With a new movie hitting theaters, the young wizard faces some new nemeses: the cooler, more sophisticated vampire kids of the ‘Twilight’ series. Inside the battle for the teenage audience.
Alicia Penner, a 13-year-old from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, read the “Harry Potter” books 57 times. She watched the “Harry Potter” movies. Then last fall, a friend lent her the teen vampire book series “Twilight”—and she was hooked. The “Harry Potter” poster that used to hang on her bedroom wall has been replaced by the “Twilight” poster she got for her 13th birthday.
As a new “Harry Potter” movie opens next week, the bespectacled wizard faces a new challenge: how to compete for the attention of a young audience that has been growing up—and is starting to prefer the angsty teen romances and cooler, edgier characters of the “Twilight” books and movies.
The film moves directly into territory where “Twilight” now rules. The sixth “Potter” movie, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” has a distinctly more grown-up tone than its predecessors and features a strong romantic plotline.
The movie’s timing may have helped its vampire rival. Last year Warner Bros. delayed the release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” to fill a h*** in its summer-2009 schedule. Hollywood studio Summit Entertainment wasted no time pushing its teen vampire picture “Twilight” into the vacant November slot. The film, adapted from the best-selling book series about an epic love story between a vampire who looks 17 years old and a normal teenage girl, became an overnight success, grossing more than $382 million world-wide on a shoestring budget of $37 million.
Hollywood marketing executives say that these days the “Twilight” franchise has influenced almost every studio marketing campaign that targets teenage girls. Some posters for the upcoming “Potter” film echo “Twilight”’s emphasis on romance. One features Harry and his crush, Ginny, gazing longingly into each others’ eyes, in a pose reminiscent of “Twilight”’s now-iconic image of its star-crossed lovers, Bella and Edward. Another shows Harry’s friend Ron with his girlfriend Lavender, while a jealous Hermione scowls in the background.
Warner Bros. and the team behind “Potter” say they didn’t take the “Twilight” franchise into account when designing their marketing materials for “The Half-Blood Prince.” Instead, they crafted a campaign aimed to resonate with previous “Potter” films, the executives and filmmakers say, dismissing the notion that there is a rivalry between the franchises among fans.
“With all due respect to “Twilight,” the longevity and world-wide success of the Harry Potter franchise speaks for itself,” a studio representative said.
The previous five “Potter” films have grossed almost $4.5 billion in world-wide box-office revenue, making the franchise one of the biggest in history. J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books have sold more than 400 million copies world-wide, compared with 53 million for Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. But after 10 years on the New York Times best-seller list, the “Potter” books fell off the children’s-series list last May, and since then have returned only intermittently. Meanwhile, the “Twilight” books have spent 100 weeks on the chart.
Both David Yates, who directed “The Half-Blood Prince,” and David Heyman, the franchise’s longtime producer, say they’ve never seen “Twilight,” and say they deliberately avoided thinking about other franchises when making the “Potter“series. “We live in a bit of a bubble,” said Mr. Heyman, who read the first “Potter” book before it was published in 1997 and immediately had Warner Bros. option the rights. Mr. Yates, who will also direct the final two installments, adds: “J.K. Rowling has given us such a rich and dynamic world that I can’t really look over my shoulder and worry about other teen stories.”
Warner Bros. says the “Potter” movies have become more grown-up in order to follow the narrative of the books and to appeal to an audience that’s getting older. Nearly a decade has elapsed since the “Potter” producers cast an 11-year-old Daniel Radcliffe in the pivotal role of Harry. “As the characters and storylines of the Harry Potter films have matured, our marketing materials have followed suit,” says a studio representative. (A 2006 survey found that the average age kids started reading the series was 9 and that nearly 60% of kids aged 9 to 11 had read it.)
The new “Harry Potter” film, which opens July 15, focuses heavily on the romantic entanglements that mark the entry into adulthood, and features some dark moments—including the death of a major character—that make it more sophisticated than some of the previous movies. The film begins with Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts, when he discovers an old book of potions marked as property of a mysterious “Half-Blood Prince.” Harry delves into that book and, through a series of flashbacks, learns more about the past of his nemesis Lord Voldemort.
Meanwhile, he and his classmates are also caught up in matters of the heart. There’s frequent talk of “snogging,” as Lavender celebrates Ron’s victory in a quidditch game with a kiss that sends a jealous Hermione into a rage, and Harry sees Ginny kissing another boy.
“There is a much stronger romantic strand in this film than in earlier movies,” says Mr. Yates. “The characters have reached that point in their lives where their hormones are starting to fly and they are exploring sexuality and discovering the opposite sex.”
For its part, Summit Entertainment, the studio behind “Twilight,” says it has been careful to steer clear of the commercial juggernaut that “Potter” has become, especially because its “Twilight” fan base overlaps with the “Potter” audience. The studio says that its strategy has been to avoid releasing any “Twilight” material too close to big release dates for “Harry Potter.”
“It’s the only franchise that we ever pay attention to,” says Rob Friedman, chief executive and co-chairman of Summit Entertainment. “We are very cognizant of where they are, and we’ve always been wary of being in too close proximity to ‘Harry Potter’ because we know our fans cross over so much, and we definitely don’t want to compete with ‘Harry’ for attention.”
Haami Nyangibo, a 13-year-old girl from London, says that after years of reading “Harry Potter” she has come to find the “Twilight” books “far more relatable. They just engage in a more realistic way. A lot of my friends have gone off ‘Harry Potter’ and are onto ‘Twilight,’ ” she says.
For many girls, the appeal of “Twilight” lies in Edward Cullen, the gorgeous vampire who fights his own biological destiny to fall in love with Bella Swan, a human girl.
Robert Pattinson, the 23-year-old British heartthrob with unkempt hair and bedroom eyes who plays Cullen in the “Twilight” movies, has added to Edward’s mystique. Mr. Pattinson also has a history with the “Harry Potter” franchise: He played Harry’s onetime rival, Cedric Diggory, in the past two “Potter” movies.
Summit will release the “Twilight” sequel, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” on Nov. 20, the same time of year it released the first “Twilight” in 2008. The first trailer for the $50 million film prominently features action-packed werewolf sequences, which could appeal to male fans. While teen girls seemed to be the target audience of the first “Twilight” film, Summit says 40% of its audience was male, with most of those viewers under 25.
Tabloids have continued to stoke interest in the series, with weekly photos and stories chronicling a possible real-life romance between Ms. Stewart and Mr. Pattinson, as they shoot romantic scenes for upcoming sequels in locales like the small Tuscan city of Volterra, Italy. (A representative for Ms. Stewart declined to comment; a representative for Mr. Pattinson couldn’t be reached.)
Jeff Gomez, president of Starlight Runner Entertainment and a producer who has consulted on some top franchises, such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, says “Twilight’s” focus on romance means it could overtake “Potter” as the wand-wielding “Potterheads” grow up and into more sophisticated films. “I have a lot of confidence in ‘Harry Potter,’” he says, “and it has a narrative momentum that carries its core audience along.” But he says even a series as established as “Harry Potter” can be threatened by a franchise like “Twilight,” which has exploded so quickly and attracted such ravenous fans.
“Twilight” isn’t toppling “Harry Potter” quite yet. The franchise remains a global phenomenon, and advance online ticket sales suggest the film could top previous installments.
Ms. Penner says she has moved on from Harry, however. Recently, she came across her old “Harry Potter” poster while cleaning her room. “I saw it in the closet but by then ‘Twilight’ had come along, and I thought, ‘Who cares?’ ” she says. “Nobody really believes you can have magic, but some people believe you can find the perfect guy.”