As an avid secondhand–book buyer, I have certain rituals when I enter a bookstore. I always step into the horror section to see if I can catch a stray Stephen King; I walk through the classics looking for beautiful hardbacks and marbled pages; and, most importantly, I reminisce among the Young Adult shelves and see if I can spy the iconic black, white, and red–toned Twilight novels. If one part of my bookstore explorations is comfortingly predictable, it’s that I’ll find Stephenie Meyer’s infamous series—often, in its entirety. As of 2021, the saga had sold more than 160 million copies, and according to Publishers Weekly, Twilight was fifth on the list of top–selling books between 2004 and 2021 (just under Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!). If you entered a teen girl’s bedroom in the 2000s or 2010s, chances were you’d find at least one copy—and maybe even a poster or life–size cardboard cutout of a character or two.
Since the first Twilight book’s publication in 2005 and the film adaptation’s release in 2008, pop culture has never been the same. As the first film approaches its 15th anniversary, it’s time to reflect and return to some contentious questions: Why did this movie strike such a chord with a generation of mostly young women? How has Twilight impacted our current pop culture? Is it even a watchable movie? And finally, though we all know how the saga ends, should we still be #TeamEdward?
During the early 2000s, the fantasy genre was arguably at a peak across media, especially in cinema. Behemothic franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter dominated both bookshelves and movie theaters, influencing the creation of many similar magical and fairytale–inspired stories (like Ella Enchanted, which is also based on a book!). With these franchises coming to an end, there was a void to fill. Readers and movie–watchers needed a new series to obsess over, and if nothing else, Twilight promised obsession.
At its heart, Twilight is a story of forbidden love—a characteristic that distinguished it from most other fantasy series at the time. It was this focus on romance that helped the saga acquire the readership of a different (and heavily female) audience. Most of the plot tension throughout the series arises from the danger of Edward Cullen’s vampiric tendencies, and protagonist Bella Swan’s willingness to overlook that particular red flag (in addition to his ripe old age of 104 years old). “If this is about my soul, take it," Bella declares in the second movie, New Moon. “I don’t want it without you.”
History has proven time and again that the universal appeal of young, star–crossed lovers, whose passions might find fatal obstacles due to their membership in diametrically opposed groups—or in the case of Twilight, literal species. If you were on the internet in the 2010s, you might have heard the phrase, “Still a better love story than Twilight,” referring to terrible romantic pairings. Bella and Edward’s relationship is certainly rife with miscommunication, secrets, and unhealthy infatuation. As Edward himself said, "It’s like you’re my own personal brand of heroin.” How can you be “unconditionally and irrevocably in love” with someone you barely know from high school biology class?
No part of Twilight’s plot is innovative or new; in fact, it’s pretty repetitive. But there’s also an appeal to the all–too–real messiness. In the same vein as reality TV, the plot appeals to our fascination with drama, a point that grows ever clearer as the saga delves into betrayal, love triangles, marriage, and even accidental pregnancy. This campy and melodramatic aspect makes the movie especially enduringly funny: Even in a world of vampires and werewolves, dumb teens will be dumb teens.
Twilight is truly centered around teenage angst—especially female teenage angst—and this is reflected in the film’s stylistic choices, too. The Twilight “aesthetic” consists of “a dark and muted color palette, romanticization of the Pacific Northwest, and lots of angst.” Forks, Washington’s gloomy landscape of rain, pines, and fog is accentuated by the blue filter overlaying every frame of the movie. (It’s so recognizable, in fact, that one Esty shop sells inspired keychains.) The movie’s soundtrack embodies this moodiness, too. It draws heavily on alternative rock bands, from Paramore to Linkin Park to Muse—the last of which features in the iconic baseball scene. If nothing else, Twilight’s musical choices are flawless.
The movie is also the only installment in the five–film series to be directed by a woman. Before taking on Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke was an indie director best known for her unflinching portrayals of the ups and downs of teenhood. Her 2003 directorial debut, Thirteen, dove into the perils of girlhood and the loss of innocence, and 2005’s Lords of Dogtown—featuring Heath Ledger—captured the daring lives of a group of young skateboarders in 1970s California. Nikki Reed, who played Rosalie Hale in Twilight, actually starred in both films, and co–wrote the screenplay for Thirteen when she was only 14 years old. Hardwicke brought her own style and point of view to the adaptation of Meyer’s book. Her specific experience with depicting teenage struggles and perspective, and especially female adolescence, contributed to her directorial and aesthetic choices. Hardwicke’s presence might explain why Twilight’s sequels—all directed by men—don’t endure to quite the same degree as the first film, which set an unmistakable and iconic tone for the rest to follow.
The film’s aesthetics are perhaps what we can evaluate most seriously. Other than a completely sober take on the masterpiece that is “Decode,” in order to enjoy the story you have to disconnect from it to some extent. From “Hold on tight, spider monkey,” to “‘Is she even Italian?’ ‘Her name’s Bella,’” the script is chock–full of lines and exchanges that are frankly silly. The unintentional physical comedy, too, is fundamental: Kristen Stewart’s nervous head nods and lip bites, Robert Pattinson’s intense and almost–pained glare (which, according to him, is due at least in part to the contacts he had to wear). In a scene where Bella presses play on Edward’s CD player to see what he’d been listening to, one can’t help but laugh at the first note from Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” “‘Clair de Lune’ is great,” Bella says, very insightfully.
Perhaps more so than some love stories, though certainly not all, Twilight is ridiculous—a fact its cast hilariously attested to throughout the series' rollout. But though these embarrassing moments do kind of objectively make Twilight a bad movie, is it unwatchable?
Twilight is a film that seems to take itself seriously, but its cringey moments—of which there are plenty—are actually what make it truly enjoyable. They’re part of its charm, and they’re also part of what makes the movie feel surprisingly real, and unmistakably “teenager.” Today, innumerable parodies continue to pop up on platforms like TikTok, covering everything from Jasper’s creepy stare to Bella’s useless method of shaking a ketchup bottle. While rewatching the movie again recently with a friend who’d never seen it before, I was newly surprised by how much sheer fun there is in Twilight’s absurdity. I was utterly drawn into the fantastical plot even though there was technically nothing new to see. For two hours and two minutes, I forgot about my midterms, my job applications, and writing this Street article. For all its bad CGI, logical inconsistencies, and unoriginal premise, Twilight is a perfect study in escapism. If it’s a bad movie, it’s a great bad movie, and one that’s stood the test of time for 15 years. Here’s to 104 more.