Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published on the 30th June 1997 and by August 1999 it had reached the top of New York’s best-seller list. By the time the first film appeared on our screens in 2001, four of the seven books in J.K.Rowling’s phenomenally successful series had been published, and the careful process of selecting the cast and crew for the film was documented over a period of months, with the build-up to the movie release proving to be almost as exciting as the film itself. The open casting for Harry, Ron and Hermione led to television news programmes, newspapers and magazines all over the world covering the big reveal, and Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson instantly became the three most well-known child stars of the decade.
The Harry Potter film franchise has currently grossed over $7.7billion (£4.7billion), with each of the films appearing in the top 35 highest grossing movies of all time – quite an achievement. The Harry Potter phenomenon, however, was not unexpected. The global success of the books amongst both children and adults, the highly publicised production process of the first film and the on-going release of the books after the first film hit our screens secured Harry Potter’s place as the film and literary obsession of an entire generation. Film franchises are not a new thing, by any stretch of the imagination – Harry Potter was not the first film series to spark such interest, but it certainly set the bar to a new height. Since then, however, there have been two consecutive book-to-film series’ which have spiralled instantly into an obsession, particularly with young female viewers. Let’s start with (yes, you guessed it) Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight…
The first Twilight movie was released in November 2008. The first book had been released in 2005, with the final instalment published on August 2nd 2008, three months before the release of the first film. The first book debuted at number five on the New York Times best-seller’s list and, though popular with readers, the entire ‘saga’ was released within three years (without half the hype of the Harry Potter series) and the indie adaptation of Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, had a budget of $37million compared with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’s $125million budget. The casting wasn’t scrutinised in the news and the expectation was that the film would attract a sort of cult-following, of teenagers and young adults who had enjoyed the books. Little did the producers of the film, or Stephanie Meyer, know that this film would be just the beginning for the Twilight franchise, with the first film raking in an impressive $392million and catapulting Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner into the spotlight across the globe. The film was so unbelievably popular that the second and third books were instantly put into production as films, released in November 2009 and June 2010, both within two years of the first film. The fourth book was split into two separate movies (much like the final instalment of Harry Potter), with Breaking Dawn Part I hitting cinemas in November 2011.
The hype around Twilight became almost frenzied, with fandom taking a turn for the insane – Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s alleged off-screen romance was obsessed over, with Pattison reportedly once being forced to hide in a bin in an alleyway to escape the paparazzi. The fact that the films were being released in such quick succession, unlike the Harry Potter films, seemed to build on this fan obsession, almost as if allowing too much time to pass between the movies would allow the craze to die down. At this point, Twilight has made a total of $2.5billion, with the fifth and final instalment of the series, Breaking Dawn: Part II, set to be released this November.
While Harry Potter was very much a generational phenomenon, starting with the books and growing with each new instalment, Twilight was a very different story. The buzz around the series really only exploded with the release of the first film and the pace of production in terms of Twilight compared with Harry Potter highlights this. The final ‘phenomenon’ we’re going to look at, however, has been different yet again – enter The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games, written by Suzanne Collins, was published in September 2008 and was the first in a series of three novels depicting a post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of protagonist Katniss Everdeen. The book appeared on the USA Today’s best selling books list for 135 consecutive weeks, and Collins became the best selling ‘Kindle author’ ever thanks to the success of the books. But, much like Twilight, the popularity of the books seemed to be almost cult-like, with a specific following. The three novelswere released between 2008 and 2010, so again, there was no decade-long build up like Harry Potter. The film deal was made, and the first movie put into production and little was said about the casting or the crew in the news. Suddenly, however, something snapped and, with the release of the first trailer, The Hunger Games became one of the hottest film topics on the internet, with people constantly tweeting about their love for the books, and people who hadn’t yet read them rushing out to buy them.
A big part of this sudden surge in interest was probably the fact that the trailer was shown before Twilight: Breaking Dawn and the trailer preyed upon an already established audience that existed to be cashed in on. But the hype built up around the film before it was released was unexpected and the audience who engages in this sort of hype seems to have become narrower and narrower with the release of each of these series’. Harry Potter attracted an audience of all age groups – men, women and children flocked to the cinemas to watch the series unfold – while Twilight narrowed that window down to a predominantly female audience, for the most part in their teens, but spilling out into women in their twenties and thirties. It was, however, much less of a family affair than the Harry Potter films. The Hunger Games, it seems, has moved away from the mainly female audience base, but is sticking more to a younger age group of people in their teens and twenties, which obviously ties in with the age group of the main characters. The Hunger Games set the record for the third best opening weekend sales of any movie, at $152.5million, most likely thanks to the publicity it unexpectedly received, particularly online, for the weeks leading up to its release.
What it takes to become a phenomenon, it seems, has changed dramatically over the past ten years. From the lengthy build up of the Harry Potter series, to the completely out-of-the-blue success of Twilight and the even more sudden obsession with The Hunger Games, the ways in which audiences are engaging with these book-come-film series is shifting all the time. Perhaps there is an element of jumping on the bandwagon, but it remains to be seen whether or not this sort of phenomenon will keep up a similar pace over the next ten or fifteen years. The final instalment of the Twilight Saga is due to be released in November 2012, while the second Hunger Games movie Catching Fire will hit our screens in November 2013.