, the message is obvious. Similar to the heroine, the reader-viewer is capable of turning from an ugly ducking into a beauty, accompanied by superior skills and power. A beautiful creature, as it were.
- Bonding with mom: Rifts are legion between a mother and her adolescent daughter, who is often attempting to break free of the nest. However, the ever-growing popularity of YA among an older demographic allows for a new meeting place, a new bonding between parent and child. A January 2013 Publisher's Weekly article, citing the latest Bowker study, says that "84 percent of YA books were purchased by consumers 18 or older . . . dispelling the notion that the YA books are gifts or purchases for teens, fully 80 percent of respondents reported 'they bought the book for themselves.'"
That said, while the lure of YA appears undeniable, it may suggest a disturbing trend. Given the fact that the state of adult literacy in the U.S. is failing (according to the Forbes piece, "The Un-Education of a Nation"), the preference of rudimentary Meyer over, say, Mailer, Malamud, McCarthy or Michener is more than a tad concerning.
By the end of August though, rather than any magic incantations, the profits of these three films will ably forecast the longevity of this genre.
In the meantime, let's not give up the ghost just yet. It's possible that with any one of these upcoming films, YA may surprise us with a new, intrepid young woman on par with Katness Everdeen of the YA action film "The Hunger Games." (That franchise's second installment of "Catching Fire" opens this November.)
Perhaps weak, easily controlled heroines like Bella have sung their final swan song. Perhaps, in keeping with the movie's Valentine's Day debut, Lena of "Beautiful Creatures"' will deliver a character both strong as well as starry-eyed . . . just in time to celebrate the holiday of true love.