LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The makers of teen vampire movie “Twilight” have seen fan excitement reach bloodcurdling levels ahead of the U.S. debut on Friday, but as expectations rise, some industry watchers are wondering if all the hype could be too much of a good thing.
After all, Hollywood is littered with movies that had huge expectations and media coverage ahead of their debuts, then flopped at box offices. Last summer’s “Speed Racer,” a $120 million-plus production that generated only $44 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, is just one example.
But executives at Summit Entertainment, the studio behind “Twilight,” believe their vampire-meets-human romance has several factors in its favor. Most important, the film is based on best-selling books that are thought to be the next “Harry Potter” series, and it was made at a relatively low cost with two young actors who have won the hearts of “Twilight” fans.
“The movie has already been directed in the mind’s eye of the reader,” said Eric Feig, president of production for Summit. “That’s always a challenge, to try to live up to those expectations,” he said.
Fans of the books are extremely loyal. They camped out overnight this week to see the film’s stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart at the movie’s L.A. premiere, and last week, police shut down an event with Pattinson at a San Francisco mall when the unexpectedly large crowd got unruly.
Why the fervor? In her four-book series that has sold more than 17 million copies worldwide, author Stephenie Meyer created a new world of vampire lore for young readers.
Set in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, “Twilight” follows the romance between a girl named Isabella “Bella” Swan who is a social outsider and an immortal vampire named Edward Cullen.
Their star-crossed love affair is complicated by the fact that other vampires are out to suck Swan’s blood.
“If there’s such a thing as a wholesome vampire movie, this is it,” said Liz Perle, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, an independent movie-rating nonprofit organization.
With its story of young love aimed mostly at teenagers and younger audiences, “Twilight” stands apart from many past vampire movies, including 1994’s “Interview with the Vampire” and 1992’s “Dracula” that had older audiences in mind.
The books are largely free of sex and gore, and told from Bella’s point of view, which was a challenge for filmmakers.
“To try to put the audience in Bella’s shoes at every single moment without having wall-to-wall voiceover is something that was very difficult to capture,” Feig said.
Another challenge was picking the right actress to portray Bella, and initially the choice of Kristen Stewart, 18, was met with some skepticism from people who had a hard time envisioning anyone as the books’ heroine.
Ken Kaplan, a partner at talent company The Gersh Agency who represents Stewart and other young actors, said loyal fans came to Stewart’s side with the support of author Meyer.
“One thing that was critical, was Stephenie Meyer addressed it on her Web site, and the fans worship her,” he said.
The film cost $36 million to make -- a low sum by Hollywood standards -- and experts say that with a debut in more than 3,000 theaters, the box office for “Twilight” could easily approach that figure its opening weekend.
“There’s enough excitement surrounding the release of this movie that a $30 million-plus opening weekend would not be outside the realm of possibility,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Media By Numbers.
One factor weighing against the film is that box office watchers expect new James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace,” which debuted last week to $67.5 million, to continue playing strong in theaters.
Still, online ticket seller Fandango.com said “Twilight” has sold out nearly 600 of its midnight showings on Thursday, and is among their top 10 best advance sellers of all time.
Elizabeth Marotte, a buyer for book store chain Borders, compared the popularity of the “Twilight” books to “Harry Potter,” whose five movies have raked in more than $1.4 billion in the United States and Canada.
“Harry Potter was a cultural phenomenon, and this is no different from that,” Marotte said.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte