By Will Thames
A recent Ranker.com list entitled “The Worst Movies of All Time,” has been circulating the internet for what feels like ages. The headline most news outlets touted, re-touted, and re-tweeted, however, was “Twilight Rated the Worst Movie of All Time.” My first scroll past the article elicited mild bemusement and a matronly eye-roll. My third time thumbing past the same headline, re-worded into “Twilight: Worst Movie Ever.” It is worth noting that, at the time of my writing this, the film has been dethroned by Joel Shumaker’s “Batman and Robin” (1997), which now comes in at number 1. “Gigli” (2003), a Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez vehicle sits at the second-worst movie of all time.
That seems about right. Right?
While “Twilight” now comes in as the third worst movie of all time, its votes for worst in show eclipse both “Batman” and “Gigli” at more than 10,000 votes. “Batman and Robin,” currently sits at approximately 7,000 votes.
“TWILIGHT CERTIFIED GARBAGE” continued being touted by major news sites in tones ranging from ecstatic approval to deep fatigue. The more I read, the more I found myself identifying with the latter.
Some personal context: I was one of the first in my 6th grade class to pick up “Twilight,” before the announcement of a film adaptation had even been made. And people… I DEVOURED the series, losing myself in “Who will Bella choose?” “Who will live?” “Who will die?” and “If vampires don’t have a functioning circulatory system, wouldn’t that make getting an erection a little difficult for Edward?”
I engaged in more than a few playground dissections of who was the better suitor- Jacob or Edward? I still maintain my pre-adolescent position on the subject.
Book Edward > Book Jacob.
Movie Edward < Movie Jacob.
The full impact of Twilight on my rural Texas school would not be felt until the first movie was released in 2008. By then I had moved to Colorado, leaving the stifling humidity and church of college football behind. What followed me to Colorado? Twilight fans. These people were everywhere, it seemed. It was then that a much louder voice joined the discussion- one of absolute vitriol and abhorrence. For every “Team Edward!” shouted across a crowded cafeteria, an even louder “TWILIGHT IS GARBAGE!” answered back. This anti-sparkly-vampire sentiment, while not exclusively belonging to the boys of my school, was almost always voiced by said boys. The anti-Stephanie-Meyer-brigade had arrived. It quickly became social currency to hate the books and movies in equal measure. Sides were chosen, lines were drawn in the sand, and I did what I always did; say nothing and carry on reading.
My secret love for the series also followed me to Colorado. I dragged my abundantly patient father to Barnes and Noble for the midnight release of Breaking Dawn. The poor bastard was left to his own devices the second we entered the building. While he was browsing “New Fiction” in a quiet corner with the other obliging parents I was DEEP in the trenches. There were fan debates, deep breathing exercises, and a silent car ride home as I tore through the first chapters.
More than any young adult fantasy series of the time, Twilight is known for the public disgust surrounding it as much as its rabid fan base. A public disgust that persists to this day, it seems.
I should make it clear that I am not here to hold up Twilight as a staggering achievement in western literature. The story has problems. Significant problems.
Bella is introduced as a 17 year old vaguely dissatisfied with life. Edward is over 100 years old, and a virgin (sure, Jan). He openly admits to breaking and entering on multiple occasions to watch her sleep. This admission that is played off as deeply romantic in the books and movies, adding to his desirability. I sincerely hope I don’t have to spell out that breaking into your crush’s home to watch them sleep isn’t romantic (or legal). After Edward skips town with the whole Cullen clan in New Moon, Bella isolates herself for months and begins putting herself in increasingly dangerous situations to glimpse a hallucinogenic version of Edward, who cautions her against riding motorcycles, cliff diving, etc. Lesson? Endanger yourself for love. That, or Meyer had an X-games crossover event planned that never came to fruition.
