‘Twilight’ Turns 15: A Look Back at The Film That Started a Phenomenon

The film that kicked off one of the century's biggest franchises turns 15, and 'Twilight' is worth returning to.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in 2008’s Twilight. Courtesy of Lionsgate

When Twilight premiered in 2008, I was seven, with an above-average reading level but a below-average interest in anything aggressively marketed towards girls. I was a tad too young to really experience Twilight mania at its most extreme (my classmates and I really aged in at Breaking Dawn), yet I was always adamant about rejecting it outright—a boring female character whose only role is being fought over by a creepy vampire and a sweaty werewolf? The stuff feminist elementary school nightmares are made of. 

So imagine my surprise when, in my late teens, I found myself enjoying Twilight during a weekend cable marathon. I’d turned it on to ostensibly watch it ironically, of course, but lo and behold there was plenty to appreciate on screen. And, really, 15 years later, what’s not to like?

The poster for Twilight. Courtesy of Lionsgate

Twilight is the best Twilight movie

Being the first in the franchise, Twilight is the smallest of the series—and that works in its favor. The movie centers around 17-year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a recent transplant from Phoenix, Arizona to rainy, dreary Forks, Washington. She’s quiet and awkward around her newfound gal pals (Anna Kendrick and Christian Serratos) and even less adept at handling interactions with boys. Be that as it may, she captures the attention of Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a boy who’s willing to put his life on the line for her while hiding a horrible secret: he’s a vampire! 

There’s some conflict having to do with a roving band of vamps killing people and eventually going after Bella, sure, but the real meat of the movie is this girl’s mildly complicated life as a teenager, and that’s what makes it so good. The lunacy of glittery vampires is grounded in Bella’s story, an unorthodox coming-of-age tale (something director Catherine Hardwicke already had a fine handle on, thanks to her indie hit Thirteen). 

Plus, Twilight serves as an apt time capsule of 2008, from its all-encompassing blue-green color grading to its questionable fashion and hairstyles to its soundtrack—few needle drops have been as instantly iconic and subsequently recognized as Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” during a game of vampire baseball. And, not for nothing, the soundtrack and its lead single (Paramore’s roaring “Decode”) were both nominated for Grammy Awards. The movie is a fully realized, fully explored project, and it’s really the only shining example in the franchise.

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart star in 2012’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Things had gone fully off the rails for the series by that point. Doane Gregory © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC.

Notably, director Catherine Hardwicke stepped away from the series because of unrealistic expectations from people pulling the strings—the plan was to have a Twilight film per year, and that quota was to be prioritized over all else. Her absence can be felt across the rest of the saga, as each movie brought diminishing returns critically despite cleaning up at the box office.

Teenage A-List Actors

With the sheer amount of money and derision that the Twilight saga accrued over five films, it seemed fairly likely that the movies would represent the career peak of the actors involved. As is quite clear now, though, the opposite is true: both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have been onto bigger and better things, and their trajectories are still pointing straight up. 

Stewart remains the only American actress to have won a prestigious French César Award (for her performance in 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria), and her persona as a quirky, soft-spoken teen actress faded away thanks to stellar, sometimes unsettling turns in films like Certain Women, Personal Shopper and the Oscar-nominated Spencer. Pattinson has made similarly interesting choices in his career, putting his name behind beloved indies like Good Time and The Lighthouse. Of course, he returned to blockbuster fare with Tenet and The Batman, but both films can boast acclaimed directors like Christopher Nolan and Matthew Reeves.

The two A-listers are certainly rare success stories in a sea of other young adult actors, and they hardly would’ve made such strides in the industry if not for the longevity of Twilight. The film franchise may not hold up on the whole, but lifelong fans and recent converts like myself can all agree that in and of itself, Twilight stands the test of time.

‘Twilight’ Turns 15: A Look Back at The Film That Started a Phenomenon