Bella isn’t the only irrational one when it comes to the idealized “true love” of the series. When Edward believes Bella to be dead at the end of New Moon, his instant response is to commit… vampire suicide? I.E. flouting his sparkly self in public in an effort to prompt the Volturi (an oligarchy of ancient vampire secret-keepers/moral purists) to execute him on the spot. Lesson? If your true love leaves/dies, your life is no longer worth living fully, or at all.
The laundry list of “problematic” elements that exist in The Twilight Saga, while fun to pick over, is not why I’m writing this today. We’re here to talk cultural commentary, not agonize over Bella’s inability to throw a dart and choose a boy.
In an 2012 interview with IndieWire, Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg stated “When you start to read the criticism of Twilight it’s just vitriol, it’s intense, the contempt… We’ve seen more than our fair share of bad action movies, bad movies geared toward men or 13-year old boys. And you know, the reviews are like okay that was crappy, but a fun ride. But no one says ‘Oh my god. If you go to see this movie you’re a complete fucking idiot.’ And that’s the tone, that is the tone with which people attack Twilight.”
Rosenberg brings up a good point. The public outcry against Twilight is routed in a deeply held misogyny against media meant for women. Particularly teenage girls.
“…because it’s female it’s worthy of contempt. Because it feels female, it is less than,” Rosenberg continues.
Therefore, for all its faults and tone-deaf messaging about love between an undead centenarian and a minor being worth dying for, does Twilight deserve “Worst Movie Ever?”
Nowadays, I’m less interested in calling a series of cheesy YA romance novels definitively “good” or “bad” and more intrigued by the still-pervasive bile lobbed at the series and what it says about our society at large.
Lindsey Ellis, one of my all-time favorite video essayists, in a video entitled “Dear Stephanie Meyer,” puts it bluntly and beautifully:
“Our culture… kind of hates teenage girls.”
Because Twilight was made for and marketed to young girls, it’s easy to loathe. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most vocal detractors of Twilight in my elementary school were boys. I’m not saying Twilight is impervious to critique, and I’m NOT saying those boys, wherever they are now, are evil misogynists. I am saying that the context of gender that played into the culture clash is worth noting.
Media cultivated for boys, as Rosenberg points out, can get away with being cheesy shallow fun. Media meant for girls, is subject to deeper scrutiny and backlash.
Tick off any action movie franchise of the recent past, I.e. Die Hard, Fast and Furious, and Transformers; and you can find the same uneven pacing and cliched story telling most critiques take issue with in Twilight. The difference? One piece of media is distinctly feminine, the other is distinctly masculine (toxically so in certain instances).
Look no further than the way Michael Bay lavishly sweeps the camera across Megan Fox’s body in the first Transformers. In said scene, Megan’s character is displaying an impressive understanding of car engines, and acknowledging that men don’t like to be shown up by a girl in a traditionally masculine setting. On paper, this scene skews progressive, but the camera isn’t interested in what Megan Fox is saying.
The non-speaking women in “The Fast and the Furious” serve as little more than eye-candy and set dressing, to say nothing of that franchises sequel fatigue and downright bizarre pacing.
Again- I could go on.
The persistence of “Twilight bad” in modern pop culture speaks less to the actual quality of Stephanie Meyer’s books, and more to a normalized hatred of women and the media they like. Shaming young girls for liking something marketed directly to them remains an ugly reality about how we produce and consume media. If it’s not Twilight, it’s One Direction. Or Pretty Little Liars. Or Nicholas Sparks novels. No piece of media is above critique. But some media is more easily skewered than others. I could give you a 700+ page seminar on why I dislike Nicholas Sparks, but what point would it serve?
The quality of these pieces of pop culture play second fiddle to the pervasive attitude of “for girls = thing bad.”
I cannot fully comment on this normalized shaming of young girls, being not-a-young-girl myself. I can only acknowledge the obvious, that such shaming exists. And in a world where The Human Centipede somehow managed to warrant TWO sequels, I can’t help but roll my eyes when I see Twilight crowned “worst movie ever”.